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Mom gave long-distance order for honor killing, police say

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- In the cold end, it was her own mother who gave the final order to cut the young woman's throat. That's what police in India say.

They say the mother, an upstanding woman in Vancouver's Punjabi community, spoke into her cellphone across an ocean and told the men, "Kill her." And with the order -- with the death of Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu, a beautiful 25-year-old Indian Canadian woman known as Jassi -- the family's honor was restored, police say.

Indian police have issued arrest warrants and sought the extradition of the mother, Malkit Kaur Sidhu, and the mother's brother, Surjit Singh Badesha. Two years after the request, Sidhu and Badesha have been neither arrested nor extradited. Through lawyers, the two have denied the charges.

"We don't anticipate any criminal charges any time soon," said Corporal Rhonda Stoner of the Ridge-Meadows Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "You have to have direct evidence and witnesses to testify and evidence to substantiate a criminal charge. . . . We don't have that."

Despite all the trappings of this North American culture, with its human rights laws and politically powerful women, police and cultural experts say Jassi became caught in the wrath of her powerful Jat Sikh family after she married a poor rickshaw driver without their permission. Although she lived in a suburb, worked at a mall, and had citizenship, police say, being Canadian could not save her from one of the most ancient cruelties still committed against women: honor killings.

The family, which moved to Canada in the 1970s, has said little publicly. Badesha, Jassi's uncle, told reporters that the family opposed the marriage because the husband was from Jassi's mother's village and has the same family name, which is said to be the same as marrying a family member.

"In our culture, this is not acceptable," he said. "But we did not kill her."

Like an ancient story of forbidden love, there is a rich family and a poor family, a sleeping potion, and a desperation between two people to be together.

Sukhwinder Singh Sidhu, nicknamed Mithoo, clings to memories of his first love. On an afternoon in December 1994 he first saw Jassi in the village of Jagraon, in northwest India.

"She had her cousin with her. I was alone," recalled Mithoo, speaking at his family's home in Konke Kalan, India.

"It was love at first sight," Mithoo said. "Not a word was said. Then I mustered enough courage and went up to her cousin, who I had seen in the village before." The cousin told Mithoo that Jassi was staying at her maternal uncle's house. "I didn't know she was from Canada then."

That night Mithoo looked up at the house of Jassi's uncle, the big house next door to his own. "Then she came out and stood on the terrace and looked toward me," he recalled.

She went back into the house, and he saw her ride off on a motor scooter with her cousin. The cousin got off, and Jassi rode toward Mithoo's house and then stopped, pretending the bike had stalled.

"I went up to her and said hello," he said. "I asked what has happened. She said the scooter won't start. I took my time to figure it, although I knew there was nothing wrong with it."

Jassi was wearing bluejeans and a black T-shirt. "She asked my name. Said she hadn't seen me before," he said.

Mithoo, then 18, had never spoken with a girl this close, and he was trembling. He couldn't talk straight. Jassi's Punjabi wasn't fluent. After three days of staring from the roof, the two managed to spend more time together at a mutual friend's house.

"We sat in the living room and talked," he said. "She said she didn't want to go back to Canada. She said she liked me. And now she had made up her mind that I would be everything for her."

For two years, Jassi and Mithoo spoke by telephone and wrote love letters. He wanted to sell his family land and move to Canada. By then, her mother wanted Jassi to marry. Jassi told her she wanted to go to India to find a mate.

"When she came, we used to meet after dark," Mithoo said. "I would go and stand outside her room, and we would talk across the window. She would keep saying: `Take me away. They will marry me off to a stranger.' By now, I was also desperate to marry her."

With Jassi's sympathetic aunt, "we made a plan," Mithoo said. "I used to bring her sleeping pills, and her aunt would mix it with the food at dinnertime and make sure everybody was fast asleep. And then I would jump the wall and tiptoe into the house after 11 p.m. and meet Jass in her room." They decided to marry quickly and secretly. Jassi told her parents, who'd come to India to help select a husband, that she was going to a relative's house. "My friends were there as witnesses. It was a simple wedding," Mithoo said.

By the time Jassi left for Canada, her parents were suspicious. "They started to threaten me and started telling me to stay away from their daughter," Mithoo said. Back home, Jassi applied for a visa for Mithoo. "When my papers arrived, my parents found out," he said.

Jassi's parents filed a police complaint against Mithoo, saying that Jassi had been kidnapped and was married at gunpoint. "They kept telling her to leave me; otherwise, they would kill me," he said.

Police in India began searching for Mithoo, who went into hiding. "Jass even faxed a letter to the Jagraon police station saying that it was a false case and that she had married willingly. But the police wanted her in person to withdraw the case."

In Jagraon, Mithoo received anguished phone calls from Jassi, saying she was being held prisoner in her house without food. On May 12, 2000, she escaped and flew to India. She and Mithoo went to the Jagraon police station to withdraw her parents' complaint. Jassi's mother found out where she was.

Mithoo said her mother told him: " `You have not done a good thing. You don't know our power.' I told her what's happened has happened. But she kept talking of family honor." One evening in June, Mithoo and Jassi went shopping and then had dinner. "I thought they would maybe trap me in false charges," he said. "But I never imagined it would come to murder."

Police say Jassi's slaying held all the clues of a family dealing with a daughter who had brought shame to them. On June 8, 2000, according to the authorities, Jassi was kidnapped, beaten, and stabbed by hired killers.

Eleven people have been accused. Punjab police said the suspects told police that Jassi's mother personally gave the order. Police also said that Jassi's uncle, a leader in British Columbia's Sikh community, paid 500,000 rupees, about $10,800, for the killing.

Armardeep Singh Rai, senior superintendent of police in Punjab's Sangrur district, said the inspector "put them [the family] in touch with the contract killers."

In May 2002 a high court in Punjab ordered the case expedited, though two of the main figures aren't in custody. Rai said police filed an application for extradition of Jassi's mother and uncle two years ago, "but in India, we have the death penalty, and so Canada will not extradite to this country."

Police are revising the extradition request, arguing Jassi's mother and uncle are not the main accused, Rai said. "They are not the committers of the crime. and there cannot be a death penalty for conspirators."

Asked about the new strategy, a Canadian Justice Department spokesman declined comment.

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