Dynamic Social Consciousness of Bakha in Untouchable

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Untouchable: A Novel of Social Protest

      Critics unanimously agree that Anand’s early works especially Untouchable and Coolie voice social protest. They deal with the theme of social protest. He has expressed his compassion for the have nots and the down-trodden, decry social injustice, oppression, atrocities on woman (Sohini’s molestation). He shows vindictiveness by depicting the miserable, pathetic and deplorable plight of the poor compelled to live in filth and squalor. They are living a sub-human life. He has castigated the hackney and oppressive caste system, tradition and rituals which have given them a humiliating nomenclature, Untouchable and compelled millions and millions of people to live like swines in a sty. E.M. Forster defines it as a devilish system which could have been contrived only by man, the animal being incapable of fabricating such an oppressive system.

Outstanding Features of Bakha

      Anand detests caste-system and expressed his protest against the inhuman treatment of the untouchables by the so-called custodians of Hindu cultural heritage. Bakha is possessed with some exceptional features. He is distinguished from his fellow untouchables for his skill, self-respect and sense of cleanliness. While other untouchables surrender and accept the social injustice unleashed and perpetrated on them, Bakha reacts to injustice violently. His social consciousness and awareness is very high. He is passive and dynamic simultaneously He is passive because thousand years of servility has made him a mute spectator of injustice, weak and helpless. He is a warrior without arms and weapons. M.K. Naik remarks, “Weakness corrupts and absolute weakness corrupts absolutely; and so despite his giants’ bulk Bakha is not able to transform his resentment into action or outward protest. He submits and accepts his lot for he feels helpless. But he is dynamic as much as he is conscious of his plight, suffers terrible spiritual anguish, and tries to understand the socio-economic forces that deny him and his like, his human rights. Bakha of the morning is not the same as 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. Lakha and Rakha are dormant, inactive and insensitive. They never react. They have consigned themselves to the oppressive caste-system. They are characterised by their lack of social consciousness and awareness. They do not evolve and move towards self-realisation. Herein lies Bakha’s distinction.

Bakha’s Sense of Superiority

      Bakha is young, handsome and physically strong and attractive. He is intelligent, sensitive and skilful. He thinks that lie is superior to the people of his castes. His individual sense of superiority is his essential feature which distinguishes him from his community Mulk Raj Anand writes, “He worked away earnestly; quickly, without loss of effort. Brisk yet steady his capacity for active application to the task he had in hand seemed to flow like constant water from a natural spring. 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 alacrity from one door to another, cleaning, brushing, pouring phenol. ‘What a dextrous workman!’ the onlooker would have said. And though 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 have said, ‘not the kind of man 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 uncouth and unclean. It was perhaps his absorption in his task that gave him the look of distinction, or his exotic dress however loose and ill-fitting, that lifted him above his odorous world.” He is fed up with the oppressive caste-system. He is persuaded by Christian missionary. The missionary persuades him to convert to Christianity but it is his consciousness and awareness which finds out the dual character of the missionary’s life. He believes that the religion which his ancestors followed is enough for him.

Bakha: A Prey to Social Injustice

      Bakha, who is young, smart, hardworking, has profound reverence for his own religion, Hinduism. But the irony is that he is being exploited and condemned to sub-human life by the custodians of Hindu traditional and cultural heritage. Caste Hindus avoid him because he can pollute them by touching them. So they have warned him to announce his arrival from a distance. He is a human being and expects nothing more than love and kindness from others particularly the caste Hindus. He has not the privilege of being treated as a human. His services for society are not recognized, even when he saves the child from accident and brings him back to his mother who is caste Hindu. She does not thank him rather she scolds him for polluting. Besides excruciating and humiliating treatment, he continues to be theist. While hearing the holy chant he becomes overwhelmed by the mysterious spell. He enjoys a sort of divine trance with the rhythm of the song and his blood coursed along the melodic line. He surrenders before God with folded hands.

Absolute Acceptance of Lot

      The ultimate and most violent realization comes when his sister’s chastity and modesty is molested by a caste Hindu priest, Pandit Kalinath. He becomes revengeful, and wants to kill the debauche. But thousand years of subjugation has made him servile. He is a tiger at bay. He is helpless when he thinks of his limitations. The priest does not confess his guilt. Taking the advantage of the situation he accuses Sohini of polluting him. Sohini, rather helpless and humiliated has no one to redress her wounds. She comes back home accompanied by her brother. He yields to tradition and kisses his defeat. He has developed a tendency to accept insult. He is well aware of his limitations. He is alive and aware of self-respect. He loves the modesty of his sister more than anything else. But is unable to transform his anger and anguish into action. He can raise the voice of protest against social injustice and discrimination. But he is an untouchable.

Bakha ! Inert and Dynamic

      Bakha is not an inert character. He is active, and aggressive by temperament. His anglophile behaviour suggests that he is undergoing a transition from tradition to modernity. He is an iconoclast at the bottom of his heart. He violates the tradition of his outcast community. He does not regard himself as a low creature. He is intelligent, severe task maker, and has a brilliant sense of self-respect. He does his work with a sense of pride. He forgets all humiliation when he shares tea with Havildar Charat Singh. He shivers with wrath when he is slapped for polluting a caste Hindu. “The strength, the power of his giant body glistened with the desire of 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 struck him the below had slipped beyond, reach into the street.”

      R.S. Singh remarks, “So in the highest moment of his strength, the slave in him arrested itself and he lapsed back, wild with torture, biting his lips, ruminating his grievances. Between this struggle of the individual and society, Bakha is always defeated, but everytime he is defeated his potentiality to register his protest become more pronounced.” Bakha is all alone. Bakha is helpless because the community of scavengers have isolated themselves and does not think of human dignity and liberty. They are devoid of spirit. “What is the use they (the caste Hindus) would ill-treat us even if we shouted. They think we are mere dirt because we clean dirt.” Besides being illiterate or rather uneducated, he is radical and progressive. He detests traditional, conventional and fundamental norms of society. He develops intimacy with the Christian missionary to find solution to the problem of untouchability. E.M. Forster remarks in the forward to the novel, “On the surface of the earth, if not in the depth of the sky, a change was at hand. And this was the objective of the author: to study the growth of his mind and to show how the conscience of the somnolent underdogs and the outcastes is aroused, [ather than to record what could or would happen if they came to be mentally alive to their surroundings.”

A More Enlightened Bakha Or Bakha’s Ever Growing Social Consciousness

      R N. Singh remarks, “Notwithstanding the fact that confrontation between Bakha and his society are insignificant, what is remarkable in 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 trifled too long on the futility of his protest against the conservative but strong society. This 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 at which he was born to act.”

University Questions

Bring out Anand’s depiction of the mind and personality of Bakha.
In what way would you react to the view that Bakha is not a passive but a dynamic character.
Untouchable deals with the theme of social protest. Explain.
Write a note on superiority of Bakha.

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