Social Injustices of the Untouchables

Table of Content

Mulk Raj Anand’s 1935 novel Untouchable portrays the daily social injustices faced by the Untouchable castes. The protagonist, Bakha, an eighteen-year-old Bhangi, symbolizes these injustices through his role as a latrine cleaner in the lowest caste. Throughout a single day, the novel effectively showcases the treatment of low-caste citizens and Bakha’s desire to be part of a higher caste, specifically admiring British culture. Despite his family’s belief that he has abandoned his roots, Bakha yearns for improved social standing. The novel highlights how humiliation and abuse perpetuate social injustices as Bakha endures ridicule and suffers from depression and exhaustion. Nonetheless, it also carries a message of hope and faith as Bakha’s determination allows him to endure his challenging circumstances.

Bakha faces his first social injustice when his father begins to emotionally and physically abuse him following his mother’s death. Bakha expresses, “He constantly belittles me, even though I do all his work. He takes the pay for himself. He is scared of the sepoys and appreciates it when they call him Jemadar. He takes great pride in his reputation, while I never get a moment’s rest.” The mistreatment Bakha endures isn’t limited to his home, as he also works as a street sweeper and latrine cleaner for the community, a job that reflects his low caste status. The author describes his father as inferior and weak, using his authority to bully his children and prevent their rejection of him or his old-fashioned beliefs. This portrayal perfectly captures the dynamics of Bakha’s family.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Both Bakha and his sister, Sohini, faced injustices. Sohini went to fetch water and was attacked by an upper-class woman using negative words and terrible treatment. The woman viewed Sohini as a threat because of her beauty and innocent face. Though the woman would never admit to being jealous of a sweeper girl, she aimed to scare her off with negative energy. Gulabo angrily exclaimed, “Think of it! Think of it! You bitch! You prostitute! Wanton! And your mother hardly dead. Think of laughing in my face, laughing at me who am old enough to be your mother. Bitch!” All of this happened because Sohini had to wait for a higher caste member to give her water at the pump. If Sohini had touched the pump herself, she would have considered it pollution due to being an “untouchable” who had to beg for enough water for her family during the scorching days of labor.

According to National Geographic, it is technically illegal to discriminate against the lowest castes of Hindus in India. However, severe cases of discrimination still occur where some Hindus are lynched, gunned down, and murdered simply because they were born into a low caste. Unfortunately, one out of every six Hindu citizens is born into a caste they did not choose and cannot escape from. These individuals face prejudice in all aspects of their lives and have no control over their own destinies. Untouchables endure social exclusion, insults, and bans from temples as well as higher caste homes. They are also forced to use separate utensils in public places and may even face heinous acts such as rape, burning, lynching, or gun violence. In the novel’s storyline, Bakha refuses to accept the predetermined life he was born into because he believes he has more potential than what is expected of him. Bakha boldly challenges the customs imposed on Untouchables and openly expresses his disdain for them.

Bakha displayed his intelligence by persuading the Babu’s son to give him English lessons in exchange for a small sum of money. Bakha requested, “Would it be too troublesome for you to provide me with one lesson per day? … I am willing to pay you one anna per lesson.” This demonstrates Bakha’s determination to escape from the caste system that keeps him trapped. In his scholarly article, Dr. B.R Ambedkar explains that traditional Hindu beliefs consider the treatment of Untouchables as normal and acceptable. However, in modern society, a Hindu would recognize that this treatment is unjust, inhumane, and discriminatory. Interestingly, Bakha’s perspective differs from his fellow Untouchables who endure the torture with resignation, as they have been taught to tolerate it.

This novel aligns with other short stories assigned in our class. In the short story “The Price of Milk,” the social injustice faced by Bhangi women of the lower caste is depicted. Bhangi women are usually assumed to be responsible for childbirth, and any attempts to change this stigma are uncommon. Babu Mheshnath would have preferred to have a doctor take care of his child, but financial constraints forced him to rely on a Bhungi instead. His wife had no milk in her breasts, so Bhungi acted as both a midwife and a “wet nurse” for their newborn. Although it appears that Bhungi has become significant in Babu’s life, he dismisses it as a joke. Babu declares, “Regardless of other changes, Bhangi’s will always remain Bhangis. It’s difficult to humanize them.” This provides readers with an insight into how society undervalues women, despite their importance in its development. Babu and his wife would have been devastated if they had another daughter since girls are considered to have less value. The Babu argues that the rules for the upper class differ from those of the lower classes, as the former have more wealth and can bend the rules as they please. Babu views the newborn drinking the Bhangi’s milk as a crisis moment, where he had no other choice because selling all his land to pay for a lady doctor was not affordable.

Babu discusses the existence of different rules for different groups, such as the king and subjects, and the rich and poor. Kings have unrestricted freedom in their choices of food, associations, and marriage partners due to their significant power. Conversely, the middle class is constrained by rules. In Untouchables, Sohini is treated solely as an object without any apparent purpose except to endure abuse and worthlessness, particularly when she experiences molestation. Similarly, this short story devalues the Bhangi caste except for their role in childbirth and nursing. Women are portrayed as almost worthless in this society while boys are preferred because they can perform cleaning duties.

Gandhi played a crucial role in incorporating the Nationalist Movement in India, which directly impacted modern India. He highly valued the lower castes and dedicated himself to improving their lives. According to Principle Girish R Arabbi, Gandhi tirelessly worked towards abolishing untouchability and gained support from the poor and oppressed. Bakha eagerly awaited Gandhi’s opinion on abolishing the caste system and his plans to diminish it; he found it both exciting and interesting. One of the characters in the novel, Alla, expressed anticipation for Gandhi’s speech as he believed it would address their experiences and struggles. Bakha, tired of facing mistreatment throughout his life, hoped to hear that there was hope for the Bhangis through Gandhi’s words. The most impactful statement made by Gandhi emphasized his desire for outcastes to thrive in their own culture.

This passage discusses the novel’s portrayal of efforts to eradicate the caste system in Hindu society. The protagonist, Iqbal Nath Sarshar, delivers a transformative speech advocating for the abolition of the caste system. Unlike Gandhi’s peaceful and loving approach, Sarshar proposes a radical solution that deeply impacts Bakha’s hopes for humanity. Sarshar believes that integrating a “machine” into Hindu society can eliminate the caste system. This machine, known as the “flush system,” would replace the outcaste Bhangi’s job of cleaning latrines without requiring physical contact with feces. By relieving the sweepers of these duties, they would no longer be viewed as “untouchable” and could pursue manual labor jobs like the middle class, thereby shedding their untouchable status.

Bakha was confused and uneasy with the diminishing caste and class system, unsure of the outcomes of technology and Gandhi’s efforts to achieve equality. He pondered whether technology or Gandhi’s movement would bring about the improvement of Hindu civilization, or perhaps both. Despite moments of despair, Bakha still held onto hope, which was reignited when he stumbled upon Gandhi’s speech. It exposed him to the potential positive changes that could come his way. While Gandhi’s movement brought Nationalism to India according to Wikipedia, it unfortunately did not bring independence. Throughout the novel, Bakha’s attitude underwent significant changes. Initially obedient to his father and caste duties, he reached a breaking point after enduring torment and beatings. However, with the help of Gandhi and the poet, Bakha found strength to keep his faith alive and continue hoping for a better future, even on cloudy days, because faith in humanity remained.

Cite this page

Social Injustices of the Untouchables. (2016, Jun 27). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront