[ARTICLE] Turbans Do Not Equal Terrorism: Sikhs Promoting Awareness in America

The trip had been magical in many ways.  Indu Singh, her husband, and her three children had been sightseeing in Rome, Venice and Florence on a winter vacation. They wandered around the ruins of Rome’s Old City, received an invitation from a nun to a New Year’s mass. They even spotted the pope.

Magical, that is, until they reached the airport in Frankfurt, Germany for the final leg of their trip back to their home in Philadelphia.  Indu and her three children stood in the security line. Her husband, on a separate flight to India, stood just outside the line to see them off.

“Stop and remove your turbans,” the security officer roughly told Indu’s sons, then 7 and 12. “We need to see what’s underneath.”

The boys, practicing Sikhs, wore turbans as part of their faith.  Sikhs do not cut their hair, as they believe in letting it grow naturally out of respect for God’s creation. Sikh men and some Sikh women cover their uncut hair with the turban. Sikhs do not remove their turbans in public, and Indu’s boys were too young to know how to retie the turbans themselves.

Indu never imagined her boys would be stopped. “They were so little,” she said.

Indu quickly suggested an alternative.  “Use the wand,” she told the officer, referring to the wand that is used to screen passengers by hand. “If it doesn’t beep, then it’s ok.”

The officer brushed aside her suggestion, and he and a colleague, “rudely,” she said, ushered the boys into separate isolation rooms, where they made the boys undo their turbans and take down their hair.

Indu said one Pakistani officer was more understanding than the other officers.  Because he was from the same region of the world—Indu and her husband, like most Sikh immigrants, are originally from North India—the officer knew about Sikh customs.  He advised the family to just go along with the search to avoid any trouble.

The boys emerged from the room sobbing. “They were hysterical,” she said. Even her daughter was crying, asking her mother, “Why are they doing this?”

Indu retied their turbans, and the Pakistani officer helped her pacify the children.  She tried to stay focused on making her flight.  There was no reasoning with the boys now, no explaining the situation.  The children were far too upset.

Indu’s husband, who watched the whole situation unfold, was so shaken and worried by the incident that he asked the pilot of his plane to check with the pilot of his family’s plane to ensure they had made it on board.

Five years have passed since that day, but Indu’s voice still rises indignantly when she tells the story. “It was an awful experience,” she said.  “They felt so picked on and isolated.”

It’s a feeling that increasing numbers of the half-million Sikhs living in the United States say they’ve become familiar with in the dozen years since 9/11. Even as hate crimes as a whole have dropped slightly in the United States – from 8,063 incidents in 2000 to 7,254 in 2011, the most recent year for which FBI statistics are available – Sikhs say that they remain targets, possibly because they’re mistaken for Arab Muslims, a group that has been widely targeted since 9/11.

“Clearly people don’t know that I’m a Sikh, clearly people don’t know that I’ve grown up here in America, clearly people don’t know that Sikhism has absolutely nothing or no connection to [terrorism] … in any remote way,” says Savraj Singh (no relation to Indu Singh), who was a junior at Princeton at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He said he sensed the difference in the way he was perceived within hours of the attack when he walked into the student center. People around him were glued to the TV, glued to images of terrorists with turbans and beards.  “And then they looked at me, they looked over at the TV, and they looked back at me, and I’m like, wait a minute!” he recalled.

Because the FBI doesn’t separate out bias crimes against Sikhs as a separate category, it’s difficult to say how many such incidents occur. But the Sikh Coalition, an activist group formed after 9/11 to help combat bias incidents against Sikhs, estimates that there have been at least 700 – which averages out to more than one per week.

To name just a few:

  • In August 2012, a gunman, later identified as a member of a white-supremacist group, opened fire in a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., leaving six Sikhs dead.  The gunman later committed suicide.
  • On March 6, 2011, two elderly Sikh men in traditional dress were shot and killed while on their daily walk in Elk Grove, Calif. No arrest has been made to date.
  • In August 2008, a 62-year old Sikh man was shot and killed while working at a 7-11 in Phoenix, Ariz.
  • On September 15, 2001, a 49-year old Sikh was shot and killed outside a gas station in Mesa, Ariz. in the first post-9/11 hate related murder.

Many more Sikhs have been subjected to harassment and racial profiling.  According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, bullying rates against Sikh children “range from roughly half to over three quarters.”  Another Sikh Coalition report found that a quarter of Sikh New Yorkers have been unfairly stopped or questioned by law enforcement because of their appearance.

In one recent incident of harassment, a Sikh Ohio State University student, Balpreet Kaur, was ridiculed in September 2012 on Reddit for her facial hair.  A Reddit user posted a photo of Balpreet with the caption, “I’m not sure what to conclude from this.”

In response, Balpreet posted a calm, friendly, and long explanation of Sikhism and her decision to keep her hair.  An excerpt reads, “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.”

That particular incident had a happy outcome: The original poster read it and apologized. “I’ve read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant,” he wrote.

After the Reddit interaction went viral, Balpreet received a flurry of attention form the media.  She also had several Ohio State students come up to her on campus, telling her how inspired they were by her actions. One person told her, “You gave me hope.”

“My words wouldn’t have done anything if they hadn’t been willing to receive,” Balpreet said.

In hopes of cultivating more such understanding, the Sikh Coalition has launched a variety of initiatives, including a mobile application called FlyRights, via which travelers can report perceived airport discrimination directly to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); and education programs aimed at giving schoolchildren and community groups more insight into Sikhism.

The Sikh Coalition and other Sikh activist groups like the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and United Sikhs give presentations on Sikhism to everyone from kindergarteners to police officers to airport workers.

Those who sit through these “Sikh Awareness Presentations” often have some of their misconceptions cleared.  After listening to Savraj Singh present last fall at a Jewish community center in Washington Township, N.J., an audience member asked Savraj, “So Sikhism has nothing to do with the Koran?”

“That is exactly right,” Savraj responded.  “Sikhism has nothing to do with the Koran.”

Though Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest religion – larger, even, than Judaism, which is No. 6 – few Americans know much about it, possibly because only 500,000 to 700,000  live in the United States.  Only 3 million of Sikhism’s 23 million adherents live outside of India.

Sikhs are not Muslim, nor are they Hindu.  Nor are they, as is sometimes mis-taught in the Western world, a blend of Muslims and Hindus.

The roots of the Sikh religion go back more than 500 years. Sikhism began in what is today the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, an area that at the time had a deeply ingrained caste system. Sikhs believe their religion was revealed to their first leader, Guru Nanak, in the fifteenth century. Nanak, born in 1469 into a Hindu family, was fascinated by religion from a young age.  He was a 28-year old granary manager and father of two when he went to the river to bathe and meditate one morning. When he failed to return, he was assumed drowned.  But three days later, he unexpectedly reappeared, proclaiming, “There is no Hindu and no Muslim.” He began traveling throughout India, Arabia, and Persia, speaking in various temples and mosques.

Nanak taught a monotheistic faith and spoke against religious rituals, pilgrimages, and the caste system. He also spoke out against sati, the practice of widows throwing themselves onto their husbands’ funeral pyres.  Nanak eventually settled in the town of Kartapur, where he farmed and taught for 15 years. His followers, who initially remained faithful to their individual religions of Hinduism and Islam, became known as his disciples, or Sikhs, which literally means “disciple” or “student.”

While in Kartapur, Nanak also established the social institution of “langar,” or the community kitchen.  Langar meals are served to everyone, regardless of background or beliefs.  This institution was radically different from institutions in Hinduism, as the caste system forbade people from different castes to share food together.

Nine successors followed Guru Nanak during the 16th and 17th centuries.  The tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, formalized the religion. In 1699, Gobind Singh asked his followers to come to Anandpur on April 13, the day of the annual harvest festival.  He addressed those that gathered, asking for a volunteer to sacrifice his head.  When one came forward, Gobind Singh took him into a tent and emerged with a bloody sword. Gobind Singh repeated the process four times.  The five men later came out of the tent unharmed, and Gobind Singh made them the first five members of the Khalsa, the body of baptized Sikhs.

Up until then, the only members of society permitted to wear turbans were the Mughal aristocrats and Hindu Rajputs, the members of the warrior ruling class.  Rajputs also took the surnames “Singh” and “Kaur,” meaning, respectively, “lion” and “princess.”

Gobind Singh challenged these institutions by instructing Sikh men to take the last name “Singh” and Sikh women to take “Kaur.” By turning the practice of wearing turbans and taking on these surnames into Sikh customs, Gobind Singh rejected class systems and proclaimed equality.

Gobind Singh also instructed Sikhs to wear several outward “articles of the faith” to remind them of their devotion to Sikhism. Neither practicing men nor women cut their hair, as they believe their hair is a symbol for the perfection of God’s creation. The uncut hair is called the kesh. The kirpan, or small sword, symbolizes readiness to defend the oppressed, and the kara, a silver bracelet, reminds Sikhs of their commitment to the faith.  The kanga, a small comb, is worn in the hair and symbolizes cleanliness and purity, and the kachera, or undershorts, symbolize self-restraint over passions.  These five articles are known to Sikhs as the “Five K’s.”

Instead of naming a human successor, Gobind Singh named the Sikh holy book, the Granth Sahib, as the next guru. The Guru Granth Sahib remains the Sikh guru to this day.

Sikh Advocacy

As Education Director of the Sikh Coalition, Manbeena Kaur speaks out often about Sikhsim. She was not always this open.  Growing up in a predominately white school outside of Fort Worth, Texas in the 1980s and 1990s, Manbeena was aware she was different, and did not talk much about her religion and her Indian culture. “I felt that people didn’t know who I was and considered me the ‘other,’” she said.  “I didn’t want to expose people to my faith and culture because I was scared of the reaction I would get.”

Once, in ninth grade, her teacher asked her to do a presentation about India.  She dressed up in traditional Indian clothes and served mango and dry Indian trail mix.  When she came back from lunch, her food was scattered on the table, a U.S. flag stuck in the middle. After prompting from the teacher, the student responsible for the vandalism gave Manbeena what Manbeena describes as a quick, insincere apology.

On another occasion, her home economics teacher assigned the students to make scrapbooks documenting their “fantasy weddings” using images of dresses and flowers cut from magazines.

“I was a very avid scrapbooker at that age,” Manbeena recalled. “My first thought was, I get to do a scrapbook for an Indian wedding, and it’s for school.  It’s not just something I’m doing on the side.  This is really cool.”

Since none of the magazines reflected what Manbeena’s Indian wedding would look like, her teacher told her to use anything she wanted from home.  But while cutting out the pictures of red dresses, the gurdwara (temple) and platters of rice and curry, she began feeling apprehensive about how her classmates would react.

In the end, she glued just four things on the paper and turned it in. “I still think about that, because that is not the level of work that I usually turned in,” she said  “I was a straight-A student, and it still pains me that I didn’t do my full potential on that one project because I was scared of the questions. I didn’t want to open myself up to anybody making fun of me or my customs.”

Years later, in 2005, Manbeena moved to New York City as a young teacher. In Texas, she’d been the only Sikh in her school district, so it seemed almost surreal in New York to regularly see Sikhs walking down the street.

In time she became involved with Sikh Coalition, eventually moving into her current role as education director, in which she develops presentations on Sikhism and trains presenters.

She is working to promote the integration of Sikhism into school curriculums. Two states, Texas and New Jersey, require Sikhism to be taught in school alongside the other world religions. The New Jersey State Board of Education voted to include Sikhism in the curriculum in 2009; Texas, in 2010.  Getting states to adopt it into their curriculum is a long and laborious process.  Petitions have to be signed. Letters to the boards of education have to be written.  Speeches have to be given at board meetings. One-on-one meetings must be held.  The curriculum must be revised and standards must be changed.  This process can take up to a year in a single state.  Manbeena hopes once a few states start teaching Sikhism, more and more will naturally adopt it on their own.

Inderjit Chhatwal, another volunteer presenter, came to America at age 26. He said he got curious, scared looks over the years because of his turban and beard, but that those looks never bothered him.  A self-described extrovert, Inderjit said he enjoyed being the center of attention.  He saw being Sikh and having a distinct external identity as a positive.  “The CEO in my company knows me by name.  If I wasn’t a Sikh, he wouldn’t remember.”

Even after 9/11, when some young boys in the subway taunted at him, “Bin Laden, Bin Laden,” he responded with a lighthearted, “Are you scared of Bin Laden? I’m not.”

While Inderjit let such incidents roll off his back, he saw others around him struggling with the negative perception brought about by 9/11.  He asked himself what he could do beyond writing a check every year to the Sikh Coalition, so he signed up for the Presenter’s Course.

A Sikh man who chose to remain anonymous explained why he chose to stop wearing his turban and beard after 9/11.   At the time of 9/11, he had worn the turban for all of his 32 years and had never cut his hair.

He was working the late shift at Barnes and Noble in Manhattan in 2001, and had to commute home at night from Penn Station to New Jersey. The late-night train, he said, became increasingly difficult. He’d often get jeers from rowdy groups of late-nighters coming back from sports games—they’d shout things like “towelhead,” “Osama,” and “Go back to your country.”

Before 9/11 he had also gotten occasional discriminatory remarks, but much more rarely. In late 2001, he felt he had to make a choice: “cut my hair or get a new job.”

While his family was supportive, he said “it came as a shock” to everyone, including himself.

The man was no longer an outsider on the train.  The taunting stopped. But he felt like an outsider in a different setting—in his own community.

“Every Sunday I go to the gurdwara and think I should grow my hair back,” he said.  He feels like he’s missing a part of his identity.

He frequently feels like he “never should have stopped” wearing his turban and long hair.

“I feel I need to wear a turban as a Sikh—that’s how I was born,” he said.

He may grow his hair again—but he wants to make sure he’s fully committed. “My wife says I can’t just put it back on and then take it back off again,” he said.

Inderjit said his Sikh presentations are largely received positively, aside from a few students who “try to throw you off to appear cool.”  He believes most people “just want to know, they’re just curious.”

Gigi Shupp and Debbi Shriner, teachers at the Orange Avenue School in Cranford, New Jersey, invited Savraj Singh to come for their Diversity Day.

Before he spoke, the teachers handed out blurbs on who was speaking.  Some students, they said, made comments about “a terrorist coming. Afterwards, though, the students chatted about how good he was, remarking about how he had never cut his hair.  Students also wrote him letters afterwards. One wrote she was glad to learn that Sikhs see their turbans as a symbol of helpfulness.

They realized, Shupp said, that “he’s an all-American boy who wears a turban.”

Bradley Olman, a teacher with Union Beach Schools, said Savraj’s presentation had a similar effect on his students.

During the presentation, Olman said, students kept asking about what he did for fun.  “Was he like a regular person? Did he play ball? Did he have brothers and sisters?  They were really curious about what he did, whether he was sort of like them or their dads or their moms or their older brothers,” he said.  “I think they got to see that he was a person just like them.”

Olman believes in the power of bringing “real people into classrooms.”  He said it is hard for one to hold a grudge against any group when he or she has actually met a member of that group.

Another volunteer presenter, Inder Kohli, spoke about Sikhism last October at First Presbyterian Church in Rutherford, New Jersey.  Linda Zinn, an elder, said the presentation was a part of their interfaith programming as well as a response to the Wisconsin shootings.

“I loved that one of the first things they list under their philosophies is that they believe that there is only one God and that it is the same God for all religions,” she said.

As congregation members chatted together after the presentation, a common question was “Do you have to be Indian to be Sikh?”

“Obviously, their message resonated,” Zinn said.

Growing up Sikh in America

Inder, the presenter that day, said that the younger generation faces the most challenges in fighting ignorance and bullying.  He has a 7 year old, and says whenever his son changes schools or camps, he gets questions about his appearance. Once, some kids asked the young boy if he was born with the turban on his head.

Inder hopes his son senses his father’s confidence in his identity as he gets older. “I hope he takes it from me and is comfortable with who he is,” he said.

Though his son has not encountered an incredible amount of resistance on account of his appearance yet, Inder said,  “I’m expecting that may happen.  It’s important to make him feel comfortable right now.”

“I don’t want to make him feel he is different,” Inder said.

Gurmeet Sodhi, a television personality, Sikh activist, and mother of three, felt a particular pang when one of her sons was bullied in school.

Gurmeet came to America from India when she was 12.  While she was outgoing and popular back in India, in Long Island she found people were unwilling to accept her because she was “different.”

Like many young Sikh girls, Gurmeet wore her long hair in braids as a child.  Her classmates would call her names like “Little House on the Prairie” and “Pippi Longstocking,” names that came from stories unfamiliar to her at the time.

“They would tape little posters and faces up on my locker.  And I didn’t know what it was,” she said.  “I would leave them up because I thought someone was giving me cards, and then they would make them into little paper balls and throw them at me.”

Even after she, her parents, and her aunts and uncles approached the teachers and administration, nothing changed, she said

Years later, when Gurmeet had her own children, now 15, 12, and 11, she felt she was much stronger and more comfortable in her identity.  She always sought to instill in her own children a sense of pride in their religion and culture, and was shocked when her son was teased in first grade for wearing his turban.

“I knew I would never let this happen to my kids because I knew what it felt like,” she said.  “I always made them very comfortable and vocal in their religion, so I just never expected it.”

Gurmeet resolved to do everything in her power to never let the bullying happen again. “I raised enough ruckus in the school. I was in the principal’s office, in class, all over the place, asking them, how did they let this happen?”

From then on she joined every PTA organization and took every opportunity to be the class mom.

Gurmeet takes her children to a variety of Sikh Coalition functions, in an effort to expose them to their culture and to expose them to the hardships some other Sikh students go through.

“If someone asks them, they are very comfortable telling them who they are, and if someone bullies them, even then they know how to answer,” she said. “They don’t get mad, they don’t fight. They very calmly will explain.”

Today, Gurmeet said, her children “are so comfortable with their religion, it’s unbelievable. They don’t see themselves different anymore.”

Indu Singh, the mother of the two Sikh boys who endured the incident in the Frankfurt airport, said, “It is not easy having kids who look different.” She and her husband are always aware they are immigrants, and accordingly, are “a little more aware so that we don’t stand out,” she said.

Her sons, who have grown up here, see themselves first as Americans.  “That’s what they are,” she said. She said the boys have adjusted well to any attention they get from their Sikh turbans.

While the boys’ first airport security incident was traumatic for the children, today their treatment in airport security has become a bit of a family joke.  Indu says her husband and her boys are screened every time they go to the airport, and that she herself has been screened several times.

“It’s amusing now,” Indu said. “We know we’re going to be picked.”

Her son, she said, has a shirt with major cities designated by airplanes. The shirt reads, she said, “I was randomly searched at all these airports.”

Still, there have been some challenges along the way.  When her oldest son Manmeet was growing up, he played on a traveling club soccer team.  At one game, the referee asked to check Manmeet’s ID. The referee told the coach that Manmeet couldn’t play because “there was something on his head.”

Manmeet’s team rallied around him.  The coach was “livid,” she said, and Manmeet’s teammates refused to play unless Manmeet was allowed on the field.

The game was stalled for a few hours, and in the end, Manmeet was allowed to play. But it was frustrating, Indu said, for her son to experience “these problems all because of his appearance.”

Her younger son Nirvikar plays tennis on his 9th-grade team at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, and he enjoys the distinct identity his turban gives him. People remember him on the tennis court because his turban makes him stand out.  “It’s really nice to be unique,” he said. “I’m the only Sikh in my school, so everybody knows me as the kid who’s a Sikh.” Wearing a turquoise patka (a bandana or “underturban” that young Sikh boys wear) and sweatshirt with turquoise stripes, he added with a smile, “I also get a lot of compliments about how I match my turban with my outfit.”

Other Sikh students say, similarly, that their turbans help them stand out.  Jaskirat Singh Viij, a 9th grader at South Brunswick High School, plays the trumpet.  “When I play solos at school I play in front of a really large audience. A lot of people play solos, but when I play solos they remember me because I have a turban,” he said.

Namit Satara, a student at Horace Mann High School, said he had experienced some bullying as a result of his turban.  When he was in 7th grade, he attended a friend’s bar mitzvah at Yankee Stadium.  A classmate pulled off his turban and ran away with it.  While a security guard caught the classmate, Namit, crying, was deeply upset by the incident.  Back at school, he didn’t tell any of his teachers about the incident.

“I didn’t want to deal with the process afterwards,” he said.

He said negative responses are common for Sikhs.  “Anyone [Sikh] who’s been around since 9/11 has been called Osama,” he said.

Today, though, Namit describes himself as “fully comfortable” in his Sikh identity.  He proudly sports shirts from Turban.inc with slogans like “Hottest Turban” and “Sikhs in the City.”

Nirvikar said some students occasionally make negative remarks to him.  “I sort of deal with them by educating my peers about my religion instead of just ignoring them or coming back with something meaner to say to them,” he said.

Indu hopes her sons carry the outward Sikh appearance with them into adulthood.  “Now they are respectful of our wishes,” she said.

“Where is the joy if every country, every human race doesn’t have identity?” she asked.

She told a story of a cardiologist friend of hers.  For about 15 years, the Sikh doctor did not wear his turban and beard for the sake of his practice.  His sons, however, did wear turbans.

When a patient asked him why his sons wore turbans and he did not, the doctor responded that he was concerned the turban would make his patients uncomfortable.  The patient told him to “try us out,” Indu said.

He did, his patients responded well, and today, she said proudly, he is a “fully turbaned, bearded Sikh.”

Indu believes in the value of “connection, principles, upholding religious principles.”

“Everyone down the road respects you for who you are,” she said.

Balpreet Kaur, the Sikh woman whose photo was posted on Reddit, was raised in a Sikh family but didn’t become deeply invested in the faith until high school.  She learned more about the religion and began embracing its ideals.  One aspect of Sikhism Balpreet especially loved was its emphasis on equality.

It is uncommon for Sikh women to wear turbans or let their facial hair grow, but Balpreet questioned this for herself.  “Sikhism talks about total equality.” She asked herself, if men wear a turban, why shouldn’t she?

“All of my decisions have been impulsive,” she said.  She decided to wear the turban and has never looked back.

Going to college, Balpreet said, was a challenge because no one knew her or understood why she looked the way she did.  People wouldn’t say anything, but there were constant stares.

While she reacted initially by “hiding” in her room, she eventually decided that she had a responsibility to be open.  She maintained her outward Sikh identity because, as she explained, “when you really struggle for something, you know the value.”

Balpreet said her decision to keep her turban and hair makes her “a minority within a minority.”

But sometimes you make decisions, she said, “because that’s what your heart is telling you to do.”

For Balpreet, Sikhism showed her “an endless pool of potential in myself.”

“I was looking for a sense of belonging,” she said. “[Sikhism] gave me something to believe in, and I started to believe in myself.”

She is optimistic about the future of Sikh awareness in America.  “This year has been big for Sikhs. There was a Sikh on American Idol [Gupreet Singh Sarin], a 100 year old Sikh marathon runner [Fauja Singh].  People are becoming conscious of our community.”

“We can only move forward,” she said.  “A lot of things are in store for us as a community.”

Knowledge Moving Society Forward?

Sahaj Kohli, a college student at Rutgers, said he did get teased some growing up Sikh in school. He asked a couple people from his gurdwara to come to his school and give a presentation.  “As soon as they found out, they were a lot better at handling it.  I didn’t get teased as much.  Knowledge paves the way,” he said.

When asked if he thinks people are getting more tolerant in general, Sahaj said he felt that education was more prominent in society now. Thinking back to the Sikh temple shootings last August in Wisconsin, he added, “But then stuff like Wisconsin happens which makes you question it.”

Suhavi Kaur Chhabra, a freshman in high school, said she wants people to realize the importance of treating everyone equally. “After 9/11, people thought that everyone who wears a turban is a terrorist, but no, that’s not true. Everyone who wears a turban is just the same as everyone who doesn’t wear a turban, there’s no difference between white and Sikh, no difference between Indian and African,” she said.

Gurmeet Sodhi describes becoming a Sikh presenter as “the best thing I’ve ever done.”

When Gurmeet does Sikh Awareness Presentations at schools today, she always asks students to close their eyes and imagine what she looks like.  “Because I don’t sound different, my pronunciation is no different than theirs.”  She then asks them to think in their mind of a brother, sister, or cousin–someone younger and dear to them.  She tells the students to imagine if that person came home and told them about being bullied or abused at school.

“I ask them that question, and all of a sudden they look at me in a brand new way, they sit there and they listen to what I have to say,” she said.

Gurmeet has presented to over 5,000 students. If a presentation comes up, she does not think twice about whether she can do it.  “There’s no option.  If I have a presentation tomorrow, my whole day will change to fit that presentation.”

“Even my kids know this, this is something I prioritize over everything,” she added.

“You’re giving a voice to someone who might never have the courage to stand up and speak for themselves,” she said.