The same day the Buckeyes are scheduled to face the University of Michigan, one Ohio State student mocked on Reddit might be facing her anonymous mocker. Unlike the football rivals, the two aren’t meeting as enemies, but as friends.
On Sept. 22, a person with the username “european_douchebag” posted a picture of OSU student Balpreet Kaur on the social news website Reddit. The picture seemed to reference Kaur’s facial hair and turban as she stands in line and checks her phone. His caption, reading: “I’m not sure what to conclude from this,” conjured a slew of comments criticizing Kaur’s appearance, each feeding off the previous insult.
However, it was Kaur’s comment, formatted and displayed similarly to those that criticized her appearance, which resonated most on the Internet thread.
“I’m not embarrassed or even humiliated by the attention (negative and positive) that this picture is getting because it’s who I am,” Kaur wrote.
Although Kaur, a second-year in neuroscience and psychology, has no idea why she chose to respond, she explained that her religion, Sikhism, inspired her response.
“(Sikhism) opens your eyes, because you’re like, ‘I never knew humanity could be so beautiful because I was so caught up in what I look like and what I was feeling, that there were other people that are way, way worse than I am … but still they’re holding on. And I’m worried about a pimple on my head?” Kaur said.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion formed in the 15th century in Northwestern India. Kaur explained that the religion is centered on having a life of unattached balance, and realizing one’s inspiration to be a better person comes from within.
As a baptized Sikh woman, Kaur has chosen to not alter her body in any way. However, it is not forbidden for Sikh women to shave body hair. Kaur said it was the peacefulness and calmness of Sikh women that she met who wore turbans and had facial hair that inspired her to keep her own.
“I’ve gotten a lot of thinly disguised advice (about my facial hair), but in the end, I’m just like, ‘I know what you’re saying, but I can’t ignore what my faith is telling me to do,'” Kaur said. “And it’s not like I judge people for being different. I realize that people have different paths. I’m this way, definitely a minority within a minority within a minority … the important thing is realizing that … who they are shouldn’t depend on what they look like.”
Kaur’s story has been picked up by media outlets internationally, including the Huffington Post, CNN, New York Daily News, Yahoo and “Shape Magazine.”
In response to Kaur’s comment on the original post, “european_douchebag,” who Kaur said is a former OSU student who transferred to a Florida school, apologized to her via Reddit about four days after her response to the post.
In the post, the user apologizes for being “intolerant,” and states that “making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you’re making fun of.” The user then apologized to the Sikhs, and proclaims Kaur’s faith “astounding.”
The user did not respond to The Lantern‘s request for comment and has since deleted the Reddit account.
Kaur said the user also personally emailed her. Kaur was shocked by the apology and believed it to be “so sincere,” and something that she would not have had the strength to do.
“He is awesome,” Kaur said. “He’s coming back for the Michigan game, and hopefully I’m here, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll just call you and we can meet up so I can actually tell you I’m sorry in person.’ And I said, ‘That’s not necessary but if you want, we can meet up, and we can actually take a real picture this time.'”
The Redditor’s post criticizing Kaur followed the Aug. 5 Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., which resulted in the death of six people and the gunman.
Some people who know her well called Kaur’s response a teaching moment, such as Tarunjit Butalia, an OSU research scientist in Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering, president of Interfaith Association of Central Ohio and the adviser of the Sikh Student Association.
“For somebody who has lived in Central Ohio for over 20 years … we as Sikhs are visibly distinct, and that brings with it a similar amount of attention,” Butalia said. “But that’s a part of our faith, this is who we are, and the incident that Balpreet went through, as I mentioned, I think is a teaching moment that helps our community be more visible particularly after the tragedy and the shootings that happened in Oak Creek, Wis.”
Kaur, as a member of the executive board and a student leader of Better Together, a campaign within Interfaith Youth Core, encourages discussion on OSU’s campus that bonds different values. William Campbell, campaign operations manager of Interfaith Youth Core, works closely with Kaur and explained that student leaders are trained to transform their campuses into a place where people of all faiths and secular backgrounds can voice their values and engage across their differences.
Kaur’s response, Campbell explained, displayed the teachings of the Better Together campaign.
“Balpreet is a person who really showed a lot of courage in being able to respond to a situation where so many times this can lead towards even more backlash, lashing out,” Campbell said. “So we are really proud of how Balpreet responded with such courage and grace.”
Kaur is also president of the Sikh Student Association.
Although she was able to focus the conversation on her faith, Kaur said she believes one of the best things to com
e out of this situation is her mother’s pride. Previously, Kaur’s mother, who is also Sikh, felt that Kaur’s decision to focus on Sikhism, in ways such as keeping her facial hair and spending more time in solitude, was a sacrifice in her daughter’s life, Kaur explained.
However, in light of Kaur’s Reddit response, Kaur said her mother is becoming more comfortable with who her daughter is.
“For my mom, who hadn’t fully accepted what I was, what I had become, for her to tell me she was proud of me, it like broke my heart, but then she stitched it back up again,” Kaur said. “It was something I’ve wanted from her for a really long time, for her to say she wants me as a daughter and she accepted me however I am as a daughter.”
Kaur said the national attention to the Reddit post is “getting ridiculous,” and does not see herself worthy of being an inspiration. Although she continues to read the comments, she explained that the media and commenters are “not in awe of me, they’re in awe of the ideals that go behind what I look like.”
Kaur said she hopes that through her response and the dialogue that followed, people will recognize that faith can inspire someone to be a better person and that self-love and self-confidence is very important.
“I want people to know sometimes you can find your own hero within yourself. You don’t need to care about what other people say because the only person you can depend on is yourself,” Kaur said. “Self-confidence is an important step to accepting what this world is and then going beyond it to improve it.”