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Balpreet Kaur Named 2012's Religious Person of the Year

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 | 11:13 pm

Balpreet Kaur went from being a victim of cyber bullying to becoming Huffington Post Religion's 2012 Person of the Year.

Photo Source: Sikh News Network

Balpreet Kaur, the college student who graciously disarmed online criticism of her unshorn facial hair, became an inspirational speaker at many Sikh events last fall, and was recently named Huffington Post Religion’s 2012 Person of the Year.

“I just know that I decided to keep my hair because I felt like it was the right thing to do,” Balpreet Kaur told SikhNN. “It was because I loved Guru. I still love Guru, you know. And it (kesh) is an expression of my love.”

The Huffington Post has followed Balpreet Kaur’s story from the beginning, since Sept. 25. The Pulitzer Prize-winning blog was launched in 2005 and has become the most popular political Web site on the Internet. In past years, its list of most influential religious leaders has included the Pope and the Dalai Lama, its religion editors wrote.

“However, when the HuffPost religion editors thought about the person we admired most in the last year, the unanimous choice was Ms. Kaur,” they said in a Dec. 28 editorial.

“My experience after being on the Internet, it’s been kind of surreal,” Balpreet Kaur said, just two weeks earlier, during her visit to Virginia. “I don’t like seeking attention… So to have the whole entire world tell me that I’m awesome was kind of awkward because I don’t think of myself as awesome. I just think of myself as like a normal kind of everyday girl battling her own insecurities.”

Balpreet Kaur became a reluctant celebrity when a Reddit editor took a photo of her waiting in line for a bagel, without her permission, and posted it on the social news and entertainment Web site, under the topic, “Funny,” and with the comment, “I am not sure what to conclude from this.”

Balpreet Kaur said she was not sure what to make of the situation. But she was fascinated by the comments about the confusing gender queues she evokes.

“I am perfectly aware of how people perceive me, what their first thoughts are, how I come off to them,” she said. “It kind of sparked this whole frenzy of commenting… It was just another way of them expressing their own ignorance and impressions. For that, I cannot judge them.”

“Balpreet Kaur responded to the intentional denigration by explaining who she was, why she looked the way she does, and the tenets of her Sikh faith with a remarkable generosity of spirit,” Huffington Post Religion editors wrote.

Her response:

“Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn't know about this until one of my friends told on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled :) However, I'm not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it's who I am. 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. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body - it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn't reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying 'mine, mine' and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, 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. So, to me, my face isn't important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. :-) So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I've gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this. Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together tshirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. :) I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.

“I replied, and people liked it,” she told SikhNN. “They were inspired, and it is really weird for me to be on this kind of, not pedestal, but limelight of inspiration, because I don’t feel like I am inspired… Everyone just started flooding me with comments: “You’re awesome,” “You’re inspiring.” I locked myself into a music room and cried for half an hour because I was like: This is not happening.

“For me, it was not about me, it was about Guru sahib,” she added. “They weren’t praising me for being me. They were praising the Guru who chose to express itself through what I look like, through how I reacted. And, that was important. I felt a few people might have missed that.”

The commotion began at the beginning of fall classes at Ohio State University, in Columbus, where Balpreet Kaur, 19, is studying neuroscience and psychology. With 18 credit hours to manage, she took off on invitations from around the country to speak at Sikh and interfaith events. She travelled to Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where six Sikhs were shot and killed by a white supremacist on Aug. 4, more than a month earlier. She also traveled to Los Angeles and Washington, among other cities.

“It has been hectic but, at the same time, I’ve been doing my Nitnem on time,” she said. “So I guess that is the one thing that has been stable.”



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