Jaswant Kaur Johl

Jaswant Kaur, Marysville, CA, 2010.

Jaswant Kaur Johl (September 30, 1925 – February 7, 2020) was among the first generation of Punjabi women who settled in the Yuba City area after World War II.  She arrived in 1966 and played a key role in building her family’s successful farming business. 

Born in 1925 in the village of Bandala, Jalandhar, in Punjab, Jaswant was forced to grow up very quickly. She assumed great responsibilities as a young woman.  Her mother passed away when she was a child. At the age of sixteen, she married Gurbax Singh Johl. Gurbax also lost his parents at a young age, requiring Jaswant to take over the household responsibilities and care for her husband’s three younger siblings. 

During the 1947 partition of India, Jaswant’s family was among the 12 million refugees who were displaced.  Her family, including her own two young children and her husband’s siblings, was forced to leave their home in present-day Pakistan and travel the arduous journey to India by bullock cart.  As the family was preparing to leave their village of Jandiala, one of their elderly relatives pleaded for them to take him and his goat on the journey to present-day India. The family assisted an elderly man, and the goat became the lifeline for Jaswant’s infant son.  Their journey was not easy; at one point the goat was taken from them during an attack on their caravan. By sheer luck, the entire family survived.

Upon finally arriving in India, Jaswant and her family were placed in temporary residences while faced with a daunting new set of challenges. They did not receive their permanent residence and land allotment to begin farming until 1950.  

 Fortunately, Gurbax received a visa for the United States as part of the refugee quota system in 1962 and was joined by their eldest son a few years later.  In 1966, Jaswant and her two other teenage children (about 14 and 16 years of age) were able to leave India and settle in the Yuba City area where she was responsible for managing the household.  Upon arriving in Yuba City, Jaswant and the family worked hard to earn a living and assimilate to the American culture. They were able to purchase their first farmland in 1967. As the matriarch, she ensured everyone was fed, the home was maintained and she worked alongside the men in the orchards.  That was the start of the family’s farming roots, which continue in the Yuba-Sutter area.

Jaswant Kaur Johl was the matriarch of four children, 14 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.

Photos courtesy of the Johl family.

Source: Interview with Jaswant Kaur Johl by Nicole Ranganath and Prabhjot Johl, Marysville, CA, 2019.

Gurbax Singh and Jaswant Kaur Johl, Nurmahal, Punjab, 1962.