On February 18, a fifteen-year-old British tourist called Scarlette Keeling was found dead on Anjuna Beach, Goa. Death by drowning was the initial statement by the police. Scarlette’s mother, Fiona Mackeown pressed for further investigation, pointing out the bruises on the girl’s body as an indication of rape and murder. As the media and police dug deeper into the case, new facts came to light in the form of drugs and sex trade.
Scarlette came to Goa on vacation with her siblings, mother and mother’s partner. Her family decided to travel further to Karnataka while Scarlette stayed back. Her mother said that she had left her daughter in the care of 25-year-old Julio Lobo, a local tour guide. The ill-fated Scarlette then spiralled into a web of drugs, alcohol and sex with the people she met while working in the bar.
The most recent news on the case is that the police have confessions from the prime suspects, Placido Carvalho and Samson D’souza. Both have been booked for murder and rape.
The police and the media battle it out over whether it was a drug overdose and drowning or murder that killed Scarlett. Goa comes under scanner, its image of a sunny, beach paradise ripped off to reveal its murky sex-drugs-crime underbelly. And, Fiona Mackeown’s personal life gets dug up and scrutinized in detail. All in a bid to answer the hanging question of
Remember Adnan Patrawala? The sixteen-year-old who unwittingly became the face of Orkut’s dark side?
He liked fast cars and drove a Skoda. Like a lot of Indian teenagers, he was also very active on Orkut. Adnan was kidnapped for ransom by some people he met through the social networking site. As the police noose got tighter, the trio panicked and killed their hostage.
That case got a lot of media coverage too. And the family, the law and the media locking horns over the crucial question of responsibility. Orkut came under fire, censorship was debated and the parents were blamed for spoiling their children with too many luxuries.
I’m thinking of Adnan because there is something he has in common with Scarlett. Both of them died young, far too young and murdered at that. Each of them was the victim of misplaced trust. And in both cases, the hanging question is about whose fault it was.
The parents may be the physical guardians of their minor children. But are they their moral custodians as well? We all assume so since we label social and criminal offences with statements like “That’s how he was brought up” and “Didn’t her parents teach her how to behave?” I remember reading about Adnan, focussing on the bottle clutched in his hand in the photograph, imagining a kid driving a fancy car at full speed and wondering..
Why does a 16-year old need a Skoda? And what’s he doing with a bottle of alcohol?
I might just have dismissed Scarlette’s case with,
What kind of a mother leaves her young daughter with strangers in a place like Goa?
But somehow, this time I’m unable to compartmentalize responsibility. If I was shocked by Adnan’s death, I’m appalled and shaken out of my complacency by the news of another youngster dying a brutal, unnatural death.
Oh, it would be so much easier if they had both been older! A simple “He shouldn’t have had more sense than to trust someone off the internet” and “What was she thinking, messing around in a strange place by herself?” would write it off. Adults are responsible for their actions and the consequences of their decisions, aren’t they? I wonder now.
There are cracks in the social systems. Corruption exists. ‘Law and order’ is an ideal and an idyll one at that; reality so far away. Drugs and alcohol are age-old vices. Greed, lust, pride…aren’t these part of the time-deplored seven deadly sins? And are the victims of these sins, sinners as well? So how fair is it to blame a crime on its victim – or their nearest in line?
So who then is responsible? A reprehensible action rises from or points to a deeper, darker reason. If a flaw exists, then the entire unit is flawed and not just the part with the defect. And hence a society with evils is at fault as a whole and not just a hapless bystander to one villian’s antics. Doesn’t even the law say that condoning a crime is tantamount to committing one too?
Let’s think about what that says about us and our actions.
Don’t we all know someone who has driven a car when they were underage? – Friends, siblings, cousins, neighbors, classmates? Take a minute to think about the number of hit-and-run cases that have received attention recently for their perpetrators being ‘rich kids with daddy’s money to spend’.
Don’t we all still know kids whose pocket money covers luxuries comfortably, far before they are even aware of the concept of the worth of money? If you haven’t, walk into any mall today. You’re sure to spot at least one in the electronics shop, checking out the latest iPod or mobile phone.
Isn’t there at least one kid we know who is messing around with drugs and alcohol? Hell, even if we don’t actually know them, don’t we see them in pubs, restaurants and out on the roads?
Do shops and establishments refuse to serve liquor and intoxicants to minors? When was the last time you were asked for an ID at a pub?
How about adult movies? For a fact, I know I’ve seen kids (little kids, not just teenagers) at so-called A-rated movies. The ticket-sellers didn’t ask, the ushers didn’t speak up and well, I didn’t either. And in my own way, I added my bit to taking depravity a little further.
There is an old saying that it takes a couple to make a baby and a whole village to raise a child. God help us all then, WE have failed Adnan and Scarlette. All this may be is an armchair discussion since all our evils won’t be magicked away with a single idea. And neither with the kids come back to life.
And then again, cultural evolution happens with an attitudinal shift. I’m asking you, I’m asking myself, I’m asking us all to start by taking responsibility. For Scarlette, for Adnan and for every kid in danger – mortal or otherwise. In a world where it isn’t safe for a youngster to make friends. For a society that watches its children stumble into inebriation and doesn’t say a word.