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Plight of the Lower Caste People in Anand’s Untouchable

Updated on December 5, 2017
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Abhijeet is a blogger who loves blogging on management, marketing and literature topics. You can read his articles on cheshnotes.

Bakha The Protagonist in Untouchable


Lower Caste: Life on the Margins

Anand’s Untouchable ridicules the Indian caste system and the level of discrimination it has given birth to. He strikes deep at its roots to show how the caste system has given rise to oppression and ostracism. People living on the lower rungs of the society are forced to lead the life of a second category animal. Instead of being allowed to live a normal life, they are forced to stay marginalized. The author focuses on the life that the cleaners lead and how every second of their life is like hellfire. Bakha is the protagonist of the novel and through him the author explores the dreams of the people on the lower rung. The novel was criticized for its boldness but also find critical acclaim for how it touched the lives of the people whom generally nobody notices. Bakha and his family live on the fringes of the town and the society. Even if they serve an important need of cleaning people’s toilets, they are treated as a burden.

Bakha's Pain: A Vicious Cycle of Humiliation

Bakha’s plight repeats every day. Every day it is like burning in the same fire and on some days it gets worse. He has his dreams and wants to lead the life of an English Babu but every morning he has to wake up to do the same job of cleaning latrines and hearing people’s curses. The Hindu caste system is a major evil as the author highlights in this novel. It has created some social divisions that can take ages to erase even if people try to. The entire society is divided by a major line of caste above which are the upper caste Hindus and below the lower caste. A cleaner belongs to the lowest of the lower classes and is considered untouchable. He must not touch anyone above his caste since his touch will defile others. People even say that if someone is born in a lower caste the reason are the sins he committed in his previous lives. For Bakha and family, life does not change. Everyday is a day of cleaning and being rebuked. Anand has tried to highlight the courage in Bakha which have helped him keep his dreams alive. The novel also expresses an underlying anger that has been rising among the lower class people. Bakha dreams of dressing like the English Babus and playing Hockey. He also has some friends and despite being from an untouchable caste, people sympathize with him for his simplicity and honesty.

His heart tries to revolt and he wants to be free from this life. However, like a featherless bird he has to return to where his lie is. When he goes out every day to clean the toilets, he shouts “Posh Posh, Sweeper coming”. Nothing can be more humiliating for a human but to announce his arrival like that to the other people of the society. Every day he is humiliated on the roads and on his job for he does something others consider demeaning. It is his poor fate that he is born in the lowest of the lower castes. If anybody understands his poor situation and his heart then it is his sister Sohini and a few of his friends from the lower classes. Even the other lower class families that are higher than him in the caste hierarchy think of his as low and look down upon him. Anand has selected characters from the lower class that represent the social setup of the British ruled India. Waziro, Gulabo and other characters from the lower classes are an important part of the novel. They together paint a picture of India where caste is an important part of a person’s social identity.

One day Bakha is slapped in the market for having defiled an upper class Hindu with his touch. He forgets to announce his arrival and accidentally an upper class Hindu gets touched who angrily slaps back upon knowing it is a sweeper. Untouchability was a social ill which has nearly become over in India. However, in some of the remote corners, its signs have still remained. The initial step towards the eradication of untouchability was taken by Gandhi who called these people Harijans. Gandhi had understood their pain and it is why he called them the people of God. There are both painful and pleasant moments in Bakha’s life. Once he is slapped and at other times he forgets all his pain when the other lower class kids let him play with him. In the temple the priest tries to molest Sohini and then fearing that people will know, the priest cries that he has been defiled. This is also a pain difficult for Bakha to bear. Every day he feels humiliated but again is brought alive by his dreams and his energy.

Anand and Other Indian Writers in English Literature


In the British India and even before the British arrived, the lower castes were always on the receiving end. Even if they did not get to be slaves, they were still subjected to a humiliation and pain that was like slavery. Being born in the upper castes was like an honor and that in the lower castes was like a curse. People like Bakha were forced to live that curse everyday because for them there was no hope. Even their coming generations were to be subjected to the same humiliation and pain. For everyday’s work he was given a few chapattis by the residents of the town but the food always came with a rebuke that Bakha never deserved. Charat Singh gives him a hockey stick to make the poor guy happy. In Bakha’s struggle, Anand has tried to paint the picture of every small caste Indian but mainly the toilet cleaners who are treated worse than animals. Untouchability is worse than slavery. A slave knows he is a slave; an untouchable remains a slave and never knows it. It is ostracism and a punishment worse than living the life of an animal. These outcastes are humans but the Hindu society will never let them lead the life of ordinary Hindus. Lines drawn centuries ago in the name of caste are cast in stone and affect people’s status and the level of liberty and prestige they can have. Bakha’s plight is not to be over in the entire life but his dreams and Mahatma Gandhi are his hope. His poor society of Hindu people will never call him one among them. He will always belong outside the human society. Anand’s novel tried to hit upon a weakness of the Indian society that had kept it backward and far from modern ideas of education and growth.


Untouchable by MulkRaj Anand

The Character of Bakha in Mulk Raj Anand's Untouchable - Cheshnotes

© 2017 Abhijeet Pratap


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