She Attended A Wedding And Never Returned— The Murder Of Surjit Athwal

Mrs H

A lovely soul that was taken away too soon by the evil practices of honor killings.

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Sarbjit, left, on her wedding day, with Surjit, rightThe Sun.co.uk

Surjit Athwal was a British Indian woman born on 17 July 1971 in Coventry, England. At the age of 16, she was compelled to marry a man ten years her senior, Sukhdave Singh Athwal, the son of 70-year-old Bachan, who her other daughter-in-law Sarbjit later described as the matriarch of the family and very autocratic.

She barely knew the man she had married as she had only met him once before the wedding. Being a new member of the family, she tried by all means to adjust but struggled with some of the rules. She described them as harsh and unreasonable compared to where she came from. Faced with this dilemma, she tried to discuss the challenges with her husband and mother-in-law, but her plea fell on deaf ears.

Left with no other choice, Surjit was forced to rebel. This didn’t go well with her husband, who felt she was forcefully challenging his authority as the man of the housea taboo in their Sikh tradition and her mother-in-law was also outraged by her actions. It marked the beginning of terror for Surjit. To try and force her to adhere, both parties used physical force even during the times she was expecting. “I would hear her being beaten up next door. I felt sick as I once heard my sister-in-law hit the floor. Then I made out a different voice. It was Bachan. She was attacking [pregnant] Surjit as well,’ Sarbjit said during an interview.

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Bachan the evil mother in lawThe Sun.co.uk

Tired of the messy home and being treated like a slave, Surjit thought spending less time in the house was the best thing for everyone, so she applied for jobs. Luckily, the wait was not too long for her. She was quickly employed as a customs agent with HM Customs and Excise at London Heathrow Airport. Due to her lovely personality, settling in and making new friends became easy, and in a short period, she felt more at home than at the actual house. Having found her independence and inspired by how her female colleagues dressed, she happily adopted the western ways of dressing wore makeup and socialized more with her work colleagues. On the other hand, her abusive husband was furious about having an empowered wife who worked hard and was no longer a liability, which logically didn't make sense.

Prompted by jealousy and insecurities, Sukhdave began to spy on his wife behind her back every time she went out with her friends. On the other hand, poor Surjit craved companionship, respect, and someone who would value and listen to her. She began to confide in a male colleague, formed a great friendship, and later fell in love. It wasn’t long until the husband found out about the affair and advised his family. “In the middle of our tea Bachan says, “Surjit’s disgracing the family. It’s decided. We have to get rid of her”,’ Sarbjit said.

When word of the family being aware of the affair reached her ears, Surjit asked for a divorce, not knowing a plan to get rid of her permanently was already in place. In December 1998, a family meeting was called. All members were present, including the other daughter-in-law, Sarbjit, except for Surjit. Her husband and the mother-in-law explained they had arranged Surjit’s murder in India and that they would lure her by lying that if she attended two family weddings there, her wish to divorce would be granted upon her return.

Being in the dark and excited about the fake news Surjit and Bachan flew to Delhi, India, on 4 December 1998. That was, unfortunately, the last time she was seen alive in the UK. When they arrived at the airport, Bachan Kaur’s brother, Darshan Singh, picked them up and drove them to the village of Punjabi, where the weddings were held. A few days after the wedding, Surjit went to a travel agent to secure an earlier flight back home, but she could not do so for unknown reasons. Neither did she get on the scheduled December 18th flight with her mother-in-law. She had vanished into thin air, and her body has never been found.

When Surjit failed to return to the UK, friends and family members began questioning her whereabouts. To cover their heinous crime Bachan Kaur and Sukhdave claimed that she had fallen in love with someone in India and ran away with him. On one occasion, her evil husband had claimed to have spoken to her on the phone and that she had confirmed she wasn't coming back. However, since lies are so tricky to put up with, things began to prove shady. The stories were not matching up, as he had told someone else she’d “passed away.”

Despite receiving death threats to keep her quiet, Sarbjit claims to have attempted to alert the authorities the day Surjit left for India by calling Crimestoppers Uk in fear of her safety, but they never took her seriously. On her mother-in-law’s return, Sarbjit later reported that when she asked about Surjit, she was told her mother-in-law’s brother drugged and strangled her to death, then threw her body on Ravi River. Angry about the confession, Sarbjit sent an anonymous letter to the police detailing everything and shared her concerns. This time the police acted.

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Suhkdave Athwal, Sutjit's husband, had taken out a life insurance policy for her just days before the murderThe Sun.co.uk

In May 2000, Bachan Kaur, Sukhdave Athwal, and two other family members were arrested on conspiracy to murder but were released without charge. The evidence was deemed purely circumstantial. Following their discharge, Sarbjit's life was now in danger.

She described the years following Surjit’s disappearance as living “in a constant climate of fear” under the Athwal family. She tried many times to flee but kept failing. As they say, everything happens for a reason; in 2004, Sarbjit was taken to hospital with a life-threatening, stress-related condition. Having the opportunity presenting itself, she welcomed it with open arms. When she left the hospital, she went back to her parent's home and told her father everything that had happened. Though scared to risk his daughter’s life and the family, he felt doing the right thing was more important. He persuaded her to go back to the police and make a statement. As they expected, Sarbjit and her family were subjected to death threats and intimidation by the local Sikh community.

In 2005, after Sarbjit had given a police statement, British authorities reopened the murder case. The investigation team traveled to India to interview the suspects mentioned in the letter and gather any evidence. While in India, they located the river where her body was believed to have been dumped, but they couldn’t find it.

Without the body, it wasn't easy to arrest and charge the culprits. After a long, complex, and tiresome investigation, Bachan Kaur and her son Sukhdave were charged with murder in 2006.

Sentencing

The trial began in the spring of 2007. Fearless, Sarbjit was the first person in the history of British honor killing crimes to stand and testify against her own family. She spent almost four weeks gathering and giving any evidence that was deemed necessary to put the assassins behind bars.

Her efforts were indeed not in vain. Mother and son were found guilty. Bachan Kaur, who was 70, was given a life sentence with a minimum of 20 years. The evil husband, Sukdave, was sentenced to life.

Sources

Breaking the silence

A woman who defied death threats to give evidence in a landmark 'honour killing' case turned trainer when agencies…

www.counselmagazine.co.uk

Surjit Athwal's sister-in-law knew of family's insidious murder plot

Sarbjit Athwal, 49, said she knew in advance of the plot to murder Surjit Athwal Her sister-in-law was killed in India…

www.dailymail.co.uk

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