Uttarakhand teen cremated without family’s consent, says mother

Updated on Sep 27, 2022 04:56 AM IST

Ankita Bhandari’s body was recovered from Cheela canal near Rishikesh early on Saturday, six days after her parents found her missing from her room.

Mother of 19-year-old woman who was murdered in Uttarakhand claimed her daughter’s last rites were conducted “hurriedly”. (PTI)
Mother of 19-year-old woman who was murdered in Uttarakhand claimed her daughter’s last rites were conducted “hurriedly”. (PTI)
ByAmit Bathla, Dehradun

The mother of the 19-year-old woman receptionist, who was murdered in Uttarakhand’s Rishikesh allegedly by her employer, claimed on Monday that her daughter’s last rites were conducted “hurriedly” the previous evening without her consent.

Ankita Bhandari’s body was recovered from Cheela canal near Rishikesh early on Saturday, six days after her parents found her missing from her room. Bhandari worked at the Vanantara resort in Pauri Garhwal district owned by now-expelled Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vinod Arya’s son Pulkit Arya. Pulkit and two other employees have been arrested in the case that has sparked massive outrage across the hilly state.

Around 6 pm on Sunday, Bhandari’s last rites were conducted at the ITI ghat in Pauri Garhwal, hours after her family refused to cremate her until they get the final autopsy details.

In a widely circulated video on social media, Bhandari’s mother can be heard saying that she was waiting to see her daughter “one last time” but the authorities “deceived” her.

“They are deceiving me again and again. How could they cremate my daughter without informing me,” she alleged. “Does any cremation take place this late?”

The cremation was done after the police managed to take out her body from the mortuary of Pauri’s Srinagar medical college, where her body was kept after the post-mortem examination on Saturday, amid protests by local residents. Police took help of the Bhandari’s father, who told the crowd that the administration has assured of strict action against the accused.

In the video, the mother can be seen arguing with Srinagar SDM Ajay Veer Singh, asking him, “How could they take my daughter without my consent.”

“We were conveyed by the authorities that the last rites will take place on Monday. But they eventually put the body in the ambulance and took it for cremation by deceiving us,” another family member can be heard saying in the video.

HT cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video.

The family also alleged that the woman’s father was “pressurised” to cremate the body “hurriedly”.

When contacted, Srinagar SDM said he would talk later as he was in a meeting.

On Sunday, the SDM told HT that the family was ready for the last rites but was “confused and under pressure” from the public. “But we persuaded the family and protesters to take the body to the ghat for cremation,” he had said.

The woman’s family has also raised suspicion over the government’s decision to hurriedly bulldoze parts of the resort owned by prime accused Pulkit Arya, alleging if it was done “deliberately” to “destroy the evidence” at the crime scene.

“There is suspicion over the action taken by the government hurriedly overnight to bulldoze the parts of the resort. Was it done to benefit the accused?” the woman’s father alleged on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Pauri Garhwal district magistrate Vijay Kumar Jogdande on Monday ordered a probe into the demolition of parts of the resort on the intervening night of Friday and Saturday.

“Whoever has done it, we will take action,” said the DM, adding that the “district administration did not issue any order in this regard”.

Earlier, Uttarakhand police in a tweet said the action was taken following directions from chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami.

Pauri Garhwal police also put out a clarification on the bulldozer action on the resort through a Facebook post.

“According to criminal cases experts, the bulldozer action on the resort won’t affect the case. The resort is not a crime scene. As per Section 27 of the [Indian] evidence Act, they recovered the body on the basis of the confession of the accused. It is the biggest evidence in itself,” the police said in the FB post. “Had the body not been found, the circumstance would have weakened the case.”

The post further said: “We will gather all electronic evidence from call details and chats. We had intensively searched the resort before the bulldozer action. The bulldozer action and fire in the resort wouldn’t affect the case since the incident took place somewhere else. The post-mortem [examination] report would be crucial for the case.”

Pauri additional superintend of police Shekhar Chandra Suyal claimed the forensic team had gathered all evidence from the resort before the demolition.

On Saturday, the state unit of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released videos of the bulldozer action on the resort and said it came on CM Dhami’s instructions. Angry locals also vandalised the resort by breaking its glass panes and subsequently setting a section of the resort on fire.

Meanwhile, BJP MLA from Yamkeshwar, Renu Bisht, who was present during the demolition of resort, posted a video on her Facebook, saying she had appraised the CM about the anger of people over the heinous crime. “I requested him for bulldozer action on the resort so that nobody can even think of committing such a crime. At my request, the CM immediately ordered the bulldozer action. I am thankful to him,” she said.

However, the state unit of Congress has alleged that the bulldozer action was a “clear attempt to destroy evidence”.

“The bulldozer was sent there to destroy evidence. It’s a serious issue,” alleged Congress state president Karan Mahara. “Who was the government trying to save? CM says they ordered the demolition action, while the DM says there was no order for any action.”

BJP state president Mahendra Bhatt countered the charges, saying: “Congress was spreading lies on the bulldozer action. The police had sealed the resort on September 22 after videography. The bulldozer action was taken for illegal construction in the front side.”

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