Women after dark in Kerala

Team City Express goes on a ladies’s night out for a quick scan of how happening and safe Kerala’s nightlife is for women

Published: 03rd November 2022 06:29 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd November 2022 06:29 AM   |  A+A-

@Shankhumukham beach | B P Deepu

By Express News Service

KOCHI: 7 pm. Marine Drive, Kochi. The walkway is bustling. Joggers meander through the tourists. Children are in a world of their own, frolicking. The picturesque spot is a darling destination for tourists as well as city residents. We, however, have also heard and read about incidents of anti-social activities and eve-teasing tarnishing the Marine Drive.

Barring some dark corners, most of the walkway is well-lit. And CCTV units have been installed. The question, however, remains: do women feel safe to freely walk around in this prime serene, open space of Kochi?

All is well
We spot a bunch of young women unwinding under a tree. One of them decides to lie down on the pavement, her head resting on her friend’s lap. Ambika M, Ardra S Dev, Manju E B, and Krishnapriya M who work at a nearby supermarket seem as carefree as the soothing breeze here. Marine Drive, they say, is their regular hangout spot after work.

“We stay here till around 8pm; it is relaxing,” says Ambika. “So far, we haven’t faced any sort of harassment. The stares are unavoidable, but we just ignore them.” Another group of young women echoes similar views. “However, I have heard some unpleasant things about Marine Drive, so whenever I head out in Kochi, it will be in a group,” says Assiyabi, 18, who is studying in Puducherry.

Her three friends, all from Kannur, beam. They are here to explore Kochi for a day. “We plan to explore Kerala together. This is our first trip to Kochi together,” says Assiyabi. “We came to Kochi in the morning train, and will return to our respective homes tonight.”

@Ofori, T’Puram

Recovering from trauma
Strolling a bit further, we spot a young woman sitting alone on a bench. She seems totally disconnected from the hubbub around. “Society is changing gradually, with many women stepping out at night these days,” says Zulfiya (name changed), 25. Even as she appreciates the shift, Zulfiya reveals she just came out of a traumatic incident.

“I was working in a shop at Kaloor. One day, I was walking back to my hostel, just a few minutes away,” she says. “It was pouring. I saw a man on a bicycle stop by a corner. As I walked past him, he flashed at me. When I raised my hand in anger, he grabbed me and covered my mouth. The place didn’t have any streetlights or surveillance. He then pushed me onto a nearby bush and pounced on me. Fortunately, my friends were behind me and, as they reached the spot, he scooted.”

The assailant was a migrant worker. She filed a police complaint, and he is in remand now. Though the incident left her shaken, Zulfiya is determined not to cower in fear. “I also want to enjoy the stars and the lake,” she says, with a smile.

Spiritual tripping 
As we walk further, we come across two women, who appear in a cheerful mood. Thiruvananthapuram residents Kavitha Rajeev Kumar, 45, and Sharada Natarajan, 39, are out for a night stroll, after visiting some temples in Kochi.

The two friends have been travelling by car to temples across Kerala. “Since the place is packed with people, we feel safe,” says Kavitha. Sharada, however, says there is “a fear factor always”, no matter where they go. “We are travelling by ourselves since it is a temple tour. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have stepped out without our families,” she adds. “Back in Thiruvananthapuram, our husbands accompany us in case we go out at night.”

8pm. We exit Marine Drive. The main roads are still busy. Women walk around with friends. Some are busy grocery shopping. Some stop for a tea from wayside stalls. The city is alive. Just cuppa? Is that nightlife? Resto-bars and beer-and-wine parlours in the city have, of late, been seeing more women customers. One resto-bar manager says women constitute about 40 per cent of the crowd.

At Volga beer-and-wine parlour in Kadavanthra, the rooftop is a happening place. It is crowded. We spot just a handful of women. Bartender Luka K O, 50, who has been working here for over two decades, says, usually, women occupy 30-40 per cent of the tables.

“If you had come a bit earlier, by 7pm, you would have seen more women here,” he adds. “Since 2016, the number of women customers has gone up. Many of them come in the evening, about 5pm to 6pm. They like the sunset ambience, I guess.” We settle at a table. There are no stares from men around. Most are busy conversing in their groups. Pretty cool.

From there, we set out to Velocity, a resto-bar near the Kerala High Court. Not a single table is free. Women and men are chilling, watching football on TV or chit-chatting.  F&B manager, Visakh V Nair, says there are nights when women customers outnumber men. “On average, women make up half the crowd. It is a safe space; we have bouncers outside.”

As the place is full, we head to Mezzo at Avenue Regent on MG Road. The resto-bar is full; there is a queue. F&B manager, Tony Sam Mathew, says women make up about 20 per cent of the property’s customers. 

“We have bouncers, and in case of any offence, we alert the police,” he adds. “There has been just one such incident when a drunk man misbehaved and the police had to be called. It was several months ago.”

Pink Room 
Instead of waiting in the queue, we head to Coral Isle hotel near Ernakulam North railway Station. The rooftop has live music, and youngsters are jamming. Women occupy tables by themselves and are in high spirits after a long day at work.

“We have many women customers. It’s an open and spacious area. Maybe that’s why,” says the rooftop captain, Stejo Johnson. “We have a lounge, Pink Room, exclusively for women. However, not many women prefer it; most go for the rooftop.” 

@Marine Drive, Kochi

Stejo recalls only one incident where a woman customer was disturbed by a man. “She was wearing a hijab, and a middle-aged man felt that it is offensive to drink while wearing the garment,” he says. “The young woman remained unfazed. And we ensured she was left alone.”  

Our final stop is Fly High, known as the first pub in Kerala, near the Cochin Shipyard. Unfortunately, it is closed for maintenance. However, we are informed that the pub has a ladies’ night every Wednesday, and offers free shots.

“The place can hold around 450 people and women take up at least half of the crowd, especially on ladies’ nights,” says Fly High’s owner, Ram Nair. “We have lady bouncers, and a dance platform exclusively for women. It is a positive sign— women taking over pub spaces and dancing the night away.” 

Notes from the capital
From Kerala’s commercial hub, we head to its administrative capital. Venturing out after dark here is generally viewed as ‘unsafe’. While travelling on two-wheelers, however, the city appears accessible and safe. Most of the main city streets are well-lit. The only scary part is the howling dogs, who conquer the roads after 8.30pm.

While using public transport, one may have to be one’s own knight. A night-out team member quips: “My mother taught me there was no need to follow the principle of ‘ahimsa’ while travelling in crowded buses.” Overhearing our conversation, a regular commuter, Amritha (name changed), juts in: “The bhais (migrant labourers) seem more respectful, especially when one points out that they are occupying the seats reserved for women. Malayali men are stubborn.”

Thiruvananthapuram has received some bad press recently over eve-teasing, and a woman being sexually harassed near the Museum police station. “That is upsetting,” adds Amritha. “The lady who got attacked did not get any help and the violator could flee.”

More the merrier
On the brighter side, the capital city has been slowly waking up to nightlife. Just recently, a night club was opened here. “We host ladies’ nights on Wednesdays, and the response has been huge,” says Vineeth Ruhil, a manager at Ofori, the new club at Enchakkal. “We get 40 to 50 per cent women customers on average. Considering the increasing footfall, we have appointed more women bouncers.”

Here, we bump into techie Devika L S, 25. She says there was a time when women feared stepping out of their houses after 6pm. “But, times have changed,” she adds. “During weekends, I hang out with friends, dine out or for late-night film shows. I have never had an unpleasant experience.”

Devika says she recently visited Shankhumukham beach with friends at about 10pm, and was glad to see policemen patrolling the area. “However, they cautioned us to be careful and advised us to return after spending some time on the beach,” she adds. “They waited till we left the beach premises.” 

Young women like Devika and Amritha are happy about their city’s nightlife progressing in terms of inclusivity. “However, there is a general tendency to question the woman for going out late,” fumes Amritha. “We are one of the fastest-growing cities in Kerala. The government should ensure better policing and surveillance, that’s all.”



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