Mulk Raj Anand's novel, written in pre-Independence India, tackles a theme that still resonates in present-day India. The story revolves around the character of a man called Bakha who belongs to the 'untouchable' caste in Hinduism.
Simply put, there are five castes in Hinduism -- Brahmin (highest, priestly caste), Kshatriya (warrior caste), Vaishya (merchant caste), Shudra (worker caste) and, finally, the 'untouchables' who are responsible for tasks such as cleaning toilets, handling waste, and disposing of carcasses.
Anand's novel is a scathing critique of the oppressive caste system, and he launches this critique through a series of events that take place in the life of an untouchable man. Even something as seemingly minor as an accident brush with a man from a higher caste is enough for Bakha to be verbally assaulted by a mob. Anand describes a range of scenarios that effectively highlight how every single aspect of an 'untouchable' person's life is affected by the rigid hierarchies of the caste system.
The heart of the novel's message really comes toward the end when Mahatma Gandhi, an important figure from the Indian freedom struggle and a champion for the rights of the 'untouchables' (whom he calls the 'children of God'), delivers an impassioned speech that Bakha hears.