A Testimony on Courage
"People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
Today I would like to share with you how these two words ultimately shifted the paradigm of my high school and my life.
Let us begin with the roots. I am a Sikh, born and raised in Australia. Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world. We are believers of selfless acts of service (Seva) and stand up for human rights and equality. Sikhs can be recognised by their unshorn hair, turbans and beards. Which is why I have never cut my hair in my life. We believe that there is a practical and spiritual purpose for every hair on our body, which keeps us in balance. Most importantly, I keep my hair for identity purposes and the battles in Sikh history it represents.
However, I didn't arrive at this conclusion overnight. We all have our insecurities and mine was my hairy legs.
Brought up in a secluded home away from 'western influences' and beauty magazines, I grew up believing that Caucasian girls weren't born with leg hair! Unaware of the fact that girls actually shaved their legs. I often questioned: "Why aren't I like everybody else? Why don't I feel feminine?" And hair removal advertisements exclaiming that THIS is "what beauty feels like" triggered me to think... am I not a beautiful girl?
In the school environment, Gorilla Girl was just one of the forms of verbal abuse I received. I was bullied for four years for not conforming to the high school hierarchy. Every day the amount of boys bullying me grew like an epidemic. Furthermore, as Head Girl of the school, a position of respect, it was highly embarrassing. I cannot convey to the chamber how humiliated and ashamed I felt to be Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa.
So I decided to pull a twist to the traditional bullying victim card. I decided to face all 26 of my bullies, with the support from the principal, teachers, and my friends, in a safe mediating environment. I spoke straight from my heart for 45 minutes about the things they were doing, how they were doing it, where they were doing it, questioning why they were doing it, how it made me feel, the affect it had on my studies, my wellbeing and my duties as the Head Girl. I put them in my shoes, highlighted the link between bullying and teenage suicides, racism, hate crimes and current world issues, and finished off with a sincere plea for my bullies to just... stop. Believe me, I have never felt a room so sacred and silent, never have I seen that many boys come close to tears, never have I ever seen my teachers/principal cry from listening to my words, never have I felt so overwhelmed with emotion and release and NEVER have I experienced such courage.
I felt as if I wasn't just standing up for myself, I was standing up for everyone who had ever been bullied in the past. The school was buzzing. Students were finally addressing bullying in a manner that had never in my experience been done before. I sent a clear message to my peers: if it takes 1 girl to stand up to 26 boys, she will.
As a result, I got an unexpected amount of heartfelt apologies from all of those 26 boys. The day after, the atmosphere changed in the school corridors. No longer did I feel fear or hate. The nods of acknowledgement, genuine smiles and friendly hellos from my bullies made me realise that I had achieved something. I had gone into this 'mission' yearning for respect and came out receiving more than I could have possibly imagined.
All Sikh girls are given the name Kaur which translates to Lioness or Princess. After accepting my identity for what it is and staring at bullying right in the face, I rose above a sea of grey. That is the day I took my first steps as a Lioness.
My bullies didn't undergo a punishment. Instead, my means of communication forced them to face their actions, educated them about my context and gave them a chance to change.
It's time to stand up. It's time to stand up and face our fears. It's time to stand up and discover the courage we never thought we had. It's time to stand up to change. To a positive revolution. A revolution that we as young people can be a part of. If I can do it, SO CAN YOU!
Now every day when I leave the house, hairy as ever, I command to the world: Judge Me. I Dare You."
The response I got during and after the speech was phenomenal! There were plenty of tears from both the audience and myself. And as I took my seat, I felt overwhelmed as an array of notes flooded my desk from all corners of the room. Notes exclaiming how inspired my peers were, calling me a lioness in each one of them. One boy even wrote: "You truly sparkle within. Be proud of those legs!" Furthermore, the amount of people that came up to me afterwards wanting to learn more about Sikhism was truly astonishing! At that moment, I have never felt prouder to be a Sikh. Most of my audience had never heard of Sikhism before. And now, not only had they heard of it, they had understood it in a way that hopefully they will never forget. I truly thank Waheguru Ji for giving me this opportunity to speak from my heart and for the strength He gave me to deliver the speech.