Murder, mystery, law, disorder: A 7-year saga
On the evening of September 20, 2015, Sukhmanpreet Singh Sidhu -- Sippy to his friends and family -- received a phone call. His mother, Deepinder Kaur, remembers him hurriedly throwing on his clothes, and exiting their Mohali home in a hurry, calling out a one-sentence explanation.
Four hours later, Sidhu had not returned home, and Kaur grew worried. She called his phone. An unfamiliar voice picked up, with news that nightmares are made of. It was policewoman, standing next to her son’s bullet-ridden body lying in a Chandigarh park.
“I am going to meet Kalyani in Sector 27. I will be back in no time,” she claimed he had told her before he left.
That one sentence, according to Sidhu’s family, is at the centre of one of the most highest of high-profile police cases that Chandigarh has seen in the past decade. A case about the murder of the grandson of a retired Punjab & Haryana high court judge; one that has seen a seven-year legal saga, and multiple agency probe, and finally an arrest. That of the daughter of the current acting Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh high court.
THE DRAMATIS PERSONNAE
Sippy Sidhu was a strapping 36-year-old with a manicured beard framing his face. He grew up as an avid shooter, and even won the team gold, along with Abhinav Bindra, in the 2001 Punjab National Games. A regular on the rifle shooting circuit, he later became joint secretary of the Paralympic Committee of India.
But his family was deeply immersed in the law, and that was always going to be his long-term profession. Sidhu’s grandfather was late justice SS Sidhu, former judge of the Punjab & Haryana high court, and his father, the late IPS Sidhu, was the former additional advocate general of Punjab. Sidhu also started running the Sippy Sidhu law firm, practising corporate law in Chandigarh.
Kalyani Singh was 29 years old at the time, and was teaching at a private college in the city. Her family was no less illustrious. Her father was advocate Parminder Singh, and her mother was justice Sabina Singh, then a judge in the Punjab & Haryana high court.
Sidhu’s friends said that both families were close, their relationship going back to the 1990s when justice Sabina Singh and her husband practised law at the Punjab & Haryana high court. “They would meet with their children on weekends and holidays. The closeness of the families increased with the death of Sippy’s father in 2008. It was during this period that Sippy and Kalyani grew closer,” the friend said.
The relationship is learnt to have soured sometime in 2014-15, when, according to Sippy’s mother, Kalyani’s family met her and proposed marriage. The proposal was turned down. “Since then, they have not met us, though Kalyani would still come to our Mohali house. They did not even come when Sippy was murdered,” Deepinder Kaur said.
On the evening of September 20, 2015,Sidhu’s body was found at a park at Chandigarh’s Sector 27, 10km away from his home in the Mohali’s Sector 3B2. The case was initially probed by Chandigarh’s Sector 26 police, who found that he had been shot at point blank with a .12 bore gun, with four bullets fired. Even as Sippy’s family was convinced that Kalyani was behind the murder -- something her family vehemently denied -- the Chandigarh police said that an eyewitness told them that she had seen a woman fleeing the spot.
On October 10 that year, the Chandigarh Police first called Kalyani Singh in for questioning. Even before she could be questioned again, on October 19, Sidhu’s family met the then acting Chief Justice of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, justice SJ Vazifdar demanding an impartial probe, alleging that the investigation may be influenced.
As time passed, and very little progress was made, the family staged a candle-light march on November 30, 2015 on the streets of Chandigarh, and shot off letters to the Chief Justice of India and the Prime Minister. On January 22, 2016, the Chandigarh UT administration referred the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
CBI took over the case on April 13, 2016. Less than two months later, on June 4, justice Sabina Singh was transferred out of the Punjab & Haryana High Court to Rajasthan. In unprecedented scenes, at the customary farewell ceremony organised by the state bar association, Sidhu’s relatives sat outside the high court complex in protest.
CBI’s SLOW PACE
Initially, CBI too made little headway. The federal agency announced a ₹5 lakh reward for any information on the crime in September 2016, and conducted a polygraph test on Kalyani in December 2020. No challan was presented to court. To be sure, the results of a polygraph test are not admissible in court.
Four years later, CBI submitted a final report before the trial court in Chandigarh in December 2020, calling the probe “inconclusive”, but saying that there was “strong suspicion” around Kalyani’s role. In its order on December 14, 2020, the special CBI court of judicial magistrate first class (JMIC) Ravish Kaushik asked why CBI was filing an “untraced report” -- which is filed when agencies fail to find either an accused or case property -- but was simultaneously asking the court to keep investigations open. “If investigations on certain aspects are still pending then why is the CBI filing an untraced report?”, the court had said, asking CBI to continue the probe.
A year later, CBI increased the cash award for information to ₹10 lakh on December 10, 2021.
CBI officials said, after December 2020, Kalyani was asked to join the investigation on at least four occasions, which she did. On June 15, 2022, she and her father Parminder Singh went to CBI again after being summoned. That same morning, CBI announced that they had arrested Kalyani.
CBI told the court that Kalyani and Sidhu shared a close relationship. “She wanted to marry him but her proposal was refused by Sippy’s family. Sippy had leaked her objectionable photos to her parents and friends, which had caused embarrassment to Kalyani and her family,” said CBI, ascribing motive to the murder. Its officials also said she was found “evasive and deceptive” and there was evidence of her being present at the scene of the crime.
Kayani, now 36, has been arrested under sections 302 (murder), 120B (criminal conspiracy), and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code, and sections of the Arms Act. “During investigation, the alleged involvement of accused (Kalyani) came forth in the case. Accordingly, she was examined and arrested. The arrested accused was produced today (Wednesday) in the court of special judicial magistrate, Chandigarh, and remanded to four days police custody,” a CBI spokesperson said.
All the while, Kalyani, now an assistant professor in the home science at the Post Graduate Government College for Girls in Chandigarh’s Sector 42, has maintained a low profile. “The family denies the allegations and what has remained unexplained so far are Sippy’s financial dealings, and any role they may have played in the death,” a friend of the Singh family said.
During proceedings in court, Kalyani’s lawyers termed the arrest as an “abuse of law” alleging that it was a seven-year-old case, pointing to the CBI filing an “untraced report”, and saying that she cooperated with investigations in the past, but there was no incriminating evidence found. When contacted, her lawyer Sartej Narula said on behalf of her family: “The family has faith in our judicial system. She is innocent and has been framed. Truth shall prevail.”
On Wednesday, Kalyani was sent to four days in CBI custody.
As the agency investigates, and will now attempt to prosecute, Chandigarh waits for the next turn in a case that has captured it’s imagination, and cleaved its legal fraternity apart.