Bakha: Character Analysis in Untouchable

Also Read

Bakha—The Central Character

      Bakha is a youngman of eighteen, strong and able bodied, the son of Lakha. His father is the Jamadar of all the sweepers in the town and the cantonment, and officially in charge of three rows of public latrines. Sohini is his sister. The novel is an epic of suffering and humiliation. Bakha is not simply an individual outcaste rather he represents the entire community of the outcaste treated as untouchables and subjected to live most miserably The “Stream of Consciousness” technique gives expression to his suffering. He is the central character in the novel. The novel revolves around his character. Everything is viewed from his point of view. He is a focused character and cynosure.

Bakha’s Divinity

      As E.M. Foster writes in the Preface, “Bakha is an individual, lovable, thwarted, sometimes grand, sometimes weak, and thoroughly Indian.” He is an admirable character. He is marked for his fortitude, tolerance, humility self-respect and broad vision. Anand writes “Each muscle of his body, hard as a rock when it came into play seemed to shine forth like glass. He must have had immense pent-up resources lying deep in his body, for he rushed along with considerable skill and ability from one doorless latrine to another, cleaning, brushing, pouring Phenall.” He is healthy both physically and mentally. He is fearless and frank. He is distinguished from ordinary scavenger because of his sensitivity, consciousness and self respect. His extraordinary tolerance and humility betray this divinity. Even his worst enemy admits that he has got some elements of superiority and divinity.

His Excellence and Prominence

      Mulk Raj Anand writes, “What a dextrous workman!’’ the on looker would have said. Although his job was dirty he remained comparatively clean. He didn’t even soil his sleeves handling the commodes, sweeping and scrubbing them. ‘A bit superior to his job,’ one would said ‘not the kind of mean who ought to be doing this’. For he looked intelligent; even sensitive, with a sort of dignity that does not belong to the ordinary scavenger, who is as rule uncouth and unclean. Bakha is a member of social pariah. He suffers beyond limitation. We commiserate with him because he suffers the humiliation and tyranny which he does not deserve. His sufferings and agony are heart rending and appeal to all lovers of humanity liberty equality and justice. We admire his sense of self-respect and nobility He is conscious of the evils of casteism. He is revengeful. He can go against the caste system, tradition and hackneyed rituals. He can revolt. But he cannot fight against the dominant, powerful caste, Hindus. The circumstances are favourable. Even his own community is not well aware and conscious. They have accepted the sufferings, tyranny and cruelty as their lot. They are defeated and frustrated so they have consigned themselves to slavery and misery Bakha’s situation is that of ‘a tiger at bay’. We appreciate Bakha for his extra ordinary zeal, courage and broad vision of a morning of freedom and equality Although, Bakha is a sweeper and a scavenger. He belongs to the outcaste community He cleans dirt and filth but he maintains the purity of heart and soul. He is neither a malevolent nor a malefactor. He has no malice against any human being because he deems every soul as the image of the Almighty.

Bakha: His Passion for Fashion and Modernity

      Mulk Raj Anand portrays Bakha’s passion for fashion and modernity as, “He had long looked at that shop. Ever since he was a child he walked past the weaken stall on which lay heaped the scarlet and khaki uniforms discarded or powered by the Tommies, pith sola topis, peak caps, knives, forks, buttons, old books and other oddments of Anglo-Indian life. And he had hungered for the touch of them. But he had never mustered up courage enough to go up to the keeper of the shop and to ask him the price of anything, lest it should be a price he could not pay and lest the man should find from his talk that he was a sweeper boy” He deems English fashion as something superior. He thinks that wearing English clothes enhances one’s dignity and self-respect. Saros Cowasjee writes in this context, “Bakha’s slavish emulation of the Tommies, though comic, in his first affirmation that the life he has been compelled to live is monstrously unjust. Though he may cut a ridiculous figure as he stumps out in artillery boots, wearing discarded trousers, puthees, breaches and regulation overcoat, with a Red-Camp cigarette, smouldering between his lips, it is all the same a manifestation of his tremendous strength and courage that he should emulate the Tommies is understandable, for they treated him “as a human being” and scorned the native population for relieving themselves on the ground and on the other filthy habits. For Bakha the observation ends here, but it may suggest more to the reader who knows that the British themselves were untouchables to the Brahmins.

Bakha as Mimic

      Saros Cowasjee writes in this context, “Bakha’s admiration of the Tommies is used to other good purposes as well. It enables him to establish his identity and to escape temporarily from his sordid existence. It affords Anand an opportunity to maintain an ambivalent attitude toward his hero and to ensure him mildly when the occasion demands it. But above all it provides much of the humour in the book; there is something laughable about a sweeper who forgoes his few homely comforts for what he calls fashion and who says to himself: “I will cook like a sahib....And I shall walk like them. Just as they do, in twos, with Chota as my passion.” It is pathetic, too, when the fantasy breaks down and he realises that “except for the English clothes there was nothing English in his life.” But such moments are few, and the sahibs are a vital presence to him. He looks up to Colonel Hutchinson even though the latter has degraded himself in Bakha’s eyes by mixing with the natives. Bakha’s admiration of the sahibs persists right through the book and wavers only when he hears Mahatma Gandhi speak. The police officer at the public meeting, though clad in all the trappings which had earlier fired his imagination, seems to him at last insignificant and out of place....the representative of an order which had nothing to do with the aspirations of the people. This observation is significant. Anand seems to say that Gandhiji’s appeal was mainly emotional and that in his presence people dropped their fads and fancies and rallied around him, even though they did not, like Bakha, understand the full implications of his teachings.”

Bakha’s Obsequiousness and Gratitude

      Bakha has strong body and consciousness. He has self-respect. But he has inherited servility, submissiveness, obsequiousness and tendency to look down upon himself as a consequence of thousand years of racial and caste superiority. It is necessary to analyse the psychology of the outcaste to look deep into the fire burning in his soul. Saros Cowasjee writes in this context, “Bakha differs from the general run of sweepers in that he is clean, is a champion at all games, has principles and a sense of duty. But in his physical inability to revolt, his submission, his habitual subservience to superiors who either insult or patronise him, he one with the vast majority of the butcastes. After heredity and two thousand years of oppression have done their work on him, there are few resources left in. He goes about his job wearing the smile of humility customary among his kind. The sepoy Charat Singh’s promise to give him a hockey stick brings forth the trait of servility which he has inherited from his forefathers: “He was grateful, grateful”, haltingly grateful, falteringly grateful, stumblingly grateful, so grateful that he didn’t know how he could walk the ten yards to the corner to be out of the sight of his benevolent and generous host. The whole atmosphere was charged with embarrassment.” He felt uncomfortable as he walked away “Strange ! Strange ! Wonderful ! Kind man ! I didn’t know he was so kind. I should have known. He always has such a humorous way about him ! Kind good man ! He gave me a new stick, a brand new stick.” The cup of gratitude over-spills, and fear and doubt creep in. Could his benefactor have made a mistake? Was he absentminded? Would he ask him to return the stick? What unkind thoughts, reflects Bakha. And, he chides himself: I am mad to think that he was forgetful. So kind a person, and I think this about him. I am a fig to do that.” The following excerpt from Untouchable focus our attention on his obsequiousness and gratitude: “A hockey stick! I wonder if it will be a new one!” He thought to himself and stood smilingly with a queer humility overcome with gratitude. Charat Singh’s generous promise had called forth that trait of servility in Bakha which he had inherited from his forefathers: the weakness of the down-trodden, the helplessness of the poor and the indigent suddenly receiving help, the passive contentment of the bottom dog suddenly illuminated by the prospect of fulfilment of a secret and long-cherished desire. He saluted his benefactor and bent down to his work again.”

His Vulnerability

      Saros Cowasjee writes, “If kindness brings forth gratitude mingled with humility excessive abuse occasionally helps him to regain his strength and self-respect. Twice he thinks of retaliation: Once when he is slapped by a caste Hindu and later when his sister is molested by a priest. As such moments he appears, we are told, a “superb specimen of humanity”, his fine form “rising as a tiger at bay”. But he is a tiger in a cage, securely imprisoned by the conventions his superiors have built to protect themselves against the fury of those whom they exploit. The instinctive anger gives way and the slave in him asserts itself. ‘Untouchable! Untouchable ! That’s the word! Untouchable ! I am an untouchable !’ I have used the word ‘instinctive’, for Bakha reacts mostly by instinct, and it is no accident that the author compares him with animals like tigers, lions, elephants, bears, and apes. When Mahatma spoke about Untouchability “Bakha pricked up ears”. ‘Pricked’ indeed is the right word and few other words cair convey the same meaning.”

Paradoxical Attributes

      The coalescence of paradoxical attributes in his character gives thrust to a dual personality. There are two paradoxical aspects of his character. The first aspect reveals that he surrenders and submits himself to the superiority of the high caste Hindus. He has inherited such traits as a result of thousand years of subjugation. He deems them as invincible power. That is why he behaves like a slave. The second aspect of his character is that he has smouldering revenge and vengeance. His spirit of revolt urges him to be an open rebel of caste-ridden society hackney rituals, senseless customs, and ruthless tyranny He is strong both physically and mentally But an endless and perpetual servility has become an inseparable and indistinguishable part of his personality. His servility obsequiousness, humility and gratitude, his aggressive attribute of revolt are the main features in his character.

Correlated with Lakha

      Bakha is born in an outcaste family He was nurtured in the atmosphere of slavery. Besides the fact that he belongs to the outcaste, he does not accept his life and profession as his inevitable destiny. But his father has submitted himself to the inevitable destiny. Bakha is different from ordinary scavenger because is intelligent, sensitive and he has self-respect. He is neat and clean. He has sense of civility but Lakha is uncouh and unclean.

Correlated with Rakha

      Correlate his divine appearance with the author’s portrait of Rakha. His tattered flannel shirt, grimy with the blowings of his ever-running nose, obstructed his walk slightly. The discomfort resulting from this fatigue, assumed or genuine, due to the work he had put in that morning, gave a rather drowned, long jawed look to, his dirty face on which the flies congregated in abundance to taste of the sweet delights of the saliva on the corners of his lips.” They are not at good terms with each other. Sometimes they start quarrelling and become hostile.

Bakha’s Craving for Education

      Bakha’s passion for fashion gives a comic colour to his character but he is aware of the fact that exotic clothes can riot transform him into an English gentleman. Although he mimics their style but at the core of his being he is an untouchable—an illiterate and ill mannered sweeper. He has a desire to educate himself to transform into a better and refined being. But he cannot afford education because he is too poor to go to school. His low birth does not allow him to sit side by side with children of the caste Hindus. The caste Hindu society justify their superiority by asserting that they have earned their position by the good deeds of multiple lives. The outcastes have no privileges except to serve the caste Hindus. It is the most pathetic and excruciating situation that Bakha can not substantialise his craving to educate himself because he belongs to the untouchable.

Bakha’s Grief and Agony

      An endless sequence of tyranny and cruelty and injustice has turned him anti-caste Hindus. He is eager to voice his protest but he has his own limitations and vulnerability. His birth in an outcaste family makes him defenceless. Being an outcaste boy he cannot think of justice and equality He has to accept every act of injustice done by the caste Hindus as the will of the Amlighty (or destiny). Besides he submits to cruel and unjust traditions and rituals, his conscience does neither accept nor surrenders to social injustice. R.S. Singh writes in this context, “He experiences human emotions quite like others but he is always socially denied opportunities to express them. He forgets all humiliations suffered during the day when he is offered a cup of tea by the Havildar. But when he is condemned for showing love to the child he feels damned. When he is slapped by a man for polluting him, he shivers with wrath.

      “The strength, the power of his giant body glistened with the desire for revenge in his eyes while horror, rage, indignation swept over his frame. In a moment he had lost all his humility he would have lost his temper too, but the man who had struck him below had slipped beyond reach into the street.” Besides, his physical strength, intelligence, sensitivity and self-respect, he finds himself chained and defenceless because he is a sweeper.

Bakha: Prey to Social Discrimination

      E.M. Forster says in the forward to the novel, “The sweeper is worse off than a slave, for the slave may even become free, but the sweeper is bound forever, born into a state from which he cannot escape and where he is excluded from social intercourse and the consolations of his religion. Unclean himself pollutes others when he touches them. They have to purify themselves, and to rearrange their plans for the day. Thus he is a disquieting as well as disgusting object to the orthodox as he walks along the public roads, and it is his duty to call out and warn them that he is coming. No wonder that the dirt enters into his soul and that he feels himself at moments to be what he is supposed to be. It is sometimes said that he is so degraded that he doesn’t mind, but this is not the opinion of their who have studied his case, nor is it borne out by my own slight testimony.” Bakha is vanquished or defeated. The more he is humiliated, the more his potentiality rises. Bakha’s protest against social discrimination cannot bring any revolution. He is an individual. He does not have favour of his own community while others have resigned themselves to the oppression and injustice, Bakha is optimist. But he has also accepted the existing social order because he cannot fight against the powerful caste Hindus.

Bakha’s Social Consciousness

      R.S. Singh writes in this context: “Notwithstanding the fact that confrontations between Bakha and his society are significant, what is remarkable about Untouchable is that it concentrated attention on Bakha’s mind, the theatre of tensions and conflicts, in place of the world of external details. Very skilfully the novelist has avoided physical encounter between the hero and his adversaries. He has focused his camera on the ever widening social awareness of the raw youth and lingered a trifle too long on the futility of his protest against the conservative but strong society The dominant sense of futility is not a consequence of inertia, or ignorance, or even defeatist mentality; it is an outcome of honest, therefore, realistic, appraisal of his milieu and the moment in history to which he was born to act.”


      Bakha does have natural sexual urge. He becomes erotic when he thinks of Ram Charan’s sister with whom he shared his childhood. He paints an imaginary naked portrait of her. He enjoys the orgasm with her imaginary picture. Again he comes out of his phantasy. He is remorseful and compunctious. Bakha’s sexual urge arises up when he stops to see a scantily dressed woman in picture. A Sikh rebukes him and asks him to move away Bakha’s mother died when he was a young child. But he has a complex involving undue attachment to his mother, hostility to his father. It is a case of Oedipus Complex. Sometimes he is obsessed with incestuous feelings and emotions regarding his own sister Sohini. He seems to be apathetic to his father because he is as good as dead, a putrefying corpse. But his mother, though no more, pervades his memory.

      Bakha’s physique is distinctive. He has broad intelligent face, graceful torso, heavy buttocks. He looks adonis. His sexual urge is natural. But it becomes indecent satyriasis when he thinks about his own mother and sister.


      In brief Anand has given us one of the immortal characters of literature. The novelist has projected profound psychological insight in the portrayal of Bakha. He is aware and conscious of the social discrimination and injustice. He has the elements of revolt and protest but he has inherited servility and humility as a consequence of thousand years of racial arid caste discrimination. He is a tiger at bay. He has been deprived of fundamental human rights. Bakha is also a human being. He has the same blood in his veins as others. If we co-operate with Bakha, he can rise to great heights.

Previous Post Next Post