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.”

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