I received a note today from an editor at New York Times indicating that they have revised their topic heading for Sikh-related stories on their website to “Sikhs and Sikhism”. Previously, the NYT categorized all stories related to Sikhs under the tag “Sikhs (Sect)”.
When I discovered that the NYT used the word “sect” to describe Sikhism, I sent their editors a short e-mail advising them that the label was inappropriate in the context of their other topic headings for other religions (no other faith was described using “sect”), and offered them the suggestion for the new label, which I’m happy they used.
Also interesting was that in their discussions about revising the label, the staff of the NYT suggested that the word “Sect” may have crept in because according to Article 25 of the Constitution of India, Sikhs (as well as Buddhists and Jains) are ironically defined as Hindus in a statement that guarantees freedom of religion. Sikhs have objected to this definition since its drafting in 1947 (when India gained its independence), but the government and judiciary of India refuse to make any amendment recognizing Sikhism as a distinct faith even in the land of its origin.
As we’ve seen in this case, this inaccurate definition has an impact not just for Sikhs in India, but abroad as well.
For the NYT and most of its readership, such nomenclature is probably a small detail, but it is important to remove any misconceptions about Sikhs and Sikhism that we find in media. Much credit goes to the staff at the NYT for researching this issue, making the adjustment, and following up with a concerned reader.