Killed for refusing to give up her child?
On 31 March 2015, whilst on a family trip to India, Seeta (Saini) Kaur – a 33 year old British national of Indian origin and the mother of four young children – died in highly suspicious circumstances at the home of her husband and in-laws.
In the UK, Seeta had endured years of domestic violence: she refused her husband, Pawan Saini, and his family’s continuous demands to give up one of her sons to her husband’s brother and his wife in India, who were childless and wanted a male heir. Seeta’s husband viewed the matter as a question of honour: to fulfil a promise made to his brother and sister-in-law that they could adopt one of his sons. Seeta’s refusal led to violence and abuse inflicted by her husband and his family and ultimately, to her death.
Killed to safeguard her husband’s honour?
There is considerable evidence showing that Seeta was killed in India for disobeying her husband and in-laws. He told her family that she had a ‘sudden heart attack’; but she was only 33 years old and had no heart condition or associated health problems; and there is no official medical confirmation as to the cause of her death. When her family flew to India, they saw her body wrapped in thick blankets (an unusual practice in their culture and religion) lying in a coffin. Having insisted on uncovering her, they saw considerable bruising around her neck and upper chest: this fueled their suspicion that she had been strangled to death. Seeta’s family made clear to her husband and in-laws that they intended to take her body back to the UK, but without their knowledge, Seeta’s body was taken out of the house during the night or early hours of the morning and cremated in their absence. Seeta’s family was deeply shocked and distressed when they discovered what had happened: they were deprived of the opportunity to pay their last respects or arrange a post-mortem to establish her cause of death.
Who takes responsibility?
Seeta’s family has struggled to understand the events that transpired. They have repeatedly turned to the Indian and British authorities to have her death properly investigated, but to little avail.
The Indian police, with whom Seeta’s husband is well connected, failed to investigate the matter properly: there are serious flaws in their investigation. Initially, as is common police practice in such cases, they tried to reconcile the families, offering the return of Seeta’s children in exchange for dropping their allegation of murder. When that didn’t work, they simply closed the case. The family is now trying to appeal that decision in India.
In the meantime, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Metropolitan Police in the UK have also failed to recognise Seeta’s death as a potential honour killing or to participate in the investigation into her death. Despite the fact that Seeta was, and her children are, British nationals, they have so far refused to take any responsibility for bringing Seeta’s killers to justice or in assisting in the return of her children who remain with their abusive father in India.
The honour killing of Samia Shahid
This case has conspicuous parallels with previous honour killings of British national women abroad: that of Manjit Kaur, Surjit Atwal, and the more recent high-profile honour killing of Samia Shahid who was allegedly raped and brutally murdered by her first husband and relatives. Samia was lured abroad (to Pakistan) and killed to preserve family honour. Her killers tried to pass off the killing as a ‘sudden heart attack’ but in her case, prompt action by the Pakistani police with support from West Yorkshire Police led to her killers being arrested and detained within days of her death. They are now awaiting trial for her murder whilst other accomplices are also being questioned.
Injustice, discrimination and double standards
Seeta’s family is desperate for justice: the response of the British authorities has been riddled with indifference, raising a series of questions about the role of the Metropolitan Police and the FCO in such cases. For example:
- Why is the British government falling unacceptably short of the standards that are consistent with its own policies on honour-based violence and international human rights law?
- Why is the Metropolitan Police contravening its own policy on honour-based violence in respect of its investigation and prosecution of honour killings?
- Why is there a perceived discriminatory approach to the killings of British nationals abroad? It would appear that the British state does intervene when it thinks it appropriate to do so as in the cases of Madeleine McCann, David Miller and Hannah Witheridge – but not others that appear to involve non-white British nationals.
The failure to apply existing law, guidance and polices on honour-based violence belies the ‘high priority’ that has been accorded by the government and the police to tackling this issue. It also flouts the government’s clear commitment to end violence against women and girls at home and abroad (Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2016-2020).
Seeta’s family is becoming increasingly disillusioned by the apathy and indifference shown by the Indian police, the FCO and the Metropolitan Police. They demand urgent action from the British state: including making representations at the highest levels to their Indian counterparts to undertake joint criminal investigations. They also want changes in domestic law and policy to close the gap and ambiguity that exists in the protection and prosecution in cases of honour killings of British national women committed abroad.
The British state needs to take serious stock of the transnational nature of honour killings by taking appropriate steps to end the public/private divide that is evident in police policy and practice. It would seem that if an honour killing takes place abroad, even if it involves a British national, it is treated as a ‘private’ family matter. It is time to end the near-impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of honour killings who often seek to escape detection by taking women abroad. It is also illogical for laws on forced marriage and female genital mutilation to have extra – territorial effect but not honour-based violence. This means that victims of honour-based violence do not enjoy the same level of protection and rights.
Please support the Justice for Seeta Kaur Campaign:
- Add your name to the our letter to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan – Howe, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, demanding a meeting with Seeta’s family and urging them to comply with the police and government’s obligations to investigate and prosecute honour-based violence in accordance with domestic and international law and policy. (To add your name click here).
- Add your name to our letter to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, urging the FCO to make urgent representations at the highest level to the Indian authorities to undertake a proper and transparent criminal investigation jointly with the British police into Seeta’s death. (To add your name click here).
- Write to your local MP to raise questions in Parliament about the lack of action by the FCO and the Metropolitan Police and their inconsistent response to British nationals killed abroad and to seek broader changes to the law and policy on honour killings committed abroad. (To access template click here)
- Support SBS in seeking urgent reforms on law and social policy on honour-based violence committed against British nationals abroad. Please raise the issues within your organisations, Unions and in your workplace and with other relevant persons;
- Affiliate to this campaign; join the Justice4Seeta mailing list and follow us on Twitter and Facebook
- Please donate to the Seeta Kaur Justice Fund c/o of SBS. The family is in urgent need of funds to finance legal actions in India in the absence of any state support here or in India. You can donate via the Justice4Seeta Just Giving page
- Please attend the launch of the campaign on 7 December in Committee Room 10 at the Houses of Parliament. Book your tickets here