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CLOSE TO HER ROOTS

The sikh aiming for storting

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CLOSE TO HER ROOTS: (Right) Andrea Gjestvang's photo of Prableen. The Norwegian Sikh has been instrumental in organising an annual 'Turban Day' in her country (above)

Two years after a gunman opened fire at their summer camp, the survivors are moving on. First-generation Norwegian-Indian Prableen Kaur, who was one of them, is all set to run for Parliament.

They have returned to their daily lives now. They go to school, they hang out with friends and they fall in love. They go to bed every night and look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. But something has changed. The young survivors will live on with their scars - both visible and mental - many of which may never fully heal. "

"Some have difficulties handling the easiest tasks, and many struggle to find meaning in life. On the other hand, some of the survivors have gained a stronger belief in themselves, and they appreciate being alive. "
This is the introduction to Norwegian photographer Andrea Gjestvang's One Day In History series. Her moving collection, which shows us a glimpse of how the survivors of the Anders Behring Breivik massacre have rebuilt their lives, beat off competition from 62, 000 other photographers to win this year's L'Iris d'Or prize, snapping up almost £17, 000 ($25, 000) in prize money.

One of the survivors, Prableen Kaur, is a first-generation Norwegian of Indian descent. Prableen hid by a pump house, while Breivik, dressed as a policeman, opened fire on unarmed teenagers on Utoya Island, killing 77 people. Prableen survived by lying completely still and pretending to be dead, as the horror unfolded before her. She later swam away and was rescued by a boat.

Two years after the incident which ripped through the Scandinavian country's heart, Prableen says she doesn't want to talk about that day because "it was the saddest day of my life", and says in a resolute tone, "The day does not define me and I want to talk about what I have done since then and what I seek to achieve in the future. "

All of 20, Prableen Kaur is busy preparing for the Norwegian parliamentary elections slated to be held on September 9 this year. Simultaneously, she is also pursuing a Master's degree in law from the University of Oslo.

She is formerly a deputy in the AUF in Oslo (short for Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking, or Labour Youth) and created a record in 2011 when she became the youngest person to be elected a council member in Oslo - she was among those with the highest amount of personal votes that year. This was the same year the massacre took place at an AUF retreat on Utoya.

"I never thought I would be actively involved in politics when I was younger, but my parents used to discuss the news and I remember watching news channels as a kid, " Prableen says. Discussions led to the formation of opinions and a young Prabhleen started sending her pieces to newspapers in Norway. Still in school, her opinion pieces centred on school administration.

Prableen's pride in her cultural roots stands out in her conversations. After all, it is not every day that you imagine a turbaned Sikh girl running for the parliament of a Scandinavian country.

Prableen remembers being bullied as a kid because she looked 'different', saying, "I have always dared to be in the minority. " She had always wanted to adopt the turban and gave in to her urge while visiting India in 2002. Sikh women can wear a turban, much like the male members, after a special religious initiation. After she went back to Oslo, she continued wearing the turban. This lead to an increase in heckles and jibes.

"I had chosen to look different, and I did it deliberately because I do not want other people to define how I feel or how I should look and what should I do, " she says.

In a country where intelligence officials claimed Breivik has had plastic surgery to make him look more Aryan, Prableen's choice to continue wearing the turban is a conscious and a rather bold attempt to create a space for individual choice. She is instrumental in organising 'Turban Day' in Norway, which is held on the Saturday before Baisakhi. Prableen joined the AUF when she was 15. More radical than its parent Labour Party, the AUF focuses its resources on issues like keeping Norway open to immigrants and fighting climate change.

Breivik, during his trial, reiterated that youngsters attending a summer camp were "legitimate targets". He called them "political activists" working for the "deconstruction of Norwegian society" through multiculturalism, which he insists is leading to a "Muslim invasion" of the country.

Around 10 per cent of Norway's population comprises immigrants. Making a strong case for Norway's liberal democratic values, Prableen says: "We owe it to our country to make every section of our population feel comfortable, even if they are in minority. If we are not able to do this, we will fail in achieving our goal. "

Last year, a prominent Norwegian magazine termed young people who grow up in the shadow of July 22 as "generation serious", and Prableen was pointed out as one of the representatives of this generation.
Before the events on Utoya, there had been some signs that youth in Norway were becoming alienated from conventional politics, a trend that has been seen elsewhere in Europe. According to International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Sweden, voter turnout in Norway was 76. 4 per cent in 2009, down from 77. 4 per cent in 2005 and 84 per cent in 1985.

After July 22, this has changed. Almost 40 per cent in the age bracket of 15-25 years reported that they have become more politically engaged, according to a survey by Rokkan Centre in Bergen. Prableen says this is reflected in the increased commitment in AUF.

"I think our generation is more serious, " she says. "People started taking the youth more seriously after the incident. Also the youth has become more politically active and have opinions on matters of importance like governance, education, mental health, and even subjects like the war on terrorism. "

For an idyllic country - repeatedly recognised by the United Nations as the best country to live in - life has changed since that fateful day and it seems that Norway is confronting its own demons. Breivik was sentenced to 21 years of preventive detention, a special form of prison sentence, with a minimum of 10 years and the possibility of extension for as long as he is deemed a danger to society;he will probably remain in prison for life. This is the maximum penalty in Norway.

Prableen says, "Norwegians went through a bit of soul searching when they realised that the killer was not a jihadist, but a white Scandinavian. "

Despite the magnitude of the tragedy, Prabhleen reiterates, "I am glad that we don't have the death penalty in Norway. There is a legal system which works and justice has been served. I am proud to be part of a liberal democracy like Norway. "

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