If she were still alive, last month would mark the 17th anniversary of Jaswinder ‘Jassi’ Kaur Sidhu’s marriage to Sukhwinder ‘Mithu’ Singh. But instead of a celebration, her husband continues to mourn for his wife who was killed because she dared to break the ‘love rules’ tied to her family’s rural Punjabi culture.
Born and raised in Canada in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Jassi Sidhu was killed in June 2000 by hired killers while living with her husband in Punjab, India. Police traced 266 phone calls between Jassi’s maternal uncle, Surjit Badesha, to the hired killers, becoming a basis by which India formally requested extradition in 2005 of Badesha and Jassi’s mother Malkit Sidhu to face murder charges.
Police allege the millionaire blueberry farmer Badesha and his sister Malkit Sidhu hired the contract killers to kill Jassi because she had married a lower-caste auto rickshaw driver in Punjab. Punjab Police investigations confirmed it was an honour killing plotted by the mother and uncle while they were at home in Maple Ridge, Canada.
In May 2014, the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver ordered that duo must be deported to India to face trial.
The struggle to obtain justice for Jassi, however, was set back this past week when the British Columbia Appeal Court overturned the extradition order against Jassi’s mother and uncle. The judge expressed concern that both of the accused will be beaten and tortured in Indian jails.
“This is a travesty of justice… I don’t know if there will ever be justice for Jassi, given the latest court ruling,” said Fabian Dawson, a Vancouver-based journalist, author and filmmaker, who has been following this international saga of forbidden love for the last 16 years.
“The court ruling effectively suspends the deportation process for Jassi’s mother and uncle and it will take years more for a final decision if the crown decides to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Dawson, the Deputy editor-in-chief of The Province, who broke the story of Jassi’s murder in June of 2000.
In a split decision, Justice Ian Donald said in his ruling that India’s assurances about violence against prisoners are empty because of the country’s record of human rights abuses.
“In my view, there is a valid basis for concern that the applicants will be subjected to violence, torture and/or neglect if surrendered,” he wrote in a decision released last Friday.
This overturned the earlier decision by a B.C. Supreme Court judge who had ordered the surrender of Jassi’s mother Malkiat Sidhu and uncle, Surjit Singh Badesha to police in India in May 2014 after finding there was enough evidence for them to face trial for the murder of 25-year-old Jassi.
Donald however consented that the conspiracy charges against the duo from Maple Ridge, B.C., were strong and suggested that the new Canadian justice minister should consider whether the pair could be tried in Canada.
“I have no doubt that consular monitoring can be effective regarding the death penalty and the corruption/ fair-trial issues,” Donald said. “The more worrisome issue is the day-to-day exposure to harm in custody and the risks associated with retaliation against prisoners who complain.”
“Consular staff may only discover a rape, beating or neglect of medical care after the fact.”
“Right-thinking Canadians … would be distressed at the prospect of the applicants escaping justice because of conditions in India,” Donald said.
He said other than revisiting the possibility of holding the pair’s trial in Canada, the justice minister could also secure meaningful and effective assurances from India about their treatment in that country, according to Canadian Press.
“If we don’t respect extradition treaties which Canada has signed with other countries, then why have them,” said Dawson.
“Our judges seem to have made it a habit of questioning the penal and justice system of other countries and reinforce the view that Canada is a safe haven for fugitives.” Dawson added that Canadian courts have stymied efforts to send back fugitives from the Philippines, Thailand, China and Mexico over the past decade.
“If Justice Donald is so concerned about the safety of prisoners in Indian jails, perhaps he should look closer at home,” said Dawson pointing to dozens of lawsuits against the B.C. government by inmates injured in jail attacks.
With hundreds of assaults in provincial jails every year, some of the victims, their lawyers and the union representing correctional officers say the violence has reached epidemic levels, The Vancouver Sun reported last year. “The level of violence in Canadian provincial centres is out of control,” said lawyer Tonia Grace, who represents several B.C. inmates with lawsuits.
Dean Purdy, vice-president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, said the union has documented an increase in violent assaults in B.C. jails.
“We are seeing both inmates and correctional officers targeted,” he said.
In 2014, there were 973 violent incidents by inmates on other inmates and on staff at B.C.’s nine jails. By the end of August 2015, there were already 907 incidents on record.
“Given these numbers Justice Donald perhaps should ask himself are our jails any safer than the jails in India,” added Dawson.
Harbinder Singh Sewak is the Vancouver based publisher of The South Asian Post which won a Jack Webster Award for its work on the Jassi case and is the co-author of the book Justice for Jassi. He decried the BC Court of Appeal decision and stressed that the struggle for justice for Jassi will continue. “The ruling has shocked many people… many think this murder is about honour and religion… it is about greed,” said Sewak.
The book, Justice for Jassi, documents the entire saga and is narrated from the perspective of Mithu, who since his wife’s murder has continued fighting to see justice done for his wife, despite threats and attempts to silence him.
The authors scoured through thousands of police and court records in Canada and India, as well as hours of tape interviewing officials. The book shows how her mother and uncle orchestrated Jassi’s murder from Maple Ridge. “We kept the website www.justiceforjassi.com going and we kept the story alive. We will continue to do so until there is justice for Jassi,” said Sewak.
Meanwhile in India and Canada, the latest ruling has shocked and upset many. Ujjal Dosanjh, the former attorney general and premier of B.C. said the ruling left him ‘an angry Indian and an angry Canadian‘. For the longest time the RCMP didn’t feel the murder of Canadian Jassi Sidhu in India was worth investigating until the pressure from the activists and media mounted, he wrote in a column.
“What is troubling about this decision is the implicit assumption that every Indian prison cell is a potential torture chamber,” said Dosanjh. “What troubles me and leaves me angry is the terrible truth that circumstances and international failings continue to conspire against justice for the brutal taking of Jassi Sidhu’s life.”
Swaran Singh, an assistant sub-inspector who investigated the case, said the judgment took him by surprise. “We have an open and shut case against Jassi’s mother Malkit Kaur Sidhu and her maternal uncle Surjit Singh Badesha,” he said. “They ordered the killing as Sukhwinder Singh was from a weaker community, socially and economically.”
R.K. Meena, additional director-general of police (prisons), said 119 foreigners were lodged in Indian jails, including three from Canada. “Canadian officers have visited Punjab jails several times,” he said. “They have never complained of abuse or unhealthy conditions. Neither have the Canadian citizens lodged in the jails complained of inhuman conditions.”
Jassi Sidhu — the story at a glance
Canadian-born Jaswinder Sidhu had met auto rickshaw driver Sukhwinder Singh (Mithu) in Jagraon during her visit to Punjab in 1996 and fallen in love with him. The two secretly married in 1999 when she flew back to India from Canada to tie the knot.
Millionaire blueberry farmer Surjit Badesha and his sister Malkit Sidhu from Maple Ridge, B.C. had hired contract killers to eliminate Malkit’s daughter Jassi (Jaswinder) Sidhu in June 2000 because she had married a lower-caste auto rickshaw driver in Punjab, police in India allege.
Jassi Sidhu is found murdered in June 2000 near Sukhwinder’s village.
Punjab Police investigations confirmed it was an honour killing plotted by Jaswinder’s mother Malkit Sidhu and her uncle Surjit Badesha while the duo were in Canada.
Based on the evidence of 266 phone calls that Surjit Badesha made with the hired killers, India formally requested Canada in 2005 to extradite him and Malkit Sidhu to face trial.
In May 2014, the the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver ordered that Jaswinder’s uncle and mother must be deported to India to face trial.
But last week, the British Columbia’s Appeal Court overturned the deportation order against the mother and uncle of Jaswinder Sidhu, citing India’s “appalling” record in regard to prisoners. – IANS
The original article in South Asian Post (Vancouver, Canada) was published here.
To read a full background on the case click here.
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Jagdeesh Mann is a journalist based in Vancouver. Follow @JagdeeshMann.