In the 11 months since Reuben Fernandez’s death, his family has weathered a range of emotions, all of which were heightened on Sunday when they gathered to mark Reuben’s 30th birthday. Although it is difficult to overcome the grief and horror surrounding his gruesome murder last year, those who knew him gathered near his grave to celebrate his life.
Almost a year has passed since Amboli residents Reuben and Keenan Santos were brutally murdered on October 20, about 100-metres from their homes, by drunken thugs. The two young men had protested when a local goon had made unwelcome advances at the girls in their group. And their families are still struggling to cope with the loss.
After consoling one another, Reuben’s family members spent the evening reminiscing about the lives the two boys had lived. “We cut a cake, and sang ‘happy birthday’. I then browsed through the album of his first birthday,” said 63-year-old Bridget, Reuben’s mother. “Nothing special was cooked, as Reuben didn’t have any particular favourite dish and would eat anything prepared,” she added.
Although they rejoiced, thoughts of the brutal manner in which the two friends met their end still brings pain to the family. “There are too many memories of my brother, and although it feels that he is still around and a part of our lives, the events of that tragic night still linger in our minds,” said Benjamin Fernandez, Reuben’s brother.
The boys’ parents said that they no longer feel anger towards the killers. “We have forgiven the killers, and if possible we would love to educate the children in Valmiki Nagar, Amboli, and also do some charity work there,” said the bereaved mother. Valmiki Nagar happens to be where the killers reside.
“People have given us tremendous moral support during our ordeal, telling us that their deaths will not go in vain,” said the mother. But, with finances drying up and Reuben’s younger brother unemployed, the family relies on the little pension that the mother gets for her service in a nationalised bank. “We manage somehow,” said the mother.
67-year-old Ronnie, Reuben’s father who retired years back, lamented the loss of two young lives, which could have been prevented if people feared and obeyed the law. “It’s been a rough year. It’s been a roller-coaster ride of emotions,” the father said. “Obviously, I’m missing my son, but their death mobilises us more than ever before. Their sacrifice will not be in vain.”
“Justice is the only hope for us,” said the mother. “It’s tough coping with the loss; each time I hear about another of the mindless killings that are now rampant in the city, I relive that pain. I don’t want another parent to feel that pain and anguish,” said the father.
“My parents are trying to cope,” said Benjamin. “But, they are still searching for answers and continually asking why.” While they continue to cherish the outpouring of love that they received from friends, community members and well wishers (over a lakh people have registered on the Facebook page that was set up in Reuben and Keenan’s honour), their families are now experiencing frustration and anger at the slow progress made in the case. Almost a year has passed, but the fast track court that the case was sent to on a priority basis hasn’t even framed charges yet.
The family expressed concern that after several adjournments and with two judges already changed in a matter of six months, the wheels of justice, that are moving incredibly slowly, will continue to be sluggish. They are angry that none of the politicians, who scampered to their side soon after the murders, are enquiring about the progress of the case, leave alone taking up their cause for the swift delivery of justice.
Accused Jitendra Rana, arrested along with Sunil Bodh, Satish Dulhaj and Dipak Tival after the incident, are currently lodged at the Arthur Road jail. Their next court date is set for September 25. A trial is expected to start only after the charges are framed.