Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand Essay
Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand
The novel Untouchable describes the exploitation and abuse of the Untouchables; a caste of people in India who are named as such because of the work they carry out on a daily basis, they are involved in ignominious, polluting or unclean occupations and are considered too unclean to come into contact with. The author, Mulk Raj Anand, utilized the medium of the poem to address the mistreatment of the Untouchables using the 18-year-old male protagonist, Bahka as a voice and representative of the suppressed Untouchable people.
The story follows Bakha through a day in his life in Bulashah. A son of a town sweeper, Bahka is presented as an extremely naïve character who suffers from exposure to new influences such as the white “Tommy” who inspires his “ambition to live like an Englishman”(22). Through his role on the English barracks he develops an image of himself as superior to the other untouchables as he has higher purpose, to clean the toilets of the white man. This view is evidenced when he specified the need to guard his new English clothes from “all base taint of Indianness”(12) and fuels his view of himself as being above his fellow caste members. Such elevated views of himself lead him to seek a better was of being and an escape from his current existence.
Through the course of the story the author of the presents Bahka with three possible solutions to the indelible problem and subsequently to his self-abasement and degradation. The first of the three is offered through Colonel Hutchinson, the Salvationist, who tells Bahka that by renouncing Hinduism and choosing Christianity he can end his caste. However, Hutchinson is unable to explain the Christian faith to Bakha whose simplistic view of life entails he is unable to grasp the idea of original sin, “he didn’t like the idea of being called a sinner.
He had committed no sin that he could remember. How could he confess his sins? Odd. He did not want to go to heaven” (130). For Bakha, the benefits offered by Christianity do not offer a solution to his untouchability. To Bakha the missionary himself is not free from oppression and appears to suffer from his marriage and is therefore oppressed through an alternative means.
Next Bakha encounters Mahatma Gandhi at a public meeting. Gandhi is quick to renounce untouchability as, “the greatest blot on Hinduism” (42). However, Gandhi’s retelling of the story of the Brahin sweeper boy confuses Bakha and implies to him that even within his existence of the lowest form, he requires teaching and instruction from the higher castes. This lowers Bakha’s morale even further. Gandhi goes on to describe how the untouchables can purify themselves by “cultivating habits of cleanliness” (148). This represents a dichotomy to Bakha, as the very nature of his existence doesn’t allow him the opportunity to purify himself; the fact that he cleans up the dirt of others ensures that he can never be perceived as the high class Hindus.
The final solution presented to Bakha is done so through a poet named Iqbal Nath Sarshar who simply states, “we must destroy caste, we must destroy the inequalities of birth and unalterable vocations. We must recognize an inequality of rights, privileges and opportunities for everyone” (155).
In a similar way to Ghandi he reveals that the solution to the troubles of being an untouchable are through changing the nature of their existence and moving to a cleaner profession but, unlike Ghandi, he offers a solution… a flushing system. This, the poet claims, will free the sweepers and allow them to “assume the dignity of status that is their right as useful members of a casteless and classless society” (62). This overwhelms Bakhar, “ but presents a solution that is only possible if the oppressors themselves allow it.
It is hard to say for sure which of the solutions would have been Anand’s favored. Many critics and scholars have argued that Bakha’s meeting with the poet is utilized by Anan to portray his Marxist views. Whilst the views expressed by the poet almost certainly do appear to echo the underlying concepts of Marxism it is extremely difficult to find sufficient evidence within the story to confirm that this is truly a reflection of Anan’s preferred solution to the problems caused by issues such as caste and the Untouchables.
I personally believe that none of the solutions presented to Bakha offer him with a real solution to his problems. None of them explain the practicalities through which he can end his plight and progress to a better life. Furthermore they all fail to address the real issue at hand; the suffering and injustice of the untouchable people. Perhaps this is purposely done by the author in order to affirm the complexities of the issue and the fact that the state of oppression can only exist if the people who are being exploited can see no way out, no better life and no alternative to their struggle.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 19 March 2017