A Decade of Devastation & Dreams

maya_momTen years ago on October 18, one of Canada’s most gruesome murders unfolded in Greater Vancouver. The random disappearance of 31 year old, pregnant, Surrey school teacher Manjit Panghali. She was last seen alive at a prenatal yoga class.  Within hours of her disappearance, her close friends were already looking for her. It took 26 hours for her husband, Mukhtiar Panghali to file a missing person’s report with local police. Later that day a media conference was held asking for the public’s help in which a teary eyed Mukhtiar begged for any answers as to his wife’s whereabouts. A few days later the worst possible scenario came to light. Manjit’s badly burned remains were found on the morning of October 23 along the edge of Deltaport way near Roberts Bank. While police searched for leads in the months following, Mukhtiar returned to work. Family and friends continued looking for answers but they weren’t getting any from him. “Deep down inside I think we were all very suspicious of him.” Manjit’s sister, Jasmine Bhambra recalls. It wasn’t until half a year later that those suspicions starting to transpire into the truth.  On March 12, 2007 – Mukhtiar Panghali is arrested.  Another three and a half years went by before he was put on trial for second degree murder and interfering with the bodily remains. On November 15, 2007 – the BC Supreme court hears the crown point out bizarre behavior on Mukhtiar’s part.  Surveillance images captured at a gas station showed him buying a lighter and newspaper the same night his wife apparently didn’t return from a yoga class. Mukhtiar was convicted of both counts in the spring of 2011 by Madam Justice Heather Holmes and remained behind bars. In the midst of it all was a three girl named Maya – the couple’s first and only child. She became the focus of another round of court hearings as both sides of the family fought for custody before the murder trial even started. It took a year for Manjit’s sister, Jasmine and her husband to bring the little girl home with them.  “The custody battle was horrific and very traumatic having to relive the trauma.  The murder trial took six years – that’s how long it took to get an answer.  Even when we were in the custody battle – it was horrific to see his face all the time.  It was the most difficult time of my life. Having to look at somebody that was a monster and a liar and everything that he did in court – every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, he made it worse because of who he is as a person.  You just can’t ever think a human being can be that awful.” A decade later, Jasmine remembers her sister  in an exclusive interview. Maya is now 13 years old and lives with her new family and is a sister to three younger siblings. It hasn’t been the easiest of times, but today the family says they are in a great familyplace.  It feels like a typical household of a busy family with soccer games, school schedules and pizza nights. “Things are much better than where I thought they would be from where I was 10 years ago,” explains Jasmine It’s been a decade of devastating grieve but one of also many dreams in which Manjit’s memory is alive and well.  “I still dream of her usually when something really important is going on in my life. If something is happening or I am thinking about something – she will just come to me and give me that sense of peace.” Jasmine shares a dream she had the night before the judgement came down in the custody battle.  “I remember it vividly. We were all sitting around in a circle holding hands with Maya in the middle and she just said to me – it’s okay, she’s yours, we won.” The custody fight was a battle of cultural rights too.  “In our culture, the man’s side of the family is seen as the dominate family.  A woman adopting a child and bringing it into her new married family is uncommon and often frowned upon so it was a stressful time in more than one way.” Jasmine recalls her daily conversations with her sister.  They usually started with, “did you watch Oprah today and led to long conversations about the dreams they had for their future and their kids. “I wouldn’t be the parent that I am today if it wasn’t for her.  She had Maya first. She taught me everything about being a parent.  We used to talk about our kids and what we wanted for them in their lives and that’s when this (her marriage problems) would come up and how she did not want a broken home for her daughter.” The last time Jasmine talked to her sister was the night before her disappearance. Jasmine and her husband were leaving for a trip to Edmonton with their one year old baby.  Manjit said she was too busy for a quick visit finishing the conversation with the words, “I love you and see you when you get back.” The next morning was filled with anxiety for Jasmine.  “That particular day I had a dream and that something was wrong and I couldn’t sleep.  I got up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning – and started pacing and I thought I was having anxiety over the trip. Travelling with a kid and so much to pack.” Jasmine now knows it was much more than anxiety.  “Oddly enough there is an old thing in our culture, when milk spills something bad is going to happen.  Well I spilled milk that morning everywhere trying to fill the baby’s bottle. I already knew from the feeling that I had that something was wrong but I pushed that feeling away and went ahead with our travel plans.” Twelve hours later  – Jasmine started getting phone calls while in Edmonton. Her sister’s two best friends called to say they didn’t know where Manjit was. “I knew right away.  I knew right away that he did something.   How or why I knew I can’t explain. Yes they were having problems but you never ever think that somebody has the capacity to do that.  That someone you know has the capacity to kill somebody. You never ever think that but at that moment, I knew.” It was something Jasmine didn’t ever suspected before of the man that married her sister. “It was great in the beginning. It was the very last year when he really tried to taking her away from everybody.  They stopped coming over.  If she did come over, it was just her.  He really tried to cut her off from everyone. Isolation.” Looking back now, Jasmine says it makes sense, “He planned to do this.  I know now that he planned to do this. That’s why he was cutting himself off from everyone as well.” Jasmine recalls one incident when her sister did leave him and he promised to change and they reconciled. There was also a plan where Mukhtiar wanted his brother and parents to move in with them.  And this was a major issue in the marriage according to Jasmine.  “Knowing that his (Mukhtiar’s) brother had issues with alcohol and drugs, she (Manjit) did not want that in her house. She had a child. That is not what she wanted her child to be exposed to.” Then there was news of a new baby joining the family.  “She was so happy to be pregnant with their second child. It was something she had wanted for a long time.  They had been trying.  He seemed really supportive but something seemed off.  He seemed faked.  His happiness seemed really put on.” Jasmine says the second baby was a like a second chance for their marriage – in her eyes anyways. Despite the devastation over the past decade, one thing Jasmine says she doesn’t have is regret.   “No. I do get asked that.  There is no regret because everything that you ever, ever want to say to somebody, that had already been said between us.  We knew how much we loved each other.” When asked about intervening in her sister’s troubled marriage, Jasmine said she did have a final conversation with her sister that enough was enough and to get out.  She recalls Manjit’s response to her.  “I am not like you. She thought that I was stronger than her which is strange because I always thought she was the strong one.  She was the one who stood up to my parents, she was the one who had no problems communicating.” Evidence of that was left behind in a very detailed diary written by Manjit – pages which exposed her unhappiness in the relationship and depression – something she shared with her sister. “When you’re in a relationship where you love somebody so much and you really want to make it work and you want the other person to change. But when they don’t love you, that can cause such heartbreak and such pain and a lot of depression because they are not meeting you where you’re at.” When Manjit did want to leave the relationship, tensions grew and her sister believes it led to the unthinkable and she ended up paying the ultimate price. When the murder made headlines, photos of Manjit embracing her toddler, Maya, with bright smiles and tight hugs broke hearts and led to public candle light vigils in her honor. Now a decade later, Maya is an active & happy teenager eagerly awaiting high school.  She is an honour roll student who enjoys playing soccer and loves to sketch clothes.  Partmaya_kuljeet of her passion for fashion design comes from the pictures she has of her mom. While she remembers her mom fondly, she now calls her Aunt/Masi – mom and her uncle, Dad.  One of the transitions that just seemed the natural fit. “She was used to calling me Masi – and I had asked her – and I didn’t want her to feel any different because my daughter was calling me mom. I didn’t want any difference between the kids. If I was going to raise her as my daughter, I wanted her to think of me as her mom and that is why I gave her the choice – if you feel ready and if you feel like you want to call me mom – just call me mom and she did it on her own timing.” Together with her new family, Maya is in a safe, happy family environment living a normal teenaged life.  Jasmine says sees and hears her sister in Maya all the time.  “Little things – the way she talks, her sense of humor – just the things she says sometimes make me go oh my God – that is totally something Manj would have said.” Although Jasmine didn’t think life was going to be this way a decade ago, she is happy with how the story became their own to write. “We are busy in our day to day lives but there’s always that something – it comes up at different times – mother’s day or birthdays – it’s always there.  How much we miss her and love her. The grieve comes up time to time but we are able to manage it so much more because of the communication as they (kids) get.” What will the next decade and future bring for the family? Jasmine plans on working on helping others heal from trauma through her work as a yoga therapist at Sacred Yoga Therapy and expand the scholarship for students in her sister’s honor. “I had a really, really difficult time.  it took me 6 years to get to a place where I can finally do something like this interview without balling my eyes out which was a major goal for me.  I don’t want anyone to go six years of grieving, of feeling weak and depressed – I really want to be able to give that to others (healing).  I want to share my story, share my sister’s story. I don’t ever want her story to be forgotten.” Jasmine concludes that “There is still a story that can be yours and is yours to rewrite – it begins every morning. Sometimes when we think it’s the end of a story – it’s not. Whether it’s the end of a relationship, or when somebody passes away and we think it’s the end – it’s not the end. It’s the beginning of a whole new beautiful story.” beach


Understanding Domestic Violence with Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych.

1. Are mental health issues sign of an abuser? “We need to appreciate that the vast majority of violent acts are not the result of a mental illness and that vast majority of individuals with one of the more common mental health issues (depression/anxiety) are not violent. The personality composition of abusers is often a stronger predictor of abuse. Often there is a charming personality, which allows deception and manipulation to occur. This is also why most victims feel they won’t be believed -as abuser is so adept at lies, twisting things around, and are often quite different in their non-relationship lives. High rates of substance use (alcohol and other drugs) can be present.”

2. How do you help someone in an abusive relationship? “Keep dialogue and communication lines open and ongoing. Be supportive and listen; do not blame, let them know they are not alone, there is help, acknowledge situation is difficult and scary Be nonjudgmental, respect the decision the friend or family member is making and do not assume you know or understand. Try to respect that they may want to focus on the relationship working. Encourage social connection – social support and a strong network is key. Try to take steps to help encourage person to socialize

3. What are some of the signs that someone may be a victim? “Their partner puts them down in front of others recurrently, gets jealous and displays possessiveness. Meantime the victim is worried about upsetting or making partner angry and makes excessive excuses for partner’s behavior.  Isolation – victim stops spending time with friends/family; looks depressed and anxious, don’t want to talk about their relationship and have unexplained marks or injuries.”

4. “Why is it so hard for the abuser to admit they need help or are wrong?” “Often there is a real lack of empathy – the ability to truly see things from others perspective and to understand and feel what others are experiencing – this simple attribute is a tremendously predictive one. When we look at hurtful/harmful/abusive behaviors often at some level they know that what they are doing is wrong, will be reprimanded and to keep it hidden from others. So the awareness is there but the desire or wish to change is not” Did you know…that all local police departments have Domestic Violence units that can help victims with the following: safety and risk assessment; transition homes which can help house victims and help them transition back into society on their own; protection for victims and children.

Victims are advised to formulate a plan to leave and think of keeping some money aside, having a place to go and be able to stay for a period of time, transportation options etc.   Transition homes are located across the lower mainland. Contact your local police department or WAVAW ( Women Against Violence Against Women) toll free crisis line 604-255-6344 or 1-877-392-7583