Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Aarshiya and Jiaa Patil

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I am profiling one Asian or Pacific Islander MP for every day of the month of May. Today’s case is the sisters Aarshiya Manish Patil and Jiaa Manish Patil, who disappeared together from Thornton, Colorado on Christmas Eve, 2010. They were three and one respectively.

The children, who are of Indian descent, are classified as family abduction victims. Their mother, Ritu Hemchandra Desai, took apparently them to India. They may be living in the city of Pune, a major city in the state of Maharashtra on the eastern coast of India.

A murder-without-a-body case out of Britain/India

Last night I read a book called Shamed: The Honour Killing That Shocked Britain – by the Sister Who Fought for Justice, by Sarbjit Athwal, describing the “honor killing” of her sister-in-law, Surjit, and the subsequent missing persons investigation and eventual prosecution of two of the people involved: Surjit and Sarbit’s mother-in-law, Bachan Kaur Athwal, and Surjit’s husband, Sukhdave Singh Athwal.

What it amounted to, basically, is that the Athwal family were very conservative Sikhs living in Britain, and Bachan Kaur had a high reputation in the community as a very devout woman. In fact, within the family she was an absolute tyrant and her sons were terrified of her, to say nothing of her daughters-in-law. When Surjit wanted a divorce from her abusive husband, Bachan Kaur decided she couldn’t have her daughter-in-law shaming the family like that.

So she convinced Surjit to go on a trip to India with her to attend a family wedding. When they were in India, some goons Bachan Kaur had hired drugged Surjit, kidnapped her, strangled her, removed her gold jewelry and dumped her body in the river. It was never found — at least as far as anyone knows. That particular river runs into Pakistan, which doesn’t have the greatest relationship with India, and corpses dumped in from India tend to wash up in Pakistan and never get identified.

Sarbjit Athwal had been at the family meeting where Bachan Kaur announced what she was going to do, and she called the police with an anonymous tip hoping they would stop Surjit leaving for India, or rescue her once she arrived, but the police did…nothing. After Surjit “disappeared”, Sarbjit wrote the police an anonymous letter describing exactly what had happened, in great detail, and the police did…nothing. Then she confided in her sister, who went to the police and gave a statement, and they did…nothing. And so on.

Sarbjit was too afraid to actually go to the police openly, because the Athwals made it clear they would kill her too. Something like a decade passed before the case broke open, and Sarbjit started cooperating with the cops. They went to her house and arrested everyone, including her (in order to trick the Athwals into thinking it wasn’t her who spilled the beans), but instead of taking her to the station they took her to her parents’ house. She was in witness protection for ages before the trial, staying in grimy hostels with her baby whom she was nursing.

I wouldn’t say justice has been entirely achieved in this case. The identities of the people who actually killed Surjit in India are known, but they have never been prosecuted and for legal reasons they weren’t even named in the book. (Media reports I found said one of them was Bachan Kaur’s brother.) Sarbjit’s husband, Hardave, was at that original family meeting and passively let the whole conspiracy unfold, repeatedly lied to the police, and threatened Sarbjit when he found out she was going to testify, but he wasn’t prosecuted either.

Surjit’s daughter, Pawanpreet “Pav” Athwal, had been told her mother abandoned her. She was a teenager when she found out the truth. Pav has been active in Britain speaking out against honor killings and set up a hotline for women who are afraid of being the victim of an honor killing or being forced into marriage.

I would recommend the book if you’re interested in this kind of thing. I’m glad the US isn’t the only country that prosecutes no-body homicides.

And of course it’s always worth saying there is no honor in murder.

Indian child returns home after being missing seven years

According to this Times of India article, an unidentified thirteen-year-old girl has showed up back in her old district in Jashpur in the state of Chhattisgarh in eastern India, seven years after she was abducted by human traffickers at the age of five.

The little girl’s family had assumed she was dead, and had a ceremony in her memory every year on the anniversary of her disappearance. She claims she was forced to work as a domestic servant in private homes in New Delhi and endured every manner of abuse. I don’t doubt it. Human trafficking is a serious problem in India.

I’m so glad she’s back with her family. I hope they can catch the people who did this to her.

Article about missing children in India

I found this excellent, if brief Times of India article about missing kids in India. Of course children run away or get kidnapped there same as anywhere else, and India is such a huge place, with so many people, and so poor, that it’s even more difficult to find them than it is in more developed countries.

In India as in China, there’s a lot of human trafficking with kids being forced into slave labor making tchotchkes at five cents an hour for export abroad. I read a novel, Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth, about a child who was forced into a situation like that.

Whoops

This out of India: a married woman who had disappeared in 2008, whose husband was arrested for her murder, turned up alive and well. She’d run off with another guy, who subsequently abandoned her, so she returned to her parents’ home. Her husband, meanwhile, had been in jail for eight months. The article says she’d like to return to him but so far he’s refusing to take her. From the article:

[A]ction will be taken against those police personnel who arrested the husband without making proper enquiry.

Well, I certainly hope so.

Missing Indian boy reunited with family after 15 years

The details are scarce, but this article tells a happy story: a six-year-old boy in India who disappeared off a train in 1995 has somehow located his left-behind family, who live in the state of Andhra Pradesh. He says a female railroad station employee in Chennai (which seems to be the next state over) took him to an orphanage and left him there. The Lions Club (of which my father is a member, though not in India of course) helped him find his parents. He is now 21 years old.

The boy, who is named Shabeer, now speaks only Tamil. His parents speak three languages between them, but Tamil is not one of them. I suppose they will work out some means of communication. Now that he’s back with his family, Shabeer might start to remember his native tongue. I wish the best for all of them.