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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 02:56 GMT
The long search for Surjit
By Cindi John
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

The family of Surjit Kaur Athwal who went missing five years ago in India meets the Foreign Secretary to discuss her case on Thursday. BBC News Online spoke to her brother about the campaign to discover her fate.

Jagdeesh Singh's voice is almost matter-of-fact as he describes what he believes were the last minutes of his sister's life.

Surjit Kaur Athwal with her husband and daughter
Surjit Kaur Athwal has not contacted her family since 1998

"She was driven off in a car and taken to the banks of a nearby river. She was pulled out of the car, strangled, suffocated to death and then her body was thrown into the river with a view to it being lost for ever," he said.

Mr Singh said the details came from two people who visited him at his Slough home two weeks ago and said they had been to meetings where Surjit's death was planned.

Since his sister disappeared Mr Singh and his parents have received several phone calls from people claiming to have knowledge of her death.

But Mr Singh said the two recent visitors had given the "most comprehensive and the most startling, devastatingly complete information".

The police and officialdom of India collude with disappearances and honour killings
Jagdeesh Singh

When she failed to return from the trip to India with her mother-in-law Mr Singh and his parents confronted Surjit's husband and mother-in-law at their home in Hayes, west London, but were told she had run away with another man.

But Mr Singh said that explanation made no sense: "She looked forward to her life as a customs officer and was looking forward to a promising career.

"She cared for her children very deeply and would never willing have left them," he said.

For the first couple of years the family hoped Surjit would "pop up from somewhere", Mr Singh said.

Soon after Surjit vanished her husband, Sukhdev Athwal, divorced her on the grounds of desertion and remarried.


In 2000 Mr Athwal, his mother and two other relatives were arrested and questioned about the case but subsequently released without charge.

The Athwal family have always denied any involvement in Surjit's disappearance.

Mr Singh and his family set up a campaign, Justice for Surjit, to put pressure on the British government to do more to get the Indian authorities to investigate Surjit's disappearance thoroughly.
Jagdeesh Sing
Jagdeesh Singh wants to discover his sister's fate

Their father had gone to India to assist in the search for her but had found complete indifference on the part of the police there, Mr Singh said.

But a spokesman for the Indian embassy in London told BBC News Online it was "preposterous" to suggest any government official would disregard such a case.

'Lingering wound'

Mr Singh said the British police had done everything they could - including offering a 10,000 reward for information - but needed more people like the two visitors to his home, to come forward with their evidence.

He said he believed progress could still made in spite of the years that have elapsed, citing other apparently stalled cases such as that of Lucie Blackman who went missing in Japan.

"In the case of Lucie Blackman it was only British pressure which led the Japanese to reinvestigate Lucie Blackman's case and find her body," he said.

Whatever the final outcome, the loss of Surjit has deeply scarred the close-knit family, Mr Singh said.

"It's left a huge, lingering wound on the family which we're managing now to get over but it remains a major sore."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office denied mishandling his sister's case.

A spokeswoman told BBC News Online the cases of all British nationals were treated equally, regardless of their colour, race or sex.



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