She was the daughter of a former security guard and an anganwadi worker. She had completed Class 12, and was keen to go to college. But then, with her father having quit his job as a guard years ago, she decided to sign up as a receptionist at a resort late last month. She did not, however, live long enough to collect even her first salary.
This, in short, is the story of 19-year-old Ankita Bhandari, according to her family members.
On Saturday, the police recovered Ankita’s body from a canal, six days after she went missing from the resort in the Laxman Jhula area of Uttarakhand.
On Friday, the police had arrested Pulkit Arya, resort owner and son of former state minister Vinod Arya, and said he had allegedly confessed to pushing Ankita into the canal after an altercation. The resort manager Saurabh Bhaskar and another person identified as Ankit were also arrested.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar said the police have now found evidence suggesting that the accused were allegedly putting pressure on Ankita to provide “special services” to some of the guests at the resort — and that she was killed when she resisted.
According to Ankita’s family members, she joined the resort on August 28, moving from her home in Dobh Srikot village, around 130 km away. “Due to the financial condition of her family, she had to leave her education after intermediate from Bhagat Ram School in Pauri, and start working. Ankita’s father Virendra Bhandari used to work as a private security guard at Chauras dam, but left the job a few years ago. The only earning member in the family was her mother Soni Bhandari, who works as an anganwadi worker. Her elder brother Sachin is studying in Delhi,” said Lilawati, the wife of Virendra’s elder brother Rajendra Bhandari.
“The condition of the family was not very good and that is why she had to leave the village and shift to the resort after she was offered a job. We are not sure how she was approached but on August 28, a car from the resort picked her up. At the resort, she was given a room and used to stay there. She was offered a salary of Rs 10,000 a month for the receptionist’s job, but little did we know that they would kill her before she could even get her first salary,” said Lilawati.
“She was keen to study further, and we were disappointed when she had to leave her education to take care of the family. But we also thought that maybe she will have a future in what she is doing. However, just a few weeks after she left, her mother told me that Ankita did not sound the same anymore and it appeared that something was bothering her. At that time, we did not think much of that. Maybe, we should have,” said Lilawati, sobbing and waiting outside the AIIMS-Rishikesh mortuary to receive the body of her niece.
DGP Ashok Kumar said the police have recovered a WhatsApp chat between Ankita and a friend who lives in Jammu. “In the messages, she made it clear that they (the accused) want her to provide ‘special services’… that friend and the chat is major evidence for us. Also, we found the body from the same canal (Shakti canal near the Chilla power house) in which the accused confessed to having pushed her,” said the DGP.
In the Whatsapp chat, police sources said, Ankita mentioned that she was feeling insecure at the resort and suggested that one of the accused allegedly asked her to provide “special services” in exchange of Rs 10,000.
Meanwhile, a portion of Vanantra Resort owned by Pulkit was termed as “illegal construction” and demolished by the Pauri Garhwal district administration. The demolished part included the room where Ankita was staying, the reception area, and the front portion of the resort.
The step came hours after Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami directed all District Magistrates to inquire about resorts running under their jurisdiction and take required action against those constructed or running illegally.
Dhami also formed a Special Investigation Team under DIG P Renuka Devi to investigate the murder case.
At the same time, the ruling BJP removed Pulkit’s father Vinod Arya and elder brother Ankit Arya from the party. Ankit Arya was also removed from his post as Uttarakhand OBC Commission vice-president.
But the action did little to douse the local outrage over the killing.
After Ankita’s body was recovered and sent for postmortem, angry protesters set fire to a portion of a gooseberry processing unit owned by Pulkit, which was situated behind the resort. Some of the protesters also attacked the vehicle of local BJP MLA Renu Bisht. After the postmortem, Ankita’s body was sent to Srinagar in Pauri Garhwal district for cremation.