Social Protest in The Novel Untouchable

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Anand: A Novelist of Social Protest

      Anand, a prolific novelist, has written more than a dozen novels and all have brought him national and international acclaim from writers as well as critics. The most significant features of his novels are that they are focussed on ground realities of human society. They focus on pre-independence Indian society divided into the caste Hindus and the untouchables. He made his novels a canvas for painting the picture of most glaring social evils that includes untouchability fanaticism, sexual waywardness, hypocrisy poverty and child abuse. They are poignant and heart rending and win our sympathy. Anand has a soul of reformer his zeal to reform the society and liberate it from all evils, made him voice his protest through his hovels. His conscience did not allow him to remain mute spectator and moreover being a writer he has been ultra-sensitive to injustice and cruelty. He is most outstanding novelist among the whole crew of Indian writers who voiced social protest. He castigated and lacerated evil in all dimensions and magnitude and intensity. It brought him national and international acclaim, accolade.

Influences that Transformed Anand into a Novelist of Protest

      Anand came into existence in 1905 in Peshawar, 1930s were the years of political unrest as millions of people were engaged in freedom-struggle and put their darling and most cherished lives at the altar of mother India. Thousands of people were put behind the bar and hanged for demanding freedom. Anand himself had to go through several trials and tribulations. During Jalianwala Bagh incident he had to suffer at the hands of British police for breaking curfew and was sentenced for a day behind the bar during Civil Disobedience Campaign in 1921. As a result of foreigners’ ruthless savagery, Anand hated imperialism and feudalism for hypocrisy arrogance, and savage and brutal practices of casteism. He, along with his comrade used to look beyond the world of feudal landlords to the poor, malnourished, maltreated, illiterate children of lesser God. Several writers who preceded Anand, suffered poverty and pollution and they kept mute with heroic patience. They did not take the pain to pen them because the realities were too crude for a writer like Tagore (First Asian to win Noble Prize) and it was not an easy task to pen an epic in India while all the intricate problems of the individual in the new world had yet to be solved. Anand, driven by humanistic concern focussed his attention to misery and wretchedness of the have-nots, underdogs, down-trodden, and unfortunate and neglected children. His writing may appropriately be termed as ‘epic of misery’. M.K. Naik writes, “His upbringing and his intellectual development, have led him on the whole, to place greater emphasis on the need to revolt against the decayed aspects of the Indian tradition than on the acceptance and upholding of the finer elements in it. At an impressionable age he had become aware of religious hypocrisy and bigotry in Indian society and of its injustices thriving on anachronistic practices such as untouchability, or feudalism and economic exploitation of the have nots by the haves. The awareness was sure to make him a militant critic of the baser elements in the Indian tradition”.

Anand’s Characters: Symbols of Protest

      Anand has used his characters as symbolic instruments to protest exploitation and injustice in the novel Untouchable. He gives expression to his anger and anguish through characters. Anand’s characters are not extra-terrestorial or heavenly creatures or those live in optimum luxury They are real-life characters. They are life-size and they feel pain and pleasure in flesh and blood. Anand himself remarks in this regard that throws enough light on the realism and authenticity of his characters:

“All these heroes, as the other men and women who had emerged in my novels 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 the 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.”

Untouchable Condemns Inhuman Caste-system

      Anand has condemned and disapproved the inhuman caste system. He has expressed his detest and abhorrence for this savage and inhuman social practice. Bakha is a distinguished character from the very beginning for his uncommon characteristic features. He has a sense of self-respect and self-consciousness and he performs his work with extraordinary devotion, commitment and alacrity: He is quite dextrous and dynamic at work. But centuries of servility has made him static and morally degenerate. M.K. Naik remarks, “Weakness corrupt and absolute weakness corrupts absolutely” and besides giant and titanic physique he has not the courage to revenge or to protest. He submits himself to the circumstances and accepts everything as his lot although he does not approve of it. His conscience is alive and aware of the savagery and brutalism of caste system. He is conscious of his pathetic plight, and he is subject to misery and wretchedness. He could protest against the evils of society but he knows that he is alone and cannot launch a revolution because he is aware of the fact that the caste Hindus are much more powerful to crush them. Bakha of the morning is not the same as the Bakha of the evening. His life remains the same, but during the course of the day there is a sea change psychologically He has attained some measure of self-realisation and self-knowledge. But Lakha, his father, and Rakha his brother suffer but they are devoid of self-respect and self-consciousness. It is an uncommon sense of self-respect and self-consciousness which distinguishes him from his community.

Critics’ Views on Untouchable

      Dr. Harish Raizada remarks, “What gives Mulk Raj Anand a distinctive place in the Indo-Anglian fiction is the high value he attaches to his vocation as a writer. He considers the writer a prophet of his age and the true conscience of society and believes in the high ideological content and social significance of his works. The novel for him is not a mere fantasy or a fairy tale, wholly and solely a means of relaxation, a harmless opiate for vacant hours and vacant minds. It is a vehicle for conveying the considered opinions of a writer with the deliberate object of educating people and converting them to his opinion”.

      In the same context, Gillian Pakcham says that Anand’s earlier works are affected with protest and he commiserate with the poor, down-trodden, outcastes of Hindu society. The Marxist philosophy appealed to Anand and he found solution in his doctrine of equal opportunity to all without the distinction of caste and creed. Suresh Nath says that Anand’s literary works are replete with the element of protest which is an indistinguishable part of his view of life.

      A.K. Sinha reflects, “Anand believing himself to be one of the millions of human beings who had inherited this terrible and beautiful world of twentieth-century gradually began to merge himself with the flowing, vibrant core of humanity and to feel its grief to the very marrow of his bone. Because of this profound interest in human welfare, Anand almost became a Marxist in his beliefs though he did not actually join the mainstream of communism. He fully accepted the Marxist view that it was not the consciousness of men which determined their existence but that it was the social existence of men which determined the consciousness”.


      As a matter of fact, Anand’s novels Untouchable and Coolie reflect protest and resentment and have exposed the hypocrisy of the caste Hindus who boast of their nobility and blue-blood. Anand has exposed that the caste Hindus are megalomaniac, egoist, sinister, crooked and malicious. Anand is neither biased nor favoured the social pariahs. Anand is craving to reform Hindu society and abolish inequitable unjust, and oppressive caste-system. E.M. Forster says that it is a devilish system which could have been contrived only by man, the animal being incapable for devising such an infernal system.

University Questions

Untouchable deals with the theme of social protest. Explain.
Write a brief essay on Mulk Raj Anand as a novelist of protest.
Bring out the influences which transformed Anand into a novelist of protest with reference to Untouchable.
Anand used his novels to condemn and expose the hypocrisy of the caste Hindus and took the evil of casteism as untouchability beyond the frontiers of India. Explain.

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