ArrayBy Quaid Najmi

Mumbai: It was a pleasant Thursday of October 20, 2011, when a happy and laughing group of two young men and two women stepped out of a popular Andheri eatery, Amboli Bar & Kitchen, after a good dinner.

They had halted at a nearby paan shop, waiting to be served, when a ruffian hanging around passed lewd remarks and attempted to molest one of the women in full public view.

Both Keenan Santos, 24, and his friend Reuben Fernandes, 29, strongly objected to the humiliation meted out to their female friends and virtually chased away the goon, later identified as Jitendra Rana.

Taken aback by the unexpected resistance offered by the young duo in the middle-class locality, Rana threatened to teach them a lesson, but they ignored him.

Barely a few minutes later, Rana returned with reinforcements — both muscle power and weapons, including choppers, rods and sticks, catching the foursome by surprise.

Without warning, the gang of ruffians started hammering and stabbing Keenan and Reuben repeatedly as the two terrified women screamed for help and even dialled the Police Control Room No. 100 for assistance, which arrived only too late.

As one of the young women said later, at least four dozen bystanders watched on without bothering to intervene or help the profusely bleeding men. The onlookers later walked away — in typical Mumbai style where nobody interferes in others’ issues.

The onlookers included local residents, some activists of a political party whose office was still open that time, nearby big and small shopkeepers and even some patrons of the restaurant.

After the attack, which lasted barely a few horrifying minutes, the goons ran away after taking their ‘revenge’ as the two women tried to help their grievously injured friends.

With the help of family members, friends and locals, they shifted Keenan and Reuben to a hospital. Keenan succumbed to his injuries a few hours later in early hours of October 21, while Reuben died 12 days later while under treatment.

Reuben’s brother told media persons later how the thugs hit him with a heavy stick, pinned down Keenan with his knees and stabbed him repeatedly in the chest and stomach, all the time shouting expletives.

Following a public outcry on safety of women, the assailants were arrested the next morning (October 21, 2011) from Amboli area and the case was assigned to a fast track Special Women’s Court after one year (2013), with Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam.

The police filed a 400-plus pages charge-sheet before the Andheri Metropolitan Court in January 2012 and the court framed the charges in October 2012 of murder, conspiracy and molestation against the accused.

During the trial, 28 witnesses were examined, including five eye-witnesses, among them the two women friends whom the victims had bravely defended from the molesters.

As the four families (of the victims and their female friends) came to terms with their losses, the case continued in the court, with over two dozen adjournments, absenteeism by the defence lawyers or the accused and other delays which prolonged the matter for over five years.

Even the victims’ families were not spared of harassment by the local goons and their kin who issued regular threats and tried intimidatory tactics to scare them into withdrawing the case.

However, they continued undeterred, especially Keenan’s father, Valerian Santos, 57, who doggedly remained present during the court hearings.

Justice finally dawned on Thursday when Special Judge Vrushali Joshi sentenced the four prime accused to life imprisonment till death.

The convicts are: Jitendra Rana, Sunil Bodh, Satish Dulgaj and Dipak Tiwak, who have been found guilty of murder, molestation and other charges by the special court.

Nikam said he had not sought the death penalty for the accused since it was not the “rarest of rare cases”, there was “no conspiracy” and they were not “pre-planned” murders.

Valerian Santos expressed his “satisfaction” over the verdict and said the two young men had been finally meted out justice.

“However, this is just the beginning…The battle is not over, they might appeal in the higher courts which is their right; and we have to wait,” the practical-minded Santos told media-persons shortly after the verdict.

The verdict has been hailed by the city glitterati with laudatory messages tweeted by celebs like Varun Dhawan, Farhan Akhtar, Sonakshi Sinha, Vishal Dadlani, Anuj Kanungo, Ramona Arena and others.