MURDEROUS HONOUR, UNDYING LOVE
LAW CATCHES UP Jassi was the daughter of multimillionaire orchardists in Canada. Mithu was a handsome kabaddi player from a poor Jat Sikh family in native Punjab. The order now for extraditing her mother and uncle, 17 years after they allegedly conspired
The spotlight is back on the 2000 Jassi-Mithu case after the order for extradition of the girl’s mother and uncle, who allegedly conspired in her murder for marrying against their wishes. Hindustan Times revisits the tragic love story set in the land of HeerRanjha. ››
CHANDIGARH: It was love at first sight. Sukhwinder Singh Mithu still remembers the cold foggy evening of December 1994 when he first set his eyes on 19-year-old Jaswinder Kaur Jassi in a ‘bhoond’ (a ‘wasp’-shaped auto-rickshaw) headed for Kaunke village in Jagraon.
She was the daughter of multi-millionaire blueberry orchard owners in British Columbia, Canada. He was a handsome kabaddi player from a poor Jat Sikh family. Jassi was visiting her maternal uncle’s family at Kaunke with her mother and aunt (massi). He was returning home from a match with a buddy.
Mithu remembers how in order to hide his embarrassment at being so dumbstruck by Jassi, he started blabbering. “Hun aukha hoh gyaa India vich rehna, asin vi bahar jaan di tyari kariye’ (It’s getting tough to live in India now, we should also get ready to shift overseas),” he remarked as Jassi and her unmarried aunt giggled.
Saying they were drawn to each other from the very first look, he recounts, “We looked into each other’s eyes; I felt something special and she also smiled.” Next day, he followed the family to Hero Silk showroom at Jagraon. While her mother and aunt got busy shopping, he sat behind Jassi. “She was having coffee, and secretly passed me the cup. That’s how we started seeing each other,” Mithu remembers.
Jassi returned to Canada but the couple continued to call each other. In May 1999, she returned to India and secretly married Mithu when she learnt that her parents had started looking for a match for her. And then she returned to Canada and enrolled in a course for beauticians.
Mithu says a villager leaked the news about their marriage to Jassi’s maternal uncle, a wealthy man who wielded considerable influence in the area, and the matter reached Jassi’s parents in Canada.
Jassi was kept in confinement and in India, her uncle’s family lodged a police complaint against Mithu in February 2000 for kidnapping Jassi and forcibly marrying her.
However, later that year, Jassi managed to return to India and give a statement in Mithu’s favour. The couple thought their dream had come true when they started living together, much against the wishes of her parents and uncle. “Since goons hired by Jassi’s uncle had started chasing us, we spent around 20 days in Shimla and Jaipur and finally my family sent us to my uncle’s house in Narike village near Malerkotla,” recounts Mithu.
He remembers the fateful evening of June 8, 2000, when he returned from Patiala in the evening to find Jassi clamouring for a scooter ride. “She was tired of being holed up at home. She said she was wearing jeans for the first time in Punjab, and we should go out like any other newly-weds.”
It was around 7.30 pm and his uncle did not like the idea of their stepping out, but Mithu took Jassi for coffee to Malerkotla.
They were about to reach Narike village when they saw a car parked on the road alongside the local drain. Mithu slowed down to see if everything was alright. Suddenly, two men hiding behind the car pounced on the couple. More people joined them and attacked Mithu with swords.
“I fell unconscious and the only thing I remember is Jassi screaming in English, ‘Please help! Somebody is killing my Mithu. Please help!’.”
The attackers continued to thrust their swords into Mithu, saying “Badaa aaya sala Ranjha... Enu chadnaa nahi aj (he thinks he is a Romeo, we won’t leave him today)”. When they thought he was dead, they threw him on the roadside and fled.
Mithu survived the attack after two migrant labourers passing by noticed him lying in a pool of blood and took him to hospital. Next day, Jassi’s body was found in a drain in Ludhiana with her neck slit.
AND THE MOTHER SAID, ‘KILL HER TOO!’
As per the FIR registered in the case in the Amargarh police station, Jassi’s uncle Surjeet Singh and mother Malkiat Kaur hatched a conspiracy in Canada to kill Mithu.
They contacted Darshan Singh of Kaunke village, whose son was engaged to Surjit’s daughter, and asked him to hire professional killers.
The challan filed in the court says Darshan Singh reportedly contacted Gurnek Singh Bhatti, a photographer from Moga, who knew Joginder Singh, then sub-inspector and in charge of the crime investigation agency (CIA), Ludhiana. Joginder has since been awarded life in jail as he had aided the murder, and even promised to “settle” things if the body (of Mithu, as per plan) was dumped in his area of jurisdiction.
Bhatti took Darshan Singh and Surjit to meet Sub-Inspector Joginder Singh. The SI put them through to Anil Kumar, who allegedly headed a land grab mafia in Ludhiana. Darshan Singh, Surjit Singh and Anil Kumar met and struck a deal for Rs 7 lakh.
Then Surjit flew back to Canada after instructing Darshan to pay Rs 4 lakh as advance.
The police recorded Mithu’s statement when he regained consciousness around 15 days after the attack, and arrested several members of the killer gang, namely, Anil Kumar, Ashwani, alias Ashu, Gurwinder Cheema, alias Ginder, Gursharan, alias Tony, Jaswant Singh, alias Soni, Ravinder Singh, alias Leelu, and Kamaljit, alias Komal by the first week of July 2000.
The police also arrested Darshan Singh and another man, Gurnek Singh Bhatti. Later, on January 19, 2001, the Sangrur police arrested SI Joginder Singh.
Seven persons, including SI Joginder, Darshan Singh, and Anil Kumar, were given life imprisonment by Sangrur court, which was upheld by the Punjab and Haryana High Court and Supreme Court of India as well.
“During our interrogation of the contract killers, we found that Jassi’s uncle and mother had hired the killers only to kill Mithu, and the plan was to take Jassi in another car and leave her at a relative’s place from where she would be sent back to Canada,” says then Sangrur SSP Jatinder Aulakh, now an Inspector General of Police (IGP) (headquarters) who had personally interrogated the killers in this case.
The interrogation found that while taking Jassi along, the attackers called up her mother and uncle to tell them that they had completed their task.
“We made Jassi talk to her mother. But she was crying badly and accused her mother of killing her Mithu. She was repeatedly saying, ‘Mom ! I will expose you before police tomorrow’. Her mother again spoke to us and finally said, ‘Kill Jassi too’,” prime accused Anil had told the police. The killers were given Rs 7 lakh more for this. She was taken to a lonely farmhouse where her throat was slit with a sharp-edged weapon and glass from beer bottles.
The Punjab Police had sought the extradition of Surjit and Malkiat in 2005, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) refused and raised a number of questions about the justice system in India.
The matter reached the Supreme Court of Canada after some activists in the country started a ‘Justice for Jassi’ petition. In May 2014, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ordered Malkiat and Surjit to be extradited to India to face charges relating to the case. Later, however, the British Columbia court of appeal blocked their extradition. But on September 8 this year, the Supreme Court of Canada finally gave its nod for the procedure.
“It may take us a few more days to bring the two for trial. CBI is the nodal agency for carrying out extraditions, and we are in touch with the central agency,” says Punjab DGP Suresh Arora.
As per Investigating Officer (IO) Swaran Singh Khanna, who is now an SP, Surjit had called the contract killers and other accused 147 times four days before the attack, and there is enough evidence in the case for a successful trial. Khanna told HT, “Jassi’s family contacted me and offered me a blank cheque to bury the case. But I told them, ‘Not every cop in Punjab police is for sale!’.”
HAPPINESS CUT SHORT: In March 1999, Sukhwinder Singh Mithu and Jaswinder Kaur Jassi got married secretly at a gurdwara in Amritsar.
PARTNERS IN CRIME: Jassi’s mother Malkiat Kaur, uncle Surjit S Badesha