After 18 years, the continuing saga of forbidden love, which claimed the life of Maple Ridge beautician, Jaswinder Kaur ‘Jassi’ Sidhu, moves to India this week.
Canada plans to extradite the accused, Jassi’s mother, Malkit Kaur Sidhu, and uncle Surjit Singh Badesha, to India, where they have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder. If found guilty, they face life in prison in India, for killing Jassi, who defied her family to marry the man she loved. The 25-year-old, who graduated from the Pitt Meadows Secondary school, was abducted and murdered in India on June 8, 2000. Her body was found in a ditch outside the industrial metropolis of Ludhiana in Punjab, India. She had been raped and tortured by hired killers before a sword, inscribed with the words Satnam Waheguru”, was used to slit her throat. During the days leading up to the so-called ‘honour killing’, investigators tracked 147 phone calls between Maple Ridge to the accused family home in India and to the hired assassins.
Jassi’s husband, rickshaw driver Sukhwinder ‘Mithu’ Singh, who survived the attack during the abduction, continues his fight for justice after corrupt cops at the behest of Jassi’s kin, framed him several times and threw him in jail to thwart the case. Mithu has also escaped subsequent attempts to kill him. Last April, a Commission of Inquiry found that Mithu was falsely accused at least eight times by 182 police officers, who had been working with his murdered wife’s family in India to silence him. Justice Mehtab Singh Gill and Justice B.S. Mehndiratta, who led the inquiry, recommended that the cops be charged and Mithu be compensated.
One cop, who rebuffed the family’s offer is the principal investigating officer Swaran Singh Khanna, who has stated in court and media interviews that Jassi’s family offered him a blank cheque to bury the case. ‘Not every cop in Punjab police is for sale,” he told them. Khanna will be central to the upcoming trial in India. So will Mithu, who was offered 14 acres of land and cash, to keep quiet, as will be the telephone calls prior to the murder, the family’s uncontested intention to stop the marriage and the confessions by hired hitmen.
But all of this may not be enough to get justice for Jassi in India. After Jassi’s murder, Indian police arrested about a dozen people and later charged seven, including a police inspector, two key members of a local gang and another of Jassi’s uncles – Darshan Singh. Of the seven, three were acquitted and four were found guilty by the lower courts and sentenced to life.
Last year, the Supreme Court in India upheld the life sentences of the police inspector and the two hired hitmen. But it tossed out the case against Darshan Singh giving him “the benefit of the doubt”. The Supreme Court ruled that the telephone used to allegedly orchestrate the killing via calls to and from Jassi’s family in Canada was not under Darshan Singh’s exclusive control as others also had access to it.
The charges against Darshan Singh, that were tossed by the Indian Supreme Court, are similar to the charges that his bother Surjit Singh Badesha and his sister Malkit Kaur Sidhu, face in India.
The Indian Supreme Court decision to acquit Darshan Singh, is expected to be the primary defence for Badesha and Sidhu. While there is overwhelming justification for motive, the confessions of the hired killers and testimony about the attempts to cover-up the case, the prosecution in India will be hard-pressed to prove conclusively that it was the accused on the phone calls that were tracked. Many of the calls originated from or were made to the palatial home of the accused which had 25 rooms, 19 bathrooms, and six kitchens. The family compound, valued at over $2.6 million, across from Jerry Sulina Park in Maple Ridge, was home to scores of people, including four families of direct relatives and several others who worked on Badesha’s blueberry farm.
According to legal sources in India and Canada, the two accused on arrival in India will be taken to the Sangrur police station to be arraigned. They are likely to be given bail pending the lower court hearings. “Unless there is some new compelling evidence in India, their case could be tossed out at this level because of the Supreme Court decision on Darshan,” said a lawyer, who has been following the file for the last 18 years. If they are convicted by the lower court, the appeals are likely to follow the trajectory of the Darshan case and end in a similar result.
“They are Canadian citizens and could if they wish to return to Canada in the event of the acquittal, which I believe is a very real possibility…if this happens to be the case, the accused would have spent more time behind bars in Canada than they ever will in India.”
Indian journalist, Jupinderjit Singh, co-author of Justice for Jassi, said Jassi’s husband Mithu is hoping that the truth will prevent any further hurdles in getting justice for his murdered wife. “He is hoping to get his day in court and face the accused to ask them why they had to kill Jassi,” said Jupinderjit Singh.
Harbinder Singh Sewak, the Vancouver based publisher of The South Asian Post, who secured Mithu’s release from jail after proving he was falsely accused of rape, stressed that the struggle for justice will continue, despite what happens in India.
“This case has shocked many people… many think this murder is about honour and religion… it is about greed,” he said. “We kept the story alive and we will continue to do so until there is justice for Jassi,” added Sewak.
Fabian Dawson, is the former deputy editor of The Province and Vancouver Sun. After breaking the story of Jassi’s death, he together with Harbinder Singh Sewak of Vancouver, Jupinderjit Singh of Ludhiana in India and Jagdeesh Mann, the executive editor of the South Asian Post, conducted scores of interviews that led to three documentaries, a made-for-TV movie, a website calledjusticeforjassi.com and the book, Justice for Jassi. Their award-winning work has been recognized internationally in the U.K, India, the United States, and Canada.
Fabian Dawson is a journalist, author, filmmaker and media expert as well as the founder and CEO of the media agency Fabian Dawson Media.