Calgary Sikh community mourns after couple killed in robbery during trip to India

A Calgary couple who were trying to get home after being stranded in India during the COVID-19 pandemic were found dead on the weekend, leaving family and friends in northeast Calgary in shock.

Kirpal Minhas, 67, and his wife, Davinder Minhas, 65, were visiting Phagwara in the Punjab region of northern India, where they owned property. They'd been there since November.

Family members say the couple were victims of a violent robbery at one of their properties on May 29. News coverage in India, including a report by The Times of India, suggest the two were stabbed and strangled.

They were trying to get back to Calgary but flights had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They were catching up with family and checking up on properties that they owned there," said the couple's son-in-law Kam Rathore, who lives in Calgary.

Kam Rathore

"The family is devastated. We all are," said Rathore.

He said adding to the pain is the family not being able to travel to India for the last rites and cremation due to pandemic travel restrictions still in place.

Suspects in custody

"There's not closure. This is something we never expected," he said.

"They do have three suspects in custody. The motive was robbery, for cash and jewelry. That's what's been explained to us by authorities there," said Rathore.

Rathore said one of those arrested was renting a portion of the couple's home, and the couple didn't know they were in danger.

"They never realized, not a slight chance. It never occurred to us or them that this could happen."

The couple were permanent residents of Canada and had been living in Calgary since 2016. 

Dan McGarvey/CBC

They had two daughters in Calgary, two sons living in the United States, and were well known and respected figures in Calgary's Sikh community.

"He was very nice, a very gentle, very religious guy. They took care of volunteer work and religious work, that's what they were doing right now," said Rathore.

"The community has been very kind and helpful, reaching out on a daily basis."

Repatriation flights sought

But COVID-19 is impacting well wishers, too, with messages of condolence coming online and via phone calls rather than in-person, as would usually happen.

The volunteer group Bring Canadians Back Home says the deaths could have been prevented if there were more repatriation flights to bring back Canadians stranded in India.

The couple were registered with the group and were waiting for a chance to fly home after eight flights due to bring them back in April were cancelled when the group's permit was revoked.

Kam Rathore

"The federal government could have supported us. We had permission for eight flights. We started booking and then the flights were cancelled. We asked the government to support us, but we got no support," said Gina Takhar.

Takhar said in some cases NRIs, or Non-Resident Indians, are being ostracized and blamed by locals in places like Punjab for bringing COVID-19 to India with them. That sentiment can even lead to visitors becoming the victims of threats and violence, she said, while others have health-care issues and face different outcomes in India than in Canada.

She said she has a list of thousands of individuals and families still stuck in Mumbai, south India, and the state of Punjab.

Takhar said she received an email from the Canadian High Commission this week saying there are now two Canadian-assisted repatriation flights scheduled to leave Delhi, on June 12 and 15, to bring Canadian citizens and permanent residents home.