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Deja Vu? The Tale Of Two Sisters

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Deja Vu? The Tale of Two Sistersby RAVEENA AULAKH



She was supposed to be her family's ticket to Canada.
Instead, Amandeep Dhillon, 22, a young Indian bride married off to a Canadian man she didn't know, was found stabbed to death at a Malton grocery store on Jan. 1, 2009.
A year later, Amandeep's younger sister has taken her place as a bridge to this country. Her wedding was arranged to a Brampton (Ontario, Canada) man some weeks after she and her parents arrived from India for the funeral.
Outsiders have questioned her parents' judgment, but Pawandeep Benipal, 21, says she is happy for the opportunity to help her family come to Canada.
"It will take a long time but I will apply for their immigration," said Benipal, who married Jagdeep Singh in July. Her parents and younger siblings live in India.
Pawandeep will take over the responsibility that was her older sister's before she was killed.
Amandeep's father-in-law, charged with first-degree murder, is due in court in February, 2010.
Her death shook up the local South Asian community, raising questions about the lengths to which people will go to immigrate to Canada.
Pawandeep's wedding, soon after her sister was killed, dismayed people in the community and triggered criticism on a Facebook group.
"We don't learn from our mistakes, do we?" said Baldev Singh Mutta, Executive Director of the Punjabi Community Health Centre in Brampton, an agency that helps South Asians.
"Daughters are still used as leverage. I wonder what will it really take to change that."
But he acknowledges the pressure the Benipal family might have faced. They paid an enormous dowry of $54,000 for the first wedding in 2005.
That was in addition to $15,000 spent on a lavish, three-day wedding with more than 600 guests.
Dhillon's father, a farmer who grows mostly rice and wheat on about 5 hectares of land, sold property, borrowed money and mortgaged his house. Three years later, the son was killed.
Gurdish Mangat, a social worker who played matchmaker for the younger sister's wedding, said there's no comparison between the two arranged marriages.
"(Pawandeep) was at the right age to get married," said Gurdish. "And finding the right person isn't easy at all. ... We wanted to help the family in getting a suitable match for the younger daughter."
Gurdish said he soon realized the son of a friend was the perfect match for Pawandeep. "We introduced the two, they met many times over three months and, when they said they liked each other, we fixed the date for the wedding," Gurdish said.
There was no exchange of dowry or a promise that Pawandeep's family would be sponsored to Canada, as in Amandeep's case, Gurdish stressed.
He acknowledged it's normal for a family in such matches to join their daughter later. "But the wedding wasn't decided on that," he said.
The low-key wedding was held at a gurdwara in Brampton. Pawandeep's parents, whose visas had expired, had left for India and the wedding was organized mostly by friends.
"It was quite emotional for Pawan," Gurdish said. "But we were there for her and we still are."
For Pawandeep, talking about her wedding or her sister's death is painful, because the two are linked.
"Aman and I were very close ... like best friends," Pawandeep said in Punjabi. She remembers the last advice her sister gave her before flying to Canada in 2006: "to study hard and take care of the family ... Sometimes it's still hard to believe what happened."
Her family has had no contact with Amandeep's in-laws since her funeral, and Pawandeep wants it to stay that way. She knows the preliminary hearing starts soon, but doesn't plan to be in court.
"I wouldn't be able to handle that. It'll be too upsetting," she said.
She acknowledges her arranged marriage is reminiscent of her sister's, but said there's no déjà vu. "I know the circumstances of my sister's death, but I am very happy with my husband," said Pawandeep, who lives with her in-laws.

[Courtesy: The Toronto Star]
 

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