Ex-minister’s son held in case of missing Uttarakhand woman, 19-year-old resort employee was being ‘forced’ into prostitution

New Delhi: In a case that has shaken the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, the son of a former Uttarakhand minister has been arrested as the prime accused for the murder of 19-year-old hotel receptionist Ankita Bhandari.

Pulkit Arya, owner of Vanantra Resort by the Ganges in Rishikesh, was arrested on Friday along with two accomplices for ‘throwing’ Ankita Bhandari, the receptionist, into the Ganges near Shakti barrage. Ankita had resisted Arya’s unwelcome sexual advances, one police source said.

According to one of the accomplices, Arya was also forcing Ankita Bhandari to ‘service’ clients, a euphemism for prostitution, which was another reason for the gruesome turn of events.

Pulkit Arya is the son of former minister Vinod Arya and brother of Ankit Arya, the sitting vice-chairperson of Uttrakhand OBC Welfare Commission.

The victim hailed from Srikot village in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand and was recently hired as receptionist at Arya’s resort. She had gone missing under mysterious circumstances on September 19.
Arya, the police said, confessed to his crime on being arrested.

Why Ankita Bhandari was ‘killed’?

After throwing Ankita Bhandari into the Ganges, Arya and his friends concocted a story to mislead the police and cover up their crime, investigation suggests.

Having returned from the crime scene, the group tried to portray business as usual, and behaved with the resort staff as if Ankita was still alive. The same night, the perpetrators left for Haridwar to avoid any queries.

From Haridwar, Pulkit Arya called up his resort and requested that Ankita Bhandari be called to the phone since he wanted to talk to her, in an attempt to create alibis.

When the hotel staff told him that Ankita Bhandari was nowhere to be found, he called revenue officials – what locals call ‘patwari police’ – to report Ankita as missing.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Ankita going missing, facts revealed by her family, friends and resort staff came together to form a story: crucial evidence based on which the case was cracked.

Clinching evidence nailing Pulkit Arya

The victim’s family, initially, tried to scour through CCVTV footage from the resort, since they claimed Ankita had talked to them over her cellphone from her room in the resort the night before she went missing. The cameras, however, were broken.

The police have found a call recording, perhaps from the hours leading to Ankita’s murder, in which she is heard sobbing while talking to a resort staffer. The police are also in possession of Ankita’s WhatsApp chat with a colleague in which she has clearly said that Pulkit tried to kiss her forcibly, at which she reprimanded him. “He thinks I am naïve,” Ankita wrote.

Ankita: “Usne socha mai bahut bholi hu, kuch nahi karungi.”
Resort Staff: “Kya kiya usne”.
Ankita: “Kiss karne ki koshish ki, mene dhungse suna diya”.

Police investigation and confessions

For several days, the revenue police sat on the case. The case was transferred to the regular police only on September 22, despite local media in Rishikesh reporting the case extensively.

The parents of the deceased also brought about pressure to bear upon the revenue police, even marching to the thana with MLA Renu Bisht, alleging that Ankita had been murdered.

The police interrogation revealed that Pulkit Arya, along with friend Ankit Gupta and resort manager Saurabh Bhaskar decided on September 18 to take Ankita out for a chat to straighten out the controversy that had broken with Ankita’s refusal to do as asked.

“They took off to Rishikesh on separate bikes; Ankita sat behind Pulkit. Pulkit, later, stopped at an isolated dark corner where he drank liquor with Ankit Gupta and ate momos,” police said.

As confessed to the police, Saurabh Bhaskar said that Pulkit Arya and Ankita Bhandari started arguing. He was angry as Ankita had confided about Pulkit’s demands—sexual favours for him and clients—to her colleagues.

“After a few minutes the two got involved in a physical fight; an angered Ankita tossed Arya’s phone in the river, and in retaliation, Pulkit pushed her off the road and into the river,” said police officials.

Pulkit confessed that they immediately fled the spot.

Meanwhile, as the news of Ankita’s murder broke, locals in the area staged a protest outside Arya’s resort as well as at Shakti Barrage. Attempts are on to find Ankita’s body.

Local residents are an enraged lot; they want the resort to be razed by bulldozers.

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