Exploitation Through Capitalism in The Novel Coolie

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Exploitation of the Under-privileged: A Real Fact

      Coolie is a wonderful work of art and it consists of a number of themes and ideas. However, the central theme of the novel is the exploitation of the poor and the under-privileged by the forces such as capitalism, industrialism and colonialism. These things have been well associated with the life of Munoo, a poor, helpless orphan and
who is denied his right to life and happiness. He is exploited and made to suffer in the hands of mighty people and lastly, he dies of consumption. Millions of people like Munoo are victims of such exploitation. The novelist makes it quite clear that such exploitation and denial of life and happiness is the lot of the poor and under-privileged everywhere in India. They are destined to suffer whether in a village like Bilaspur or small town like Sham Nagar, or big cities like Daulatpur and Bombay. The condition of the poor is equally wretched and miserable wheather in rural or urban India.

Feudal Exploitation in Countryside

      Munoo, an orphan of only fourteen years of age hails from countryside. He is happy living with his playmates in the idyllic natural surrounding of his native village inspite of ill-treatment by his uncle and aunt. Even this small rural community is not free from feudal exploitation. To be a victim of exploitation seems to be the terrible destiny of poor Munoo, for even at this early age “He had heard of how the landlord had seized his father’s five acres of land because the interest on the mortgage covering the unpaid rent had not been forthcoming when the rains had been scanty and the harvests bad. And he knew how his father had died a slow death of bitterness and disappointment and left his mother a penniless beggar, to “support a young brother-in-law and a child in arms.”

Denial of the Fundamental Right

      Munoo is a boy of fourteen years of age and even at this age he is deprived of the right to life. His uncle is the first one to exploit him, and poverty is the reason behind it. He takes the boy to the city where he is employed as a servant in the house of Babu Nathoo Ram, the Sub-Accountant of the branch of Imperial Bank, Sham Nagar. He has to work hard and even live half-fed and he has to suffer more in the hands of his wife, Bibi Uttam Kaur. The morning of the first day of his employment he is branded as a stupid, rustic loafer because he has relieved himself near the wall of the house having no idea of where the latrine is for him. The lady a snobbish and suspicious termagant abuses and humiliates him and his uncle also takes away the salary of rupees three he has earned. When he asks for some money for food, he refuses to give it to him. He has no proper clothes and boots to wear.

      One day when he is beaten by Baboo and no sympathy is shown by his uncle, he fails to keep his high spirits, he runs away from his house. And while dancing a monkey-dance, he bites the daughter of Bibiji. These events make the whole thing more realistic and grave. Before he runs away from Sham Nagar he has experienced his work and position in the world. He knows that he is a slave, a servant who has to do all the odd jobs. He is subjected to remain small, abject and drab. He is of the opinion that; “There must be only two kinds of people in the world, the rich and the poor.”

Exploitation in the Grain Market

      Munoo is fated to be exploited wherever he works. The first act of his exploitation in the tragic drama of his life takes place in Sham Nagar in the house of his employer Babu Nathoo Ram as a servant. The second act of his life’s tragic drama occurs in Daulatpur where he is employed as a labourer in a pickle factory. Though, he is well-treated by the owner of pickle factory Prabha Dayal and his wife, he is brutally abused and beaten by Ganpat, the co-partner of the factory. When Prabha Dayal is deprived of his ownership of the factory as the factory is sold out because of Ganpat’s act of treachery, Munoo begins to work as a coolie to make his both ends meet. He finds that there is cut throat competition in the market and the traders exploit the situation. They pay extremely low wages to the coolies and often abuse and beat and even turn them out at the least fault. They treat them as vagabonds and are entirely at the mercy of the traders—forces of capitalism. Hence, this is the tale of the countless victims of exploitation in the village market and Munoo is an example of this sort of exploitation.

Industrial and Colonial Exploitation

      Industrial and colonial exploitation is presented on a very large scale and on even more harrowing scale in the Bombay phase of Munoo’s life. In Bombay, there are many big industries and their owners are the forces of exploitation of the poor coolies. Munoo takes up service in Sir George White’s Cotton Mill and he faces the full force of industrial and colonial exploitation. M.K. Naik says, “The factory is a huge octopus with its numerous tentacles clutching the labourer in its deadly grasp, slowly paralysing and poisoning him. The British management offers no security of tenure and effects retrenchment summarily; the British foreman is at once the recruiting authority a landlord who rents out ramshackle cottages at exorbitant rent, and also money-lender—all rolled into one; the Pathan door-keeper practises usury with even more drastic methods; the Sikh merchant puts his monopoly as the authorised dealer in the Mill-workers colony to full personal advantage. The ill-paid, ill-housed, under-nourished and bullied labourer is broken, both in body and mind, as Munoo finds his friend Hari is, though his own youthful vitality saves him from this ultimate fate.”

Sexual Exploitation

      Coolie also deals with sexual exploitation. The poor are the victim of i'll exploitations possible in the hands of capitalist forces. They are even not free from sexual exploitation. Munoo is the victim of sexual exploitation and it caused his death. Munoo came in contact with Mrs. Mainwaring in the fifth and final act of Munoo s tragedy when her car knocks him down and he is taken from Bombay to Simla where her home is. He is made her page-cum-rickshaw puller. She is attracted towards the boy of sixteen years and she uses him sexually. He is pleased living with her and is contented in the job of rickshaw-pulling since he feels himself inferior to the superior people who lived in bungalows and wore Angrezi cloths. He is over-worked in her house and as a result of this he dies of consumption at the age of sixteen. His premature death is caused more from the result of sexual excess than due to the strain of puling the rickshaw, the coolies expressed this opinion.

Communal Exploitation

      Coolie studies the various forces of exploitation such as Capitalism, Colonialism, Industrialism, sexuality and so on, and Munoo is the victim of all these exploitations. The forces of exploitation tempted him easily because he is poor, helpless and alone and hence, suffers in their mighty hands. Communalism, and other such forces alike lends a hand and he is badly affected knowing no other reason of it. The workers’ strike is broken and their genuine demands crumble into pieces by casual rumour of communal disturbances which divert the wrath of the labourers from the mill to the religious factions among themselves. The rumour of kidnapping the children from each community prevails and it gives rise to hatred among them and hence, their unity is ultimately broken. In course of fighting between the two communities, while Munoo was running away from the maidan where the meeting was held, he saw men struck down with lathi blows, and lying unconscious and bleeding on the road. In one of the lanes he himself is struck a heavy blow on the head. But he is soon saved by the social service league. Moreover, the fires of communal hatred are further fanned by politicians who have their own axe to grind. Thus, in the whole episode of communal riot the exploited workers are exploited again i.e. they loose their job, their earning and even their lives. This way their means of livelihood is shattered and communal exploitation is exposed to the zenith.


      In a nutshell, Anand has given a genuine picture of the exploitation of the poor and the underprivileged and the miserable state of these people in pre-Independence era and after Independence all above mentioned exploitations are experienced. The treatment is elaborate, the subject has been deeply studied from various angles and in various societies, and many steps are taken to stop further occurrence of any kind of exploitation.

University Questions

“Exploitation of the under-privileged” is the theme of the novel Coolie. Discuss.
Critically examine the forces of exploitation such as capitalism, Industrialism and Colonialism.
Justify Coolie is the study of “Denial of the right to happiness to a simple landless orphan”.

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