The plot of Mulk Raj Anand's novel Untouchable is episodic, and the story narrates one day in the life of Bakha, who is a young Indian man, an “untouchable,” of the lowest, most despised caste in India. Bakha has the job of cleaning the toilets, and he is oppressed by nearly everyone with whom he comes into contact.
As the story begins, Bakha's father scolds him for laziness, and a high-caste man named Singh also hollers at Bakha for not doing his job. Then Singh relents and tells Bakha to visit him later. Bakha is excited by the offer, but his day only goes downhill from there.
In the next episode, Bakha's sister Sohini is harassed by another woman as she waits in the water line. Bakha must do his father's work as well as his own because his father is pretending to be sick, and as he heads out to do so, he forgets to shout out the untouchable's call (to let others know to avoid him), and a high-class man brushes against him by mistake. The man is furious at being made “unclean” and slaps Bakha.
At the temple, Bakha meets his Sohini. She is crying because she has just been assaulted by the temple's priest, who then proceeds to tell everyone that she has made him unclean. Bakha sends her home and takes on her duties along with everything else he has to do. This includes begging for food, and he receives more abuse as he does so.
Toward evening, Bakha spends some times with his friends, one of whom sympathizes with him. The other, however, is embarrassed. Bakha goes to visit Singh and receives a fantastic hockey stick from the older man who even allows him to drink tea with him. For once, Bakha does not feel like an untouchable.
As the story continues, though, Bakha gets into a fight at a hockey game and is yelled at again by his father. Even the friendly British man he meets cannot help him, for the man's wife screams at him, disgusted by his low class. The story ends with Bakha listening to a speech from Mahatma Gandhi, who is trying his best to eliminate the “untouchable” designation. Bakha also hears that flush toilets will soon be arriving in India, and he is actually quite excited by that, for it will eliminate one of his most disgusting tasks.
The themes presented in this novel include the oppression by the caste system, especially for those at the bottom; the struggle between Indian customs and modern innovations; British colonization and its effects on Indian life; the hypocrisy of some religious people; and the lack of charity that plagues people of all classes. Clearly, the novel serves as Anand's argument for the end of the caste system.