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.
Mulk Raj Anand's celebrated novel Untouchable deals with the social curse of untouchability in Pre-Independence India. It narrates the sufferings and humiliations of an 18-year-old boy, Bakha, born in a low-caste and serving as a toilet-sweeper. Operating at different levels of the society and causing wide-spread unease, Bakha exposes as well as critiques the hypocritical status quo in the Indian society.
The theme of this novel is the evil of untouchability in India; and the novel records the experiences of an eighteen year old sweeper-boy in the course of asingle day in a town to which Anand has given the name Bulandshahr. The sweeper boy's name is Bakha. His work of keeping the public latrines of the town clean is not only very tedious and laborious but also most degrading because it exposes him to the contempt ou the caste Hindu and renders him an untouchable. This novel shows Anand's sympathies with the underdog in India, and his humanitarian and reformist zeal because it was evidently written by him to awaken the conscience of the upper caste in the country. The novel employs partly the traditional method of narration but partly also the new technique of the steam of consciousness which was then gaining acceptance, having originally been employed by James Joyce in his novel, Ulysses.