National Post

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Friday, April 02, 1999

Woman who chose arranged marriage accused of killing husband
Couple were subject of documentary on Hindu tradition

Tom Arnold
National Post


Alpna Patel

For a young, career-oriented Indian couple, a recent arranged marriage in Saskatoon -- one they chose as a union of family values, shared language, and a vow to keep their culture alive -- has ended in murder south of the border.

Dr. Alpna Patel -- a dentist -- was charged with first-degree murder and the use of a deadly weapon last week after her husband, Dr. Viresh Patel, 26, was stabbed in the neck and chest with a kitchen knife.

The couple were the subject of a CBC documentary last fall, entitled Bound by Tradition. It aired across the country and, in the piece, the couple painted their arranged marriage as a modern Indian union, one they chose for themselves -- rather than a partnership of a tearful young couple forced into wedlock.

Dr. Alpna Patel, a 27-year-old graduate of the five-year dentistry program at the University of Saskatchewan, turned down her right to legal counsel in Baltimore, Md., where Dr. Viresh Patel lived and was enrolled in a surgical residency program. She confessed to police that she had stabbed her husband after he came at her with a knife.

She told police there were no previous incidents of domestic violence. And she claimed her marriage was not arranged.

Alpna Patel, daughter of Dr. Dev. Amin, a Saskatoon family physician, is described by colleagues as petite, quiet, friendly, and hard-working. She could face the death penalty and is on a

24-hour suicide watch.

She will be formally arraigned later this month in Baltimore. She had been enrolled in a dentistry residency in Buffalo, N.Y. She lived with her in-laws and travelled to see her husband.

In what was considered a big calender event for the small Indian community in Saskatoon, the couple were married last May during a three-day ceremony. It featured a Garba, a traditional dance where the community first meets the groom, who was raised in Buffalo.

About 400 guests attended the ceremony.

"Alpna always said she wanted me to pick a husband for her, as long as she had the right to say yes or no," her mother said in the documentary.

And she did.

Alpna Patel said her arranged marriage was her choice, one she relished because it would blend and embrace her Canadian and Indian cultures. She said she preferred to call it an arranged "meeting." Their parents had connected the two through a special arrangement registry, brought them together for an initial meeting, and let them take it from there.

Viresh Patel, who hoped to become an orthopaedic surgeon, said he was proud of his culture and had wanted to marry someone with the same background.

The two were Hindus whose families came from the Indian state of Gujrat. They had met on a handful of occasions before the wedding day.

"She felt it was a good way to find a partner," Dr. Kristine Goos, a colleague at school, said of the arranged marriage. "She also had a choice. It wasn't forced down her throat.

"She was quite excited about him and she was looking forward to the rest of her life. I can't even imagine her doing this unless she was forced to the point of having to defend herself. This isn't in her character."

When police arrived at the Baltimore apartment, they were greeted by Alpna Patel, who "was covered in her husband's blood," said Detective Marvin Sydnor of the Baltimore police department.

Viresh Patel's mother was asleep in another room when the stabbing occurred. She screamed for help after discovering her son's bloody body.

"She stated that he had the knife, he was aggressor," said Det. Sydnor. "Her story was that she was sleeping, she woke up and he was standing over top of her with a knife. She was able to wrestle the knife from his control and during the course of the struggle, she stabbed him."

But Det. Sydnor said there was no evidence the pair were arguing prior to the stabbing.

Alpna Patel was arrested and charged.

It is believed about 50% of marriages are arranged in the Indian community in Canada.

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