Token coverage of an Uttarakhand murder

27 Sep,2022

 

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona BanerjiLocal public anger over the murder of 19-year-old Ankita Bhandari is still simmering in Uttarakhand. The Rishikesh Highway was blocked for over 12 hours by angry residents. The behaviour of the police has come under scrutiny. And after days of unrest and protest, the national media has woken up, sort of.

Why so long and why so late?

The reason is simple. And expected. The accused in the case, Pulkit Arya is the son of BJP member and former minister of state Vinod Arya. That Arya senior has been expelled from the party is only because of public pressure and exposure.

Ankita went missing from her job as a receptionist at the Vanantara Resort in Rishikesh on September 18, and her family found out the day after. She had a few days earlier sent a text to a friend of hers that the resort owner was trying to push her into prostitution and provide “services” for special guests.

Her father had to move heaven and earth to get the police to take action, and only managed with the intervention of a BJP MLA, and Speaker of the assembly, Ritu Khanduri. Uttarakhand’s villages still come under an archaic system of “revenue police”, which causes massive problems when it comes to criminal investigation.

It took the BJP administration in Uttarakhand days to respond, as anger continued to brew.

The local media started picking up on the case, but the national media was slow as can be expected.

Even today, after Ankita’s body has been found, after Pulkit Arya and his friends have been arrested, after Vinod Arya has been expelled from the BJP, one can see prominent TV anchors trying to look for excuses for the BJP. The Pushkar Dhami government took a leaf out of the UP administration’s destruction policy book, and bulldozed part of the resort. This is just smoke and mirrors to try and convince people that it is doing something. But there is no place for demolition in a murder case. In fact, demolitions are more likely to disturb evidence, inasmuch as India cares about forensic investigations.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/girl-19-murdered-by-uttarakhand-resort-owner-son-of-bjp-ex-min-for-refusing-prostitution/articleshow/94404003.cms

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/ankita-murder-case-district-administration-examining-on-whose-orders-demolition-of-resort-was-carried-out/articleshow/94462634.cms

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/ankita-murder-case-resort-was-hub-of-prostitution-drugs-say-former-staffers/articleshow/94465509.cms

People have compared this case to the Nirbhaya case of 2012.

But that is a false comparison.

There is nowhere near the sort of anger and outrage at the national level, and the cases are very different.

What we have instead, and so far, is token coverage from the national media and only because there is local disturbance. The local media has been at the case hammer and tongs, so there is some small consolation there. The local Times of India has been consistent in its coverage, however, as an example of local media works, as the links above show.

For Uttarakhand itself, hopefully this murder is a wake-up call.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely and that is what we see here. Expelling Vinod Arya is not really enough. There are massive allegations of corruption against the ruling BJP government in Uttarakhand, especially when it comes to “development” and tourism.

The massive growth in tourism since Uttarakhand became a state is unmatched by infrastructure arrangements. And the surge after pandemic restrictions were lifted is chaotic, disorganized and uncatered for.

But all this is unlikely to affect the rest of India. Unless enough tourists are affected. What we see in the Ankita case is how locals are being manipulated and traumatised by the tourism industry and those in power. And how the media is too scared to take on upfront a BJP administration because of the possible vindictive reactions.

That “journalists” can make excuses for the use of bulldozers in such a case or can present the expulsion of the accused’s father from the BJP after public anger spilled over, underlines once more the stranglehold of the BJP on the Indian media and the wilful capitulation of editors and owners.

You only have to compare the excited glee over the political fracas in Congress-ruled Rajasthan to the dull outrage over the death of a young working woman in Uttarakhand by a BJP connection to see how tightly the Congress versus BJP reins are held and controlled.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal

 

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