The motivating force behind our project comes from two women- Mata Kartar Kaur and Mata Jai Kaur (“Mata” is a respectful term meaning “mother”).
Their story epitomizes the struggle that many women in Ganganagar still endure.
Their triumph through tragedy has traversed oceans and continents and has now returned to where their story began.
In our family’s history, these two women stand out as our agents of change.
Mata Kartar Kaur
Mata Kartar Kaur, after whom our prenatal clinic is named, gave birth to nine of her ten children in a small, mud-walled house on the very spot that our clinic now stands. Due to unhygienic conditions & unsafe delivery techniques she contracted puerperal fever, or childbirth fever, and died soon after giving birth to her last child, Baldev (Deep) Shergill, founder and President of Prominent Homes Ltd. (a home builder in Calgary, AB, Canada) and the Prominent Homes Charitable Organization (PHCO).
Although Kartar Kaur died young, her influence on her children’s future was tremendous. At a time when literacy and education were not highly valued, especially for girls, Kartar Kaur ensured that her children could read & write. The value for education she instilled in her family paved the way for brighter futures in Canada and United States. Through her strength and independence of spirit, Kartar Kaur also resisted significant social pressures for sex-selection. In a society that greatly valued boys over girls, Kartar Kaur ensured that all five of her daughters survived childhood to become loving and supportive mothers themselves.
Kartar Kaur died at the age of 40 in 1956 from a preventable condition. Indeed, many of the risks that Kartar Kaur faced while giving birth to her ten children continue to threaten the wellbeing of mothers in Ganganagar and across the developing world.
The major causes of maternal death are severe bleeding and hemorrhage, infections, unsafe abortions, eclampsia (seizures or coma that occur during pregnancy) and other complicating issues like anemia and malaria (both of which are common in Rajasthan). All of these risks are avoidable and any deaths they cause are unnecessary.
Our organization is a reflection of Kartar Kaur’s love and sacrifice & is dedicated to the health and wellbeing of the women of Ganganagar.
Mata Jai Kaur
After Kartar Kaur’s death the responsibility for caring for her newborn child passed to her mother-in-law – Deep’s grandmother – Mata Jai Kaur. Jai Kaur was 85 years-old at the time and dutifully continued working in the cotton and wheat fields, preparing food and managing other household chores while caring for her newborn grandchild.
In many ways, Mata Jai Kaur’s life reflects the struggles that women continue to face in many parts of India and the developing world. She was forced to marry young, denied opportunities for education and lived a life of servitude. Her responsibilities as a young women included hauling drinking water over long distances through Rajasthan’s scorching summers and freezing winters. Like Kartar Kaur, Jai Kaur faced the many health-risks associated with early pregnancy in an environment that lacked reproductive health services. Many poor families in Ganganagar still marry their children young, which increases the likelihood of early pregnancy and its associated health risks.
Fortunately, Jai Kaur survived to live a long time. She passed away in 1976 at the age of 105 and in the process had a direct and profound influence on three generations of her family. For her children, grandchildren and the great grandchildren Jai Kaur remains an everlasting spring of inspiration and love that makes the Mata Jai Kaur Maternal and Child Health Centre possible.
In development discourse it is well established that women can play a central role in lifting their families out of poverty. Together, Mata Kartar Kaur and Mata Jai Kaur embodied this notion of women as agents of change. They planted a seed that bloomed around the world and that has come back to Ganganagar through MJK-MCHC.