The Pushkar Singh Dhami-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttrakhand has been rocked by protests after the murder of a receptionist in a resort being run by the son of a ruling BJP leader.
The body of Ankita Bhandari who worked in a Uttarakhand resort was recovered from a canal on Saturday, police said as the ruling BJP swung into action to expel its leader whose son, the main accused, owned the property and the administration began demolishing the structure. Violent protests have nevertheless erupted in areas surrounding the resort with locals breaking glass panes and some trying to torch a pickle factory on its premises.
What is happening in Uttrakhand?
The state is currently witnessing outrage over the killing of a 19-year-old woman who worked as a receptionist in the Vanantara resort in Pauri district's Yamkeshwar block. The property was owned by Haridwar BJP leader Vinod Arya's son Pulkit Arya.
As per the police, Bhandari had been under pressure from Pulkit Arya to provide “special services” to guests. This had been gleaned from her chat with a friend, as per a report in PTI.
Bhandari had called a friend the night before she was reported missing to say she was in trouble, according to local reports. Earlier in the day, Bhandari's Facebook friend reportedly alleged that she was killed because she refused to have sex with guests as demanded by the owner of the resort.
Bhandari was found missing by her parents on September 19 (Monday) but they reported the matter to the revenue police the following day. Bhandari's body was recovered from the Cheela canal close to Rishikesh early on Saturday, six days after her parents found her missing from her room.
Bhandari's family refused on Sunday to conduct her last rites until they get the final postmortem details, even as a preliminary report said she died due to drowning.
On Sunday evening, the father of Ankita Bhandari arrived at the mortuary in Srinagar in Pauri Garhwal district to receiver her body for last rites. A large number of people had gathered at the site to hold protest over the death of the woman.
Who is Pulkit Arya?
The accused, Pulkit Arya, is the son of Haridwar BJP leader Vinod Arya'. Vinod Arya had formerly served as chairperson of the Uttarakhand Mati Board with a state minister's rank. His other son Ankit, who was also in the BJP, has now been removed as vice president of Uttarakhand OBC Commission.
Pulkit was arrested on Friday with resort manager Saurabh Bhaskar and assistant manager Ankit Gupta and sent to 14 days judicial custody in connection to Bhandari's murder.
The three men accused of the crime initially tried to mislead the police but confessed later during interrogation.
Forced into prostitution?
In alleged Whatsapp messages that Bhandari sent to her friend, the teen describes that she is forced into prostitution, NDTV reported.
The texts, screenshots of which have gone viral on social media, reveal how she was being asked by her employers to provide "special services" to clients for Rs 10,000.
According to a report in Times of India, Bhandari wrote in one o the messages that she may be poor but she won't sell herself for Rs 10,000. The report also revealed that Bhandari had told her friend she had given Pulkit Arya when he tried to forcefully kiss her and that once a guest forcefully hugged her but she was asked by management to keep quiet about it.
Protests get violent
Protests nevertheless took a violent turn ever since details revealing the trauma of the victim in the days preceding her death emerged in the media.
BJP's Yamkeshwar MLA Renu Bisht's car was also attacked near the Cheela canal close to Rishikesh from where the young woman's body was recovered, six days after her parents found her missing from her room. However, the crowds, seething with anger, succeeded only in breaking the rear windscreen of her car and Bisht was escorted to safety by police personnel.
On Friday, crowds attacked the police car when the accused were being taken to a court in Kotdwar. They smashed the windowpanes of the car and roughed up the three men. Some women who were part of the mob demanded that the accused must be “hanged”.
The matter was handed over to regular police on September 22 following reports of slow progress in the investigation and the arrests were made on September 23.
People on Sunday also blocked National Highway 58 over Ankita Bhandari's death.
No One Will Be spared: CM Dhami promises action
As the ripples of anger spread, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami promised that no one would be spared and that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Deputy Inspector General P Renuka Devi had been constituted to probe all aspects.
"It is a tragic incident. Such a heinous crime has been committed against our daughter. Action is being taken against those involved in it. The father and brother of the main accused Pulkit Arya have been expelled from the BJP,” Dhami told reporters.
"Demolition of the resort owned by the main accused is underway. Some of its rooms have also been sealed so that evidence is not destroyed. We have also issued an order to identify all resorts built illegally on government or forest land and demolish them,” he added.
Dhami also spoke to Ankita Bhandari's father on the phone and assured him of an impartial and speedy probe in his daughter's murder.
Sharing the information in a tweet, Dhami said sternest action will be taken against the guilty which will prove to be a deterrent for criminals who commit such crimes.
The Congress staged protests in district headquarters across the state on Saturday to voice its anger over the vulnerability of women in the state.
Pradesh Congress Committee president Karan Mahra said the young woman had gone missing on September 18 and the FIR was lodged four days later. “It shows the state government is not serious in its actions. Women are not safe in Uttarakhand,” Mahra said.
"The action being taken by the state government is just an eyewash. The resort has been demolished only partially. It may also be an attempt to destroy evidence," added Congress leader Garima Dhasauni.
(With inputs from PTI)