A British Columbia woman who Indian authorities believe was the victim of a so-called honour killing planned in Canada 13 years ago 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, Kaur Sidhu was 25 when she was found strangled and beaten to death 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.
Malkit Kaur Sidhu, brought into the court by a sheriff, appeared grandmotherly in the prisoner's box on Monday. 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, was also accompanied into the courtroom by a sheriff from the lockup downstairs. He shook his head at some of the allegations made by the first of five witnesses expected to testify this week.
A clandestine union
Jody Wright, who worked with Sidhu at a Coquitlam beauty salon and was one of her few confidantes, testified that Sidhu told her 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.
"She had married a gentleman outside of an arranged marriage her family wanted," Wright said.
"It was of her own free will. For love."
But 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, letters and photos.
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.
Family kept close watch: coworker
Even prior to Sidhu's admission of her marriage, Wright testified that her uncles, brother and mother would often sit inside or outside the salon where she worked to keep an eye on her. After the admission, Wright told the court their presence increased.
'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.' —Jody Wright, former co-worker of Jassi Sidhu
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 documents seeking an annulment, and that she had not, in fact, been forced to marry.
Flight to India
Finally, weeks before her death, Wright testified that Sidhu ran away from home, fleeing to the home of another coworker. 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.
Wright said she last spoke to her friend as she was on her way to the airport.
"She was going to go to India and bring her husband back and they were going to start their life together, to get an apartment," Wright told the court.
Badesha's lawyer, Michael Klein, asked Wright if she had followed the extensive media coverage Sidhu's case had received, which included a book and more than one television documentary.
Wright said she had, indeed, seen media coverage.
"The allegations were that her uncle and her mother caused her death, isn't that correct?" Klein asked.
"If that's what they're saying, then yes," Wright said.
"Well that's what you saw, on television, isn't that correct?" Klein persisted.
"That is what I saw on television. Yes."
Sidhu and her husband were attacked as they rode a scooter in a village near Sangrur, Punjab in June 2000. According to reports in India, her husband was severely beaten and left for dead.
Sidhu was kidnapped, and later strangled to death, her body left in a canal.
Seven men were convicted of the crime in India, but several of those convictions were overturned on appeal.