“We could be next. Anytime.” Panic is writ large on the face of 24-year-old Navdeep Kaur as she talks about Sunday’s brutal killing of a newly-married couple in Naushera-Dalla. Navdeep Kaur and her husband, Harmanjit Singh (19), were themselves lucky to survive an attack by the girl’s family allegedly at the boy’s home in the same village on the intervening night of July 29-30.
For almost two months now, Navdeep and Harmanjit have been living in fear, confined to their 600 sq yards home at the periphery of Naushera-Dalla village. Three security personnel (including a woman cop) escort the couple 24×7. “My family has been finished just because I married a girl of my own choice,” says Harmanjit, who lost his father, brother and sister in the attack. Navdeep’s father and two brothers were among those arrested in the case.
“My father even told the cops that he will kill us, no matter what. He said ‘Jis din mainu eh dono vikh gaye main maar dene hai.. stamp paper tey likh ke lailo…(The day I see them both together, I will kill them. Take this in writing from me)’,” says Navdeep, who still has chooda (bangles), worn by new brides as a custom, around her wrists.
The daylight murder of Amandeep Singh and Amanpreet Kaur had added to couple’s sense of unease.
“Since Sunday, I am feeling uneasy again. Like someone is waiting to kill us the moment we step outside. Since the killing of my husband’s family members on the night of July 29-30, we have been confined to our home. Some of my cousins who had attacked the family that day are still roaming free. My own father and two brothers are in jail, but even then my father has threatened us from jail that the day he is out, he will kill me and Harmanjit at first sight. The only feeling on Sunday was: the next could be us, anytime. Is falling in love such a big crime?” asks Navdeep.
Harmanjit admits that the couple took their security “casually”. The attack had taken place just a month after the couple had solemnised their marriage at a gurdwara in village Kazikot Kalan, Tarn Taran (gurdwara marriage certificate copy with The Indian Express). On July 1, they had moved a Tarn Taran court for security, but despite the court granting them cover that day, they didn’t let the guards stay with them 24X7.
“Though court ordered security for us on July 1, we took it little casually and did not allow security guards to accompany us everyday and everywhere. The day the attack happened, we had refused their services but after the attack, we keep them 24×7,” said Harmanjit, adding: “On July 29, we complained to the police. The cops went to her father’s home. He told the cops that he will not spare us at any cost, but assured that he won’t harm my family. My family has been finished just because I married a girl of my own choice.”
On the night of the attack, the couple were at the place of Harmanjit’s married sister fearing that something untoward might happen. While Navdeep escaped as she did not leave the place, Harmanjit had a narrow escape as he had gone back to pick some medicines from his place when the attackers — 15 to 20 in number — struck. Harmanjit survived, but his father Joginder Singh (56), brother Pawandeep Singh (17) and sister Prabhjeet Kaur (22) were hacked to death with an axe.
According to Navdeep, while her father Beera Singh (45), brothers — Vardeep (19) and Sukh (23), a cousin Govinda (son of his father’s sister) and brother-in-law Jobanjit Singh are under arrest for murder, the other accused — three sons of her paternal uncle and two brothers of her cousin Govinda are still roaming free.
“Till they are not arrested, we cannot move out. A sword keeps hanging on our heads….Even my youngest brother who is just 16 and a Class 11 student was allegedly among the attackers. It all happened because my father hates the idea of love marriages. Due to the fear of my father, my brothers became killers. Even my own mother did not support me and did what my father said. I cried, pleaded, but they did not accept us.”
Navdeep and Harmanjit’s families were friends before their the marriage soured the relations between them.
While Navdeep is a Class 12 pass-out from an SC family, Harmanjit, a Class 8 dropout, belonged to an OBC family. The families would often meet at Dhand Kasel of Tarn Taran. “Since our fathers were married in the same village (Dhand Kasel), both families met often. And then our own homes were at distance of a few meters in our own village. Our fathers were best of friends, but my father could not accept that I married his friend’s son,” says Navdeep. This despite the fact that Harmanjit’s family owned five-kilas of agricultural land, while Navdeep’s father was a mason.
“More than caste, it was ego at stake for my father. He is currently lodged at Amritsar Central Jail but I have no idea where my mother and the youngest brother are. I have not seen their faces since I got married and shifted here. I got to know that my home — 600 metres away — is locked and my mother is living with some relatives, but I am not sure,” adds Navdeep.
“The border between India and Pakistan is visible, but there is an invisible border that now stands between me and the home where I grew up. Maybe it is possible to go to Pakistan, but not to my own home now. Seeing my own parents’ face seems unreal. Sometimes I think if we falling in love was such a big crime that two families have been finished because of us — one murdered and the other in jail,” laments the 24-year-old.
But even in the face of fear, Harmanjit remains stoic: “This can’t go on forever. I have to work, take care of my fields. Who will earn for us? We can’t stay locked inside our home forever fearing someone will kill us. Currently, we do not even move till the muddy kutcha patch of road leading to our home. But for how long?”
Navdeep is quick to back him: “Since we got married, there hasn’t been a single day without fear. But we are together. The day my in-laws were killed, everyone advised me not to move out but when my husband was out, I have to stand by him. His family was mine too. They died because of us.”
Shubhpal Singh (23), Harmanjit’s friend from the village who has now moved to Tarn Taran city, says, “Lack of educational facilities and rampant drug abuse in this border belt is contributing to youngsters getting into such crimes. They drop out after Class 10 because there is no senior secondary school or college. It’s lack of education that makes them think that falling in love is a big crime.”
For Navdeep and Harmanjit, getting married against the wishes of the girl’s family has also meant living daily with the guilt of the cost that their decision has extracted. “This guilt, of both families getting finished because of our love, will never go,” says Navdeep.
Court had directed SSP to provide security
A petition filed in the court by the couple on July 1, 2019 (copy with The Indian Express), stated that girl Navdeep is 25 (born in 1995) and the boy, Harmanjit, is 19 (born in 2000) and that they both are adults who married with their consent and now apprehended danger to their lives.
As per the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 — a marriage is solemnised if the girl “has completed age of 18 years and the boy 21 years”. But the court of sessions judge Harpreet Kaur Randhawa in her orders said, “From the statements of the petitions it transpires that petitioner Navdeep Kaur is major and petitioner Harman Singh is minor but they have solemnised their marriage with each other on 28.6.2019 as per Sikh rites and ceremonies… they have apprehended danger to their lives..Tarn Taran SSP is directed to provide the immediate protection to petitioners and to ensure security of lives and liberty of the petitioners…”
Tarn Taran SP (Investigation) Jagjit Singh said that security is being provided as per court orders.