It is the only house in Dhirpur village with a nameplate that reads: Heem Singh, Captain, Mahar Regiment. A small car, tractor and a satellite dish in the courtyard of this two-storeyed house speak of Singh’s relative affluence. On October 27, 2009, his 23-year-old daughter, Kulbir Kaur, was found dead at her in-laws’ place at Tiba Nangal village, about 10 km from Dhirpur in Punjab’s Ropar district.
Heem Singh, 70, Dhirpur, Ropar (punjab)
I retired from the infantry division of army’s Mahar Regiment in 1991, four years before my wife died of cancer leaving three children in my care, two daughters and a son. Kulbir was the youngest of the three. While my two older children left school soon after their mother’s death, Kulbir, then all of nine years, studied till class 8.
Kulbir was eager to study but we got her married in 2006. Our village sarpanch brought us the marriage proposal from Tiba Nangal village, about 10 km from here. We are Gujjar Sikhs but there are not many from our community in Dhirpur and neighbouring villages. Inter-faith marriages are not uncommon. So we agreed to marry her to Roshan Lal, a Gujjar Hindu. Neither he nor his parents initially demanded dowry.
But within a few months, they started harassing her. They first asked for a motorcycle and later a plot of land. There was no guarantee that they would stop at this or keep her happy but we agreed to give a part of our land provided it was registered in Kulbir’s name. But they did not agree to that.
Over time things got worse. Kulbir’s first child, a girl, died after birth. The fights continued and even the panchayat intervened. When she was pregnant the second time, we brought her home as she was being harassed again. She soon gave birth to a boy. But Roshan Lal came along with his parents and assured us they will keep Kulbir happy.
We should not have sent her back. After one month (October 2009), I was at the kisan mela when Kulbir called to say they were beating her again. I asked my son Baljit to rush to Tiba Nangal. My daughter-in-law and son reached their house but she was dead. Her body was lying on the verandah in a deserted house. They had all fled, taking my grandson with them.
Along with our village sarpanch we went to the police to lodge an FIR. The police claimed it was a case of suicide as she had died of a drug overdose. But when we lifted her body, there was blood under it and bruises on her hands and neck. They had forced her to consume the pills. After post-mortem, we brought her body home and buried her next to her mother.
We pressed charges of murder for dowry. Roshan Lal, his father Kanshi Ram and mother Jeeto Devi were arrested. But there was a long battle ahead. After three years, a local court pronounced the three guilty of murder and awarded them life imprisonment. Roshan Lal’s elder brother escaped the punishment citing he was in Ludhiana at the time of the incident.
But the tragedy has made my resolve to educate my three grand-daughters only stronger. The oldest, Ramandeep (16), is studying commerce and wants to pursue an MBA. Her 12-year-old sister, Simranjit, wants to be a teacher so does the youngest Lovepreet.
But my battle is not yet over. My daughter will get justice the day we get custody of her son. He is with the elder brother’s family who too had plotted her murder. I am sure to win the case and bring him home so that my daughter’s soul can rest in peace.
‘It is a ritual’
Says Rainuka Daggar of the Institute of Development and Communication, Chandigarh: “The number of dowry deaths in Punjab has come down but the number of dowry harassment cases is going up. Due to its patriarchy where inheritance rights are only for the son, dowry to daughters is considered as part of marriage ritual. We collect data every five years from 5,000 households and results show dowry harassment cases are going up.”