Tuesday, July 3, 2012

And the Lioness Roars: Voices from Behind the Veil

(*Please note that the pictures do not correspond to the writers.)

It became clear to me when I was a little girl that being a Sikh girl and an Indian girl is a contradiction. When I was a child, my mother told me saakhis of incredible women like Mai Bhago and Rani Sada Kaur. I wanted to be warriors like them. But the Indians that surrounded me told me otherwise. I was expected to lower my gaze, be obedient, and stay silent. Instead, I decided to step out from behind the veil of silence and be extra loud because the women around me didn't have a voice. I don’t care if the older women in my community look at me funny, whispering behind my back about how unladylike I am. I’m standing up for the gender biases in my community. After all, it’s what my Gurus would have wanted. A Fearless Kaur

As a child, I would secretly scoff at the elders who led Gurmat camps and discussions. I became disillusioned with the constant, familiar banter of little Sikh boys, confused about the nature and purpose of their patkas. I didn't understand the point of presenting the same, stupid Powerpoints year after year, explaining what to do if someone called me a "terrorist". No one had ever called me a terrorist. I didn't have any problems. I later realized that my obstacles as a Sikh woman were far from nonexistent. I had been blind to them because no one had ever thought to bring them up. Living in this world as a Kaur requires a bit of sacrificing of pop culture. I just needed someone to tell me this. I needed the support of women who had once experienced my confusion. I didn't know if such women existed. Because they never spoke.
A Kaur without Reason

Sikhi speaks to me like no other.  Whenever I feel sad and lonesome, I remember Guru Ji is right by my side, and my mind is instantly at ease.  However, this comfort didn’t come to me so easily before. Throughout my adolescence, there were many times when I questioned my faith and beliefs. I even questioned the Guru’s existence. After all, if he really had my best interest in mind, why was he testing me like this? Why did everyone else seem to have it so easy? Why did everyone else’s lives seem to be over-filled with joy, while mine only pain? I resorted to alcohol to numb the pain, to lose control, to forget. A fatal experience was my wake-up call. I mended my ways, began to recite Bani – not just for the heck of it, but to understand its depth and allow myself to enter the vulnerable state of tranquility which overcomes me during the recitation of paath and kirtan. Questioning my faith is not something easy for me to admit, but doing so has shaped me into the woman I am today, and the woman I aspire to be. An Ambitious Kaur     

I come from a legacy of strong Kaurs. Both of my grandmothers and my mother were pillars in the Sikh community; all three of these beautiful women have passed away, but in their time, they made significant impacts on the Sikh community. Losing these women, and especially losing my mother at a young age, has caused me to constantly feel the pressure of being a strong Kaur. I come from a loving, supportive, and strong Sikh family who I always want to make proud, and this leads me to feeling that I have to be like the Kaurs before me. Since losing my mom, I have also felt that my community is either placing me into the mold of the Kaurs before me or waiting for me to fail. That pressure forces me to question who I truly am on a daily basis and fight an inner battle to find the truth within me. To me, being a Kaur is being strong in knowing who I am and what I believe in and staying true to myself. I will continue the beautiful legacy that I come from, I will make my mother proud, but I will make my legacy my own.An Independent Kaur

When I hear the name Kaur, I picture a Sikh woman. A strong woman. A fearless woman. A woman who is not afraid to make sacrifices. A woman who will give up her own personal desires out of love for her Guru. After all, that's who a Kaur is supposed to be, right? But sometimes I can't help but wonder whether I am deserving. What if I am not entirely fearless? What if I don't make the sacrifices that I can, even though I owe my life to my Guru? Do shaving my legs and shaping my eyebrows make me any less of a Kaur than a Sikh woman who does not? Am I living my life contradicting my own image of who a Kaur should be? But I consider myself a Kaur because of my unconditional love for my Guru. It may not be obvious through my outer appearance, but isn't love an emotion? My surname Kaur tells the world that I am a Sikh woman and symbolizes my identity. It makes me my Guru's princess, and is a symbol of my faith. It's not just a label. It's a blessing.A Not-There-Just-Yet Kaur

Stories. It's always about people's stories. My story is compiled of many things - great things - that have shaped me to be the woman I am today. All the great stories that are credited to who I am today always revolve around my faith. When I was old enough to start questioning life, I came across two ways I could direct my life. One path could lead me to living a mediocre story that wasn't much different than other people's stories. The other path would lead me to a story that I knew would make me stand out in the crowd and be true to myself. One thing is for sure; great stories go to those who don't give into fear. Fear of being in outcast in the community and to your friends and family are just a few. Fear was the only thing that could drive me to the more mediocre path. With the help of positive sangat that included strong Kaurs, I'm glad that since I chose the more difficult path, and I am able to maintain it too. A Loud Kaur

Once, I was the only girl sitting in a room with a few Sikh guys, and I heard them talking about how they didn’t want to marry a girl who didn’t shave her legs because “that was gross.” These were turbaned Sikh guys, by the way. As I listened to them laugh about it, I felt invisible. The strong, brave woman inside of me was yelling out “Hello! I’m sitting right here!” but I just sat there, numb. I don’t keep all my kesh, but I’d like to think about taking Amrit one day. And I can’t help but feel like I wouldn’t have the support of some of my brothers. It’s hard enough as it is living in a society where body hair is not seen as beautiful but to have to feel unwanted by your own? I think that’s just the most heartbreaking thing ever.A Frustrated Kaur

Growing up in a Sikh and Punjabi household, my morals, values, and outlooks about everything were woven with the thread of Sikhi. Going to Khalsa school every Sunday, attending Sikh camps every summer, and staying connected with my sangat was what being a Kaur meant to me. I was confined to make decisions based on what my community would expectMy sangat was my protective shell in which I felt safe and loved. But as I grew up and headed off to college, I was thrown into a new environment with unfamiliar views and perspectives. Everything I was surrounded by no longer revolved around the concrete rules I followed as a child. I was forced to crack open my shell and face the changes that were breezing through my life. But it was not until that moment of cracking open my shell that I realized the true meaning of being a Kaur. I was always taught to never question my faith, but as I took a turn in my life I realized that as a student, I must raise questions. I became more open-minded and learned to deconstruct my personal values and the norms of society. Instead of basing all of my decisions off of what the Punjabi community would think, I try my best to make smart decisions in terms of what I believe is right and wrong through the eyes of Waheguru. Still keeping my core values in tact, I have gained confidence in myself and identify myself as a smarter and stronger woman, who is not just one-dimensional.A 3-D Kaur

I am two halves of a whole. Two separate entities that on their own exert a very strong force within me, that when clashed with each other can express turmoil in my heart, but when joined as one can offer a view on life unique from everyone else's. If you were to ask me if I would choose to be born into another cultural identity, I would deny the opportunity to do so, but there are times when I find the ways of Sikhism and an Indian heritage trying. As a child growing up we are already faced with confusion about our minds and bodies. Different environments add to that disturbance. What is acceptable in one culture is not in the other and vice versa. So where do we stand? The first step is making ourselves knowledgeable about both sides. This intake of information, however, will never end. But as we gather more insight, the next step is to use that towards formulating the character that defines us. It is we that make up a culture, not the culture that tells us who we are. Then we can take the knowledge that impacted us, combined with how we molded it to fit ourselves, and put that back out in the society we are part of to better it and ourselves. If I were to offer a piece of advice to fellow first generation Sikh women, it would be to find a balance between the two identities that YOU are comfortable with, rather than having them dictate your life.A Balanced Kaur

As I grew older, I started to realize that even though I was born a Kaur, others didn’t identify me as a one…at least not a “real” Kaur. Apparently there's a difference between being a Kaur and a “real” Kaur. It took me some time to understand other people’s definition of what a Kaur is. They would take one look at me and decide that I wasn't as good as the others. They judged me based only on my appearance. I didn't realize that hair defined someone to the extent where they’re treated unfairly. I was insecure and tried to hide who I truly was because no one would take the time to understand the real me. But today I know that I am a Kaur. I’ve grown into a strong Sikh woman who doesn't care what others define her as. Because I am the only one who can truly define myself. I am the only one who can sculpt who I want to become. I can’t say there is one definition of “Kaur.” But I do know one thing: I am a Kaur. 
A Strong Kaur

A special thanks to all the incredible ladies who shared their stories; you are all inspirational women. Also, thanks to the girls who posed for and helped take photos!