I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to share my experiences on bullying at the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. Attending this conference and meeting other people affected by bullying helped me understand that I am not alone in this struggle. Although there is a lot of work to be done to stop bullying in schools, there are a lot of people around the country fighting this very serious issue.
I grew up in Richmond Hill in Queens, and ever since I can remember, I’ve been treated differently. It wasn’t exactly bullying – that started in elementary school – but the other kids didn’t like me very much. I stood out from the rest of them because my joora made me look different. When I got to elementary school, they used to call me “egg head.” Or they would ask me, “What’s inside there? Is it a potato?” Sometimes my mom would come to school to defend me, but she wasn’t able to do much, because she isn’t fluent in English. Loneliness just became a part of my life.
After 9/11, things became much worse. Kids called me names, and would ask me things like “Are you related to Osama bin Laden?” or “Is Osama bin Laden your uncle?” They called me a “terrorist” or “terrorist’s son.” The kids on the bus used to look at me awkwardly, so I tried to avoid looking at them as much as I possibly could. I would just hide. Once on the bus ride home, someone pulled my patka off my hair. I couldn’t do anything; I was helpless. No one was there to stand up for me, and I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. My mom was the one who did my joora, so I didn’t know how to fix it myself. I had to walk home with my patka off, and my joora open, which was very embarrassing. I was crying, and wondering what I could do.
This conference allowed me the opportunity to hear President Barrack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama speak on bullying in schools. I discovered that President Obama was also bullied when he was in school, and I realized that I am not alone in my experiences. They both sent a strong message to the country, saying that they take bullying issues seriously.
I also met with other students who are working to address bullying issues in their own schools. One particular individual was Duong Nghe Ly, a kid my age who had joined with other Asian students at his school to fight bullying there. Duong and I were placed in the “In-School Policy” group to have a discussion on bullying. Others in the group included psychologists, professors, parents and other experts on bullying. One mother spoke about her child committing suicide because he could not handle the bullying he experienced. It was difficult hearing about the distress her child had faced. The mother was very strong and I pray that she never faces another situation like that again.
When it was my turn to speak, I introduced myself and explained how I was a youth member of the Sikh Coalition. I then shared one of my bullying experiences in high school where my classmate dumped soda all over my patka. After sharing my story I suggested that the schools should educate students on all religions including Sikhism, Islam and Judaism so that all students understand who we are and the values that we believe in. .
After the conference, I ran into KalPen Modi (former star on TV’s “House” and the Harold & Kumar films) on my way out of the White House! I was thrilled to see him, but even more so when I later learned that he had had a role in helping me get invited to the conference.
I would like to thank the Sikh Coalition for giving me this opportunity. This experience meant a lot to my family and me. My mother, who has always supported me, was the happiest person there. I hope to continue to fight against bullying everywhere. There is a long way to go toward eradicating it completely, but I want to reach out to Sikh students to reassure them that there is hope and help available. There is no limit to what you can do!