Though police have ruled out foul play in the accident that killed Ansi Kabeer and Anjana Shajan, a chain of events that occurred before and after the accident raises several questions.

Anjana Shajan (left) and Ansi Kabeer who died in road accident in Kochi
news ACCIDENT Thursday, November 18, 2021 - 19:30

There was hardly any traffic on the Vytilla-Edappally stretch of NH 66 in Kochi when Dinil Davis, a motor vehicle sales professional, was returning home from office in the wee hours of November 1. He was a few metres from Hotel Holiday Inn in Chakkaraparambu when he was suddenly knocked down from his two-wheeler by a speeding vehicle.

“It happened between 12.15-12.30 am. Before I could recover from the shock, a police jeep arrived within five minutes and took me to hospital. I thought it was a hit-and-run case as I didn’t see the car, before or after it hit me,” said Dinil. Only later did he find out that he was not only a victim but a witness too in a high profile accident case, which has seen several twists and turns since then.

It was when Dinil visited the accident spot the next day that he realised that the Ford Figo that had hit his bike had turned into a bundle of rubble. It had rammed into a tree about 200 metres from where he had fallen down.

Two young models – Ansi Kabeer and Dr Anjana Shajan – were killed on the spot and a co-passenger – Mohammed Ashique – died a week later in the accident, which, according to the police, is a case of rash and negligent driving under the influence of alcohol. Ansi and Anjana were the title winner and first runner-up respectively of the Miss Kerala pageant 2019 while Ashique was an advertising professional. The driver of the car, Abdul Rahman, is the sole survivor among the four who were returning from a party at the No 18 Hotel in Fort Kochi.

Though police have been ruling out any foul play in the accident, a chain of events that occurred before and after the accident raises several questions that remain unanswered.

A major arrest came only after 17 days, when the police booked Roy J Vayalat, the owner of No 18 Hotel, and five staff members for tampering with evidence. This much-delayed arrest occurred following a mounting public protest against an apparent attempt to hide evidence from the party at the hotel on October 31.

The fateful night

The four – Ansi, Anjana, Ashique and Rahman – were returning from a party held at No 18, a premium hotel. Police investigation has found the presence of an Audi car on the entire route from Fort Kochi to the accident site. As per the CCTV footage available, the Audi and the Figo stopped at Kundannoor and the Audi driver could be seen engaging in a conversation with the four before proceeding towards Kakkanad. The presence of the Audi fuelled several suspicions, but police dismissed speculations that a chase or race was involved.

Police interrogated the Audi driver, Saiju Thankachan, a Kakkanad-based interior designer, who admitted having a conversation with Ansi and friends before they left the hotel and later midway at Kundannoor.

“Saiju was the first to leave the party venue at around 12 midnight. He was talking to Roy when Ansi and her friends came out. According to Saiju, he requested them to stay at the hotel to attend an after-party event, but they refused. Later Ansi and her friends left in the Figo and Saiju in the Audi, both travelling towards Kakkanad. Rahman slowed down at Kundanoor after the girls raised a suspicion that an Audi was following them. So Saiju stopped and again offered them a stay in a hotel or flat nearby, which they refused. The Figo and Audi could be seen speeding from thereafter and overtook each other a couple of times,” police sources said.

Though Saiju’s behaviour can be seen as ‘stalking’ or ‘threatening’, police have not found anything suspicious and let him go after preliminary interrogation. Saiju admitted to the police that he called Roy Vayalat and some employees at the hotel immediately after the accident. Saiju also called the police control room to report the accident.

The CI of Kochi Metro Police Station A Ananthalal, who is the investigating officer in the case, told TNM that Rahman, the man driving the Figo who was hospitalised after the accident, has been charged under section 185 (a) of the Motor Vehicles Act (Driving by a drunken person), section 279 (Rash driving) and section 304 A of the IPC (Causing death by negligence). Following his discharge from hospital, Rahman was taken into custody and released on bail on Wednesday, November 17.

Kochi Deputy Commissioner of Police (Law and Order & Traffic) Aishwarya Dongre told TNM that prima facie there was nothing suspicious about the accident as the CCTV footage from the highway had shown that the vehicle was overspeeding and the driver’s blood samples showed the presence of alcohol.

When asked whether Saiju’s behaviour amounted to stalking, threatening or unwanted advances, the DCP said that initial investigation showed only a casual conversation between Saiju and the accident victims. “Saiju was taken into custody and no altercation was found to have happened between them,” the DCP said.

Ananthalal said that a case will be registered against Saiju for rash driving.

No 18 hotel

The hotel where the party was held on October 31 is the epicentre of the controversy related to the case. Despite strong evidence to prove that the hotel owner was trying to hide or destroy evidence, including digital video recordings (DVR) from the hotel and premises, the police seemed to be dillydallying in arresting him. After evading several summons, Roy finally appeared before the investigating officer on November 16, almost two weeks after the incident.

Even then he failed to hand over all the DVRs, the DCP confirmed to TNM. Police arrested Roy after questioning him for two days, where it was found that he had destroyed evidence. “On direction of Roy, two of his staff members removed the hard disc from the hotel and two others dumped it in the Vemaband lake near Roy’s house in Thevara. Six persons, including Roy, were taken into custody for destroying evidence,” the police said.

Retired SP Subhash Babu said that the delay in collecting evidence was a major lapse on the part of police. “Prima facie it is clear that the hotel owner tried to destroy evidence – he failed to appear before the police and didn’t hand over enough DVRs. It seems a deliberate lapse on the part of the police not to detain and question him. They turned up after a week to collect crucial evidence like DVR and gave the suspected persons a chance to tamper with evidence. The hotel owner definitely had something to hide. Whether it was an altercation with the models, presence of any VIPs or banned items being sold at the party, it will be difficult to prove if the police fail to recover the hard drive,” he said.

Subhash said that actions of the Audi driver too were highly suspicious. “Why would anyone intercept women multiple times and ask them to stay back? How could anyone say that his intentions were good? How can anybody be sure that they did not overspeed because of the Audi driver?” Subhash asked.

Incidentally, No 18 Hotel was already under the Excise Department radar. A few days before the accident, on October 23, a team of officials from the Kochi Excise Circle Office conducted a raid at the hotel to check whether they were distributing liquor even after the permitted time of 9 pm. After the raid confirmed violations, the Excise Department registered a case under section 56 of the Kerala Abkari Act (Misconduct by licensee) and No 18’s bar license was suspended based on the report from the Excise Commissioner on November 2. Despite registering a case on October 23, the hotel continued to flout norms, which is enough reason for the Excise Department to cancel its bar licence. However, the Excise Department too seems to be taking a lethargic attitude in the case and has desisted from collecting evidence to prove that the bar had functioned after the permitted time.

Sources in the Excise Department said that they have conducted multiple raids at the hotel before the pandemic based on tip-offs regarding sale and consumption of drugs, but nothing suspicious has been found. “DJ parties used to be held regularly at the hotel before the lockdown. Then squads formed by the excise commissioner, excise circle office, etc had conducted raids. However, nothing was found against the hotel or its management,” said an Excise official.

Following speculations in media, Ansi’s relatives, including her father Abdul Kabeer, grandfather Thahir and uncle Naseemuddhin, visited the Kochi Metro Police station on Wednesday. “We met the investigation officer and expressed our concerns over various incidents in connection with the case. We strongly condemn several reports that showed Ansi in a poor light. We know Ansi as someone who rejected several film offers as she found the script unsuitable. I’m proud to say that I’m a relative of Ansi. We have confidence in the ongoing investigation. However, we are concerned over reports that some evidence was destroyed,” Naseemuddhin told TNM over phone while returning from Kochi to their native place Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram district.

Rising stars

The fatal highway accident did not pass off as local news. It was widely covered by national media as the two young models were on the cusp of promising careers. They were balancing their passion for acting and modelling along with their profession. Ansi Kabeer was an IT professional working with Infosys in Thiruvananthapuram while Anjana was an Ayurveda doctor. Despite favourable opportunities in modelling, both were not ready to give up on their hard-earned profession.

After winning the Miss Kerala title, Ansi went on to become Miss South Kerala, an achievement that took her close to her dream of winning the Miss India title. Coming from an orthodox Muslim family, Ansi always credited her mother as her lone supporter in chasing her passion. “While all the other contestants have their entire family members to cheer for them, it is only my mother for me,” she said at the finals of Miss South India, a title she won two months before her death. Unable to bear the loss of her only child, Ansi’s mother Raseena attempted to take her life within hours after the incident. However, she was taken to the hospital on time. Sources said that Raseena is yet to recover from the unexpected loss.

Ansi and Anjana met at the rehearsals of Miss Kerala 2019 and went on to become close friends. Just like Ansi, her profession was close to Anjana’s heart. Sources close to Anjana said that she was in fact planning to refocus on her career as an Ayurveda medical practitioner when she tragically lost her life.

Both Ansi and Anjana had shared screen space with actor Prithviraj for an ad film.

Ansi was part of an ad featuring actor Dulquer Salmaan. Through the recent short film It’s a Kammal Story, Anjana had proved that she was not just a pretty face but a talented actor too.

Watch the Miss South India 2021 final:

Jisha Surya is an independent journalist living in Kerala.

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