By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
For over fifty years we have been involved in Travel. This is the premier industry of Uttarakhand. From Pilgrims, the staff and students of residential training facilities to holiday makers and those well-heeled folk who own second homes, and the cast and crew of film producers, our economic well-being rests on such visitors. Consequently, if such potential clients find that the facilities offered to them expose them to danger, they will desert us. That could happen if we don’t take immediate corrective action to stop the continuing image-degradation of the terrible Ankita Bhandari Tragedy.
The questions that follow are our contribution to the early solution of this disturbing tragedy.
- Ankita did not die near the resort. How and why did she get from the Resort to where she was allegedly pushed to her death?
- Who gave the order for demolition of part of the Resort?
- What was the significance of the part of the Resort that was demolished?
- Have any images been recovered of the decor and furnishings of the area that was demolished?
- What exactly was the nature of the injuries on Ankita’s body said to have been inflicted before she drowned?
- Did the owners of the Resort have private apartments in the Resort in which they entertained their own guests?
- What are the mandatory inspections carried out by the State Government to ensure that such Resorts are not being misused?
- Did Ankita complain about harassment by the owners to her father?
- Why did the couple employed in the Resort have to climb over the wall instead of just walking out of the gate?
- Has any material evidence been collected to establish that drugs were supplied to guests of the Resort?
- What grounds did the Uttarakhand Government give to retain the Revenue Police System?
- How many resorts in Uttarakhand are owned by politicians?
- Do the balance sheets of this Resort show that it is a viable financial venture?
- Who handles the Security arrangements of the Resort?
- Is the Resort a member of any professional organisation?
- How long has the Resort been in operation?
Some politicians have been quick to promise “the harshest punishments on the guilty”. This may sound very reassuring, but it is dangerous. Politicians have no right to punish anyone for such an offence. That can be done only by the judiciary after a trial. Any promise of extra-judicial penalties is illegal and smacks of the so-called “jungle raj”. Those who approve of demolitions being done by the executive or elected individuals are, in effect, endorsing lawlessness. This belated recognition of wrong doing could explain the “Yes I did, no I didn’t” double-speak of one of our politicians. To that person we say, ‘It is hazardous to imitate.’
Finally, though to many people the death of this young woman was a murder, and we are as deeply anguished by it as any other person, the fact that it was a deliberate act of taking a person’s life by another person has not been established. The SIT has not completed its probe and submitted its report. The judicial process, particularly in our country, is a long and complex one. In Uttarakhand it seems to be longer than in most other states. We are still struggling to rid ourselves of the unjust Revenue Police system which had a direct impact on this tragic case.
We believe that there is much more to this case than meets the eye. What we see today could be just the tip of the iceberg. When an American gangster built his empire of crime, he based it on the tolerance of the average US citizen: the shrug-shrug, wink-wink attitude of “Don’t be a stuffed shirt, pal. We must be a little flexible!” This attitude protected Al Capone so well that, eventually, he had to be tried for the innocuous offence of Tax Evasion.
Ankita could have died because she placed high value on her honour. Or, she could have sacrificed herself in order to clean up a cancerous network of sleaze, sex and the corroding of Good Order that is eroding our civic foundations.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 firstperson articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)