Feb. 10, 2008
e-mails to her best friends:
"had the talk" with Brar. She had asked him to move
out and planned to tell her parents over the weekend she wanted
- Simrit Gill kept secrets.
- But problems
often emerge when modern views collide with ancient tradition.
Private anguish, public
Death spotlights hidden tangle of traditions
Feb. 10, 2008
Simrit Gill kept secrets.
Few of her friends knew she was married to Amandeep Brar.
And her relatives who arranged the wedding in India knew nothing
of the troubled marriage until her father found her dead 10 days
Now, they wonder if she could have been saved.
The family said the young couple seemed content. But in the days
before her death, Gill stood up to Brar's demand to choose him or
her family and friends, her aunt and friends said.
She chronicled her painful decision in e-mails to her best friends.
The last one, sent the day before she died, said she "had the
talk" with Brar. She had asked him to move out and planned
to tell her parents over the weekend she wanted a divorce.
Gill's father, Daljit Singh, found her body the next morning, Feb.
1, in their University City apartment. She had been suffocated.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police arrested Brar a few hours later and
charged him with murder. He is being held without bond.
Detectives are investigating Gill's death as Charlotte's first
domestic violence homicide this year. There have been 11 such deaths
On Thursday, about 50 of Gill's friends and relatives marched in
uptown to draw awareness with signs that said "Speak out"
and "Love is not a battlefield." They will gather again
Monday at 7:30 p.m. for a prayer vigil in front of the Belk Tower
at UNC Charlotte.
There is no documented history of violence between Gill, 20, and
Brar, 24. It was only after her death the problems emerged.
"The sad thing about this case is nobody had a clue,"
said Mike Sexton, a spokesman for the Mecklenburg County Women's
`She lit up a room'
Gill was born in Canada and moved with her family to Mooresville
in the fifth grade. She wanted to be an ophthalmologist, and told
everyone that her dad would be her first patient since he needed
glasses, said her brother, Mandeep Gill, of Mooresville."Anyone
who knew her instantly fell in love with her -- it was impossible
not to love her," said Hope Sifford, a close college friend.
Gill enjoyed buying boots and high-heeled pumps and eating bacon
cheeseburgers. She loved Euro-dance and pop music, and would dance
like she was the only one in the room, said Jacob Starr, a college
Petite and at times shy, Gill was also strong-willed and independent,
"She lit up a room whenever she came in," she said.
Relatives introduced Gill to her future husband when she was 12.
The two families, both from India, had hoped they would get along.
They did, said her aunt, Manpreet Brar.
The couple became engaged when Gill was 13. They married five years
later, Brar said. (Manpreet Brar is distantly related to Amandeep
Brar, who is charged in the killing.)
Pre-arranged marriages are common in India. The practice goes back
thousands of years and is designed to protect young women and ensure
they marry a suitable man.
But problems often emerge when modern views collide with ancient
Anne Pearson, an assistant professor of Hinduism at McMaster University
in Ontario, said it's common for couples to clash when one mate
is more influenced by Western culture. The tension arises when one
spouse sees marriage as a partnership, and the other is bound by
traditional Indian values.
"Domestic violence is certainly a problem in India because
men are so privileged and men are still the one with the final say,"
Gill had been studying prekinesiology at UNC Charlotte and working
part time at Sylvina, a clothing store at Northlake Mall.
Brar, who grew up in India, had been studying at the University
of Windsor, Ontario, until last summer when he moved here to be
with Gill. He took on odd jobs, working mostly at a gas station,
after his credits wouldn't transfer, Gill's aunt and brother said.
Brar didn't seem to have many friends, other than his schoolmates
in Canada. He liked to drink beer and play video games, Gill said.
Sometimes, he would buy his wife's friends presents.
Brar is an only child whose parents live in India, a relative said.
He had been studying on a student visa in Canada, and had gotten
a green card while living here, the relative said. They could not
be reached for comment.
The couple had been living in Mooresville with family, but they
moved to an apartment in December. Some of Gill's closest friends
never realized she was married and had never met Brar.
"I do know she cared about him; she even thought she loved
him," said Megan Cashman, Gill's best childhood friend who
knew of Brar. "But I think it was because she was encouraged
Gill showed friends pictures of herself in a traditional Hindu
wedding gown but told friends she was just dressed up for a friend's
"I never understood that," Cashman said. "Maybe
she was embarrassed."
`I'm so happy right now'
In the weeks before she died, Gill's friends said she seemed depressed.
She told friends that she and Brar had been fighting, once because
he had been drinking too much, Hope Sifford said.
In recent months, Gill hinted at her struggles. She told two friends
that her husband threatened to kill her if she ever left.
Those friends, Sifford and Starr, said last week they didn't take
it seriously. Gill had also told them that Brar had never hit her.
Police wouldn't comment on their accounts.
Last month, Gill told her friends that her husband had asked her
to choose between them and him, Sifford said.
"How can someone expect you to choose between one, from all
the people that mean the most to you?... mom, dad, brother, best
friends... I don't want to hurt anyone, or see anyone sad."
she wrote in a Jan. 8 e-mail.
The Wednesday before she died, Gill called her friends and said
she "had the talk" with her husband.
The next morning she wrote:
"After it was all over I felt so refreshed, I have never felt
like this before. I'm so happy right now :) I really feel about
100 lbs lighter with all that weight lifted off my shoulders!!!
best feeling in the world! I think this is the least stressed I
have felt my whole entire life."
While having lunch with a friend, Brar called her to ask who she
was with and when she was coming home, Cashman said.
Gill spent the rest of the day on campus and hung out with Starr.
The two met up with Sifford about 8 p.m. and a group of friends
spent the evening dancing and listening to music at Alley Cat, an
She dropped Gill off at her car about 2 a.m.
Gill's father was home sleeping when the phone rang later that
morning at 6. He was told that Brar had called the family in India,
crying, and saying something had happened, Daljit Singh recounted
Go and check on her, the caller from India said.
No one answered when Singh knocked on the apartment door. He used
a spare key to get in.
"I called her name, `Simrit, Simrit,' " he said softly,
beginning to cry. "I thought maybe she was asleep."
Then he found her, in her nightgown, lying in her room with a pillow
on her face, he said. Bedding was strewn around the room. Simrit's
Chihuahua puppy, Coco, was locked in the small bathroom.
"Nobody thinks this could have ever happened," her aunt
said. "She was their only girl. She was an angel."
Domestic violence is a global problem, and is prevalent in south
Asian and other cultures where men are viewed as the dominant gender.
Abuse comes in many forms, both physical and emotional.
"We often think that physical abuse is the only aspect of
abuse, but it's a multifaceted issue," said Purvi Shah, executive
director of Sakhi, a community-based organization in New York City
that works to end violence against women of South Asian origin.
• Last year in Charlotte there were 10 domestic violence
• Every nine seconds, a woman in the U.S. is beaten by her
current or former husband or intimate partner.
• A study in Boston showed that out of 160 South Asian women
surveyed, more than 40 percent said they were victims of intimate
partner violence and only 50 percent of the women suffering were
aware of services available to help, Shah said.
Copyright (C) 2008 The Charlotte Observer, N.C.