Tradition and Murder

An arranged marriage between prominent Hindu families in New York State and Canada ends with a homicide in Baltimore

May 03, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

To the Amins, tradition was everything. So as their daughter, Alpna, moved from her teens to her late twenties, tradition required their intervention.

Fearful their daughter might never be wed, Alpna's parents decided to arrange a marriage. They began scouring the Internet and the classified ads in Indian newspapers for a mate from an elite Hindu caste.

They settled on Viresh Patel, a scholar and a doctor-in-training from Buffalo, N.Y. He seemed the perfect match for their dentist daughter.

After the appropriate introductions and a nearly yearlong courtship, the Amins of Saskatchewan and the Patels of New York state agreed. Last May, the couple was married in a three-day Hindu ceremony awash in Indian tradition. Alpna wore a crimson sari and gold headband. Her hands and feet were tattooed mehndi-style, in flowers and curlicues of henna. In one concession to modernity, their honeymoon was at Disney World.

No one in either family could have imagined where this perfect beginning would lead.

Today, less than a year later, Alpna Amin is in jail, accused of first-degree murder. Six weeks ago at her husband's student apartment in Pimlico, Baltimore police found Viresh stabbed to death in his bed, and Alpna covered in his blood. Under a round-the-clock suicide watch at the Baltimore City Detention Center, she faces a trial that could bring the death penalty.

Both the Amins and the Patels are devastated, unable to fathom how such violence could touch their lives.

"I know she still loves him," says Neena Amin, Alpna's mother. "What happened -- I don't know. It's a nightmare. I pray for them. God help them."

The morning of March 23 broke cold and raw in Buffalo, the first hints of spring still weeks away. It took Alpna Amin 10 hours to drive her Honda past the river towns of New York state through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania to Baltimore.

Alpna was on a single-minded mission. After checking into the Quality Inn on University Parkway, she began to outline her many grievances against her husband. In a shaky hand, she wrote of their separation -- Viresh was in Baltimore completing his surgical residen- cy at Union Memorial while Alpnaremained in Buffalo, living in her in-laws' basement.

She wrote of her expectations of marriage and her disappointment in her husband -- a tall man with a mountain of hair and big, round glasses. She wondered why he did not want her to comfort him. She wanted to be the one he called on -- the one he craved.

Alpna seethed over Viresh's devotion to his family.

He was very close to his mother, Chandrika: She was the one he asked to come visit him when he was lonely. She was the one he could really open up to.

Alpna wrote of her worry over what people might think about the frequency of his mother's trips, that they might believe that she was not a good wife.

Her letter, on the motel's stationery, tells of how she expected so much more from their union -- not more passion, but more of his time and respect.

Never once does her letter mention love. But it is clear that for Alpna Amin, marriage wasn't supposed to be like this.

At first, Alpna bonded with Viresh's family, especially his younger siblings. They had chosen her for their son and held her in high regard. Their marriage was more than between two individuals, the couple believed. It was a union of two families.

Both the Amins and Patels had roots in the Indian state of Gujrat. Both families wanted to arrange a marriage. After corresponding, they agreed to introduce the pair during a visit to the Patels' Buffalo home.

The Amins stayed for three days. Viresh and Alpna went to the John Travolta movie, "Face Off." The families went to Niagara Falls, donning blue rain slickers for a boat ride and a closer view of the falls.

At one point, Alpna baked Indian bread for the Patel family, which impressed them greatly.

"Her performance was very traditional, she looked so family-oriented," recalls Viresh's 15-year-old brother, Dinesh.

Nearly a year after their initial meeting, Alpna asked Viresh to have his father talk with her father. She told him she wanted to be his wife.

Nandlal Patel spoke to Amin's father and they agreed to the arrangement.

"It looked like she totally blended in with the family," says the elder Patel.

The wedding tape

In those ebullient early days, the Canadian Broadcasting Co. sought out the families and persuaded them to allow a news feature on the wedding. The resulting 11-minute TV piece describes how an arranged marriage was not an anachronism or a nod to near slavery, but a modern choice by modern couples.

"I don't think passionate love is the only thing that makes a marriage survive or that marriage is built on," Alpna told the CBC, which aired the story last July. "Being friends, I think, is definitely one of the things that is a plus to have in the beginning."

Neither Alpna nor Viresh had ever dated anyone else before getting married. Both sets of parents were in arranged marriages that had lasted more than 30 years.

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