Mulk Raj Anand through his novel Untouchable realizes “the pains,frustrations and aspirations”[Dhawan,R.K.ed.The Novels of Mulk Raj Anand(New york:Prestige,1992)]of a depressed class of people called Untouchables with the simultaneous display of assault and abuse practiced by caste Hindus upon this exploited class. The three solutions for their exploitation as posited by the novel are the rhetoric of Colonel Hutchinson(the Christian Missionary),Mahatma Gandhi,and the poet Iqbal Nath Sarshar .The attempt of this paper is to discover the extend to which Anand criticizes Gandhi for his perspectives regarding “Harijans”.
The one particular feature of his representation of Gandhi is that he hardly tries to analyse the motives and effects of Gandhian policies. Never does the narrator emerge as a direct commentator on
Gandhi's “politics of piety”[Mani,Braj Ranjan,Debrahmanising History(Deilhi:Manohar Publishers.2005)].The reader can only assume that the self-emancipatory method professed by Gandhi to liberate the “lowered” caste[(ibid);I think the adjective is more relevant and appropriate than the usual 'lower caste'] is impractical,insufficient and inappropriate keeping in mind the former part of the narrative that lists the discriminatory practices against Bakha and his likes,their limited opportunities and the limited social space alloted to them that cripple any form of self-assertion or even an attempt to articulate their grievance .One could also read between the lines comparing Gandhi's exhortation to the 'Untouchables' for their moral up-gradation and the poet's practical suggestion to implement the flush system. But an artistic critical advance might be seen as Anand describes Gandhi's physical features as a hypothetical observer
There was a quixotic smile on his thin lips,something Mephistophelean in the determined little
For the purpose of indirect criticism he uses characters like Iqbal Nath Sarshar the editor of “NawanJug” and R.N.Bashir the barrister who has just returned from England. The latter's charge that Gandhi is a hypocrite dies down to a hypocritical bunk for he despises Bakha as a “black man”and acts bossy towards him while giving a pompous lecture about “democracy”.And the poet's vague and generalized statement of disapproval-He (Gandhi)has his limits- is preceded by an equally sweeping statement that reckons Gandhi as “the greatest liberating force of our age”(Page142).
The instance where the “jat rustic”is apprehensive about the unbridled power of “independent”Panchayats as they seem to be instruments to “bring pressure upon the village menials”can be considered an antithesis to Gandhi's suggestion to avoid going to the British Courts of Justice. It is to be noted that here Gandhi's stance is only reflected in the peasant's anxiety and is not mentioned in Gandhi's speech. Furthermore the reason for the bewilderment experienced by both Bakha and the peasant is left unclear-if it is a response necessitated by the liberal humanist “grand narrative”of the babu or a possible outcome of their “naive”selves. The latter possibility cannot be dismissed since the entire narrative is punctuated by mappings of Bakha's naivety.
Now we shall look at the crucial issues that are not discussed or analyzed by Anand with regard to Gandhi's political schemes. Anand allocates a part of the narrative for Gandhi's speech that more or less sums up his political strategies regarding “Harijans”.
Gandhi vehemently says that 'Untouchables' “claim” to be Hindus and they read “scriptures”.Though Anand has already explored Bakha's alienation with respect to Hindu religion and discussed his educational backwardness there is no active interrogation of Gandhi's 'claim' that characterises the 'outcaste' people as those with a desire to be counted as Hindus. What remains forgotten is the probability that there might be lowered castes who did not want to be considered as Hindus.The question that remains unanswered is that if lowered castes are not provided education and are banned from reading scriptures why does Gandhi claim that they read scriptures.(Harijans who had certain educational opportunities could have got this possibility,but Anand does not mention the predicament and the possibilities represented by the educated Harijans)Though no clear-cut answer is provided in the novel it would be useful to read Gandhi's outlook that the government tried to alienate (them)from Hinduism by giving them a separate legal and political status.(Page136)along with it.
Anand does not discuss the possibilities offered by “separate electorates”but only gives Gandhi's oppositional view point. Surprisingly Ambedkar the champion of the Dalits(who had demanded for 'separate electorates') and his policies do not appear as an counter point.The scheme of separate electorate had the potential to offer a separate social identity for the 'Untouchables' that would inturn help them in “claiming and gaining special protection”[Mani,Braj Ranjan,Debrahmanising History(Delhi:Manohar Publishers,2005)]
Gandhi reiterates the fact that for him the question of these people is moral and religious(Page136). But he also says that “swaraj” will be attained only when untouchability is removed. How can a problem that is marked as moral and religious become political and national once it is solved?Anand does not question Gandhi's vague claims. He does not present Gandhi's anxiety to present the untouchability problem as an exclusively Hindu affair as a problematic one. Gandhi discouraged the caste-oppressed and social activists who were fighting for the untouchables' right for temple entry during the Vaikkom temple agitation of the 1920s. He emphasized that “Hindus(alone should) do the work”[Menon,Dilip,Caste,Nationalism and Communism in South India:Malabar 1900-1948(Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,1994)]Moreover his reluctance in giving authentic rights to the 'untouchables' is reflected in his observation that untouchability is the greatest blot on Hinduism (Page137)again singling it out as a religious problem that should be rectified through the initiatives of caste Hindus .In the Harijan of 23 February 1934 Gandhi wrote:
I have absolutely no desire that the temple should be opened to Harijans,until caste Hindu opinion is ripe for the opening. It is not a question of Harijans asserting their right of temple entry or claiming it.
Further Gandhi asserts that reading of scriptures would reveal the fact that Hindu religion is faultless(Pages 138,139) in that the scriptures as such do not advocate untouchability or discrimination of any sort.In Bhagwan Buddha:Jeevan aur Darshan, Kosambi says
We hear from the mouth of Krishna himself (9.32):'For those who take refuge in Me ,be they even of the sinful breeds such as women,vaishyas and shudras......'That is,all women and all men of the working and producing classes are defiled by their very birth ,though they may in after-life be freed by
their faith in the god who degrades them so casually in this one.
It is important to note that Ambedkar and many lowered caste scholars were critical of the epistemological violence propagated through scriptures and their interpretations.
The critical silence that Anand maintains at many junctures may also be due to his own diagnosis of casteism as a profession-oriented problem though one cannot say that it is narrator's voice that gets expressed through the poet's suggestion. But there is a seeming legitimacy accorded to the poet's practical suggestion. Bakha hopes to meet the poet and ask about the machine whereas Gandhi appears as a moral support to him. Iqbal Nath also says that he accepts the machine though in this regard he does go against Gandhi. This may also be read as one of Gandhi's “limits”,his reluctance in accepting modern machineries.
Altogether Anand's view regarding Gandhi's politics is at times ambiguous,though there are ventures to see the deficiencies in Gandhian strategies .Besides, the juxtaposition of Bakha's real life experiences and Gandhi's utopian rhetoric presents a possibility of recognizing the ideological nuances in his speech. Still the onus of criticizing Gandhian approach and nationalist approach to the problem of untouchability rests on the reader.