Surjit Kaur Sidhu
Surjit Kaur Sidhu (nicknamed Seeto) was born to father Kirpal Singh and mother Jay Kaur in Ganga, Bathinda, Punjab, India. She is unable to recall her exact birthday because the dates were often mixed up in those days where records were not well managed within the villages. Surjit Kaur grew up alongside her five siblings (one brother and four sisters). She was married at the age of twenty at which point she moved to her husband’s village located in the District Moga.
In Punjab Surjit Kaur was unable to receive an education because during that time girls were traditionally not educated and in addition, her village did not have a school. To go to school one had to travel a far distance, which was looked down upon by the elders. She reflects on the way that nowadays, girls are able to travel more freely. She feels as though education is important and she could have learned a lot if she had attended.
Although she did not attend high school she learned how to do all kinds of housework. She would milk the animals, mill the cotton and do all of the housework. She learned how to make roti from a young age. She learned how to sew – noting that in those days, people who lived in the villages were forced to be self-sufficient- particularly in comparison to those who lived in the cities.
Surjit Kaur moved to Canada in 1976 through her husband’s side of the family. Her husband’s father initially arrived as a visitor to Canada, alone. He came in 1970 and lived in Canada until he became a permanent citizen. During this time people would come to Canada as visitors, receiving their permanent residency later on. Five years later, he brought the rest of the family over after filing a sponsorship application. Then, the entire family followed suit arriving as permanent residents.
Surjit Kaur landed in Vancouver BC, moving to Abbotsford BC alongside her husband and four children (three daughters, one son) where she has lived ever since. She remembers being surprised arriving into Canada, noting that there were no flies. Her entire family had to work very hard upon arrival. She had to work in the farms because she did not know any other work. Her husband initially worked in the mills but began to work in the farms to keep the family together. They worked at her husband’s sister’s farm. For the household, the family had to do a lot of hard work- her daughters and her would wash clothes, broom, and cook. Surjit Kaur also had to use wood to create heat in their home.
They stayed in a cabin for six months where the conditions were very poor. Although the cabin was sizeable, with two rooms, the furniture was unsteady and the refrigerator was very small. There was no washroom located in the cabin and so they had to walk quite a distance to use the bathroom. To take showers, they would warm water in a pot. Her husband also recognized the difficulties and suggested they move away to a basement suite in town. They ended up moving to a house when the previous renters left. Surjit Kaur remembers being in awe of this house and was happy for her children to have a better place to live.
Although Surjit Kaur did not experience any discrimination or racism, her children did. When they travelled to school on the bus, other people would shout ‘Hindu, Hindu!’ to them. Surjit Kaur personally feels as though she was sheltered by people of her own community and as a result she did not have to face it.
Her husband, Gurdev Singh, suffered a urinary illness that required surgery. Even through this, he continued to work. His family had to convince him to retire.
Surjit Kaur has a strong amount of resilience- for example, she decided she wanted to learn English upon coming to Canada. As such, she would walk to the local gym which offered English Second Language classes. Although she was not educated, she decided she wanted to learn how to read Punjabi. So, she would go to the Gurdwara, reading educational books until she was able to reach a degree of fluency.
Nowadays, she enjoys gardening in her backyard as well as visiting her family. She notes the many changes of India- particularly the way that girls have more freedom than she did in her day. She hopes that the youth will recognize the opportunities that they have been awarded and that they are able to balance work with leisurely activities.