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Mumbai outraged by 'eve-teasing' murders

November 04, 2011

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Four people have been arrested on suspicion of murder and are in custody, police said. - Photo by AP

MUMBAI: The Indian city of Mumbai has been stunned after two young men were killed by a gang of knife-wielding thugs when they tried to stop their female friends from being sexually harassed.

Keenan Santos, 25, died on the spot when he was stabbed outside a bar in the northern suburbs of India's financial and entertainment capital on October 20, while Rueben Fernandes, 28, died in hospital this week.

Four people have been arrested on suspicion of murder and are in custody, police said.

But the nature of the crime has sparked public outrage in the metropolitan city.

Now, friends, family and associates of the two victims have taken to the Internet to try to ensure that the tragedy is not repeated, amid concerns about increasing violence.

Tribute pages have been set up on the social networking site Facebook and on the micro-blogging site Twitter, all gathering widespread support and expressing revulsion at what they said was a senseless crime.

A group of activists is also trying to use the deaths as a spur to tighten laws against sexual harassment, or “eve-teasing” as it is widely known in India.

“There have been a number of cases wherein girls have been molested and sexually harassed at some stage but the laws are not strong enough to deal with them,” said Sagar Bekal, of the Zero Tolerance Campaign.

“There's no kind of strict vigilance from the government and the machinery is so weak. We are looking for a reform of the laws. If we have stringent laws, maybe the perpetrators will think twice,” he told AFP.

As well as spreading the message on the web, activists from the campaign, which Bekal said has the backing of the victims' families, are mounting a petition campaign outside city nightspots starting from this weekend.

The petition will be sent to the state government.

“This is an extreme case that has actually got people up in arms but because we've got this anger, we can make a difference rather than people venting it out for nothing,” said Bekal.

The campaigns are part of wider moves in India and South Asia to change public attitudes towards “eve-teasing”, a term which women's rights campaigners say trivialises the issue of sexual harassment and molestation.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, crimes against women rose from 203,804 in 2009 to 213,585 last year, although it is thought that many more incidents go unreported.

Supporters of Fernandes and Santos have slammed police for not doing enough to stamp out the practice but Mumbai police rejected the criticism.

“This is an isolated incident. It's not a pattern. The police are in control. We are patrolling and beat marshals on the road. People should not be worried,” said force spokesman Nisar Tamboli.