Transcript of Dateline's 'Forbidden Love'
Indian police have evidence that Jassi Sidhu's mother and uncle conspired to have her and her husband killed, but Canadian police have so far not investigated
REPORTER: BOB McKEOWN
Announcer: From our studios in New York, here is Stone Phillips.
STONE PHILLIPS: Good evening. It's a story that should have ended with a young couple living happily ever after. Girl meets boy, they fall in love, and get married. But what seemed so natural, instead ignited a battle between two families, two cultures, and law enforcement agencies in two nations thousands of miles apart, all because two young people defied a tradition and fell in love. Here's Bob McKeown.
Ms. DEB DEVOS: She said she'd seen him in the crowd, and their eyes met and she fell in love, and it was love at first sight.
BOB McKEOWN reporting: (Voiceover) That first glance was all it took. They were still just teen-agers when they both gazed across that crowded room and came to the realization that they were made for one another.
(Vijay Singhera singing; photos of Jassi and Saquinder "Mithu" Singh)
Ms. DEVOS: She just was drawn to him and wanted to be with him, but said that her family wouldn't approve of it.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) What began so innocently, became a battle of wills,
pitting one generation against another, modern values against a centuries-old culture. Five years later, it would be headline news on two continents and lead to one overriding question: Is someone getting away with murder?
(Photos of Jassi and Mithu; photos of Jassi and Sirjit Badesha; photo of Jassi and Mithu)
Unidentified Woman #1: She was very sweet. Her eyes, you know, sparkle when she talked to you, and--almost like teary, you know?
Unidentified Woman #2: She was a beautiful girl, like, just lovely, like there was no negativity around her. She was like a little angel.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Her friends knew her as Jassi, a nickname reflecting
her Indian heritage. Though she had been born and raised in Canada, Jassi's family clung passionately to many of the customs and traditions of the Sikh religion practiced in their homeland. In many ways, Jassi grew up to be as naive as she was beautiful.
(Photo of Jassi; Canadian countryside; Sikh religious ceremony; photo of Jassi)
Ms. DEVOS: Maybe it was her innocence, maybe it was her romance, there was something about her that was wonderful. She was a vision. I mean, you would see her, and she would take your breath away.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Jassi was brought up here in this thriving Sikh
community just outside Vancouver on Canada's Pacific Coast. More Sikhs live here than anywhere else but India. And like so many other families, Jassi's arrived with dreams of farming, making a comfortable living as owners of a large blueberry farm. According to Jassi's former teacher, Deb Devos, Jassi's uncle, Sirjit Badesha, was the family patriarch who ensured her upbringing was a strict one.
(People walking on sidewalk; Sikh people sitting on park bench; farm; blueberry farm; Deb Devos working at counter)
Ms. DEVOS: She did tell us that everybody was required to work, whether it be on the blueberry farm or outside of--of the farm, that the uncle controlled the money, that if you got a pay check, it went to the uncle.
McKEOWN: Though she was in her mid-20's, like many other single Sikh
women, Jassi still lived at home--in her case, at this sprawling family compound. Her mother, father, siblings, aunts, uncles, different generations, everyone lived here together. And in this traditional Sikh family, it was expected that Jassi would continue to live here until the day she got married.
Ms. VIJAY SINGHERA: I think it's a bigger difference for women, for girls, because we are not allowed to date as much.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Thirty-four-year-old Vijay Singhera was also raised in Vancouver. The older of two daughters, Vijay and her sister still sing many of the Sikh hymns they learned when they were young. Though Vijay and Jassi never met, they shared the challenge of growing up in the West, but living in a home tightly bound by the age-old traditions of the East.
(Singhera and woman; Singhera and others singing and playing instruments)
Ms. SINGHERA: There are more restrictions on girls, to be a good--quote/unquote--"good Indian girl." You know, if I wanted to stay out late, you have a curfew. You know, 'Good girls don't stay up past this time.'
McKEOWN: Did you put up an argument? Did you say, 'Well, the other kids
are doing it?'
Ms. SINGHERA: You start asking questions, and many a times, they don't have the answers. They just say, 'This is what happens. This is tradition.'
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) And in Sikh tradition, daughters are family
treasures, prized and protected and expected to remain pure in both deed and thought. In Jassi's home, the facts of life were never even discussed.
Ms. DEVOS: Well, we had to tell her about, you know, the facts of life, and the birds and bees, and what happens.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Deb Devos met Jassi when she was 19 and a new student at the beauty school Devos owns.
(Devos teaching class; photos of Jassi and Devos)
Ms. DEVOS: That's her one day in class. I took pictures of her because I just thought she was so beautiful.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) She was discovering the world outside the Sikh
community with new friends, a career beyond the boundaries of the family farm and an education that encompassed more than styling hair and applying makeup.
(Photos of Jassi and others; beauty school class)
McKEOWN: And, literally, you had to explain...
Ms. DEVOS: Yeah, she...
McKEOWN: ...biology to her?
Ms. DEVOS: Pretty much. Yeah, she didn't understand what happened between a man and a woman. So my students were very willing to tell her.
McKEOWN: Just as Jassi was building that new life of her own with friends
outside the Sikh community and the prospect of a career, her family was making plans for her to follow one of the most time-honored traditions in the Sikh culture. They had decided that Jassi should marry, and they also would choose her groom.
(Voiceover) Both Jassi and Vijay grew up expecting they would have arranged marriages in which their families would play the role of matchmaker.
Ms. SINGHERA: In our families, it's the parents who are the chiefs. And what they say, you listen to. And if you don't, then you're disobeying them.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) So her mother and her Uncle Sirjit began the search
for a suitable husband. Jassi shared her misgivings about that with her friends.
(Photo of Jassi; women talking to reporter)
Unidentified Woman #3: I think it was probably hard for her being Canadian, being in public schools and things, seeing a lot of girls falling in love and having boyfriends, and you know, being with someone for love vs. being with someone because your family thinks this is the person you should be with.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) But as close as Jassi was to her family, living all
together in their compound in Canada, she kept a secret from them, one that she revealed only to those she trusted most. Jassi had already met someone--that young man with whom she'd fallen in love at first sight--and she wanted to marry him no matter what her family thought.
(Farm compound; photo of Jassi)
Woman #3: She was overjoyed and in love with him. It was just beautiful. We all thought, 'We're never going to settle down or be with anybody until we have love like those two did,' because it was amazing.
McKEOWN: Now, did she also tell you that she knew right away he was not
Mr. Right as far as her family would be concerned?
Woman #2: Oh, that was obvious. Jassi knew that.
Announcer: When we return, to escape the marriage her family has arranged
for her, Jassi comes up with a secret plan to be with the man she loves.
Woman #3: To see him, to be with him and then, I guess, to decide to be married.
Announcer: When Forbidden Love continues.
Announcer: Forbidden Love, tonight's DATELINE Special, continues.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Life is not easy in northern India. Saquinder Singh,
known by his nickname, Mithu, has spent all of his 27 years here. And it was here that he first met Jassi. She was on trip with her family when their eyes met at that wedding.
(Birds and sunflowers; Indian people walking; man riding bike; woman carrying bundle on her head; Mithu; photo of Mithu and Jassi)
Mr. SUKWINDER SINGH: (Through translator) I liked her very much, and I was certain right then that I wouldn't be able to live without her.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) For Mithu, the dream of marriage to a woman like
Jassi and a life together in North America would be like winning the lottery. In their hearts, it may have been a match made in heaven, but in the minds of Jassi's family, it was a union that defied everything they believed in.
(Photo of Jassi and Mithu)
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) I had no idea that her family would be so opposed to our being together. I had absolutely no idea that all this would happen to us.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) But in a traditional Sikh family, that opposition was completely understandable. Jassi was well-educated and from an affluent home in Canada. Mithu made a meager living as a rickshaw driver in India.
(Mithu; photo of Jassi; rickshaws in India)
Ms. SINGHERA: They would look upon it as, 'Why would you want to do that? Here we've given you all this, and you're going out and picking a commoner. How could you do that?'
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) In fact, had Vijay chosen someone like Mithu, she
might well have found herself facing the same kind of resistance.
McKEOWN: He was really Mr. Wrong in a number of ways, wasn't he? He was
below her economically.
Ms. SINGHERA: Mm-hmm.
McKEOWN: He was not someone her mother and uncle had even met, let alone
Ms. SINGHERA: If he had a good job, the parents would look at it and say, 'OK, she's in love with somebody who--who--who, in the future, will give something to my daughter.' He--he didn't have much to offer.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) When Jassi returned to Canada after they first met,
letters from Mithu followed--not to her home, but to Deb Devos' beauty school.
(Photo of Jassi holding letter and Devos)
McKEOWN: She made it clear that she couldn't keep these letters at home?
Ms. DEVOS: No, she couldn't because they would find out the relationship between her and this young man, and the consequences would be too great.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) That relationship, like those letters, would continue
for the next few years, until Mithu and Jassi were in their mid-20's. Despite the 7,000 miles between them, though they came from two separate worlds, those differences only seemed to draw them closer together. They began to make plans to marry, though Jassi surely knew it was not the arranged marriage her family had in mind.
(Photo of Jassi and Mithu; letter with lipstick on it; Canada; India; photo of Jassi and Mithu)
Ms. DEVOS: They had arranged for her to marry someone that was quite a bit older than herself.
McKEOWN: So this had already happened? That--the arranged marriage was under way at this point?
Ms. DEVOS: They had brought her several different prospects. I guess the uncle was getting quite impatient because, of course, she was saying no to all of them. And then finally he made an arrangement for this man that was in his 60's that was going to marry Jassi. And Jassi was adamant that she wouldn't marry him.
McKEOWN: Torn between the pressure from her family to marry and the desire
to lead a life of her own, Jassi came up with a plan. She convinced her mother to bring her to India--in fact, to the state called the Punjab where her mom had grown up. She explained it might help her in choosing a husband. But there's something else she didn't tell her mother.
So was that just a scheme on her part...
Woman #3: Kind of scheme on her part to get there, I think.
McKEOWN: ...to delay the arranged marriage here...
Woman #3: That's right.
McKEOWN: ...and to get back to India to see him?
Woman #3: To see him, to be with him and then, I guess, to decide to be married.
McKEOWN: And that's when they were actually married in secret?
Woman #3: Right.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) In March 2000, Jassi and Mithu managed to slip away
and secretly married in a local Sikh temple. The only witnesses were two friends. Their honeymoon: a few days together in the Punjabi countryside before she had to return to Canada. For the time being, at least, the clandestine marriage had to remain a secret. And with good reason. She was now on a collision course with hundreds of years of tradition--modern vs. ancient, young vs. old, East vs. West. In a community where tradition is so important, her family was more conservative than most. By marrying Mithu, she had dishonored them.
(Photos of Jassi and Mithu; marriage certificate; honey bees; farm complex)
Ms. SINGHERA: The women are the honor, because she is the one who goes to the other family, and she takes her name of her parents. So, you're always carrying somebody's honor.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) And 34-year-old Vijay should know. When she was
Jassi's age, she married the man her parents chose for her. They divorced two years later.
(Photo of Singhera's wedding)
McKEOWN: What would have happened in the family if you had met and fallen
in love with somebody your parents didn't approve of for whatever reason?
Ms. SINGHERA: Oh, they'd--they'd be very angry. They'd be very angry because I would be dishonoring them. What they worry about is what people are going to say about you. And they're going to say, 'Well, she wasn't under her parents control.' And that puts dishonor on the parent's role.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Back in Canada, Jassi told her friends that's exactly
why she had to keep her family from finding out about her marriage to Mithu.
(Canadian flag; women talking to reporter)
Woman #3: They'd write letters to each other and secret phone calls and things, and nobody was allowed to know. Her family couldn't find out because she knew it was wrong. She knew it was very wrong.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) But her letters to Mithu reveal that the girl who'd never had a date, let alone a boyfriend, wasn't about to give up the first man she'd ever loved.
(Letter with lipstick)
Offscreen Voice: (Reading letter) "I can't wait till we're together. I miss you very much. I keep on thinking about the days I spent with you. I cannot take you out of my mind for even a second."
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Jassi began making arrangements for Mithu to join her in Canada. She was also sending him money. That is, until relatives back in India discovered their secret and told Jassi's family.
(Photo of Jassi and Mithu; photo of Jassi)
McKEOWN: When word reached the compound that Jassi had been married, her family was furious. Their response was sudden and severe. They put her under house arrest--unable to see or even talk to her friends, effectively cut off from the rest of the world--while her mother and uncle decided what they'd do next.
(Voiceover) For Jassi, life inside the family compound went from bad to worse.
Woman #1: I remember one point she'd described it, they--her whole family was in the living room and they were all yelling at her, pointing their finger at her. And she's sitting in front of all these people, and they're yelling and screaming at her, telling her why she shouldn't do this, and she's ruining her life.
McKEOWN: And what did they want her to do?
Woman #1: They offered her money. They just said, 'Divorce him, leave him, just forget about him.'
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) But Jassi refused to give in. Though she knew how
strongly her family felt, somehow she convinced herself that her marriage to Mithu could still have a happy ending, if only she could find a way to get him to Canada.
(Photo of Jassi and Mithu)
Woman #2: I said that they could stay at my place until they get a little apartment somewhere, and Jassi was going to come back to work. And then Mithu was going to go to school and learn English.
McKEOWN: Yeah, they were going to live happily ever after.
Woman #2: They were going to just live happily ever after. And they would be in Canada and everything would be fine, and yes, Jassi knew that her family had--would disown her, but in time, they would come to see the light and--and eventually accept the two of them.
McKEOWN: So could love really conquer all? It might have seemed like a
naive notion at the time, but in fact, Jassi's uncle did seem to undergo a dramatic change of heart. According to her friends, he indicated to Jassi that he intended to help Mithu immigrate to Canada.
(Voiceover) He had her sign these papers: a notarized statement written in Punjabi, a language she couldn't read or write. And with this document in hand, her Uncle Sirjit left for India, promising, friends say, everything would be fine.
(Letter; photo of Badesha)
Woman #1: They were almost...
Woman #2: They were almost...
Woman #1: ...almost there.
Woman #2: They were so close.
Woman #1: They were so close.
Announcer: When we come back, Jassi's family betrays her and she escapes
to join her husband.
McKEOWN: Did she tell you there were threats?
Woman #1: Before she left, her uncle threatened, 'I will kill you.'
Announcer: But would their threats actually lead it murder? When Forbidden
Announcer: DATELINE NBC, winner of 10 Headliner awards for excellence in
journalism, more than any other news magazine. DATELINE will be right back.
Announcer: We now return to Forbidden Love.
McKEOWN: Once in India, it became clear that though Jassi's Uncle Sirjit
had led her to believe he would help reunite her with her husband, he really hadn't had a change of heart at all. Indian relatives loyal to Sirjit went looking for Mithu.
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) These people came to my house when I was gone and threatened my mother and my brother and asked them to get me to agree to divorce Jassi, otherwise they would kill my whole family.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) When that didn't work, Sirjit took matters into his
(Indian family working at home)
McKEOWN: Apparently furious that Mithu had ignored his threats, Jassi's
uncle decided to do something about it. He came to court here in the Punjab, and he charged Mithu with kidnapping Jassi and forcing her to marry him. And remember that notarized statement that the uncle had Jassi sign? The one in Punjabi that she couldn't read? Well, that's what he gave to the court as proof.
(Voiceover) It says, in part, that Jassi didn't love Mithu, that the wedding took place at gunpoint, and that she wants the marriage dissolved. That's all the local police needed to issue a warrant for Mithu's arrest. Now, he was not only an unwanted son-in-law, he was also a wanted man.
(Letter written in Punjabi; India police officers)
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) I went into hiding, and in my absence, they picked up my two friends who were witnesses to my marriage--my marriage with Jassi--and these boys were tortured.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Back in Canada, according to her friends, Jassi was
still being closely watched. When she was able to make contact with Mithu, she learned that despite her uncle's promises, he had really gone to India to intimidate Mithu and his family into ending the marriage.
(Canada; photo of Jassi and Mithu; Mithu's mother)
Woman #1: They took his mother into prison...
Woman #2: Mother--yeah--prison.
Woman #1: ...and beat his mother.
Woman #2: Mithu was freaking out on the other end. I mean, he was like, 'Get over here. My family, my friends are being threatened. I'm being threatened. You got to get over here.'
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Now frantic to get to India to fight the false
charges against her husband, she first had to escape from the family compound.
Woman #2: All she could think about was leaving. She just had to get there. That was the only thing that was on that girl's mind was getting out of here.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) After five years of secrets and lies, she was about
to take the final step to leave her family behind and join her husband. Still held against her will, Jassi managed to make a call to local police.
(Photo of Mithu and Jassi; police)
Woman #2: She was just grabbing things and just shoving anything she could see into the bag.
McKEOWN: The police arrived. She grabbed her stuff and went with them?
Woman #2: Yeah. That's when the family started making things really bad for her.
McKEOWN: Did she tell you there were threats?
Woman #1: Yes. Before she left to go to India, her uncle threatened--he said, 'If you go to India, I will kill you.' And I remember her telling me that quite specifically.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) But with money borrowed from friends, she bought a
plane ticket and returned India, and she took along her own sworn statement, this one to prove to authorities her marriage was genuine and her uncle had lied. In it, she detailed the threats to which she and Mithu had been subjected. It reads, in part...
(Airport; plane taking off; Jassi's statement)
Offscreen Voice: (Reading statement) "My family does not agree with my marriage and are trying to force me to have it annulled. I fear for the safety of myself and Mithu on a daily basis."
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) When authorities finally dropped the charges against
Mithu in the spring of 2000, he and Jassi were together at last, staying with his mother.
(Photo of Jassi and Mithu)
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) I did kind of feel safe after that. And once Jassi was with me and it became public knowledge that we were a couple and that we were married, I really did not feel they will do anything. And I believed that if they did something wrong, they would get caught.
McKEOWN: So, at that point, were you thinking about your marriage, having
children, growing old together?
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) Yeah. We were living together, and we were thinking about the future at that point in time. I was very relaxed.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) And there were even occasional phone calls to Canada,
rekindling the hope that a reconciliation with her family might still be possible. Mithu recalls the last time they spoke to Jassi's mother.
(Farm compound; Mithu talking to reporter)
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) She first berated me for having taken away her daughter and marrying her. She thought that what we had done was wrong. But then she also said, 'OK, it's fine now that you're married. Everything is OK.'
McKEOWN: The date was the 8th of June. Jassi and Mithu had come shopping here at this marketplace in a nearby town. When they were finished, they got back on Mithu's motorbike and started towards home.
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) (Voiceover) We were coming back leisurely on the scooter, talking to each other. I really didn't have any suspicion of anything being wrong on the road. Two people suddenly appeared and they attacked us with a hockey stick and a sword.
(Countryside; scooter tire; tree; Mithu demonstrating attack for reporter)
McKEOWN: Where did the sword and the club strike you?
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) Most of my injuries were on my head. Those were the really bad ones. But they chopped off part of my hand. I have an injury on my neck. There is a big cut on the side of my torso. One of them came and actually felt for my pulse. And he couldn't find it, so he told the others, 'Yeah, he's done for. Let's go.' Then they got into the car and sped away, and after that, I lost consciousness. I don't remember anything after that.
McKEOWN: By now, Jassi almost certainly believed that Mithu was dead. The attackers had left him lying motionless by the roadside as they forced her into their car, then brought her here to this farmhouse about 40 miles away.
(Voiceover) Thirty minutes later, the beautiful young woman from Canada was dead. Jassi's body was dumped by the road. She'd been beaten and stabbed, her throat slashed. She wouldn't be found until the next morning. It wasn't long before investigators would learn about the attack on Mithu and his missing wife. Soon, the body in the ditch was identified as Jassi's. Her death made headlines back home.
(Photo of Jassi; country; photo of Jassi's body; ditch; Indian countryside; photo of Jassi in newspaper)
Ms. DEVOS: I hoped against hope that that wasn't her.
McKEOWN: So you literally found out by picking up the morning newspaper?
Ms. DEVOS: Mm-hmm.
McKEOWN: What went through your mind that moment?
Ms. DEVOS: 'No, it's not true. No.' I didn't want to believe it.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) When news of Jassi's murder reached her family in
Canada, they told local reporters they couldn't believe it either.
Unidentified Man #1: (From June, 2002, BCTV) Big, big shock to everyone. We just--really tragic.
Unidentified Woman #4: (From June 2002, BCTV) We're hoping whoever did this gets--gets caught.
Mr. SIRJIT BADESHA: I did not do anything.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Almost immediately, suspicion fell on the family,
though Jassi's uncle Sirjit wasted no time accusing Mithu's family of the murder. He charged it was part of an elaborate plan to get control of Jassi's money. Meanwhile, Mithu lay in an Indian hospital fighting for his life.
So who was responsible for Jassi's death? Could the family that so prized her life also have taken it? Could the family that so prized her life also have taken it? Could they believe the slaying of a rebellious daughter would somehow restore the honor they thought they had lost? Now it would be up to one of the Punjab's leading detectives to find the answers.
(Badesha talking to unidentified reporter; Badesha; photo of Mithu in hospital; photo of Jassi; Punjab police officer)
Announcer: We now continue with Forbidden Love, tonight's DATELINE
Inspector SARWAN SINGH: (Through translator) There are three specific injuries, to her chin, her neck and her chest, which possibly caused her death.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Inspector Sarwan Singh was the lead detective assigned to investigate Jassi's case. One of the senior police officers in the Punjab, he's seen enough murders to make an educated guess about the kind of weapon used in this one.
(Sarwan saluting police officers)
Insp. SINGH: (Through translator) Three injuries were caused by the traditional Sikh sword which we refer to as a kirpan.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) In Sikh culture, the sword, or kirpan, is usually worn as a religious symbol. Though violence is frowned upon in this faith, the kirpan has historically been the weapon used to defend it and the moral values it stands for. But Inspector Singh needed more than guesswork to solve this case. First he needed to find a motive.
(Kirpan; paintings of people with kirpans; kirpan)
Insp. SINGH: (Through translator) I discovered that a case had already been filed against Mithu alleging that Mithu had forced Jassi into a marriage. That's when we discovered their love affair and the secret marriage.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) And that's when he also discovered the notarized
statement that Jassi submitted as proof her uncle had lied to Indian authorities about her marriage to Mithu. What that gave inspector Singh was solid evidence that their lives had previously been threatened by her family.
(Jassi's statement; photo of Jassi and Mithu)
Insp. SINGH: (Through translator) The affidavit that Jassi sent from Canada is actually like a dying declaration under the Indian evidence act and is irrefutable.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) So the inspector brought the Indian relatives, loyal
to Jassi's uncle Sirjit, in for interrogation.
(Sarwan talking to reporter)
Insp. SINGH: (Through translator) After sustained questioning, one of the relatives gave us the names of the killers and the kidnappers that he had hired, and that's how we got to the others.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Investigators also learned the conspirators had been
promised $50,000--a fortune in the Punjab--to kill Mithu and kidnap Jassi. Inspector Singh took us to the property room where weapons and other evidence are stored. It's like going back 100 years.
(Sarwan talking to reporter; police officer unlocking property room)
McKEOWN: It's like going back 100 years.
(Voiceover) Among the items they recovered from the crime scene...
(Items in property room)
Insp. SINGH: This is a sword which was used to kill Jassi.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) ...a kirpan, the kind of weapon traditionally used to
defend Sikh honor. But for Inspector Singh, it was what happened here inside this farmhouse on the night of June the 8th that was the final piece of the puzzle. He says that according to the confessions he extracted, Jassi was dragged up to this room where she was put on a cellular telephone. For five years, she'd been caught between two worlds. That night, they collided--ancient tradition and modern values, family honor and romantic love, and now the sword and the cell phone. At the other end of the line in Canada, according to investigators, was her Uncle Sirjit.
(Sarwan holding kirpan; farmhouse; room in farmhouse; photos of Jassi and Badesha; empty farmhouse; photo of Badesha)
Insp. SINGH: (Through translator) And he told the girl, 'Look, we have been trying to tell you that you have to leave this boy, and you have to come back to Canada. And you have not listened, and now you will bear the consequences.'
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Then, the inspector says, Jassi spoke to her mother
from the family compound. Jassi begged for forgiveness, but it was too late for that. The kidnappers got their final instructions for her uncle.
(Farmhouse; photo of Jassi)
Insp. SINGH: (Through translator) Sirjit Singh finally told the killers on the mobile phone that the girl should be murdered and the body thrown away because if she was allowed to stay alive, she would eventually indict the whole lot of them in what they at that point thought was Mithu's murder.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) In the end, 13 people were charged with murder: the
men accused of attacking Jassi and Mithu and the family members who conspired to have them do it. Though police say some confessed during questioning, all now claim they're innocent.
(Men in police custody in India)
McKEOWN: Will you tell them, we're from American television, and we'd like
to talk to them about Jassi's murder?
(Man begins to speak to police in foreign language)
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) When we visited India this past spring, several of
them appeared in court for a hearing.
(Men in police custody)
McKEOWN: We'd like to know about the involvement of Jassi's family in
Canada, the money and the telephone call on the night of the murder.
(Voiceover) But of the 13 accused in the murder, only 11 are in custody. Only 11 are facing a trial. That's because two of them remain free in Canada: Jassi's mother and her uncle.
(Men under arrest in India)
Woman #2: It's sick. I just cannot still believe to this day that that even happened. I can't believe that they're--that they're walking around like nothing even happened.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) In fact, under Canadian law, conspiring to have
someone murdered, wherever the killing takes place, is the same as committing the murder. So we went to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to ask why, more than two years later, Jassi's uncle and mother have not been arrested in Canada, let alone charged. RCMP spokesman, Grant Learned.
(Document of Canadian law; Canadian police station; Grant Learned talking to reporter)
McKEOWN: That's a crime in Canada. If they conspired here to kill her
there, that's a crime here, is it not?
Mr. GRANT LEARNED: It would be, if those facts were proven and established in Canadian law.
McKEOWN: But how are you going to prove the facts unless you ask the
questions in the first place?
Mr. LEARNED: Then again, the questions that have been asked are being dealt with through the Indian authorities where people are charged. Canadian citizens, I'm told, are charged in relation to the murder of Jassi Sidhu in India.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) As far as we can tell, the police in Canada have not
questioned Jassi's uncle, her mother, or any potential witnesses.
(Canadian police station)
McKEOWN: In the past two years, since her murder, have the police asked to
speak to you?
Woman #2: No.
Woman #1: No one's ever...
McKEOWN: Have even called to ask what...
Woman #1: You're the first person that's actually talked to us in detail about this.
McKEOWN: No one has come to you asking what she felt, what she went
thought, what she feared?
Woman #1: No.
Woman #2: No.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Indeed, if the police had taken the time to question
Jassi's closest friends, they would have learned about the threats on her life that, according to Indian authorities, leave little doubt about who is behind her murder.
(Women talking to reporter; photo of Jassi and Mithu)
Ms. DEVOS: We were talking about her being with him and what would happen if she did go to be with him and ran away and got married. And she said, 'Well, they'll--they'll kill me. My mother and my uncle would kill me.' And I said, 'Well, my--you know, my mom says she's going to kill me all the time, too, but, you know, I'm still here.' And she said, 'No, you don't understand. They will kill me.'
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) But despite that, and the evidence in India, Jassi's
mother and her uncle, Sirjit Badesha, have not only avoided prosecution in Canada so far, they might never be prosecuted.
(Sarwan showing reporter items)
McKEOWN: Those people are free to go about their businesses as they
Mr. LEARNED: No one has been charged
here in Canada with any...
McKEOWN: They are free to leave Canada if they choose.
Mr. LEARNED: If they so chose, they could leave and--and go anywhere, unless there is some other...
McKEOWN: Which would mean that they would escape both Canadian and Indian
Mr. LEARNED: Again that's hypothetical depending on where they would go.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) But Jassi's friends in Canada say there's nothing
hypothetical about what happened to her.
(Photo of Jassi and others)
McKEOWN: Mr. Badesha...
(Voiceover) And they want to know how it can be that the people they believe responsible continue to go about their lives like nothing ever happened. We wondered, too.
(Reporter attempting to talk to Badesha)
McKEOWN: We'd like to ask Mr. Badesha about the murder of his niece.
MATT LAUER reporting: Coming up tomorrow on "Today," the sentencing of Kennedy relative Michael Skakel...
(Voiceover) ...for the murder of Martha Moxley. Also, we'll find out why a woman has spent the last five months living in a tree. And our own Ann Curry catches the perfect wave.
(Photo of Michael Skakel; photo of Martha Moxley; tree; woman in tree; reporter surfing)
LAUER: That and much more, tomorrow on "Today."
Announcer: Coming up on DATELINE Friday, at 8:45 that morning, it was any
other school day. Then, it was 8:46.
Unidentified Man #2: All I hear is a "zzz" and then I look up and see the plane, and it hits suddenly.
Announcer: At this school near ground zero, it was time for a lesson in
Reporter: What do you think you did right that morning?
Unidentified Woman #5: I kept the kids away from the windows.
Announcer: A day in class became a day of chaos as kids confronted the
terror up close.
Unidentified Woman #6: Seeing a guy, like, jump out the building, I was, like--I was terrified.
Announcer: When it was over, a new challenge: starting over in classrooms
haunted by the past.
Unidentified Woman #7: I can't believe it. I mean, we know it happened, but just to see that it's actually gone...
Announcer: But in the end, could some light come out of that dark day?
Man #2: She told everybody I saved her. And people started clapping, so I felt good about that.
Announcer: Towers of Strength, a DATELINE Special.
And next, confronting Jassi's mother about the accusations of murder.
McKEOWN: I'd very much like to talk to you about the murder of your
Announcer: When Forbidden Love continues after this brief message.
Announcer: And now the conclusion to Forbidden Love.
McKEOWN: For the--the rifle or--or the pistol or the sword, could you
(Voiceover) From the day her body was identified, Indian authorities have known that Jassi's murder would be a closely-scrutinized case both in India and Canada. And they say they're confident the evidence they've assembled is airtight: the murder weapons, the getaway car, Jassi's sworn statement, and especially the confessions that implicate her uncle and mother.
(Sarwan discussing evidence with reporter; car; statement; men in custody of Indian police)
Insp. SINGH: (Through translator) To my mind, this is a whole lot of evidence that no police or no authority anywhere in the world can really deny or dismiss as false or questionable.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) But that's exactly what Canadian authorities are
doing--questioning those confessions because of how Indian police may have extracted them. RCMP spokesman Grant Learned.
(Canadian flag; men in custody of Indian police; Learned talking to reporter)
Mr. LEARNED: There would have to be a
complete outline of how such confessions were obtained, under what conditions, et cetera. They may not meet--meet the test of Canadian jurisprudence.
McKEOWN: In fact, it's no secret that Indian police interrogations often
includes the use of physical force to get information. Authorities in Canada are concerned that evidence gathered under those circumstances might not be admissible in a Canadian court.
What the police in Canada have said to us is that they can't be sure about the evidence, because they don't know how it was collected and they don't know how the interrogations were conducted. How do you respond to that?
Insp. SINGH: (Through translator) I find that a bit curious, because the kind of evidence that we have is irrefutable.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) There is one key piece of evidence that lead detective Singh says is virtually impossible to dismiss.
(Singh discussing evidence with reporter)
Insp. SINGH: (Through translator) We recovered two mobile phones from the accused kidnappers, and got the call records of these mobile phones. We were then able to establish all the pattern of calls to the residential telephones of Jassi's family, calls made from these telephones to Canada.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) These are records of the calls made on the
kidnapper's cellular phones. Among them, calls placed on the same date and at the approximate time that Jassi was murdered. And among those was this one made to the accused killers from a phone that Indian police have confirmed is located at Jassi's home in Canada.
(Cell phone records; text from phone records)
McKEOWN: The record showing that phone call between the family home and
the cell phone belonging to the people who've confessed to that murder on the night of the murder--what does common sense tell you about that? Is there any other explanation?
Mr. LEARNED: There--there could be a variety of explanations, but again, that--those are...
McKEOWN: Offer--offer one.
Mr. LEARNED: But those are...
McKEOWN: Completely hypothetical. Give me a possible explanation other
than the call had to do with the murder.
Mr. LEARNED: Again, you are asking me to make a statement on a case that's before the courts in another country. Be absolutely irresponsible of me to do so.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) It seems that in Canada, despite that cell phone
evidence suggesting a conspiracy in Canada to commit murder, the call for justice is going unanswered. In British Columbia, the administration of criminal justice is the job of the attorney general.
(Canadian flag; bag pipe players in Canada; Geoff Plant)
McKEOWN: Mr. Plant?
Mr. GEOFF PLANT: Yes?
McKEOWN: I'm Bob McKeown from NBC News.
(Voiceover) Twice he'd declined our request to sit down for an interview. So we came to the parliament building in Victoria to find him.
(Reporter talking to Plant)
McKEOWN: We'd like to ask you a few questions, thanks.
(Voiceover) Geoff Plant is the attorney general. We caught up with him in a hallway after a cabinet meeting.
(Reporter talking to Plant)
McKEOWN: And if, in this case, there is, as the Indian police insist, irrefutable evidence that a crime was committed here in Canada, does that not concern you if--if no one's being pursued for that, as the man responsible for justice in the province?
Mr. PLANT: Well, whether it's happening or not happening, has to happen slightly below the public radar screen in order to make sure that, in the long run, we can, in fact, investigate and detect and prevent criminal activities.
McKEOWN: If--if there is an investigation going on below the radar, as you
put it, it's...
Mr. PLANT: Way below radar?
McKEOWN: ...subterranean. From--from what we can gather speaking to the
authorities in India, they have not been asked to share what--what they call irrefutable evidence of a crime--what would be a crime in Canada, if they're right--with the RCMP here, the police here. We've spoken to friends of the young woman who died to whom she told about the threats on her life from her family.
Mr. PLANT: Here in British Columbia?
McKEOWN: Here in British Columbia.
Mr. PLANT: If there are people in British Columbia, here, who believe that an offense has been committed, I assume they have reported it to the police.
McKEOWN: This has been widely reported in the media, Mr. Plant. This is no secret. This was front--page news two years ago.
Mr. PLANT: Oh, and I--I--I'm not disputing that, but I'm just saying that this is what you would do. You would go report that to the police. You won't sit--you don't sit at home waiting for the police to call you.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) Which is exactly why Jassi's closest friends
contacted the police two years ago to report what they knew. Unfortunately, they say, the RCMP wasn't very interested.
(Canadian police cars; Canadian police station)
Woman #2: They didn't care. Like, I'm thinking they're going to question me, and you know, maybe sit down with me and find out my details. Nothing, not even a--pfft. I was in and out there in two minutes.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) With so few questions being asked or answered in
Canada, we decided to put some of our own to the only two people who can lay these accusations to rest.
McKEOWN: Mrs. Sidhu, I'm Bob McKeown from NBC News.
(Voiceover) The family had declined our request for an interview. So first, we approached Jassi's mother as she arrived for work.
(Reporter attempting to talk to Mrs. Sidhu)
McKEOWN: I'd very much like to talk to you about the murder of your
daughter. As you know, the Indian authorities believe that you conspired to have your daughter killed. Would you respond to that for us?
Mr. Badesha, I'm Bob McKeown from DATELINE NBC. Could we ask you some questions about Jassi's murder?
(Voiceover) We then tried to speak with Jassi's uncle, Sirjit Badesha.
(Reporter trying to talk to Badesha)
McKEOWN: The Indian government has told us they have irrefutable proof
that you planned and paid for the murder of Jassi. How do you answer that? The most troublesome thing is the cell phone call, the call between your home in Canada and the cell phone in the hands of the people now on trial for murder. How on earth do you explain that?
(Voiceover) Jassi's uncle is on the record as denying any involvement in her death. But he wouldn't even tell us that.
(Reporter attempting to talk to Badesha)
McKEOWN: Is there anything you can say to us?
(Voiceover) The vast majority of the Sikh community condemns honor killings and want justice to be done, which has led some in Canada to wonder if Jassi's heritage had been Irish or French, instead of Indian, would police here be pursuing this case more aggressively?
(Badesha driving away)
McKEOWN: If the circumstances are as we've seen in India, can you think of
any legitimate reason that two years after the fact the police here would not have done more than they have done?
Mr. PLANT: Well, the problem in answering that question is that the word "if" is a small part of your sentence, but a huge part of your question. But what I can say is that, generally speaking, if those were the facts, I would expect that the law enforcement agencies in Canada would be responding to those facts.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) But so far, there's no reason to believe they are.
Nor will Canadian authorities tell us when, if ever, the Indian government might expect the extradition of Jassi's uncle or mother.
(Canadian government building)
McKEOWN: For some reason, the murder of Jassi Sidhu is a case for which no
one seems to want to take responsibility. The provincial government in British Columbia told us to take our questions to the federal government. The federal government said, 'Ask the province.' The provincial attorney general insists he can't order the authorities to investigate anyone, and says that if the public has questions about how the police are doing their job, they should file a complaint. None of which has come as any consolation to those who cared about Jassi most.
Ms. DEVOS: You can't use Canada as a hiding ground to hire people to kill people in other countries and get away with it. You can't do this. They have to take action. They--they can't let this happen.
McKEOWN: So when you talk about this now and--and think about all you know
about Jassi, and--and what her dreams were and what you believe happened, is there a moral to this story?
Woman #2: Well, you know, even now that Jassi was murdered, I think it's still important to be true to yourself. And even though the outcome was what it was, I just--I--I think that.
Woman #1: No one has the right to live your life for you. It's your choice.
Woman #3: It made us feel comforted that at least for this little bit of time that she had with him, she was doing what she wanted, she was living her life how she wanted, she was free, she was in love and she was just doing it for her and for him and not for anyone else.
McKEOWN: (Voiceover) A world away, all that Mithu now has to remind him of
Jassi are a few photographs of the good times and the physical and emotional scars of the bad. With the trial of his wife's alleged killers pending and Jassi's uncle, Sirjit still free, he says he continues to fear for his own life, moving from place to place, often sleeping on rooftops, never far from well-armed friends.
All Mithu wants, he says, is justice for Jassi, the woman who risked everything just to be with him and challenged centuries of culture and tradition for that one chance at true love.
(Mithu talking to reporter; Mithu climbing on roof with rifle; Mithu walking with men in market place; Mithu talking to reporter)
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) I want to live until the day that justice is done. I want to live to the day these people who killed Jassi hang for their crime.
McKEOWN: Is there any way to comprehend how someone's sense of family honor could lead them to kill someone as beautiful as your wife?
Mr. SINGH: (Through translator) Whatever they did was completely wrong. It can never be justified. I hadn't committed any crime. I had only loved her.
PHILLIPS: Police in British Colombia say they've begun reviewing evidence
to determine if there are grounds to launch a formal criminal investigation. Authorities in India say they've asked for the extradition of Jassi's uncle and mother to face murder charges. So far there is still no response from the Canadians.
NBC News, Dateline NBC
Aug. 27, 2002