By Harvinder Sandhu
Zhindagee — A book by Mahinder Kaur Doman written in 2010 is worth remembering on Canada’s 150 years of celebration. It is a timeless collection of stories of first daughters who helped raise the first Sikh families in BC
In celebrating Canada’s 150 year’s birthday, Canadians of all walks of life have been invited by the Canadian government to share their stories of being Canadian. Here is some history of our people, the Sikhs from Punjab, and the story of the first Punjabi daughters born in BC.
People have been migrating here for over a hundred years now, the first non-white people were the Chinese and the Indians from India. The Indian (Sikhs and Hindus) who came from Punjab and rest of India looking for work. Being part of the British Raj, and the larger British Empire, many Sikhs thought they will be accepted here, alas that was not to be. Discrimination against them was loud and clear. In fact, a writer from Toronto, Samuel Raj wrote an excerpt, “Some Aspects of East Indian Struggle in Canada”, in Visible Minorities and Multiculturalismedited by K. Victor Ujimoto and GordomKirabayashi(Toronto: Butterworth, 1980)in which he says this after seeing what was in the newspaper by white writers back then: “[For] the comfort and happiness of the generations that are to succeed us, we must not permit their women to come in at all.”
The thinking behind the above this was that if the men who were here already wanted families, then they will have to go back to India or remain here fatherless. But luckily for all of us who are here now, three women were allowed to enter Canada and live here. Their story and the stories of subsequent first daughters born to Indian families here in BC can be found in a book called ‘Zhindagee – Selected stories of our first daughters’.
This book is the brainchild of Mahinder Kaur Doman Manhas. She decided many decades ago that the stories of first daughters who helped raise the first Sikh families in BC should not go untold. It is the sacrifice of these women who became their mothers’ helpers in the homes and also in providing financially for their families wherever necessary is how the Sikhs grew as a community here in BC and Canada.
Mahinder herself gives gratitude to her elder sister, Herbans, to whom she is eternally grateful in being the guiding light in her sibling’s lives. The stories in Zhindagee are directly from the descendants of the first daughters of pioneer women in Canada (1920 – 1950) and are full of information on the lives these pioneer women and the hardships they endured to ensure their families strived in this country called Canada that many of us now call home.
Zhindagee is full of intimate stories of first Indian families’ of BC. There are many descendants who have gone on to break barriers, from the first female doctors; Dr. Sarjit Siddoo and Dr. Jagdis Siddoo (d.o.b. 1925) graduated from University of Toronto in 1949 and 1950 respectively, businessmen such as the Doman and Johal families of Vancouver Island, to the Hon. Wally Opal to name a few. Our history in Canada cannot be celebrated without the acknowledgement of the sacrifice the first generation put in. The book is part of South Asian studies archive in SFU and a must read for this generation to learn about our foremothers, they are a part of the 150 years of Canada.
Zhindagee Selected stories of our fist daughters, edited by Mahinder Kaur Doman Manhas is also available for purchase.