19 years after her murder in India, husband still haunted by wife's last words
Supreme Court of India document says seven out of 11 accused were convicted
The last words Sukhwinder Singh Mithu remembers from his wife were a plea to her killers.
"Don't hurt my Mithu. Don't hit him," he recalls Jaswinder (Jassi) Kaur Sidhu uttering.
On that warm June evening nearly 19 years ago, Mithu and Sidhu were returning home on a scooter in the village of Narike in Punjab after an evening out.
Sidhu, who was from Maple Ridge, B.C., had secretly married Mithu — a poor rickshaw driver — a year earlier against her mother's wishes, Indian police have said.
Mithu's voice broke in a recent interview as he recalled the attack on June 8, 2000, for which his wife's mother and uncle have been extradited from Canada to India, where they face charges of conspiracy to murder.
A lawyer for the mother, Malkit Kaur Sidhu, and uncle, Surjit Singh Badesha, says he is confident his clients will be found not guilty and allowed to return to Canada.
"They want to spend the rest of their life in Canada," said Simrandeep Singh Sandhu.
Mithu said he is relieved that they will at last face trial, but the past two decades have been hard on him.
The couple was crossing a bridge when they saw a white car, he said in Punjabi from India. He saw four people get out of the car.
They ran at the pair armed with sticks and swords, said Mithu, 42.
When one of their attackers tried to hit him with a sword, Mithu said he ducked and the weapon hit his wife.
"She screamed and fell off the scooter," he said, his voice breaking
He remembers jumping off his scooter and running to her.
"I asked them why they were hitting her. I asked them why they were hitting us. I tried to defend her."
His wife's screams haunt him: "She was shouting for help. She was asking 'Are you OK, Mithu?' "
That's when he lost consciousness.
Couple met in 1994
For the next few weeks he remained unconscious in hospital. It would be nearly a month before he could see again.
He said no one told him of his 25-year-old wife's death for three months because his family wanted to wait until they thought he was well enough to handle the news.
Her body was found the day following the attack at the edge of a lake. Court documents say a post-mortem showed the cause of death was "shock and hemorrhage as a result of injury to the vital organs."
Sidhu's mother and uncle believed the marriage brought dishonour to the family, Indian police have said. They have also alleged that death threats were issued to the couple and phone calls were made from Badesha's home in B.C. to some of the perpetrators around the time of the attack.
Sidhu and Mithu met in December 1994 when they both got on a three-wheeler going to a village in Punjab. Sidhu lived close to Mithu's house and they soon started meeting.
Over the next five years, they spoke on the phone between Canada and India, and exchanged more than 200 letters.
"Her Punjabi was not very good. I don't know English," Mithu said. "But we wrote letters and talked on the phone. Our love story was before Whatsapp and smartphones."
Forced to sign document
Mithu's lawyer, Ashwani Chaudhary, said Sidhu's mother allegedly had her daughter sign a letter that was sent by fax to police in Punjab saying she had been kidnapped and forced into marriage by Mithu.
Chaudhary alleges that Jassi Sidhu was made to believe the document — written in Punjabi, which she didn't properly understand — was part of an application to get Mithu permanent residency in Canada.
An Indian court document says when she learned about the letter in early 2000, Sidhu went back to India to give a statement to the police that she loved Mithu and married him "out of her free will" and that the marriage was "not to the liking of her parents and maternal uncle."
In 2013, Jody Wright, who worked with Sidhu at a Coquitlam beauty salon, testified at an extradition hearing in B.C. that her colleague was forced to sign a document seeking an annulment from her husband after threats were made against their lives.
Sidhu and Badesha were extradited to India in January, ending a long legal battle in Canada. They were arrested on Jan. 6, 2012 — almost 12 years after Jassi Sidhu's body was found.
'This is a very sad case'
In a unanimous decision in 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada set aside a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that stopped the proceedings over concerns the mother and uncle would be poorly treated or even tortured in India.
Sandeep Garg, the senior superintendent of police in the Sangrur district, said officers are finalizing their case and it will soon be presented to a court.
Mithu said he is relieved the case is moving forward.
"It took a very long time to get a hearing," he said.
Supt. Swaran Singh Khanna of the Bathinda police force took over the case 12 days after Sidhu's body was found and says he was struck by the brutality of the crime.
"Mithu has had to face a lot. This is a very sad case. There are no words to describe this case," he said in Hindi. "Imagine if you had to undergo something like this."
'We would have had kids'
A Supreme Court of India document says the trial court convicted seven out of 11 people who were accused of carrying out the attack, including a police officer, and acquitted four of them. India's High Court later acquitted three more.
In 2015, the court acquitted Darshan Singh Sidhu, who was accused of arranging the killing in India on behalf of the family in Canada, giving him "the benefit of doubt."
Sandhu, the lawyer for Sidhu and Badesha, said with Darshan Singh Sidhu being acquitted the rest of the evidence in his clients' case is circumstantial.
"The apex court of the country has found no constructive evidence against him and they let him go. Right now there's nothing against them — there's no money transaction, there's nothing."
The case is "more of a media trial," he said.
Mithu said he clings to memories of his wife.
"We would have had kids," he said, his voice trailing off.
"She used to tell me that she can die for me and can never leave me."