I’ve just finished reading The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling and would like to start off by declaring that it has nothing negative to say about Sikhs or Sikhi but actually depicts a second generation British Sikh family with extreme accuracy. Pagford is a small British town yet each of its inhabitants display characteristics that tell a much bigger story of society in general. Although we meet each of the 34 main characters rather briefly, each one is fully developed in personality and emotion due to Rowling’s impeccable literary talent. The Casual Vacancy started off as a slow read but remains a rather worthwhile and eye opening one. Rowling’s book on the surface may just be about a small town and the life of its inhabitants but deep down it relays a message about how society operates. It gives us not just the black and white but a closer look in the greys as well. Throughout the book you obtain understanding of each character and what makes them the way they are. Perhaps it is the realistic depiction and authenticity of each character that causes one to reflect on life and begin to see others more humanely. Overall there is a character and struggle everyone can relate to or reflect on.
The hero of the novel dies within the first few pages. His death seems to put everything and everyone in Pagford out of balance and yet it is death again at the end of the novel that brings about calmness once more. One of the main characters, Sukhvinder Jawanda, is dehumanized by her classmates for having excessive facial hair. Furthermore, because she isn’t academically bright like her siblings she is constantly told that she isn’t good enough by her mother and largely ignored by her father. You get to read the verbal and cyber bullying Sukhvinder consistently endures and understand why she has developed such a heightened and deadly sense of self hate. Although I have never been bullied for facial hair, I read a passage in the book to a young Sikh girl who has, and she said, “That’s exactly the kinds of things they say,” in reference to the terms hermaphrodite, he-she, and hairy ape. J.K. Rowling did a brilliant job of showing Sukhvinder’s struggles that definitely make the reader reflect if they’ve ever been a bully and think twice about ever bullying anyone again.
Parminder Jawanda, Sukhvinder’s mother is a doctor and well known town council member who values Guru Nanak Dev Ji. She often keeps herself strong by remembering Gurbani tukhs (we only see the English translations) and does Kirtan Sohila every night. Her husband Vikram is indifferent to Sikhi. He is a surgeon who isn’t socially involved in Pagford but is described as the most handsome man in town with the most expensive house. Rowling shows how Sikhs are often wrongly identified out of ignorance when a drugged out Mrs. Weedon calls Parminder a Paki b**** and when Shirley Mollison assumes Parminder is a Hindu who worships “something” in a mosque. Rowling also manages to tie in Punjabi family altercations about farm land properties in Punjab and how Punjabi cultural belief in the caste system is against Sikhi. Best of all Rowling repeats the story of the Sikh saint-soldier Bhai Kanaya and how he saw God in everyone. Parminder, a Sikh who believes in this ideal, admits to having trouble practicing it. Beliefs not being followed through in actions are a shortcoming not only in myself but the Sikh community in general. I am proud to say that “the light of God shines in every soul” is one of the messages with which Rowling ends the book.
I personally feel that Rowling did an amazingly realistic job in conveying not only the Sikh family but all the families in Pagford. I do not believe that the Sikh community has any ground what so ever to complain about The Casual Vacancy and should instead be thankful that a well-known and capable author is spreading awareness about Sikhi. Any criticism made toward the book without a thorough read and grasp of the concepts is unacceptable. On the behalf of my community, I apologize to J. K. Rowling for the undeserving review she received from SGPC for her efforts. Although extremely different from the Harry Potter series, The Casual Vacancy is another literary masterpiece produced by her. Due to the depth of its content it deserves to be incorporated into required reading for high school students so that it can be commonly examined and pondered by avid readers around the world.