The bustling neighborhood of Richmond Hill in the Queen’s borough of New York City is often referred to as Little Punjab. Its vibrant Sikh community, which has contributed significantly to the development of the area, was honored in October 2020 when a local street was co-named Punjab Avenue.
It is the same community that is now feeling angry, helpless and concerned about the two infant daughters of Mandeep Kaur, an Indian-origin Sikh woman who allegedly killed herself on August 3 after shooting a heartrending video detailing her abuse by her husband and her in-laws.
Kaur, a native of Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh in India, came to the United States in 2015 after marrying Ranjotveer Singh Sandhu. They have two daughters, aged four and six. Community leader and CEO of United Sikhs, a multinational nonprofit that works for the community said, “We want to make sure the two small children are safe.”
Kaur alleged in her video that both her husband and her in-laws had been harassing and torturing her since the time she came to the US demanding dowry and later a son. Unable to bear the abuse anymore, Kaur said in her video that since gone viral on the internet, she wanted to killed herself. On August 3, local police found her body at her Richmond Hills residence.
On August 11, in a telephone interview to indica, Julie Bolcer, Executive Director of Public Affairs and Senior Advisor, Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), New York, confirmed that Mandeep committed suicide by hanging and her body had been released. It has also been independently confirmed that Sandhu cremated Kaur on August 10.
Singh of the United Sikhs said, “Where will the children go? Who is going to raise them? Their father had been abusing their mother, and now he wants their custody. This needs to be resolved. The question is, should he get their custody. Staying with him is not a good idea. You need someone who is more involved and caring.”
Sandhu is a truck driver, and is often on tour. “What he did to Mandeep Kaur is inhuman, shameful and disgraceful,” Singh said.
United Sikhs will file a complaint, Singh said, to “get justice for Mandeep and also to make sure that the children are raised in a safe and healthy environment.”
United Sikhs will consult with community leaders, he said, and that “we are working on how to get the children’s custody.” Singh said no one from her Indian family has managed to make it to the United States.
Singh said his organization has seen a rise in domestic violence over the years which prompted United Sikhs to set up a helpline for victims of abuse.
Another United Sikhs community leader Dardayal Singh said that though there is no lack of effort from the community organizations, there is a distinct lack of awareness and education on the subject of domestic abuse. “We are taught not to retaliate, not to speak out and just try to solve the marriage,” he said.
He said the first thing a victim of domestic abuse should do is call 911, and only then speak to your family and friends. “If your family is in India, it could sometimes take weeks for them to arrive. Until then, the abuser would have made it a habit to beat up his partner. More information and education need to be disseminated at the local temple or gurdwara.”
To ensure that the Sikh community has recourse to help, United Sikhs started Umeed (‘Hope’), a national toll-free helpline available 24 hours at 1-855-US-UMEED (1-855-878-6333). “This helpline provides confidential and professional counselling to all members of the community,” Dardayal Singh said.
Indian lawmakers, too, are extending support to Kaur’s family. Shiv Sena Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha Priyanka Chaturvedi wrote to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday demanding the creation of an institutional mechanism to deal with domestic abuse abroad.
Another Rajya Sabha member and Aam Aadmi Party leader Raghav Chadha met with Jaishankar, asking her body to be brought back to India. He had made this request before Kaur was cremated.