Sant Kaur Grewal

Sant Kaur Grewal (June 2, 1911-December 27, 1999) was one of the first Amritdhari Sikh women to settle in the Yuba City area. She was born in a small village called Katani Kalan in the Ludhiana district of Punjab. A devout Sikh who recited the nitnem (daily prayers) each day, she was one of a tight circle of Sikh women who performed seva at the Yuba City Gurdwara for decades after its opening in 1970.

At the age of 17 in 1928, she married Ranjit Singh Grewal in her natal village, Katani Kalan. By the early 1930s, she followed her husband to Tatanagar in Bihar in eastern India where he labored as a steelworker. Even though she only enjoyed a few years of informal education at a local Gurdwara, she could recite the Sikh scripture in the Gurmukhi script. She also loved singing shabad kirtans with her sisters as a young girl and with her family throughout their lives. Education was important to her, and she insisted that all of her children (including her three daughters) attained enough education so that they could recite Gurbani and write letters. Her children fulfilled her wish: her sons earned professional degrees and her daughters completed high school.

Sant Kaur’s son, Harjit, remembers that it was often difficult for his mother to perform household chores due to a painful skin condition on her hands.  Therefore, Harjit performed a lot of chores for the family when his mother’s health didn’t permit her to do so, such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and hauling two heavy pails of water to their home.  His neighbors took notice, jokingly calling him, “Harjit Singh, Harjit Kaur” because he was performing both men’s and women’s work.

Sant Kaur Grewal, Passport, 1963.

Grewal Family. Manohar, Ranjit, Kuldip, Sant, and Harjit, Tatanagar, 1959.

Sant Kaur’s husband, Ranjit Singh, had traveled to the US the year before in March 1962.  A year later, Sant Kaur and her three sons, Manohar, Harjit and Kuldip, flew from Calcutta to Tokyo to Honolulu to San Francisco because airplanes need to refuel frequently.  They arrived in America on February 1, 1963.  Sant Kaur’s husband, daughter and her daughter’s husband, as well as Iqbal Singh (a family friend), picked them up at the airport.

In Yuba City, Sant Kaur initially lived with her daughter, Swarn Kaur’s family, in their home on Eager Road. After one year, Sant Kaur, her husband and their sons moved into a home on Live Oak Boulevard where they lived until 1975. Eventually, they bought a house on Kennedy Drive where they lived for decades. The Kennedy Drive house was the first house that they owned. Her husband, Ranjit, intended to return to India so he resisted the idea of purchasing a home in the US. However, after his sons established careers in the US, he finally accepted that there was no chance of retiring to India if his children remained in the US. In their final years, they lived with their youngest son, Kuldip and his family, in San Jose.

Her daughter, Joginder, admired the way her parents would discuss issues before jointly making decisions. Her mother also felt comfortable raising ideas with her husband. Joginder felt that her parents provided a good role model for her marriage. Sant Kaur’s grandson, Dal, remembers her as being flexible about his decisions regarding his faith. Sant Kaur didn’t force him to follow certain rules such as wearing the Sikh articles of faith. She and her husband emphasized the primacy of following core values in their faith rather than strict adherence to the Sikh code of conduct.

Talking with other women friends in Yuba City was her main form of relaxation. Amar Kaur Everest would call frequently. The women all had land phones with long 20-foot lines so that they could talk as they completed their daily household chores.

Sant Kaur Grewal with family, India, 1966.

After Sant Kaur passed away, her son Kuldip dispersed her ashes in the canal beside the historic Katana Sahib Gurdwara that was once visited by Guru Hargobind and Guru Gobind Singh. She believed that it was fine for a Sikh’s ashes to be immersed in water anywhere in the world. However, she wanted her ashes to be returned to the canal where she had spent her youth and her father had once worked.

Sant Kaur and her husband, Ranjit Singh Grewal, raised six children: Swarn Kaur Johl, Gurdial Kaur Takhar, Manohar Singh Grewal, Joginder Kaur Dhaliwal, Harjit Singh Grewal and Kuldip Singh Grewal.

All photographs provided by the Grewal family.

Source: Interviews by Nicole Ranganath with Manohar Singh Grewal, Phone, October 13, 2020 and ZOOM, August 15, 2022, Joginder Kaur Dhaliwal and Dal Dhaliwal, ZOOM, July 27, 2022, Kuldip Singh Grewal, ZOOM, July 28 and July 29, 2022, and Harjit Singh Grewal, Rocklin, CA, August 9, 2022.