A campaign has been going on in BJP-governed Uttarakhand for over two months in pursuit of an uncommon demand: make public the names of the VIP clients of a prostitution racket that allegedly led to the murder of a teenaged receptionist at a resort owned by the son of a leader of the ruling party.
Matters reached a head on Saturday when some 500 people marched to the Raj Bhavan in Dehradun seeking the names of the VIPs. The marchers were lathicharged.
Uttarakhand has witnessed regular protests since the body of the woman, allegedly thrown off a bridge for refusing to extend sexual favours to VIPs at the Vanantara resort in Pauri Garhwal, surfaced in a canal in Rishikesh on September 23.
Resort owner Pulkit Arya, son of the now-suspended BJP leader Vinod Arya, has been arrested on murder charges with two employees.
On Saturday, about 50 people began a sit-in about 100 metres from the Raj Bhavan in the morning.
When some 500 marchers arrived about three hours later and the entire group sought to walk to the Raj Bhavan, the police caned them and arrested 50 protesters.
Initially after the murder, chief minister and BJP leader Pushkar Singh Dhami and director-general of police Ashok Kumar had acknowledged the involvement of at least one VIP in the prostitution racket allegedly run by Pulkit at the resort. But the special investigation team told a court last month that it had no evidence of the involvement of any outsider in the matter.
State parliamentary affairs minister Premchand Agrawal on Friday said: “No VIP was involved with the resort.”
A friend of the 19-yearold receptionist has said he showed the police a WhatsApp message in which the woman had written to him that Pulkit was pressuring her to provide “extra service” to a VIP.
Senior officers had acknowledged seeing the message.
Two former employees of the resort have told reporters that the Aryas were involved in a prostitution-and-drug racket and that their clients included powerful politicians.
“Although more than two months have passed since the murder, and there’s been a continuous relay dharna in Rishikesh for the last 50 days, the state government seems not the least interested in revealing the names of the VIPs,” said Arvind Shah, a protester, after being taken to the Cantonment police station.
Shah is a member of the Yuva Nyaya Samiti, a group of youths seeking justice for the murdered woman, which has been on a relay fast in Rishikesh. “The woman’s parents are on dharna in Rishikesh and want a CBI probe because the state police are dancing to the tune of the killers and BJP leaders.
The government must listen to us or we shall intensify our protest,” Shah said. Several Congress politicians too joined the dharna and were arrested. A few party workers were allegedly injured in the lathi-charge.
The DGP said: “Those who disrupt law and order will be brought to book. We are doing an impartial investigation.”
The murder apparently took place on September 18 but Pulkit had, allegedly with support from local officials, managed to cover it up.
The police began searching for the woman after local people staged a massive protest on September 22, and the body was found a day later.