Calgary: Baby killer Harsimrat Kahlon not a victim of her culture and religion
27-year-old Harsimrat Kahlon, known to friends and family as Simmi, was found dead in her northeast basement suite in October of 2009, the victim of post-birth complications.
Photograph by: Archive, Calgary Herald
She wrote of feeling worthless, of her steadily deteriorating emotional state and lack of hope.
Yet she never devoted an ounce of ink to her babies, three innocent little souls who, by all accounts, departed this earth not long after letting out their first cries.
In a case no less upsetting and confounding today than when it first came to light — that, in the end, receives closure, thanks to highly educated guesses but no absolute certainty — it was Harsimrat Kahlon’s diary that gave the best clues to what was in, and what was conspicuously absent from, her heart.
Over the next few days, unlucky family members, and police officers, stumbled onto an even greater tragedy: the decomposing bodies of three babies, concealed in airtight containers hidden in suitcases.
The horrifying discovery shocked an entire city.
How could her friends, her co-workers, even her trucker boyfriend, not have known she was pregnant on any of these occasions, let alone even suspect a tragedy of such unimaginable proportions was unfolding over the last few years?
As I wait with a group of fellow media in a conference room at the Calgary Police Service’s downtown headquarters, my mind is filled with these and other questions.
Insp. Guy Slater of the CPS speaks first, explaining that some of the mysteries have now been solved: DNA proves all the babies, a boy and two girls, were Simmi’s; that one of those babies, a girl named Reet, was a confirmed live birth at a local hospital in 2005; and that after extensive questioning, all are satisfied that the troubled woman had no accomplices in what is being labelled a case of infanticide.
But it was Simmi herself, her personal torment scrawled into a diary, that provided the biggest piece of the puzzle.
The native of Chandigarh, a pretty town in India’s Punjabi state, was not a victim of her culture and religion, acting out extreme beliefs — which are explicitly forbidden by the Sikh faith — that female children are a burden because of the prohibitive cost of dowries, or that pregnant, single women are a shame on society
Indeed, her actions horrified our city’s fervently family-oriented Indo-Canadian community even more.
Many of them knew that this horrifying incident would cast a pall on an immigrant population often described as one of Canada’s most successful, as people searched for answers to how a young woman could kill her own.
No, it was a mental disorder, says an expert in such matters, that most likely led to the years of deception and death that Simmi has left as her legacy.
According to University of Calgary adjunct professor Thomas Dalby, Simmi was a clear case of borderline personality disorder, which is found in about four per cent of the population and can vary from experiencing unstable relationships and emotions to psychotic breaks that can unleash the most unthinkable and inexplicable criminal behaviour.
In a rare case made even more rare by the death of the mother, Dalby explains the unique challenges of what he calls “a psychological autopsy,” gaining insight into a deceased individual’s mental state by interviewing those who knew her best.
At best, he reminds us, we can only have “a strong hypothesis” and no scientific certainty that she was suffering from borderline personality disorder.
But in death, her written words gave her away, and offered a team of hard-working police officers and psychologists at least a strong hypothesis as to how, and why, such an unimaginable thing could happen. That’s as certain as it’s ever going to get.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
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