I engage with those who ridicule me as a Sikh woman with facial hair – Rowling’s character embodies this fight against bullying
Recently, my photograph was unknowingly taken while waiting in a queue, and later posted on Reddit under the subject “I’m not sure what to conclude from this“. Now, I understand that being a baptised Sikh woman with facial hair might confuse some people. But I choose not to change my appearance because, in accordance with the Sikh tradition, I view my body as a gift from the Divine, as a tool for service, as a temple for my spirit.
I am well aware of how I am perceived by others: is she a man? A bearded woman? Transgendered? These perceptions find their roots both in simple curiosity and ignorance of the sheer diversity of the human race. I cannot stop people from forming convoluted first impressions based on what I look like, but I can stop them from turning that ignorance into misplaced assumptions or even hatred. This is why, having been alerted to the posting of the photo, I replied in the thread, and engaged with the posters discussing my appearance. What I learned from this experience is that building bridges between people isn’t really that hard: an honest conversation, a simple exchange of meaningful words that make up our lives, can change people’s opinions and change the world for the better – one step at a time.
JK Rowling’s new book, Casual Vacancy, perhaps aimed to do just that. Her novel, which features a Sikh family and portrays them in a realistic way, required her to do extensive research into my faith. And with the attention that Casual Vacancy has been getting comes the chance to start a dialogue and open our minds and hearts to stories of people different than us, people we did not know about before, people, who, at a second glance, are just like us. Unfortunately, the novel enraged Sikh leaders in India, where it is currently the subject of protests over Rowling’s portrayal of a Sikh girl teased for her body hair.
I hope those protests do not escalate. Violence and anger will only tarnish the image of peace-loving Sikhs, who in the past have only raised their swords when all other avenues have failed. Rowling’s character sheds light on to a reality that the Sikh nation is still struggling to fully understand, acknowledge and accept: a reality of bullying, and superficial impressions. Why can’t we, as a Sikh nation, write our own narratives and read them to the world through our actions, instead of protesting against the perceptions of the outside world?