Woman killed in India feared family: friend
VANCOUVER - A British Columbia woman who Indian authorities believe was the victim of an honour killing planned in Canada spent the final months of her life in fear of her family, her friends testified Monday at the extradition hearing of her mother and uncle.
Jaswinder, or Jassi, Sidhu was 25 when she was found strangled and beaten to death in June 2000, her body dumped in a canal in India.
Her mother, Malkit Kaur Sidhu, and her uncle, Surjit Singh Badesha, are facing extradition to India to face charges of conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly unleashing the attack on the tall South Asian beauty and her lower caste husband.
"She had married a gentleman outside of an arranged marriage her family wanted," said Jody Wright, who worked with Sidhu at a Coquitlam beauty salon. "It was of her own free will. For love."
Wright testified that Sidhu told her when they worked together in the months before her death that the marriage had remained a secret for about a year because her family would not approve of the poor rickshaw driver she met during a visit to India a few years earlier.
But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gregory Fitch heard that the clandestine union came to light when Sidhu's previous boss called her home to say she had left behind some personal items. A family member picked up those items and found a marriage certificate.
Wright said Sidhu described what happened next as an "interrogation," during which Sidhu's own life and that of her husband, Sukhwinder (Mithu) Sidhu, were threatened. Wright said her friend told her she admitted to the marriage and was forced to sign a document seeking an annulment.
"She was fearful of her life. She told me she didn't know what they were capable of," Wright testified.
Sidhu arranged a code with Wright, the receptionist at the salon, that would initiate a call to police. Wright said she made that call twice.
"The code word was, 'I'm sick or I have the flu.' That was my trigger to call the cops because she was locked in her bedroom," she told the court under questioning by Deborah Strachan, the lawyer for the federal attorney general.
Wright said she typed a letter for Sidhu that Sidhu said she would take to her lawyer. The letter said Sidhu had been forced to sign the document seeking an annulment, and that she had not, in fact, been forced to marry.
Weeks before her death, Wright and another friend testified that Sidhu ran away from home. Her bank accounts had been frozen so she borrowed the money to go to India and planned to bring her husband home with her to Canada.
"She was excited about her marriage and she was working on getting his immigration papers and she was hoping her family would eventually accept him once he came over," testified Belinda Lucas, another co-worker.
Malkit Kaur Sidhu appeared grandmotherly in the prisoner's box. Wearing glasses, her greying hair pulled back in a bun, she nodded slightly at the quiet words of a translator sitting between her and her brother.
Badesha, in a white turban and white sneakers, shook his head at some of the allegations made by the first of five witnesses expected to testify this week. He and Sidhu are in custody awaiting the outcome of the extradition hearing.
Lucas said the young woman told her that her family had offered her money and a car to get a divorce. When that didn't work, they took her driver's licence and passport.
After Sidhu's family found out about her marriage, Lucas said she was escorted into work by two of her uncles. One of them, who she identified as Badesha, told the salon owner that Sidhu was not to be allowed to leave work during the day or make any phone calls. She was brought into work and picked up every day.
Under cross-examination by Malkit Sidhu's lawyer, David Crossin, Lucas said she believed her friend loved her mother very much.
"I think her mother loved her and I think she was feeling the same thing as her daughter — torn," Lucas testified.
Lucas agreed that, based on her discussions with Jassi Sidhu, she believed the elder Sidhu was unhappy and being forced to choose between loving and supporting her daughter and the wishes of her brother, a wealthy businessman.
"As a result of your discussions with Jassi, it was apparent to you that both Jassi and her mother were unhappy about the lifestyle each of them lived in that household?" Crossin asked.
"Someone who had perhaps been poorly treated in her life?" Crossin asked.
"Maybe," Lucas said.
Badesha's lawyer, Michael Klein, asked both witnesses if they had watched any of the extensive media coverage the case had received, including a book and several television documentaries.
He also pointed out several discrepancies in details between the witnesses' testimony and statements they gave to police 11 years ago.
Sidhu and her husband were attacked as they rode a scooter in a village near Sangrur, Punjab in June 2000. Her husband was severely beaten but survived. Sidhu was kidnapped, and later strangled to death.
Seven men were convicted of the crime in India, but several of those convictions were overturned on appeal.