Each month, in a section called “Kaurs in the Spotlight,” Kaur Thoughts features a Kaur (Sikh woman) who is pursuing her passion and developing a unique way to serve her community.
When we read a headline like, “Sikh students being bullied,” we think of small Singhs being picked on for their patkas and turbans. Sometimes, we forget that Kaurs get bullied because of kesh too.
This is a story of a beautiful young Kaur who confronted her bullies in high school.
You may recognize university student, Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa from her films featured on Sikh Net. She took time out to share her journey with Sikhi, kesh, and bullying with Kaur Thoughts.
KT: Many Sikh girls shave because of peer pressure. What made you keep ALL of your kesh?
People come to realizations and ‘awakenings’ through different ways and my acceptance of my kesh was through an art form close to my heart; I have a passion for theatre and acting. I love how it can transform an audience to a new realm of thinking and how it has the ability to teach.
In Yr 12 (final year of high school), for the practical examinations of Drama I had to script, direct, and act out an Original Solo Production (a.k.a a one person show). The only guidelines regarding the content of the piece was to take the audience on a journey. So, I decided to take them on a comical journey of the hair on my body, showcasing the different aspects of being hairy while growing up in the suburbs of Perth, Australia.
While this piece was meant to be a harmless ball of fun, it suddenly turned into a wake up call. It was as if the character I created in this piece (named Saroop) was speaking to me and telling me: “Sukhjit, hair is hair, we all have it! Why do you keep the hair on your head but (secretly) remove the hair on your legs, then go around preaching Sikhi and represent Sikhs and Kaurs all over the world?” And that’s the day I put my metaphorical razor down and decided to commit.
I believe as Sikhs, especially as Sikhs living in the Western world, we leave the house every morning with a duty to represent the Sikh community to the best of our abilities.
And while the external is just a percentage of what makes you a Sikh, I believed at that time, 2 years ago, it was the right place for me to begin my journey as a practicing Sikh.
KT: Kaurs who do not shave, don’t usually expose their legs or underarms. Why do you choose to?
When I first stopped removing my leg/underarm hair I made a pact proclaiming:
“By this summer, I want to be confident enough to parade my hairiness at one of the most exposed places one can be – the beach.”
And so I did. Slowly, but surely.
I started off at home (the comfiest place you can be hairy) and then slowly with my close friends. I experimented with fashion dramatically. Drawing attention to other aspects of my body by wearing loud colors so people wouldn’t notice my hairiness. That’s when I went through a skanky phase, trying to make up for my lack of smooth silky hairless skin by dressing rebelliously. However, when your hair (on your head) is longer than your dress/skirt hemline, then honey, you should definitely think about your wardrobe choices! I certainly learnt my lesson there!
That is also when stockings became an essential to my outfits. I still want to wear fashionable clothes – no probemlo, just chuck some stockings on! But in summer, stockings can a problematic. (Woohoo for maxi dresses/skirts and comfy genie pants).
I choose to expose my hairiness due to:
1) Practical Reasons – in summer I can’t bear to keep hidden in my pants or long sleeved tops. It’s just way too hot here in Australia!
2) Borderline Feminist Reasons – if guys are hairy and that’s the norm, why the hell can’t girls be ‘au natural’ too?
3) I actually feel free. Free of guilt. Free of judgements. Free as I go for a run and the cool breeze blows through each individual hair. Kia baat! I love that feeling! So no, Veet, – THIS is what beauty feels like.
4) My brother once told me that, “Sukhjit, you have to make sure your personality is just so exuberant that no one honestly even pays attention to what your external looks like because they are too busy in awe of your internal awesomeness.”
And to put it to practice, it actually is so true! Most of the time people don’t even look down there at my legs!
In saying all this, I guess you have to pick and choose where it is appropriate and practical to expose that hair.
Beach – sure!
Workplace – probably not! But the occasional hairy underarm peeks through a short sleeve top and no one really questions it.
Out with friends – sure!
At an Indian occasion – unfortunately I don’t as I get more crap from Indians than I do from Gorey. 😦
KT: Unfortunately, it is taboo for women to expose their unshaved bodies in public and it was Sukhjit’s boldness and her willingness to be herself that attracted bullies.
KT: What type of bullying did you face? When did it start? How did it manifest?
I faced a weird mixture of bullying. It began when I entered high school, and it actually took me a while to realize that I was being bullied and that I deserved to be treated better.
I was lucky that it wasn’t physical. But the verbal abuse I received played games with my head and made me so paranoid. It grew like an epidemic each day until by the time I was in Yr 12 I had around 26 guys after me. They taunted me at assemblies while I was addressing the school, or during a performance where I am most vulnerable, any social events – they didn’t leave me alone! Screaming my name as if it were a swear word (SUCK-A-SHIT = Sukhjit)…..It made me feel, “WHY ME!” It was humiliating, because the rest of the school would see this show and younger boys would catch on and think it was OK to bully girls and make them feel insecure.
KT: How did you mentally and spiritually cope with the teasing?
At school I would smile and laugh it off, pretend like I was laughing along. But then I would go home and have a massive cry and take out my anger towards my family. It made my attitude towards life so negative, as a dramatic girl, I thought my life was over!
At that age you are already so insecure and going through enough changes as it is, add some bullying on top of that and you go INSANE. I got so stressed out in my final years, I didn’t want to have to deal with that while studying for exams, or carrying out my duties as Head Girl. How was I meant to be a role model for the school if their role model was getting bullied herself? Talk about embarrassment! Spiritually, I think I grew pretty far away from Sikhism because I now associated with it with guilt of shaving my legs and disappointing my dad, and not understanding WHY we keep our identity. Instead of being proud of my identity I was ashamed. I also started getting out of certain aspects of school, such as swimming classes and sport where I knew those boys could bully me openly.
KT: Were there any people in your life who helped you?
My family was a big support network, especially my mum who I could tell could feel my pain but just didn’t know how to deal with her adolescent dramatic daughter! My school friends were also amazing, they stood up for me even if that meant they might get crap from the bullies. I also went to my drama teacher who I had a friendship with, she was my mentor and was the best person to vent to.
KT: You had the strength and courage to confront your bullies. What made you decide to do this?
I didn’t want to leave my high school with regrets of unfinished business or ill feelings towards any member of the school. I wanted my positive memories to exceed my negative ones. I loved high school despite the bullying. I had the best memories and most valuable experiences. So I would hate to think that I would be holding onto this bullying experience for the rest of my life.
I also was getting really stressed out. It was affecting how I performed, my grades were shocking and I was so distracted I could never concentrate.
I was also very paranoid, and felt mad that I had to avoid walking down a certain hallway where I might bump into my bullies.
And when I made my decision to stop shaving my legs because I realized I wasn’t doing it for myself I was doing it for others, I embraced being different. In fact being different has been the best thing that could ever happen to me!
I also felt justice needed to be served. As Sikhs I think its our duty to always stand up for our rights. And my right as a member of my school was to be respected.
KT: When confronting the bullies, you recruited the help of your teachers. Describe that process.
I had a close relationship with my teachers, I respected them and they respected me. So in my time of need they were firstly shocked when they heard I was being bullied and were more than happy to support me. When I decided to confront my bullies, and do it the “Sukhjit way”, everyone was a bit hesitant. My parents were worried I would get bashed up (lol) and my friends were also scared for me. But I knew I had the power within me & there was no turning back. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it with confidence.
KT: Sukhjit gathered her bullies for a meeting to discuss her concerns. The school principal gave these students a note summoning them to the classroom.
KT: Sukhjit, explain to Kaur Thoughts how the meeting went:
It was really weird because the school started buzzing and some students put the dots together while others were clueless that it was linked to me. I never had made a big deal out of this bullying and now it was out into the atmosphere. As I mentioned in my speech, I had never really understood what courage meant until that day.
Sukhjit spoke candidly to the bullies about their behavior, the hierarchy of power that she observed, how bystanders made the problem worse, and how all of this made her feel. She also acknowledged the bullies’ humanness and their ability to be kind, but addressed the need for them to change their negative behavior to create a kind environment. Her plea to them: STOP.
The reaction was amazing. Everyone, including my friends and family and principal, was a bit nervous on what the outcome would be but it turned out to be the most positive outcome. I knew all along this was going to work because I had Waheguru with me. In fact it was his act, not mine. I wanted to have no regrets regarding high school and thats exactly what happened. I finished my semester feeling proud and respected and with a massive weight off my shoulders.
The boys gave me the most genuine apologies and the very next day I got nods of acknowledgement and friendly hellos from the boys. And teachers used this example in their classrooms. People were discussing bullying in a way that had never been done and I was quite happy to be the guinea pig. Recently, students who were in lower years to me have been quoting me and using me in speeches which, is totally a crazy revolution. And it’s nice to know you can leave your mark in a positive way.
KT: The school leadership supported Sukhjit’s efforts. The administration said if the group of students did not stop bullying they would not be allowed to go to the Spring Fling and they would no longer be in “good academic standing.”
KT: What advice would you give to Kaurs who are being bullied?
Firstly, I am so sorry that you have to experience this. But I will tell you now, if you play your cards right and remember Waheguruji, this will be a turning point in your life. I can honestly say getting bullied was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It made me stronger and after confronting my bullies, I was empowered and felt as if I could take on any challenge head-on. But… getting bullied sucks. But a plea to you, get some support, talk to someone about it, bring your school on board, and understand that things WILL get better. If you are ever in a horrible situation remember, Waheguruji is there to guide you. Listen to him. Confront your bullies (but please don’t get your butt kicked! Confront them in a safe environment). Talk to them, tell them how you feel. As crazy and touchy-feely as it may sound – it might just work!
KT: What advice would you give to young Kaurs struggling with keeping bana/saroop?
What are you afraid of? I was afraid of a bunch of boys not accepting me. I was also afraid of not falling into the feminine category and that I wasn’t attractive. When you think about what you’re really afraid of you’ll soon realize it actually isn’t a big deal despite it feeling like the world is going to end if you don’t have smooth silky legs.
The faster you get over it, the faster you will learn that the humans in this world don’t actually look at your legs or underarms or inspect your upper lip and eyebrows. Correction: the humans that you WANT to be in sangat with don’t judge you for all that jazz. They want to get to know you.
Be the best human you can be and forget about all the eternalness because that is all temporary, instead focus on the internal. Meditate on Waheguruji’s name and his light will guide you. I promise.
And there is no harm in trying. I set myself a challenge to go without removing hair for the hardest time of all – summertime, and I did it! So can you!
I found when I stopped removing hair, I was a calmer individual, more positive and life got amazing and freeeee! In saying this though, who am I to tell you how to live your life. You’re gonna end up doing whatever you want to anyway. And we are all on our individual Sikhi journeys and have our own battles to conquer.
But I guess the only advice I can give you is to: Remember what it means to be a Kaur. Be Brave. Be Beautiful. Be that Lioness.
As Katy Perry would sing: “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire. Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar” (lol)
KT: How would you describe your relationship with Sikhi?
Closer and closer towards the right path. I get teared up easily when discussing something Sikhi related and I have a thirst to learn more and more, to become the best human I can be.
KT: What do you think is the biggest struggle for Kaurs at the moment?
Well, I guess it depends where you are in the world and what your circumstances are (age, family etc).
In the West (and I can only speak for Australia), the biggest struggle for Kaurs is defining ourselves as capable young woman who can incorporate the Sikh way of life into our daily lives.
To be independent is also a struggle, to be our own person. To redefine beauty. For Kaurs in the marriageable age bracket, I think the biggest struggle would be to find a Singh who honestly accepts the hairiness of a Kaur. Because I believe that even though there are a great amount of Singh in the Sikhi saroop who say they want a wife who will keep all their hair, inside they are hypocritical of this and don’t find hair attractive.
Sukhjit’s Last Thoughts:
As a final note I need to make this point clear: I was merely a messenger of Waheguruji, it was all his actions and I was just lucky enough to go for the ride. I am sorry if anything I have said has offended anybody as that was not my intention.
Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia. She is currently a university student studying Political Sciences and International Relations. After finishing her degree, she hopes to gain admission into The Western Australian Academy for Performing Arts to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in acting.
You can watch Sukhjit addressing the Youth Parliament of Western Australia regarding her bullying here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWYW0DV_Vws
I hope you enjoyed reading Sukhjit’s journey and found it touching & powerful. I drew a lot of inspiration from her struggle and triumph. Her eloquence and boldness is something I hope to emulate.
If there’s a Kaur you look up to and think her story would be cool to share, send Kaur Thoughts an email. MyKaurThoughts(at)gmail.com