Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand

Critically examine how Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable is an upper caste’s benevolence towards the downtrodden.

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At its core Untouchable is a tale about class struggle. The paralyzing and polarizing differences between the various caste levels shape Bakha’s day and fuel the narrative. Class and caste play a role in every interaction Bakha has over the course of his day. When his hero Singh speaks with him in the morning, it is with a “grin [that] symbolized six thousand years of racial and class superiority.” When Singh promises to give Bakha a hockey stick, he calls forth a “trait of servility” embedded in Bakha that he inherited from his forefathers. Bakha is “queerly humble” and passively content like a “bottom dog” (Anand 31). This is clear example of how caste levels and what they symbolize about your station in life can be internalized and then manifested in your personality and demeanor.

Inter-caste inequality is not only about personal interactions. It is fueled by a set of rules that limits the lives and rights of outcastes, particularly the untouchables. For example, the outcastes are not allowed to draw their own water from the public well because this would make the water polluted in the eyes of the upper-caste Hindus. They must prevail upon the charity of higher-caste people drawing water to share some with them. Particular to the untouchables is the law of their untouchability. They must take care not to touch those of other castes, and to shout a warning about their presence wherever they go.

Though the struggle between the caste levels takes precedent in the story, intra-caste conflict also exists. Gulabo, Ram Charan’s mother, is a great illustration of this. Though she is an outcaste like Bakha and his family, because she and her family are washer people, they occupy a higher place within their shared outcaste status than the sweepers. Gulabo uses her higher station to terrorize Bakha and Sohini. Thus the stratification of the castes isn’t only an “inter” issue but also an “intra” one.