By Anita Mahay
Throughout history, immigrants around the world came to the United States in search of democracy, freedom, justice, opportunity, and equality. These are the reasons that my grandfather, Kartar Chand, too came to America in search of these ideals.
Back in India where he was from, the caste system has led to unimaginable division among the people, touching all corners of society, from the education system to job accessibility. It has essentially kept those of higher castes in control and deprived lower castes of opportunities for a better life, and also of basic respect as human beings.
Leaving a Toxic Environment
Born in 1931 in Punjab, India, my grandfather grew up firsthand experiencing the severe consequences of this sorely divided society, caused by casteism and religious wars. Back then, he used to think to himself “Why are people treating me worse than others? Why am I being treated unfairly?” The confusion and pain as a child led to disgust and courage as an adult and motivated him to leave India, the only country he had ever known.
My grandfather was the first person in my family history to have the strength and grit to leave this toxic environment for the betterment of himself and his family. At the young age of 23, he embarked on a 3-week solo journey by ship, from India to the UK, knowing little English and having little money. He did however have a lot of faith in his heart. Years later he would get an opportunity to come to America, the land of opportunity.
In his own words:
“In India, I was bogged down, hedged in, and bound inside my mind and body. I ceased to breathe freely and felt that I was suffocating. My own compatriots called themselves superior, and they humiliated and betrayed me because I was part of a different caste, but the American people love me and respect me…Truly, America has made me proud, and I hold my head high.”
My grandfather is an inspiration to me because he has enabled a brighter and healthier life for me; to my generation because he has demonstrated profound courage and perseverance; and to the millions of the underprivileged caste community in India, because he defines success against all odds.
As a result of his bravery, my grandfather’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, extended relatives, and countless others live a better life today, free from the shackles of caste bigotry. All of his grandchildren are college educated and in professional careers. This was his dream, to enable his children to work hard, gain an education, and live away from discrimination as he experienced it back home. It is without a doubt that our lives would be vastly different had he never left India. He is so proud of us as we are of him.
Today, my grandfather is almost 90 and lives independently, surrounded by loving neighbors and relatives. Today, he is happy.
An Onward Journey
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.” In spite of his experiences, since he was a child, my grandfather was always courageous, and with this courage, he found the strength and confidence in his heart to overcome any sense of fear. He did not allow himself to feel fear but instead would challenge those that attempted to bestow it on him. Even today, he is proud of who he is, and does not fear judgement.
Most recently, my grandfather achieved yet another remarkable milestone which was publishing his autobiography, a project my cousin Neena and I have helped bring to fruition. He writes a very genuine and heartfelt story about his experiences, his hardships, but also his dreams.
Anita is a proud first generation Dalit-American, who believes in equity and equality for all. She was influenced by her grandfather’s story at a young age, and is a firm believer of American ideals like justice, freedom, and opportunity. She is inspired by civil rights activists she has met including Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter, Bernice King, and the late Congressman John Lewis. For inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
To read Kartar Chand ji’s story in depth, look for his autobiography titled, “On Onward Journey: A Story of Love, Perseverance, and Faith”, Heavenly Enterprises Midwest, Limited, 2020 on Amazon.com