Man crawls into bed with women at Kerala hostel on New Year’s, survivor recalls horror

Despite having handed the man over to the police on January 1 itself, he was not arrested until January 5.
The accused Akhil
The accused Akhil
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What was meant to be a night of celebration turned into a harrowing experience for a solo woman traveller in Kerala’s Varkala on January 1, New Year's night. Four women travellers, including her, were sexually harassed by a man from Kollam at a backpackers hostel near the Varkala Cliff. In a conversation with TNM, one of the women detailed the incident.

According to her, the Varkala Cliff and the areas surrounding it felt extremely unsafe on New Year's Eve, as large groups of local men had gathered everywhere. “They were harassing and catcalling. Some of the women in the hostel I stayed at even said there were incidents of groping and inappropriate touches,” she said, comparing it to the incident of mass molestation that took place at Bengaluru’s Church Street a few years ago.

The woman had stayed at The Lost Hostels in Varkala on December 30 and 31. On the second day, when she and other solo women travellers staying at the hostel went to a cafe at the Cliff for dinner, several men were allegedly standing outside, passing crude remarks and catcalling women. 

Upon seeing how unruly the crowd was, the women cancelled their plan to attend a New Year party nearby and returned to The Lost Hostels. “Three men tried to barge into the hostel at night. The guard prevented them and sent them all away,” she recollected. After this, at around 2.30 am, she and other guests at the hostel went to sleep. 

“Between 5 and 6 am on January 1, I woke up to find out that a man had climbed into the bed with me and was touching me inappropriately all over my body. I was in shock but I somehow managed to push him off. He then went to the beds of two other women in the same dorm as I. Together, we pushed him out of the room and closed the door,” she said. 

After about 10 minutes, once the initial shock of the incident had waned, they stepped out of the room to inform the hostel authorities, only to find that none of the staff, guards, or receptionists of the hostel were present in the building at the time. The women returned to their room, only to hear a large commotion in the nearest dormitory. 

The assaulter, identified as Akhil from Kollam, had entered the next room and forcefully kissed a sleeping woman. By then, she recounted, others in the hostel including male guests caught hold of the man and beat him up. “Someone called the police, and they came and took the man. The hostel authorities also came after a while,” she said.

Despite having handed the man over to the police on January 1 itself, he was not arrested until January 5. The Varkala police told TNM that this was because none of the women survivors had been willing to record a statement. “Finally, we have arrested him based on a complaint filed by the hostel owners on January 4. However, for the case to hold strong in court, we will require the statement of the survivors,” the police said. The accused man, has been booked under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code and remanded.

However, the woman who spoke to TNM said that neither the police nor the hostel owners cooperated with them in the days after the assault. She said that the hostel owners, who were initially reluctant to file a complaint, finally decided to take legal action after the women exerted pressure through the media and the state Tourism Ministry. “When contacted, the police did not give us clear details regarding whether a case was registered. They did not give us the FIR copy either. An officer who identified himself as Selvan of the Kerala Police’s Special Branch called me on January 4 and took my details. He too did not give me any details of the case,” she said. TNM contacted Selvan, who said that it was the duty of the Special Branch to inquire into issues like this and now that an FIR has been filed and the accused arrested, the respective police station will take the case forward.

Yet, the delay in filing an FIR remains unexplained. “The hostel authorities had assured us that they would follow up the case and ensure that the man was punished. But soon, their attitude changed. They even told us not to go to the media with this,” she said, adding, “It was the hostel’s responsibility to provide us security. It was due to a lapse on their part that this happened.”

TNM tried to contact The Lost Hostels via phone and text message but did not receive a response. 

TNM learned that harassment of women travellers by local crowds has become commonplace in Varkala, especially during busy days. A 29-year-old woman who stayed in Varkala on December 24 and 25 said that Cliff and surrounding areas become unsafe for women after 7.30 pm. “Men, seemingly drunk, roamed the streets in gangs, making it unsafe for women travellers. Our experience may likely have been different had men been travelling with us. The friend who travelled with me was not a Malayali, and I felt ashamed that this was the impression of the state that she would leave with,” she said. 

Another 26-year-old woman traveller who visited Varkala in November said, “Varkala cliff felt unsafe in the evenings when I visited during the Pooja holidays. The place was overcrowded with people from across the state/country. On multiple occasions, I noticed men in gangs catcalling women and passing lewd remarks. I didn't notice any incidents of groping or molestation as the place was under strict police vigil. The hotel owners, traders, etc, were remarkably rude and interacted with an attitude of ‘take it or leave’ behaviour.”

When asked about the presence of police personnel, she said that those present would caution tourists not to lean on the railings at the Cliff, and other such aspects of safety, and not do much about the crowds. 

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