‘Sikh woman’s murder plotted in UK, executed in India’


London : A Sikh customs officer at Heathrow airport was allegedly murdered by her mother-in-law and husband after they had lured her to India on the pretext of attending a family wedding, a court here has heard.

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Surjit Kaur Athwal, a 27-year-old mother of two, was allegedly strangled to death in India in 1998 by her husband Sukhdave Athwal, 42, and his mother, Bachan Athwal, 68, but the matter came to light so late because family members who knew the truth feared for their lives, a court here was told Wednesday.

“This matter came to light as late as it did because some members of the family who knew the truth of what had happened were frightened,” prosecutor Michael Worsley said.

“They were frightened that, if they told anybody, the same sort of thing might happen to them as they believed happened to the victim,” he told the court.

Both Sukhdave and Bachan have denied the charge.

The court heard that tensions between Surjit, her husband and mother-in-law, reached breaking point when they discovered Surjit was having an affair with another customs officer and wanted a divorce, the Daily Mail reported.

Sukhdave’s family was said to have been concerned that Surjit was very westernised, cut her hair short, smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol.

Having resolved to get rid of her daughter-in-law, Bachan and Sukhdev devised a plan to get Surjit to India on the pretext of going to some wedding. Within a few days of arriving in India, she was allegedly murdered.

“Within a few days, she completely disappeared from the surface of earth,” said Worsley. “The crown suggests the circumstances are enough to say, first, that she is dead and, second, that she didn’t die of natural causes or disease or an accident, but died because she was killed, and, in particular, strangled.”

It is alleged that Sukhdave even forged letters from British police to their Indian counterparts, trying to suggest that Surjit was at risk from her own father, to throw them off the scent.

The police never found Surjit’s body.

After returning to Britain, Sukhdev, a minibus driver at Heathrow, quickly remarried, and is alleged to have forged Surjit’s signature to seize ownership of their house.