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USA Rowling Gives Starring Role To Sikh Family In New Novel


Jun 1, 2004
J.K. Rowling whose new novel, The Casual Vacancy, features a Sikh family at the heart of its plot has said that she has been deeply influenced by Sikhism because of its stress on gender equality.

So, when she thought of introducing a “family of colour” in a predominantly white setting of her novel, “they had to be Sikhs.” It was her way of paying tribute to Sikhism.

Speaking to the BBC as the book was launched on Thursday, Ms Rowling said what attracted her to Sikhism was its "egalitarianism".

“It’s an amazing religion. My interest was sparked years and years and years ago when I was still in my twenties – and a girl I worked with briefly came from a Sikh family. We only ever had one serious conversation on the subject but it has stuck with me. She told me about the fact that men and women were explicitly described as equal in the holy book and that women are not excluded from any part of religious rites or observances. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

The reason she wanted to have non-white characters in her novel though it was set in “very white place” was because she thought it was an “interesting way” to examine certain social attitudes in a novel that was about “exclusion, prejudice and divisions.”

The first reviews of the novel, billed as the biggest publishing event of the year, have been less ecstatic than the hype that preceded its release with more than a million copies sold even before its launch.

Most critics described Ms. Rowling’s first novel for adults as “workmanlike” and lacking the magic of her Harry Potter books. Some were put off by its pedestrian prose. The Guardian pointed out that there was “often a sense that the language is not quite doing what she wants it to do” while The Independent criticised it for its “fussy class geography and wheezing plot-motor.”



Aug 17, 2010
World citizen!
Sikhs bristle at JK Rowling’s ‘hairy’ female character

CHANDIGARH: A baptised female Sikh student character, derided by her friends for hair on her body in JK Rowling's latest novel 'The Casual Vacancy', has earned the author a rebuke from Sikh's highest temporal seat, Akal Takht. Its representative body, the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), has sought removal of the text and an apology from Rowling.


Rowling, whose latest novel has been written with a Sikh family at the heart of its plot, has a character, Fats, describing his classmate Sukhvinder as "mustachioed, yet large-mammaried, scientists remain baffled by the contradictions of the hairy man-woman" on page 120. While describing Rowling's choice of words as "a slur on the Sikh community and provocative", SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar said the author must apologize or remove the text from her book in India or face action.

"Even if the author had chosen to describe the female Sikh character's physical traits, there was no need for her to use provocative language, questioning her gender. This is condemnable," said Makkar. He refused to say what action the body was planning. A paragraph before the Sikh student's physical description reads even more slanderous, "'The great hermaphrodite sits quiet and still,' murmured Fats, his eyes fixed on the back of Sukhvinder's head."

Social media incident involving American Sikh girl
The controversy comes close on the heels of an incident involving an American Sikh student Balpreet Kaur, who was mocked for her sideburns and a beard after her pictures were posted on a social networking site, Reditt. Kaur, a neuroscience student, had said: "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's 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." She had written this back on the thread on the site.

Rowling, while launching her book on Thursday, said that she had admitted to using ample research on Sikh religion. She said she had been deeply influenced by Sikhism because of its stress on gender equality. "It's an amazing religion. My interest was sparked years ago when I was still in my 20s — and a girl I worked with briefly came from a Sikh family."


Has anyone read the book?


ੴ / Ik▫oaʼnkār
Dec 21, 2010
_/|\_ SatNam

What is the best novel with Sikh characters you would recommend someone read?

Nam Jiwan :singhbhangra:
namji{censored}aur ji I will say "The Lion King" lol

The Lion in the character is like a Singh/lion and Nella is much like a Kaur/Lioness. Best of all these are as natural as a Sikh wants to be in respecting creator's benevolence when we are so created. To tell you the truth I could even relate to some of the characters to how some of our extended Sikh family members were or are.



Nov 14, 2010
Sat Nam

Ambarsaria ji

Now I'll have to watch Lion King again. I love the movie. And I see what you're saying. The noble and wise singh and kaur.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/-pgZtzDj_7o" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Nam Jiwan
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Aug 17, 2010
World citizen!
The Truth About the New J K Rowling New Book:
The Casual Vacancy

<small>T. SHER SINGH</small>

J K Rowling's "The Casual Vacancy" has been selected sikhchic.com's BOOK OF THE MONTH for October, 2012

I recall when I was studying for my Master’s - eons ago! - and was working on my thesis on Shakespeare, that we often moaned over the shallowness of the technique used by a scholar who was widely touted by much of the North American academia.

Caroline Spurgeon had gone through every word Shakespeare was supposed to have written, and counted the number of times certain key-words and images had been used by him throughout his career.

Thus, not only did she list the times the word ‘dog’ had been used, but then went on to count how often each different canine specie had been mentioned.

Same with birds, flowers, etc., etc.

The purpose was to seek out the importance and import of each imagery based on the frequency of the usage.

I am afraid the preoccupation of the media in India in recent days over the references to Sikhs to be found in J K Rowling’s new novel, “The Casual Vacancy”, has reminded me of the shallowness that disturbed us even as students several decades ago.

It is no secret that the media in India is shallow and governed by narrow, parochial and vested interests. But this one hits a new low.

It is also no secret that India’s media will spare no energy or ink in its attempt to trivialize anything that appears on the world scene which is even remotely pro-Sikh. The envy and jealousy of the Sikh has indeed become visceral to the Indian character, to the point of it having turned pathological.

In view of the glee with which they have attempted to distort the truth and put words into the mouths of Sikhs, I have done two things:

- I drove 70 km each way to the nearest bookstore over the weekend and picked up a copy of “The Casual Vacancy” - I was not going to wait to read it in the normal course.

- I then sat down and did something that the ho{censored}, mischief-laden voices in India are not wont to do: I read the book.

But I’m not going to give you a full review of the book. Others have done a great job in analysing it and pointing out that it is indeed a marked departure from Rowling’s earlier writings, as it was intended to be; that it may or may not be her best work, but nevertheless reflects her genius.

My purpose today is to review the book with the sole purpose of looking at it, in Caroline Spurgeon and Indian-style, by examining how the Sikhs have been depicted in it.

Let me start with a summary of my findings, a sort of head-note.

J K Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy” is an excellent read. More importantly for me, it is the kind of book that I have dreamed about having the world’s prominent authors write about: with Sikh characters and references, but as a normal, ordinary part of the narrative, not in the form of lectures and essays.

I loved the book for this aspect of it in particular. I feel indebted to Rowling, on behalf of the worldwide Sikh community, for having done what I have wanted to see done all of my life, and now have finally have it in tangible form in my hands.

* * * * *

Being a minority desperate to have its stories told accurately and fully, we yearn for mainstream storytellers -- be they novelists, poets, news reporters, columnists, TV reporters, filmmakers, whatever -- to include references to us, our history, our values, our literature.

Not being trained in the art of advocacy and the science of marketing, what we want to see is long and detailed essays about ourselves, not realizing that they have no impact on the target audience. The latter, when confronted with a ’teaching moment’ merely switches off its brain, or skips the passage, or glosses over it, to hurriedly get to the meatier portions.

What works in such advocacy is casual references - education by ambush, that is - where tidbits of information are thrown in by-the-by, and the target merely laps it up along with everything else. If this happens often enough, it becomes part of his or her sub-consciousness.

Think about all that you and I know about, say, the Japanese ethos or the Chinese Panda or the Himalaya mountains. We have never studied these subjects, we can’t pin-point when and where and how we picked up information about such subjects, and yet we know enough about such topics to have a reasonable and intelligent conversation about any of them. When it becomes necessary, we know how and where to go seek further information … the groundwork has already been done.

THAT is the type of information ’bombing’ we desperately need done -- if I may borrow a term from the current media lingo.

That is what Jay Leno‘s reference did through his tangential reference to the Darbar Sahib last year.

That is exactly what J K Rowling’s book does today.

And, predictably, such attention alarms our small-minded detractors in India into a tizzy, and they go about doing the only thing they are good at: mischief through misinformation.

The only way we can counter it is through facts. Here they are:

* * * * *

A Sikh family - the Jawandas - is central to the Rowling’s novel.

It consists of the parents - both are highly educated professionals, both are doctors. Both are described as extremely attractive and intelligent. The father, Vikram, a cardiac surgeon, is the ”most gorgeous man in Pagford.”

The mother, Parminder, one of the primary protagonists, is not only a practicing doctor but a leading member of the town Council.

They have three children: Jaswant (Jazzy), the eldest - a daughter. Attractive, bright, successful. At one point she is referred to as the “cleverest girl in the sixth form.”

Next is a daughter, Sukhwinder (Jolly). She is a life-long sufferer from dyslexia. She is not as bright and successful as her siblings and is the “ugly duckling” of the family.

The youngest is the son Rajpal - attractive, bright, successful.

There is a bully in the children’s school, a character called “Fats” Wall, who - like all bullies - picks on easy targets. Sukhwinder provides him with one. For him, her unattractiveness emanates from her facial hair, and he builds on it to depict her as a hairy caricature and hounds her to distraction and great distress.

In addition to these six characters, there are, of course, a whole slew of dramatis personae, all of whom interact freely with the Jawandas, who are a well-respected and adjusted part of the community.

The novel gives us a slice of life in the community, starting with the death of a town councillor - hence, the “casual vacancy”.

Parminder is at the centre of it all - being a councillor herself.

There is drama, romance, racism, action, community dynamics, politics … and the inevitable climax.

All I can tell you without spoiling the story for you is that even though Sukhwinder suffers terribly from the taunts of the bully, the author’s sympathy for her is obvious, because she emerges at the end as a hero.

There are several references to Sikhs and Sikhism in the book.

Their strength is in that they appear to be minor, casual, scattered and included as after-thoughts, not as teaching moments.

There are references to the Guru Granth Sahib, the Darbar Sahib, to Guru Nanak, to Bhai Kanhaiya, the Kirtan Sohila, to Sikh practices … to name a few. There are also a few quotes from gurbani thrown in without any fanfare.

Everything is shown in a positive light. Even arranged marriages are labelled “unspeakably erotic” by a character.

I particularly like the casualness and lack of fanfare every time a Sikh tidbit is brought up. That is what makes them all so effective and powerful.

The net effect of the story is, unequivocally, that Sikh-Britons are full and normal members of British society, with no ifs, buts or qualifications to that fact.

It is probably the very first major novel that does that.

And THAT is what is the most significant aspect of the book for us Sikhs.

What makes that happen is Rowling’s depiction of the normalcy and ordinariness of the Jawandas. They are attractive and unattractive, just like other people. They do well and they fail, just like other people. They have fans and they have detractors, just like other people … even a bully that haunts one of them, like other people. And like any bully, he says and does hurtful things.

The Jawandas have the full gamut of trials and tribulations, like other people.

* * * * *

If by some miracle, I had the ear of J K Rowling, I would tell her that even if I could have my way, I would want NOTHING changed in the book.

I love the book as is, Sukhwinder and “Fats” Wall and the hairy upper-lip and all.

I think this is a landmark book for us. From a social engineering perspective, it changes things in the story-telling about Sikhs for ever … by moving it several notches higher.

Thank you, Ms Rowling.

* * * * *

To the good souls in India who have - pardon my French - got their **** in a knot:

If there are any of you who have the education and the intellect level to be able to read a book cover to cover, please read this one. If you enjoy it, good. If you don’t, move on to another book.

But, if you can’t read or comprehend a book of this nature, please go home or to your job or whatever you do better, and leave literary criticism to the lettered classes.



ੴ / Ik▫oaʼnkār
Dec 21, 2010
findingmyway ji thanks for posting. Great write up by T Sher Singh. He is a brilliant mind but got dogged by some personal issues over time. May he contribute more and be so blessed.

Hopefully it will get visibility and help the masses realize how pathetic the SGPC and their controlled institutions are. They ever so easily let themselves be played by their Hinduism handlers. Head in the sand and evil hearts who cannot tolerate any positive visibility for Sikhism. Unfortunately there are enough such Sikhs in high places both religious and other institutions who ever so happily let themselves be so manipulated. They have so far carried this out numerous times basing it on the assumption that masses are too stupid to see their motives and mod-us-operandi. Times are changing but changing for sure, ever so slowly.
May the new generation create better leadership both spiritual and social for the future of Sikhism and unshackle it from the clueless exploiters whose only interest is no more than selfish.

Regards. :sippingcoffeemunda:
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