Drug abuse and prostitution were regular "services" at the Uttarakhand resort owned by Pulkit Arya, a since-expelled BJP leader's son who allegedly killed 19-year-old receptionist Ankita Bhandari, former employees have alleged.
"The resort management would provide illicit liquor, ganja (cannabis) and other drugs, and even girls, to the guests," said Rishita, who worked there as a receptionist while her husband, Vivek, worked as a housekeeper, until two months ago. They had quit before Ankita Bhandari joined in August.
Just days later, Ankita Bhandari was murdered allegedly by Pulkit Arya and two staff members of the resort — Vanantra, near Rishikesh, in Pauri district — after she refused to be a part of the prostitution ring, police investigation has found so far.
They were arrested last Friday, almost a week after Ankit Bhandari had gone missing, after protests and allegations that police were slow because a ruling party leader was connected to the case.
"I felt they wanted me to get into it too," Rishita said, "They would abuse me, use the worst of slurs."
Her husband, Vivek, said, "I was beaten up and blackmailed over some theft allegations after I objected." He alleged that the local patwari — revenue official who handles law and order in the rural area — sided with the owner in "not just assaulting me but torturing me mentally too".
"After working there for about a month, I was sick of the wrong activities and stopped going to work." He said he resumed work after a week as Pulkit Arya and the two managers had assured him "those things won't happen".
"But that was only for a few days. Soon, it was business as usual for Pulkit Arya, providing drugs and girls and doing other such things for guests," Vivek further said.
He said that after completing a month and a half, he asked for his salary and said he was quitting, at which Pulkit Arya accused him of a petty theft and beat him up.
"I called the cops, who told me the area isn't under regular police but handled by a patwari (land revenue official). When the patwari came there upon my complaint, he in turn asked Pulkit Arya, 'What do you want me to do with him'? They abused me and threatened me with torture in custody. I was forced to write an apology. They used that apology as a blackmail tool. But eventually we just left, willing to risk any consequences," he further alleged.
The allegations two days after Ankita Bhandari was cremated amid massive protests against the police for allegedly acting slow.
Her family and protestors had initially refused to cremate the body, questioning the demolition of the resort where she worked. They said it was an attempt to destroy evidence. The autopsy said she died due to drowning and that her body bore signs of injury caused by blunt force.
The BJP has since expelled Pulkit Arya's father Vinod Arya, who is a former minister, and brother Ankit Arya from the party. Chief Minister Pushkar Dhami has assured of "harshest action": "This is a very heinous crime. Whoever the culprit is, will not be spared."