Balpreet Kaur was doing what a lot of college kids end up doing, standing in line, waiting for her turn.
In the library at Ohio State University, where she is a student, she was patiently killing time, messing around with her smartphone, when someone else took her picture on the sly and changed her life. The picture ended up on the internet.
Sadly, what happened next isn’t uncommon.
According to a Yahoo! article posted yesterday, Kaur, “a baptized Sikh woman …from Ohio… is forbidden from altering her body, as it is considered a sacred gift from God.” In the photo that a fellow student posted for the world to see, there is a young lady in her Sikh headwrap and a typical American college get-up of loose pants and a tee-shirt. She also has some splotchy facial hair.
The guy who posted the photo wrote, “I’m not sure what to conclude from this.”
And the gates of hell sung open. As Yahoo! reports, “Comments started pouring in, making fun of her appearance, asking if she was transgendered, and taking her to task for not plucking, waxing, or shaving.”
It was par for the course these days. People got a 20 second kick out of a snapshot someone they had never met, and likely would never meet, by commenting on her physical appearance and by tearing a stranger down.
That part of the story was the sad everyday part.
The next part is sort of a magical one.
Someone told Kaur that her picture was a hot topic on the web. And instead of ignoring it or suffering the wrath of strangers quietly in private, she responded to it. On the very thread where they were making fun of her appearance.
“Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture,” Kaur began. “I’m not embarrassed or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positive] that this picture is getting, because it’s who I am.”
Then she went on.
“The overarching principal is this body is a tool for service. We have to maintain and take care of it while cherishing its original form,” she explained. “That means that going to the hospital and taking medicine is fine, because one should be healthy in order to be of service to others. But cutting one’s hair or removing one’s facial hair is forbidden, even if societal norms dictate otherwise.”
Later, Kaur, the president of the Ohio State University’s Sikh Student Association, according to Yahoo! article, explained her appearance further with a patient grace.
“Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women,” she wrote. “My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body… by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.”
As I read this stuff last night, I don’t think I was alone in feeling a bit choked up and pissed off at the same time. “How could people be so savage?” I wondered, while I pondered the ones who had shot off a quick comment or insult regarding Kaur.
And how could a college kid like Ms. Kaur have such incredible poise?
She wrote other things too, other beautifully crafted sentences that made it clear to anyone reading them that with each letter she typed on her computer, wherever she was writing from, was a letter towards the potential of a better world. Here she was, the object of public ridicule for the entertainment of complete strangers, quietly explaining, without any malice or vengeance whatsoever, how her very life was shaped by her faith and how that wasn’t such a bad thing at all.
As a father, I have to say, my initial thoughts were of dread. I dread the days when my kids are older, when the bullying years kick in and the grand possibilities of having their young hearts broken, or of breaking others hearts, are seemingly endless.
I want to shield them from the hurt, man. I want to jump in front of any ay arrows heading their way.
But, it doesn’t work that way and I know it. And it sucks.
Balpreet Kaur proves there are other ways through the cruelty though. Her words and explanations prove that language and patience, even in a this time of trigger-happy derision and delusion, can and do make a tremendous difference in the face of hostility.
I don’t know this woman. But damn was I so proud of her.
Shortly after she posted her remarks, the fellow who posted the original photo and caption posted something again. But this time, things were different.
Amid a growing flurry of Kaur supporters, he wrote, “I felt the need to apologize to the Sikhs, Balpreet, and anyone else I offended when I posted that picture. Put simply it was stupid. Making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you’re making fun of. It was an incredibly rude, judgmental, and ignorant thing to post.”
Then he continued:
“I’ve read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant. Balpreet, I’m sorry for being a closed minded individual. You are a much better person than I am. Sikhs, I’m sorry for insulting your culture and way of life. Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.”
And for a split-second there, I had this strange feeling that we will all be okay, if we just remember to follow our hearts.
Info source and quotes: Yahoo!
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