Discuss Forster's portrayal of Indian society in A Passage to India.
Much of the focus of the novel is on the educated Muslim class, as represented by Aziz and his closest social circle. However, overall the novel provides quite a comprehensive picture of Indian society. The other major religion of India, Hinduism, is also well-represented with several characters, most notably the enigmatic Professor Godbole. The first part of the novel is titled 'Mosque', indicating the focus on Aziz and his circle; the final section is called ‘Temple’ where the focus shifts to Godbole presiding over a riotous Hindu festival.
It is true that the novel really only shows us male Indian characters, but although there is no major female Indian character, we do get a glimpse of life for Indian women, certainly among the upper classes, for instance with the ladies at the Bridge Party, like the refined Mrs Battacharya.
The novel also depicts the conflicts and tensions between different segments of Indian society, most notably between Hindu and Muslim. For instance, Aziz reflects ‘I wish that (Hindus) did not remind me of cow-dung’ while Mr Das thinks that ‘Some Muslims are very violent’(chapter 30) – and this when the two men are making an outward show of being friendly. The differences between higher and lower-class Indians are also explored, for example in the character of the low-born Dr Panna Lal.
It is true, though, that the ordinary working-class Indians, the peasant masses, do not really figure in the novel, with one or two exceptions like the punkah-wallah at the trial, who is described in some detail. Similarly, there is no representation of minority Indian religions, like Sikhism.
In general, however, the novel does give us quite a varied picture of Indian life overall, and examines the Indian reaction of resentment to their imperialist rulers with a mixture of sensitivity and irony.