These words serve as Bakha’s wake-up call; they are the start of his day. With the insult “you son of a pig,” Lakha shows his abusive nature towards his children but is also unintentionally funny. Not only does Lakha call himself a pig, he also shows his hypocrisy when he orders his son to wake up while he remains comfortably ensconced in his bed. This quote is a prime example of the violent language motif and Lakha’s laziness.
"'A bit superior to his job,’ they always said, ‘not the kind of man who ought to be doing this.”
The “he” the onlookers are talking about is Bakha. They comment on how ill suited Bakha is for the job of the sweeper. Not because he is too small or incapable, but because the work seems beneath him. He is superior to the job; he doesn’t deserve to have such a degrading job. With the phrase “not the kind of man who ought to be doing this,” the onlookers illustrate that sweeping is a job for certain type of people, people that are inferior to the rest of society. Bakha’s outward demeanor distinguishes him from other sweepers that (from the perspective of the onlookers) deserve the punishing life of a sweeper.
“‘Kala admi zamin par hagne wala’ (black man, you who relieve yourself on the ground).”
Here the Tommies are addressing Hindu people that conduct their bathroom business in the open areas outside of Bulahshah instead of visiting the latrines. The cultural differences between the Hindus and the British are thrown into relief in this quote. Bakha believes that Hindus who relieve themselves in public should be embarrassed and shameful because anyone, especially the British, can see them and criticize them. Here we see how Bakha uses the opinions of the British as a litmus test and model for his own opinions. This is a perfect example of the rejection of Indian roots theme.
“'Keep to the side of the road, you low-caste vermin!’ he suddenly heard someone shouting at him. ‘Why don’t you call, you swine, and announce your approach! Do you know you have touched me and defiled me, you cockeyed son of a bow-legged scorpion ! Now I will have to go and take a bath to purify myself. And it was a new dhoti and shirt I put on this morning!”
The events surrounding this diatribe against Bakha is the climax of Untouchable and the novel’s major pivot point in terms of plot and literary elements. Bakha’s day and the micro-aggressions he experiences before his brush with the high-caste man all lead up to this explosive exchange. Everything that occurs after this point traces back to this run-in at the town square and/or is impacted by it. In terms of literary elements, several of the novels major themes and motifs are demonstrated in this excerpt. The high-caste man references the untouchable’s responsibility/burden when he asks why Bakha does not call and announce his approach. His aggressive, derogatory language towards Bakha is a clear example of the class struggle theme and the violent language motif.
This is the warning Bakha must shout whenever he approaches an area populated by caste people. This chant is the epitome of the untouchable’s burden and is a good example of the literary device repetition. After neglecting to call out and being soundly reprimanded for it, Bakha begins to call out his warning feverously. At this point he still shaken because of the verbal and physical attacks he received, but his responsibility to the other castes comes before his own well-being. It is arguable that the entire existence of the outcastes is one of sacrifice for the greater good. They are shunned and hated in exchange for clearing away waste so everyone can have some sort of cleanliness.
“Why are we always abused?”
This plaintive cry of Bakha’s is tragic and rhetorical. He is asking why the rest of Hindu society singles out and victimizes untouchables. This question is significant because it illustrates Bakha’s genuine despair and confusion about his life as an untouchable. Furthermore, it shows that despite what his father says and how society treats him, Bakha refuses to believe that being an untouchable makes him inferior to others, or deserving of their abuse.
“For them I am a sweeper, sweeper — untouchable! Untouchable! Untouchable! That’s the word! Untouchable! I am an Untouchable!"
The repetition of “untouchable” in this quote helps to convey Bakha’s anguish and anger regarding the slap he receives from the high-caste man. After asking rhetorically why he is abused, he answers his own question by reaffirming his status as a sweeper, as an untouchable. This quote is significant because in addition to evoking the class struggle theme it also depicts an eureka moment for Bakha. In this moment he truly realizes that to be an untouchable in Hindu society is to be a second-class citizen. Before, it was something he knew distantly, something hovering in his subconscious. Now, following the slap from the high-caste man, his untouchability is something Bakha knows intimately and consciously.
“It was a discord between person and circumstance by which a lion like him lay enmeshed in a net while many a common criminal wore a rajah’s crown. ”
Bakha is the “him” in the quote that the unidentified narrator describes. The narrator points out the unfairness and randomness of the caste system, a system under which someone like Bakha is enslaved while worse men than him live like kings. Using the image of the lion in a simile about Bakha is powerful because it ascribes to Bakha all the qualities of a lion—strength, regality, pride, etc. Alternatively, the imagery of a criminal wearing a raja’s crown (i.e., a prince’s crown) brings to mind scoundrels like Pundit Kali Nath who have high positions in society but are actually the worst kind of men.
“It was with difficulty, however, that he prevented himself from stumbling, for his soul was full of love and adoration and worship for the man who had thought it fit to entrust him, an unclean menial, with the job and his eyes were turned inwards.”
After Charat Singh asks Bakha to fill his smoking pipe with coal, Bakha is filled with awe and wonder. This is a task most people would refuse to give to an untouchable, for fear of contamination. The significance of this quote is manifold. One, it shows that not every Hindu adheres to the rigid laws of the caste system. While Charat Singh doesn’t treat Bakha as an equal, he also doesn’t treat him as if the young man is subhuman. By doing this Singh is undermining the Hindu religion in favor of his own morals and beliefs. Two, it shows Bakha’s paradoxical and complicated relationship to his sweeper and untouchable status. In some situations Bakha clearly hates being treated different just because he clears waste. In others, such as this moment with Singh, he shows that he has internalized certain prejudiced thoughts and stereotypes. For example, in this quote he describes himself as “an unclean menial," even though he takes such pains to remain clean and presentable. And three, this quote illustrates how starved Bakha is for respect and kind treatment from the people that populate his life.
“And they can do that soon, for the first thing we will do when we accept the machine, will be to introduce the machine which clears dung without anyone having to handle it—the flush system. Then the sweepers can be free from the stigma of untouchability and assume the dignity of status that is their right as useful members of a casteless and classless society.”
This passage is Untouchable’s “light at the end of the tunnel.” It paints a picture of a coming future where sweepers like Bakha and his family will no longer be needed and can perhaps find different employment. Though the advent of the flush system may not be revolutionary for Bakha’s generation because they are already untouchable in the eyes of other Hindus, perhaps life will be different for the generations to come. This passage is connected to the rejection of Indian roots theme because only by abandoning the current, traditional means of clearing waste and adopting the modern, mechanized way can untouchables have a chance at liberation from untouchability.
Untouchable Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Untouchable is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
An 18-year-old Indian youth, Bakha is a sweeper and the protagonist of Untouchable. Strong and able-bodied, he is fascinated by the life and ways of India’s English colonizers. His position as an untouchable has resulted in...
Considered revolutionary because of how it champions the cause of the untouchables and exposes India’s social evils, Untouchable was well received and highly regarded both domestically and abroad. Within India, it caused a generation of educated...