“It was a case that tested my nerves as a cop but the faith of my superiors, support of family and an overwhelming thought of bringing justice to an innocent girl helped me conduct the investigation with a single-minded purpose over the years,” said Swaran Singh, the key police investigator who cracked the internationally publicised honour killing case of a Canada-born girl, Jaswinder Kaur aka Jassi, that took place in 2000 in Sangrur district of Punjab.
The case hit headlines once again recently when the Supreme Court of Canada gave the go-ahead in September for the extradition of Jassi’s mother Malkiat Kaur and maternal uncle Surjit Singh Badesha to face trial in India. Both, facing charges of conspiracy and murder, allegedly masterminded this honour killing as Jassi had married Sukhwinder Singh Mithu, a small-time auto-rickshaw driver, against their wishes.
Though the case has been widely reported even in the international media, not many would be aware of the crucial role played by Singh, now posted as Superintendent of Police (Investigation) at Bathinda, who withstood pressure and threats to his life with unwavering resolve for several years till the court convicted the contract killers. The painstaking investigation, carried out over several years by Singh in which he traced and studied around 300 phone calls, resulted in life imprisonment of the three contract killers which set the ground for initiating long drawn extradition proceedings against the accused duo to India.
It is a different matter that minutes before a Punjab Police team was to board the flight to bring the accused duo back, their extradition was stayed after their counsel moved an application seeking judicial review in the court of appeal there. The Supreme Court of British Columbia had in 2014 too ordered that the brother-sister duo be extradited to India to face trial in the murder case, but it was subsequently stayed.
“I got undated warrants against the accused Kaur and Badesha from the court of JMIC, Malerkotla after both were nominated in the case and declared proclaimed offenders,” he told Tehelka in an exclusive chat.
“The credit, in fact, should go to my superiors especially Inspector General of Police, Jatinder Singh Aulakh, the then Senior Superintendent of Police, Sangrur district who entrusted the investigation of the case to me. He told me to deal with the case on merit without succumbing to any pressure and ensure that all accused were penalised,” added the cop who was at that time posted as Station House Officer (SHO) of Dhuri police station in the district.
He went about investigating the matter in a professional manner since the case was first registered at Amargarh police station, also in Sangrur district. The assignment became all the more challenging because the case was handed over to him from another police station.
On many occasions he received abusive and threatening phone calls from abroad at midnight; there were different callers who spoke in Punjabi. He was pressurised to disassociate from the case or face consequences.
The callers have still not been identified though he had got a FIR registered against them at the city police station in the district. “I always responded to the callers saying if the police can get the accused extradited, you all will also be traced and brought to Punjab to face trial. But I must say I became concerned for the security of my family which I finally shifted from my native place,” he recalled.
Before the conviction of the hired killers, he also faced veiled threats pressurising him at the behest of the Inspector rank cop who was among the accused. Singh also got a complaint lodged at the Sangrur police station in this regard.
Most of the pressure he faced was during the pendency of the court case in which the accused went for appeals at the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Supreme Court, both of which upheld the lower court verdict.
“One can imagine the pressure when besides a battery of defence lawyers, invariably over 50 persons from the side of the accused used to throng court premises almost at every court appearance. There were top names among the defence lawyers in the HC and SC,” he recalled.
To fight off pressure during the court appearances, his qualification as a law graduate before joining the police came in handy. Committed to ensuring that the case reached its logical end, he single-handedly matched the professional tactics of the experienced lawyers.
He gathered evidence, prepared and protected witnesses to prevent them from succumbing to any pressure. “I always remained alert at the crucial stage of the case to ensure that the presence of any witness was not revealed to the defence lawyers before court appearance so that they could not employ any tactic seeking adjournments,” he said.
For preparing such a water-tight case which hardly left any scope for the accused killers to get bail and resulted in their conviction, Singh was rewarded with an appreciation letter and 31,000 cash by Captain Amarinder Singh during his previous term as Punjab chief minister.
The court of Additional District and Sessions Judge, Sangrur, had ordered the conviction of the accused in 2005, five years after the woman was killed. What got him going despite all these highly trying circumstances?
“I was guided all the time by an overwhelming feeling to ensure justice to the deceased girl who simply loved and desired to marry a man of her choice. As I got involved deeper into the investigation, I felt as if she was like my daughter,” he summed up.