Social Injustice & Humanism in The Novel Untouchable

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What does Humanism Mean?

      Humanism stands for love of human beings with all its strength and weaknesses. It is a system which puts human interests and the mind of man paramount, rejecting religion. It means belief in humanity but not the divinity of Christ (or other prophets); devotion to human interests or welfare; a belief or outlook emphasising common human needs and seeking solely rational ways of solving human problems and concerned with mankind as responsible and progressive intellect beings; an outlook or system of thought concerned with human rather than divine or supernatural matters.

      Similarly, a humanist is one who is concerned with or interested in human affairs, a pragmatist; one who gives supreme priority to equal opportunity; justice, welfare, and progress for all without discrimination and prejudice.

The Salient Features of Anand’s Humanism

      Almost all the novels of Mulk Raj Anand present him as a great humanist who is concerned with the outcastes, the down-troddens, the waifs, the oppressed and those unfortunate have-nots who have been deprived of the basic human right. His magnum opus Untouchable deals with the theme of savagery and brutality and injustice unleashed on the outcastes who are condemned to live in polluted and contaminated surrounding. They are treated as dogs and pigs. Untouchable, Coolie, Two Leaves and a Bud and the trilogy (consisting of The Village, Across the Black Waters, and The Sword and The Sickle) project Anand as a humanist. He is pre-occupied with human concerns, he has a mega vision of progressive society or nation with total development and welfare free from hackney codes of religion and fanaticism. Anand is not only a great humanist but a great novelist with a mission also. All his novels are centred on the have-nots, the children of Lesser God, the victims of injustice and exploitation. As a matter of fact he self-motivated and inspired to aware the affluent and powerful people of society of their responsibilities towards the victims of poverty exploitation, and injustice. The author’s spirit is persistent reformer. He is steadfast, patient and perseverent. He is not fighting with modern lethal weapons. It is rather an intellectual and ideological pursuit to bring honour and justice to every victim. His conscience does not allow him to surrender before the social evils prevailing in a society dominated by caste Hindus. His novels have raised protest against all social evils in all possible dimensions.

      Anand’s humanism has neither innovation of concept nor is an exception. His humanism can be summed up as the highest reality in the world is man and man is the centre of supreme reverence. Even God cannot surpass him. He is the creator and destroyer of the world. There is no reincarnation or rebirth and life hereafter is an illusion. Religion is a matter of individual preference. Man surpasses angels and deities in excellence. So man should be aware of his total potential for a complete and successful life. The destination can be achieved by the acceptance of the codes of equality between men and women, observing the brotherhood of all men. Every man should be entitled to enjoy social, economic, political and intellectual freedom. Any system or ideology or philosophy which encourages the exploitation of men, such as, capitalism, colonialism, fascism, feudalism, communalism, casteism, and racism must be annihilated. The success mantras through which man can attain his desire and goals are: a system of education engineered to enable every man to exploit his potential to the utmost; art must be meant for life’s sake and scrupulous and conscientious and benevolent use of modern science and technology must be encouraged.
(M.K. Naik)

      Anand’s Weltschmerz for the Pariahs
Anand’s humanism and weltschmerz emerge from his “consciousness of the need to help raise the untouchables, the peasants, the serfs, the coolies and other suppressed members of the society; to human dignity and self-awareness in view of the abjectness; apathy and despair in which they are sunk. He is a crusader in the cause of humanity; he writes not for art’s sake, but for the sake of man, for refining and ennobling him, for stirring up the dormant stores of the tenderness in him for his fellow human beings and for inspiring him into action calculated to achieve the well-being of mankind as a whole. He has always written to emphasise the essential dignity of man despite his weakness and to engender compassion in the hearts of men for the oppressed and the down-trodden.”

      Anand’s humanism, his altruistic concern for the outcaste and the victims of social savagery, brutality and barbarism is manifest from all his novels, but Untouchable, Coolie and Two Leaves and a Bud are extremely significant in this context. In the novels, Anand deals with the torment and tribulation and throes of the poor and their endeavours for a happy and prosperous life, life with human dignity and self-respect. All his novels are a variation of the same theme of exploitation and injustice dealing with the plight of the wretched peasants and have not crumbled under the burden of their own lives who are too debilitated, and vulnerable fight against superstition, hackneyed traditions and rituals in human society Paul Verghese remarks, Untouchable is a socially conscious novel, whereas Coolie is a politically conscious novel. Coolie tells the story of Munoo, an orphan, who suffers from the time he leaves his village in the Punjab till he dies of consumption in Shimla. The novel thus comprehends the whole of India spatially. Untouchable is concerned with the feelings of Bakha, a sweeper boy and his experiences in the course of a single day in the town of Bulashah. Both novels, however, focus the attention of the reader on certain very important social and political problems affecting life in India. So world of the novel is a microcosm of India. These two novels, it cannot be denied, have served the useful purpose of arousing the conscience of the educated Indians to the problem of untouchability and economic and social injustice in India.

Denouncing the Humiliation of the Outcastes

      The evil of untouchability in India has an ancient history. It originates from the Hindu caste system which classifies the Hindu community in four groups or sects, they are the Brahmins, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya and the Sudras. The Brahmins are supposed to be the highest among them, commanded profound reverence and veneration. The Kshatriyas represented the warriors who deployed to defend against foreign aggression. The third in hierarchy of caste system is represented by the Vaishyas consisting of the business communities and producers of wealth and the means of life. The Sudras, represente lowest of all in the social hierarchy consisting of workmen and labourers who are assigned to perform lowest degree of works. They were sweepers and scavengers regarded as untouchable because they had to clean dirts and public toilets. It was a common belief among the caste Hindus that a touch of the untouchable would pollute the caste Hindus. Untouchables were entitled for severe punishment if they committed the offense of touching a caste Hindu. The savagery and brutality of the caste Hindus seemed to be endless and ceaseless. But Gandhiji appears on the social and political horizons to defend the untouchables and champions their cause. Gandhiji does not take recourse to violence. He fights his battle peacefully to demolish and abolish this hydra-headed evil. Anand’s novel Untouchable contributed to that campaign.

      E.M. Forster writes, “The sweeper is worse off than slaves, for the slave may change his master and his duties and 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 disquieting as well as a 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 dirt enters 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 does not mind, but this is not the opinion of those who have studied his case, nor is it borne out by my own slight testimony”

      The insult and humiliation Bakha is subjected to, reach their climax, when he comes to rescue his sister from the cruel hands of a lewd and libidinous caste Hindu priest. He tries to molest her modesty but when Bakha defends his sister, they accuse him of defiling a caste Hindu by touching him. He is left dumb, embarrassed and unnerved. Untouchability wrecks another havoc when Bakha’s father was denied medicine and treatment by a caste Hindu physician when his younger brother was in critical condition and he was near to expire. E.M. Forster writes, “The solution is that of Hutchinson, the Salvationist missionary: Jesus Christ. But though Bakha is touch at hearing that Christ receives all man, irrespective of caste, he gets bored because the missionary cannot tell him who Christ is. Then follows the second solution, with the effect of a crescendo: Gandhi. Gandhi too says that all Indians are equal, and the account he gives of a Brahmin doing sweeper’s work goes straight to the boy’s heart. Hard upon this comes the third solution, put into the mouth of a modernist poet: “No God is needed to rescue the untouchables, no vows of self-sacrifice and abnegation on the part of the more fortunate Indians, but simply and solely—a flush system. Introduce water-closets and main drainage throughout India and all this wicked rubbish about untouchability will disappear”.

Anand’s Novels: Service to Humanity Through Art

      Mulk Raj Anand applied his art with a mission for the service of humanity. His ambition was to bring home to the readers, the real picture of the poor and the callousness of the affluent and simultaneously to imply that true altruism of man for man exists only among the have-nots. In the beginning of the novel Coolie Munoo realises that there are only two groups of the people in the world: “Whether there were more rich or more poor people, does not matter however, there seemed to be only two kinds of people in the world. Caste did not matter. ‘I am a Kshatriya I am poor, and Verma, a Brahmin, is a servant boy a menial because he is poor. No, caste does not matter. The Babus are like the Sahiblogs, and all servants look alike; there must only be two kinds of people in the world: the rich and the poor.”

      Anand’s art trascends the barriers of caste, creed and nation. He regards all human beings as one. He believes that economy is the most crucial factor which divides men: the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. He writes in the Preface to Two Leaves and a Bud: “It was natural after I had protected the soul of the sweeper Bakha in my novel Untouchable, and produced each wound on the heart and body of the hill boy Munoo in the folk epic Coolie, that I should record the journey of the hillman Gangu through vicissitudes of his later life, after eviction from the stony half acre in the Punjab Himalayas and his enticement as an indentured labourer to the tea estates of Assam. All these heroes as the other men and women who had emerged in my novel and short stories, were dear to me, because they were the reflection of the real people I had known during my childhood and youth. And I was only repaying the debt of gratitude I owed them for much of the inspiration they had given me to mature into manhood when I began to interpret their lives in my writings. They were not mere phantoms, though my imagination did a great deal to transform them.”


      Of course, conditions have ameliorated in our national territory since these novels were written and Anand’s novels have had played their own role in abolishing the practice of untouchability and like evils. Anand may be called the Indian version of Charles Dickens and it would be no exaggeration at all because Anand shares some common factors with Dickens. Anand as a novelist made the sordid, ugly and depressing social milieu of public and award the world community of evils of untouchability.

University Questions

Consider Anand as the champion
the underdogs.
Write a note on Anand as a humanist.
‘‘Mulk Raj Anand applies his art for humanity”. Elucidate.
Evaluate the elements of humanism in Untouchable.
Anand’s Untouchable deals with the theme of social injustice and exploitation.

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