A modern-day Romeo and Juliet turned murder (Tim Gorin, Dateline producer)
From the outset, I knew this story was going to be unusual. Back in 2002 when I first began reporting on this for Dateline, along with Correspondent Bob McKeown, it was evident that this was one of those stories that would transcend race, religion and nationality.
Maybe it was because Jassi Sidhu seemed like any other 20-something looking for love, maybe it was because I have two daughters of my own, or perhaps it was because of the universality of her dilemma: “What will I do if my family doesn’t approve?” … but whatever it was, this modern-day Romeo and Juliet story captured our imagination.
Jasswinder Sidhu, a Canadian citizen from Maple Ridge, BC, has been dead for six years, but it’s precisely because so much time has passed… and so little has been done to prosecute those accused of being responsible, that we are determined to learn why justice in this case seems so elusive. Most of the facts are not in dispute: Jassi met a young man nicknamed Mithu during a family trip to India, they stayed in touch, fell in love and in March 2000 they secretly married. Not long after Jassi’s family learned of the marriage the two were attacked in the Punjabi countryside. Her husband, Mithu, was left for dead, while Jassi, the young bride, was later murdered. The men involved in the killing have implicated Jassi’s uncle and mother in Canada and phone records appear to confirm their involvement. Still, Jassi’s family in Canada (India is trying to have them extradited to face trial) have not been charged with any crime in British Columbia.
During the course of this story, we have traveled as far west as Vancouver, BC and as far east as the Punjab in India to report on this story. It was a grueling trip to Asia: long flights, 120 degree temperatures, and I think all of us got sick at some point from the food or the water or the unsanitary conditions in which we often found ourselves. But the hardship only added to our determination to tell Jassi’s story which was first broadcast on Dateline in August 2002. Last year, Bob McKeown returned to India to follow-up our original report by tracking down the latest developments involving both the men that were accused of the attack and to see how Mithu has fared since the murder of his beloved bride. You’ll have to tune in to the broadcast on September 2nd to get all the details (or at least read the transcript online), but suffice to say that for reasons that remain frustratingly unclear, the creaky wheels of the Indian legal system seem to be turning a whole lot faster than those of the modern Canadian courts.
This is a heartbreaking story in so many different ways, but I think it’s important to remind people of the challenges and hardships that young women in many cultures still face these days. And hopefully it’s also a wakeup call to the Canadian government that they need to do their part to ensure that justice is ultimately served.
The so-called "honor killings" of young women and girls are not that uncommon in India, Pakistan and the Middle East. The United Nations estimates that, worldwide, there are about 5,000 such killings each year.
This report airs Dateline Saturday, Sept. 2, 8 p.m. on NBC.