Humanism and Suffering of Poor in The Novel Untouchable

Also Read

Anand’s Humanism: An Instrument

      Anand is a novelist who flourished in the thirties when the freedom movement was at its climax. Gandhiji launched a nationwide campaign against untouchability. He called them Harijans, the children of God. Anand was influenced by Mahatma’s love and sympathy for the untouchables, the sufferers and the poor. During his stay in England, he came under the influence of Marx and consequently he developed an insight into humanism. His early novels are marked for voice of social protest. The theme of his early novels revolves around the oppressed and the oppressor. His novels reflect social realism which lays stress on human misery. He seems to be too involved in problems of the untouchables to show any substantial solution. He does repudiate ‘art for art’s sake’ and asserts that art should focus attention on the plight of the poor, the have nots and facilitate the amelioration of their lot. Anand has applied humanism as an instrument to dispel the darkness of ignorance, to eradicate hackneyed culture, tradition and rituals, to abolish untouchability and to give a dignified social status to the untouchables (the down trodden and the underdogs). Anand’s humanism is an instrument to express his love, sympathy compassion and respect for the untouchables.

Anand’s Unorthodoxy and Novelty

      Anand commiserates and sympathises with the wretched, and the deprived and the unprivileged class of Indian society and as M.K. Naik points out the main theme of the novel is the age-old inequity unleashed by the traditional and orthodox Hindu community upon a whole class of people within its domain. The preference of theme was a bold stroke of genius. To make a sweeper the hero of his novel was a daring, violation of the tradition of nineteen thirties. First, Indian fiction in most of the Indian languages was written about the condition of middle and higher classes and for the middle classes by middle class writers. Secondly; no writers could descend so law as to depict sweepers messing about with excrement, even when low class did enter it. Furthermore, though the average middle class Indian writers wrote about so ugly a subject but no one would have known the life of his protagonist in such intimate detail. He felt the pulse of his characters in all circumstances.

Anand’s Social Realism

      E.M. Forster remarks, “Untouchable could only have been written by an Indian and by an Indian who observed from outside. No European, however sympathetic could have created the character of Bakha, because he would not have known enough about his troubles. And no untouchable could have written the book, because he would have been involved in indignation and self-pity. Mr. Anand stands in the ideal position. By caste he is a Kshatriya, and he might have been expected to inherit the pollution-complex”.

Denunciation of Injustice and Exploitation

      In Untouchable Anand has reasonably denounced the traditional Hindu society which classifies the Hindus as the caste Hindus and the untouchable. Forster says, “The Indians have evolved a hideous nightmare unknown to the West. The belief that the products are ritually unclean as well as physically unpleasant and that those who, carry them away or otherwise help, to dispose of them are outcastes from society. Really it takes the human mind to evolve anything so devilish. No animal could have hit on it.” Anand’s condemnation of untouchability derives its effectiveness from a total control of all the aspects of this problem. He shows a sure grasp of the psychology of both the caste Hindu and the untouchable. In his dealing with the untouchables, “the caste Hindu is armed with the feeling of six thousand years of social and class superiority—a feeling which refuses to accept the fact that the untouchable is a human being, but insists on treating him like a sub-human creature, to be ignored or bullied or exploited as the occasion demands. It is this that makes the temple priest Pandit Kali Nath treat Sohini, Bakha’s sister like a juicy morsel of girlhood to be molested with impunity; and this same attitude prompts the betel leaf seller from whom Bakha buys cigarettes to fling the packet at the untouchable “as a butcher might throw a bone to an insistent dog stiffing round the corner of the shop”.

Its Brutal Consequences

      Six thousand years of social tyranny and injustice have left an indelible mark upon the untouchable’s life and psyche. They are in a cul de sac from which there is no escape. Destined to clean dung and live near dung, they have to depend on the mercy of their caste Hindu benefactor. They rush greedily for food left over by them to satisfy their hunger. Cleanliness and manners can hardly be a value in such a miserable life fed by them. It seems that there is no end to their sufferings. Untouchability has condemned them to external servility.

Bakha’s Servility

      Lakha and Rakha cannot even think of protesting and decrying this injustice and exploitation because thousand years of racial and caste superiority has subdued their ego and self-respect. They obey their orders as something ordained by divine power. They have been subjugated and subjected and treated as animals. Bakha who is far different from the herd of the untouchables is also unnerved when a cry disturbs him, “polluted ! polluted! polluted !” A shout rang through the air. He was completely unnerved. His eyes were covered with darkness. He could not see anything. His tongue and throat were parched. He wanted to utter a cry a cry of fear. But his voice failed him. He opened his mouth wide to speak. It was no use. Beads of sweat covered his forehead. He tried to raise himself from the awkward attitude of prostration, but his limbs had no strength left in them. For a second he was as if dead. “His first impulse was to. run, just to shoot across the throng, away away far away from the torment. But then he realised that he was surrounded by a barrieir, not a physical barrier, because one push from his hefty shoulders would have been enough to imbalance the skeleton like bodies of the Hindu merchant but a moral one.” He left without option. When Sohini tells Bakha about her molestation by Kali Nath, a temple priest, he advances to kill him but the next moment he was cowed back. He felt the cells of his body lapse back chilled. He relaxed and felt deprived of vigour. He wanted support. It reveals that social traditions, customs and rituals deep into the soul of a living character had transform him from bad to worse.

Anand’s Psychological Perspicaciousness

      Anand’s understanding of psychology both of the caste Hindus and the untouchables is deep and subtle. He depicts the way untouchables think and act. He paints a beautiful portrait of their unfulfilled desires and aspirations on the canvas of literature. The subdued souls of the untouchables crave for total liberty and freedom. They wish to soar very high far away from the oppressive society But whatever they dream remains unattainable. “In Bakha’s scale of values, the white Sahib is far superior to a caste Hindu, and so in his land of the heart’s desire, he would like to be not a caste Hindu but a white Sahib’, and in a less unbridled mood, his imagination sees himself at least “clad in a superior military uniform, cleaning the commodes of the Sahibs in the British barracks.”

Anand’s Impartiality and Equipoise

      Since Anand has insight into the psychology of the untouchables and the caste Hindu, his depiction of the relationship between them is impartial and equipoised. He withstands the temptation to exaggerate personal elements. Although he is caste Hindu, he has castigated the caste Hindu community for injustice and oppression. But he does not exceed the limit. He is aware of the fact that all caste Hindus are not cruel. Elements of contrast are brought to us as they exist around us. In full contrast with hypocritical priest, Pandit Kali Nath, stands Havildar Charat Singh, who is so far above caste prejudices and magnanimous and generous enough to ask Bakha to go and fetch pieces of coal from the kitchen for the hubble-bubble. He pours tea out of his own tumbler into the cup in Bakha’s hand. Bakha is overwhelmed by magnanimity of a caste Hindu and feels, “I would not mind being a sweeper all my life. I would do anything for him.” Among the untouchables Lakha and Rakha do not win our sympathy as Bakha does. Havildar Charat Singh may be an exceptional character but on the other hand Anand condemns and castigates the caste Hindus who heap abuse on Bakha for having defiled a wooden platform and throwing chapatis.

Impathetic and Unlamentable

      In the major part of the book, however, the pathos of the untouchable’s plight is revealed through telling incidents such as the pollution episode in the market, the molestation of Sohini, the incident at the well, and the like. The author’s sympathy for the victims of untouchability is pure and crystal and intense to a certain degree. But they don’t move us to cry or lament over the loss. The novel, unlike melodrama, does not monger sentiments and pathos. Impartiality and equipoise and realism characterise Anand’s treatment of the theme of exploitation and injustice. He has successfully used the novel-form as an instrument of his humanism.

Previous Post Next Post