Surrey woman seeks justice for husband wasting away on death row

Published: January 22, 2014

Navneet Kaur in her home in Surrey January 2014. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Navneet Kaur envisioned her marriage spent alongside a loving husband, watching children grow up.

But instead, she shares her Surrey home with her parents and has spent more than 20 years travelling back and forth to India, where she’s watched her husband’s health slowly decline in an Indian prison, where she and many others believe he’s being wrongfully held.

“Now he (is) mentally ill … he doesn’t recognize me,” she told Vancouver Desi on Wednesday. “Over here it’s hard.”
“I lost all those … golden years and everything and still justice has not been provided.”

Kaur married Devinderpal Singh Bhullar in India in the early 1990s, but the newlyweds were quickly torn apart when Bhullar, a college professor in Punjab, was alleged to be involved in a 1993 Delhi car bombing that killed nine people. He remained underground in Germany until 1994, when he planned to join his wife in Canada. But Germany deported him back to India where he was accused of plotting the terror attack. In 2001, nearly a decade later, he was sentenced to death. He spent ten years in solitary confinement, which resulted in his mental instability and transfer to a psychiatric facility.

Kaur has filed countless petitions and sat through endless trials hoping to prove her husband’s innocence — to no avail.

But she’s finally been given a new glimmer of hope as, according to Indian news agency IANS, the Supreme Court of India framed new guidelines for death row convicts Tuesday. The new ruling saw 15 inmates’ death sentences switch to life imprisonment based on long delays in court decisions or mental instability. Bhullar fits both criteria.

But Kaur hopes the guidelines will also lead to the reopening of the case.

Devinderpal Singh Bhullar. Submitted photo/WSO of Canada

“He hasn’t done anything (wrong) … he got tortured, they forced him to confess,” she said, adding that his thumbprint was forcefully used to sign a blank sheet of paper instead of his signature. “He’s not a terrorist — he was a professor.”

“But they just turned his life (around) like that so fast.”

According to the World Sikh Organization (WSO) of Canada, who’s been helping in the fight for justice, Bhullar’s last trial saw one of three judges acquit him, claiming there was no evidence, including that none of the 133 witnesses even identified him as a suspect. But the other two judges used Bhullar’s forced confession to sentence him to death.

“It’s really shocking to the conscience that someone who’s mentally ill, that’s been in prison for 20 years and one of the judges that convicted him is saying, ‘Yeah I don’t think he was actually involved,’ is still going to be executed by the Indian state,” said Balpreet Singh with the WSO in Toronto.

According to both Kaur and Singh, the wrongful imprisonment comes down to politics and the aftermath of the Kashmiri militant attack on the Indian parliament in 2001.

“At that time everyone in India was very much gung-ho about taking terrorism to task,” said Singh. “He seems to be a victim of that atmosphere as opposed to any real legal proceedings.”

Kaur, now unable to travel due to health issues, must await yet another court decision half a world away, hoping she’ll one day be able to live the married life she once imagined.

“I believe in God, (so) I hope so,” she said when asked if she thinks they’ll ever be reunited. “At least in old age.”

Related stories:

lcahute@vancouverdesi.com
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