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Go Back       Himalayan Journal of Education and Literature | Volume:3 Issue:1 | Feb. 28, 2022
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DOI : 10.47310/Hjel.2022.v03i01.011       Download PDF       HTML       XML

Casteism and Caste Intolerance: A Study of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance

Germaine A. Ajeagah (PhD)

English Department St. Jerome Catholic University Institute- Douala Cameroon

*Corresponding Author

Germaine A. Ajeagah (PhD)

Article History

Received: 10.02.2022

Accepted: 19.02.2022

Published: 28.02.2022

Abstract: Informed by the postcolonial theory this paper examines casteism and caste intolerance in India as reflected in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance and equally mirrors the different facets through which the lower-castes have been victimized by the upper-castes as illustrated in the novels mentioned. In this light, the paper discusses how the subalterns living in the postcolonial societies of India have been segregated not only in the public and the political sphere but also through capitalistic tendencies by the upper-castes as reflected in Roy and Misty’s novels. The paper argues that, although in present-day India, casteism has been officially abolished by the law since the constitution of India in its preamble advocates justice, liberty, equality and fraternity shared among its entire people, casteism and caste intolerance is still highly implanted in the postcolonial setup visible in the novels of Roy and Mistry.

Keywords: The God of Small Things and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, postcolonial theory this paper examines casteism.


In The God of Small Things and A Fine Balance, Arundhati Roy and Rohinton Mistry respectively present the horrendous and despicable situation of casteism and caste intolerance in Indian society. Roy and Mistry demonstrate the way people from the lower strata of life called the low-castes or untouchables in the Indian context have been victimized by the upper castes. They articulate and depict the horrendous and despicable condition of the subalterns in this society. The subalterns or the lower caste are relegated to the periphery and are treated with disdain by the upper-castes. Therefore, the postcolonial era of India has failed to achieve national integration and unity visible through the macabre and shabby treatment of the lower-caste by the upper caste in the novels A Fine Balance and The God of Small Things.

Roy and Misty in their novels reproduce the postcolonial era in India as an era that has failed to achieve national unity. In this society, power seems to be used abusively which ties greatly with the postcolonial concept of subalternism reflected in The Modern Prince and The Prison Notebooks. Antonio Gramsci defines the term subaltern classes as those excluded from any meaningful role in a regime of power that subjugates them. Through consent, these subalterns participate in the hegemony created and controlled by dominant groups. The subalterns have no independent space from which to articulate their voices because hegemony conditions them to believe in the dominant values. Gramsci believes that the intellectual has the responsibility to “search out signs of subaltern initiative and class consciousness and effect political actions” (The Modern Prince and The Prison Notebooks 2).

In Roy and Mistry’s novel, the upper-caste uses their position and influence to torture and objectify the lower-caste. They use power abusively which tie in with Michel Foucault in The Order of Things when he substantiates the relations of power thus; “relations of power are not in themselves forms of repression.

But what happens is that, in society, in most societies, organizations are created to freeze the relations of power, hold those relations in a state of symmetry, so that a certain number of persons get an advantage, socially, economically, politically, institutionally. And this freezes the situation. That’s what one calls power in the strict sense of the term: it’s a specific type of power relation that has been institutionalized, frozen, immobilized, to the profit of some and the detriment of others” (22). Foucault’s account of power visible in the quotation can apply to the situation of casteism in India as represented in the novels in the study. In this society, power is used abusively to victimize members of the lower castes.

Casteism at the Public Sphere

In The God of Small Things and A Fine Balance, casteism and caste intolerance is visible in the public sphere. Vellya Pappen in The God of Small Things is prohibited from going into the places where the hosts do not welcome the other castes, especially the untouchables. He is stigmatized and relegated to the periphery because he is of a low caste. A clear line is drawn between the upper and the lower castes. The upper caste, a caste of priests at the top of the social scale, is economically and socially viable no matter their geographical location. On the contrary, the untouchables are manual labourers, are relegated to the bottom of the caste system, and endure an unequal status due to their ritual impurity. Roy describes the untouchables’ abject conditions as follows; “They were not allowed to touch anything that Touchables touched. … Mammachi told Estha and Rahel that she could remember a time, in her girlhood, when Paravans were expected to crawl backwards with a broom, sweeping away their footprints so that Brahmins or Syrian Christians would not defile themselves by accidentally stepping into a Paravan’s footprint” (The God of Small Things 71). In Mammachi’s time, Paravans, like other Untouchables, do not walk on public roads, do not cover their upper bodies and do not carry umbrellas. They put their hands over their mouths when they speak to people, to divert their polluted breath away from those whom they are addressing. The sub-human position of the untouchables, like what Roy presents in the novel, ties greatly with the postcolonial concept of subalternity.

Just as Roy, Mistry gives a horrendous account of the plight of the untouchables in A Fine Balance. The two male characters whose story unfolds are Ishvar and Omprakash Darji, they leave their lower caste of tanners to become tailors in the city. Lower caste members were called Untouchables and included people whose occupations or habits were considered polluting, dirty, such as taking lives for a living, as did the fishermen, killing and disposing of dead cattle or working with their hides (tanners), coming in contact with human waste (sweepers), or eating the flesh of cattle, pigs or chickens. Ishvar and Omprakash’s family belonged to the Chamaar caste of tanners and leather worker; “The Chamaars skinned the carcass, ate the meat, and tanned the hide, which was turned into sandals, whips, harnesses, and waterskins. Dukhi learned to appreciate how dead animals provided his family’s livelihood. And as he mastered the skills, imperceptibly but relentlessly Dukhi’s own became impregnated with an odour that was part of his father’s smell… like the filth of the dead animals which covered him and his father as they worked, the ethos of the caste system was smeared everywhere” ( A Fine Balance 95-96).

As mentioned earlier, the Indian order of castes is a cultural system with restrictions placed on food, sex, and rituals. Order is maintained through ideas concerning the purity of the members of the castes. In A Fine Balance, Dukhi is fed up with constant humiliations and the difficulties of his son’s lives and decides to change their family tradition and sends his two sons as apprentices to a tailor, shocking the villagers “consternation was general throughout the village: someone had dared to break the timeless chain of caste, retribution was bound to be swift” (A Fine Balance 95). The two men become tailors and try their fortune in the capital, looking for work. Ashraf Chacha, whose apprentices they used to be, arranges their stay with a friend of his, who proves to be far from hospitable and friendly. Nawaz accepts to shelter them but he is not happy with the situation, so he lets them sleep in a filthy shed and only behaves like a proper host when he sees some prospect of getting rid of them. The narrator recounts that; “They could smell food cooking, but Nawaz did not invite them to eat… Light from the house spilled out through the kitchen window. They sat below it and finished the chapattis mumtaz chichi had packed, listening to noises from the buildings around them… There were no offer of morning tea from inside the house, which Omprakash found quite offensive. ‘customs are different in the city’ said Ishvar… on the last night, Nawaz’s relief spurred him to greater generosity. ‘please eat with me, he invited them in. ‘Honour me at last once before you go. Miriam! Dinners!’ … Miriam brought the food to the table and left. Even obscured by the burkha, Ishvar and Omprakash had been able to see her eyes cloud with embarrassment at her husband’s hypocrisy” (A Fine Balance 154-156).The above except reveals how the lower-caste are relegated to the margin by their superior in the postcolonial Indian society. In A Fine Balance, Dukhi like Mammachi in The God of Small Things, recalls his younger days in which Bhola, Dosu, Gambhir, Dayeram, Sita, Dhiraj, Bhungi, and others suffered from the hands of Zamindars. Yet another low caste character Bhola’s left-hand fingers are cut off because he is accused of stealing. The upper caste people punish the lower caste people severely for very minor crimes they commit either knowingly or unknowingly. Mistry wants to stop this communal fault line of humiliation to survive in the village. Particularly, this is a moving section of the novel that brings the dirty living conditions of the lower caste in rural India; “No, it is Bhola’s turn. But where he was working, they accused him of stealing...they chopped off his left-hand fingers today’. ‘Bhola is Lucky’, said Dukhi’s mother, ‘Last year chhagan lost his hand at the wrist. The same reason’... Dosu got a whipping for getting too close to the well …Then, Dukhi’s father remarks that the punishment granted to Budhu’s wife is as: She refused to go to the field with the zamindar’s son, so they shaved her head and walked her naked through the square” (A Fine Balance, 97). The above quote reveals the sad plight of the untouchables in Indian society. They are subjected, relegated and shabbily treated by the upper-caste.

It remains obvious that Mistry just as Roy does not take side with this social injustice practised in their society. They suggest that stark injustices are inherent in the practice of caste intolerance in Indian society. In A Fine Balance, Mistry broadens his range of characters. It is not only the Parsi woman Dina Dalal, but also characters from among the rural people that form the majority in India. Om and Ishvar belong to the lowly caste of Chamars who are treated as untouchables. According to Mistry, their plight is more pathetic than that of stray animals (55). As is widely known, caste-based animosity has been the bane of the rural landscape for several generations. The story of Dukhi Mochi (cobber) and his wife Roopa has been given in detail by Mistry to give an idea of life in Indian villages. It forms the background to the life history of Om and Ishvar and narrates the tyranny let loose on lower-caste people by the higher-caste ones. Dukhi Mochi belongs to the caste of tanners, better known as Chammars. As is well known, a large segment of the Indian population is segmented and discriminated against merely for being born in the so-called lower castes. There is no rationale behind it. After all, one’s birth is not within one’s control.

The inhumanity of untouchability is visible in the lives of Dukhi, Narayan, Ishvar and Omprakash. An example of the cruelty that characterizes their treatment by their superiors is glaring in the following quote; “For walking on the upper-caste side of the street, Sita was stoned, though not to death-the stones had ceased at first blood. Gambhir was less fortunate; he had molten lead poured into his ears because he ventured within hearing range of the temple while prayers were in progress. Dayaram, reneging on an agreement to plough a landlord’s field, had been forced to eat the landlord’s excrement in the village square ... Dhiraj tried to negotiate in advance with Pandit Ghanshyam the wages for chopping wood, instead of settling for the few sticks he could expect at the end of the day; the Pandit got upset, accused Dhiraj of poisoning his cows, and had him hanged” (108-109). The macabre treatment of the untouchables as reflected in the extract is disheartening. The untouchables are relegated to the margin and treated as the subalterns by the upper–castes.

After his sons Ishvar and Narayan are beaten up for entering the village school, Dukhi appeals to Pandit Lalluram because he has faith in the Brahmin priest of whom the narrator says, “even an untouchable could receive justice at his hands” (A Fine Balance 112). However, Dukhi has to realize that justice is a concept to which untouchables do not have a claim. Being outside society, Dukhi is also considered outside the scope of justice for all. Mistry illustrates this when he says; “Relying on this legendary reputation for justice, Dukhi sat at Pandit Lalluram’s feet and told him about the beating of Ishvar and Narayan. The learned man was resting in an armchair, having just finished his dinner, and belched loudly several times during his visitor’s narration. Dukhi paused politely at each eructation, while Pandit Lalluram murmured ‘Hai Ram’ in thanks for an alimentary tract blessed with such energetic powers of digestion” ( A Fine Balance 112). The injustices that were done to Ishvar and Narayan and their futile appeal to justice deprive Dukhi of meaning and satisfaction with the life he leads as an untouchable. Since the caste system disregards his hope of transcending himself in his children, Dukhi, for the first time in his life, questions his identification with the order of caste. He revolts, and eventually transgresses the restrictions of caste. This reaction is visible when he decides to remove his children from the immediate impact of discrimination.

In The God of Small Things, the upper-castes are strictly prohibited from having sensual relationships with the untouchables. In this society, women suffer the most and are not authorized to have sexual relationships with members from the lower caste. Mammachi’s completely different responses to her son’s and daughter’s cross-caste love affairs exactly manifest the double standard of the Love Laws. Mammachi makes sense of the world by setting up a distinct boundary between the upper and lower castes and is a leading watcher who is seriously propagating the importance of the Love Laws and its double standard. The narrator reports that; “Mammachi’s world was arranged that way. If she was invited to a wedding in Kottayam, she would spend the whole time whispering to whomever she went with, ‘the bride’s maternal grandfather was my father’s carpenter. Kunjukutty Eape. His great-grandmother's sister was just a midwife in Trivandrum. My husband’s family used to own this whole hill” (The God of Small Things 160).

Even though in reality Mammachi’s husband’s family no longer owns a handsome property to claim the title of a rich family, the upper-caste membership she inherits from her preceding generations secures her prior position as an empowered elite. Like other upper-caste women, Mammachi’s primary duty of life according to Vasanth Kannabiran and Kannabiran Kalpana in “Violence and Sexuality” in Gender and Caste “is to protect the life of her man and ensure his longevity because her social existence is defined by and hinged on his life” (255-25). At her husband’s funeral, she cries hard not because of her love for the deceased spouse but her sense of loss, the loss of her source of social recognition that she esteems. As an upper-caste woman, she shares with her other family members the caste superiority in the society, and meantime she suffers the violence of patriarchy with the Indian women.

Ammu, Mammachi’s daughter is supposed to be another model upper-caste woman. In a society where the public concentrates efforts to maintain the social order by constant enforcement of tradition, the female body is strictly regulated. Ammu, though she is a divorcee who has no “Locust Stand I” (56). Her vigorous claims that “she wanted her body back because it was hers” (211) to other people even her own family are a taboo subject. The regulation of women’s gendered bodies’ aims to keep the survival of national heritage, that is, the caste system. Leela Dube in Gender and Caste underscores that, “the cultural schemes which underlie the caste system are based upon a fundamental difference between male and female bodies in respect of their vulnerability to incur impunity through sexual intercourse” (232). He continues to reiterate that, “there is a hierarchy between two sexes within a caste for “the caste system is premised upon the cultural perception of a fundamental difference in male and female sexuality” (231). Women’s vulnerability, their biological capacity into the upper and the lower caste in India is the difference between clean and dirty. As Ammu teaches her twins, Rachel and Estha, the difference between the upper and the lower castes in India is the difference between clean and dirty: “I think it’s high time that you learned the difference between CLEAN and DIRTY. Especially in this country” (142), says Ammu. When Vellya Paapen comes to Mammachi to reveal Ammu’s secret love with his untouchable son, Mammachi shows an outburst of anger. The narrator tells us that; “Mammachi’s rage at the old one-eyed Paravan standing in the rain, drunk, dribbling and covered in mud was re-directed into a cold contempt for her daughter and what she had done. She thought of her naked, coupling in the mud with a man who was nothing but a filthy coolie. … her particular Paravan smell. Like animals, Mammachi thought and nearly vomited” (244). “The particular Paravan smell” as seen in the quotation, to Mammachi, is a part of the lower caste’s impurity. The hereditary impunity running in the blood of the untouchable caste has endowed a lower-caste man an animal-like image, which simply reminds us of the persecution the Dukhi go through in A Fine Balance. Velutha is shabbily treated and relegated to the periphery by Mammachi because he is a Paravan.

Again, when an upper-caste woman crosses the boundary to touch a man that she is forbidden to associate with, her family thinks that she is running the risk of introducing an impurity into their lineage. To introduce impurity means to give birth to a child with that “particular Paravan smell” (233). It obviously will generate chaos in the caste system and will certainly threaten the social order. In a nutshell, Dube illuminates that, “a woman’s role in biological reproduction, makes her primarily responsible for maintaining the purity of caste and its boundaries and call for proper control over her sexuality” (233).

Indeed, Chacko is allowed more freedom to mingle with the untouchables. However, he is forbidden from getting married to a low-caste woman to maintain his social identity as a member of the upper caste. His sister, Ammu, is equally supposed to do the same sacrifice otherwise she will be an outcast. According to Vasanth Kannabiran and Kalpana Kakkabiran “when the caste norms are openly flouted by elopement, pregnancy, or discovery, punitive action becomes necessary” (259). Ammu’s transgression of the caste norms is severely punished. Ammu, who is considered one of “the worst transgressors” of “the laws that lay down who should be loved and how, the laws that make grandmothers grandmothers, uncles uncles, mothers mothers, cousins cousins, jam jam, jelly jelly” (31), is locked in her bedroom like “the family lunatic in a medieval household” (239). Soon after that, the family banishes her, leaving her to die miserably on the margin of society. This again reminds us of Elizabeth’s torture in A Question of Power. The fate of Ammu parallels that of Elizabeth’s mother in A Question of Power; she violates the Act of Immorality propagated by the apartheid regime and is tagged mad by her family and is locked up in a mental home. The transgression of the Love Laws is the only big thing in The God of Small Things. The transgression results in a series of deaths and eventually trauma afflicting the younger generation. The tragedy begins at the very moment when Vellya Pappen reports the forbidden love to Mammachi. In the act of secret disclosure, we realize a master-slave relationship within the caste system. The power structure is quite obvious in the caste-ridden Kerala where the untouchables, namely, Paravans, Palayas and Pulayas as mentioned in the novel are treated with a lot of disdain. They are not allowed to enter the houses of the upper caste. Pappachi would not allow Vellya Pappen and his son to touch things touched by Caste Hindus and Caste Christian. The description of the inhuman treatment of the untouchables becomes obvious when Mammachi tells the twins that “In her girlhood, when Paravans were expected to crawl backwards with a broom, sweeping away their footprints so that Brahmins or Syrian Christians would not defile themselves by accidentally stepping into a Paravan’s footprint” (73-74).

In Mammachi’s time, Paravans, like other untouchables, are not allowed to walk on public roads, not allowed to cover their upper bodies, not allowed to carry umbrellas. They put their hands over their mouths when talking, to divert their polluted breath away from those whom they are talking to. Through Mammachi we get to understand the predicaments of the Paravans. Paravans are not only expected “to crawl backwards with a broom, sweeping away the footprints so that Brahmins or Syrians Christians would not defile themselves by accidentally stepping into a paravan’s footprints” (73-74) but they are also not allowed to walk on public roads and are also not supposed to cover their upper bodies. The paravans are forbidden to carry an umbrella so that they are sunburnt. These untouchables are required to cover their mouths with their hands while speaking so that their polluted breath does not contact the high caste persons. The treatment of the Paravans reminds us of the subalterns who have no independent space from which to articulate their voices because hegemony conditions them to believe in the dominant values.

In The God of Small Things, Vellya Pappen and his two sons, Kuttapen and Velutha, belong to an untouchable caste called Paravan. Among them, Kuttapen is a neutral character who has little or no significant role to play in the novel. Vellya Pappen and Velutha serve the objective of showing how untouchables are being oppressed, subjugated, tortured, and victimized jointly by politicians, administrators and members of upper-caste families. Like other untouchables in all parts of India, Vellya Pappen, convinced of his lot to be a slave by birth, devotes his loyalty to serving his masters in the upper caste. Being ignorant of whatever cost he and his sons are going to pay, Vellya Pappen betrays his son by exposing his relationship with Ammu to Mammachi. Velutha is a young man who does not understand the implications of getting so close to a high caste woman as Ammu. He probably sees all these rules and regulations restricting members of the untouchable as nonsensical. Velutha just as Narayan in A Fine Balance, tries unsuccessfully to change the status-quo of his society. Velutha in this novel can be likened to the subaltern who wants to speak but does not know how to go about it. Velutha is tortured by Inspector Mathew and is locked up. This is in ties in with the views of Gayatri Spivak as illuminated in her article “Can the Subaltern Speak”. Here, Spivak beckons on the intellectual class of society to represent the subalterns by raising their suppressed voices. This radical transformation can only come to pass if the intellectuals put their hands on deck to redress these burning issues that is why Roy maintains that; “things can change in a day” (33), thrice in the novel from pages 164-192 and then on page 202, she makes the same remarks that the world can be changed in a day.

The caste system in India is a system that reminds us of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the tribal discrimination between the Batswanan and the Masarwan in Botswana and the Shona and the Ndebele in Zimbabwe. Indeed the Indian society is not only rooted in patriarchy but it is equally a society where its social order is based on the enforcement of the caste system. It is therefore convincing that in order to be a part of this society one has to strictly observe the prohibition and the law that governs the society and that most if not all people subscribe to, including the famous Love Law which Roy refers to as the norm that governs how Indians talk about love. Notably, the Love Law is interwoven with the gender and class classification the society emphasizes the most. In order to echo these classifications, Indian society creates a dual standard that favours males and the upper castes. The upper caste stands for purity while the lower caste like the blacks in South Africa is expected to lie at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This struggle for survival is especially difficult for the oppressed, silenced voices of women who are further divided into the category of the working class with age and unskilled capabilities as additional handicaps. In the God of Small Things and A Fine Balance, casteism relegates the untouchables to a position of obscurity in Indian society. It remains obvious that the writers do not take side with this social injustice practised in their societies. They suggest that stark injustices are inherent in the practice casteism system in their postcolonial societies.

Capitalism and Victimization

Apart from being pathetic, it is ironic that people who work hardest to produce wealth suffer the most in the Indian society represented by Roy and Mistry. The subalterns are minimized, victimized, tortured, segregated and treated cruelly and shabbily by the most powerful in the postcolonial context. Roy and Mistry in the novels in the study articulate the way the downtrodden are victimized by a strong capitalistic system. We know them as the “working class” in Roy’s words (The God of Small Things). Describing the untouchables in India, Das notes; “but Indian tradition has left as a legacy of the Aryan past a section which is placed worse than ordinary members of the working class. That is known generally as ‘untouchable’ or ‘Pariah’. As it sounds bitter Mahatma Gandhi named them as ‘Harijans’ (Children of God) while the census authorities during the British rule referred to them as “exterior classes’. Now-a-day they are popularly known as the ‘depressed’ or ‘Dalit’. (“The Social Realism in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things” 213)

Mistry and Roy in the study reveal a sensible and sensitive understanding of the social exploitation of the lower caste in Indian society in their novels. These novels reveal the scale and degree of the painful struggle of the outcastes in capitalistic and aggressive postcolonial society. Untouchables are economically exploited by others and lose their identity as individuals and join the banished section of humanity. In A Fine Balance, Mistry highlights crucial events in the country’s chronicle by the background of each protagonist. The tailors and their forefathers’ life reflect the cruelty of the caste system in rural India where unbelievable horrors are committed on the lower caste. This narrator agonizingly puts it this way; “The Thakur’s wife was watching from the kitchen window, ‘Oiee, my husband! Come quick!’ She screamed. ‘The Chamaar donkey has destroyed our mortar!’... ‘What have you done, you witless animal! Is this what I hired you for?’... ‘I swear on the heads of my children,’ begged Dukhi, ‘I was only pounding chillies, as I have done all day. Look Thakurji, the sack is almost empty, the work’. ‘Get up! Leave my land at once! I never want to see you again!’ ‘But, Thakurji, the work-’ He hit Dukhi across the back with his stick. “Get up, I said! And get Out!’...Thakurji, have pity, there has been no work for days, I don’t’... ‘Listen, You stinking dog! You have destroyed my property, yet I am letting you off! If I wasn’t such a soft-hearted fool, I would hand you to the police for your crime. Now get out!’” (A Fine Balance 104). The above quotation exposes the shameful and terrible treatment of Thakurji’s on poor people. Even though Dukhi has done nothing wrong and has worked all day, he is robbed of his payment by the landlord. Further, his foot is crushed in the accident. The behaviour of Thakurji reflects the postcolonial concept of the centre.

A Fine Balance and The God of Small Things represent the fate of the untouchables and the downtrodden compounded with irony. People well placed in the society attempt to be kind and sympathetic to them but their supremacy undermines their professed liberal or revolutionary aims. People want to educate the untouchables but dare not to place them in the same schools as the upper caste. A leader talks about social revolution but dreads an untouchable who holds the party card. An employer recognizes the merits of her employee but attaches more importance to his caste. Then, the untouchable characters in the novel are presented as people who are wanting even though they are endowed with a supernatural gift. This is visible in the character of Velutha in The God of Small Things who has been powerfully painted in terms of his robust physique and inborn talents for making wooden objects. The narrator tells us that “He was like a little magician he could make intricate toys-fine windmill, rattles, minute jewel boxes out of dried palm reeds, he could carve perfect boats out of tapioca stems and figurines on cashew nuts” (77). He is equally bestowed with exceptional talents as the narrator writes, “Velutha had a way with machines. Mammachi often said that if only he had not been a Paravan he might have become an engineer. He mended radios, clocks, water pumps. He looked after the plumbing and all the electrical gadgets in the house” (43). Although Velutha is talented, he is pushed to the margin and treated shabbily because of his caste identity.

Velutha’s skill impresses everyone except his father. This is because his father is of the old school who believes that the Paravans are subalterns who are supposed to be seen and not heard. His heart is always filled with fear of the unknown, especially for his son. He believes that the best way to live in society is to remain loyal to the upper-caste. A penniless upper-caste man is always better than a well-to-do untouchable. Casteism makes it very difficult for an untouchable to become rich because the upper caste is the direct supervisor of the production process, and the untouchables can simply work as a slave under the gaze of or surveillance from the superior classes. Maddison points out that “these social disabilities greatly reinforce purely economic inequality and make social mobility very difficult” (130). When there is no possibility of social mobility because according to Maddison; “the untouchables are too small a minority to start a successful rebellion” (29), they have no choice but to accept their fate.

In the novels under study, the novelists throw light on the injustice, cruelty, and disparity suffered by the subalterns in their respective capitalistic societies. Mistry like the other Roy, through a complex and pathetic story, narrates the very dark but prevailing side of India in which the subaltern class and the marginalized people in India, like Dalits, women and minority, inherit and inhabit their lives in the margin. They no longer go near the centre, the power-owning upper class who treat them, as the West treats the East as the Oriental other, to use Edward Saïd’s idea of “Orientalism”. To the upper-class people in India, the Dalits become “a sort of surrogate and even underground self” (Dube: Caste and Women Gender and Caste186). The lives of the Chamaars like Dukhi, Ishvar and Om are clear instances of the treatment meted out to the Dalits during post-colonial India. Untouchability exists since the later Vedic era and after Independence where “the constitution of India incorporated several laws to abolish untouchability by imposing severe punishments” (Dube: Caste and Women Gender and Caste 59). Caste and caste politics have become highly politicized in India, and ironically the movement by lower castes to mobilize and to improve their lot and get their rights has increased caste consciousness, caste conflicts and Dalit movements. Dalits are on the move demanding equal status and rights such as access to land, to temples, to wells and water, to better pay and respect. To quote the words of Dube, “The outcastes are answering back, and in some cases biting back. The extent of this shift remains undereducated and under-represented, and their collective importance as an Indian community is not recognized… If every sixth person on the planet is an Indian, every sixth Indian is a Dalit” (Caste and Women Gender and Caste 261). The novels in the study throw light on the problems of the Dalits, their marginalized condition and their struggle for survival. In A Fine Balance, the lives of Dukhi, Narayan, Ishvar and Om in this novel are standing examples of the existential condition and tragic state of the lives of Dalits in post-Independent India. In The Chamcha Age the Dalit leader Kanshi’s Ram used strong words when he says that; “the sufferings and humiliations of the slaves, the Negroes and the Jews are nothing as compared to the untouchables of India… Everywhere in the world democracy means the rule of the majority. But in India 85 per cent of people are ruled by 10 to 15 per cent Higher Castes… Brahminism had such poisonous germs in it, that it effectively killed the desire to revolt against the worst form of injustice” (Caste and Women Gender and Caste 264).

Writing generally on the Parsi community, Mistry narrates the social realities, particularly related to the Dalits. He brings a social consciousness against casteism by making bold and dauntless statements in the novel. In A Fine Balance and The God of Small Things, Mistry and Roy attempt to articulate the silences of centuries of exploitation, domination and oppression of the poorest of the poor of India. These people who are relegated to the periphery work on the farms of the upper-caste and are given no salaries. In A Fine Balance, Dukhi Mochi, like others of his ilk, depends on the landowning class called Thakurs. He attends to the Thakur’s myriad chores and accepts whatever is paid to him. The narrator tells us about Dukhis’ ordeal when he is crushing dried chillies on the orders of Thakur Premji, the mortar breaks into two with one part landing on his foot and injuring it. Unmindful of Dukhi’s injury, the Thakur beat him up severely with a stick. Naturally, this leaves Dukhi very sad and angry. Such events are quite frequent so Dukhi decides to change his profession and take up one which is dignifying and paying. He migrates to the nearby city and becomes a cobbler.

Chacko in The God of Small Things controls his mother business in a typical capitalistic manner. Indeed, the title of the opening chapter, “Paradise Pickles and Reserves”, according to Susan Comfort in “The Hidden Life of Things: Commodification, Imperialism, and Environmental Feminism in Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things” refers “to the pickle business that Chacko has appropriated from his mother, Mammachi, and reorganized according to patriarchal model” (6). This indeed is apparent because Chacko’s bourgeois actions follow almost to the letter a classic shift in the mode of production from home-working to factory-labour that marginalizes bourgeois women in a private sphere, while introducing the super-exploitation of subaltern groups, especially of working-class women and low caste labourers. The narrator notes that “Up to the time Chacko arrived, the factory had been a small but profitable enterprise. Mammachi just ran it like a large kitchen. Chacko had it registered as a partnership and informed Mammachi that she was the Sleeping Partner. He invested in equipment (canning machines, cauldrons and cookers) and expanded the labour force” (55-56). Comfort, looks at the change Chacko makes in the business as “a process of capitalist accumulation that creates a proletariat class of mostly underpaid female labourers whose work is devalued by their reinscribed status as housewives” (“The Hidden Life of Things: Commodification, Imperialism, and Environmental Feminism in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.” 6). This means that Chacko uses his business skills to exploit low caste women and subject them to various forms of labour with little or no pay.

Just like Chacko in The God of Small Things, Dina in A Fine Balance With the help of Zanobia gets a tailoring contract from Mrs. Gupta and they decide to hire some tailors and supervise them. Her incomplete education is a great hurdle in her getting and finding some good job even here in the tailoring sector. She is not fully skilled and feels frightened to handle the deals even though tailoring is the only profession she is a little comfortable with. Mrs Gupta consoles her saying that “All you have to do is to follow the paper patterns” (65). She doesn’t want to go to Nusswan anymore for help and tailoring is the only option. Mrs. Gupta the true capitalistic voice who holds the string of the purse and consequently can decide the terms and conditions of work and wages gives Dina a sewing contract at very low wages. She is running a big boutique with American companies and likes to deal with private contractors only to avoid the troubles of the union workers. Mrs Gupta exploits Dina in a typical capitalistic manner when she says: “I will keep giving you orders. Much bigger orders, she promised; As I told you earlier, I prefer to deal with private contractors. Union loafers want to work less and get more money” (73). Mrs Gupta exploits Dina in a typical capitalistic manner. Mammachi in The God of Small Things does not compromise her status for anything. She draws a line and sees that the Paravans remain on the other side of the line. Although Velutha’s talents as a carpenter are indispensable to the smooth running of the factory, the principle of the caste system is maintained in the factory with full force. The caste discrimination is seen as; “to keep the others happy and since she knew that nobody else would hire him as a carpenter. Mammachi paid Velutha less than she would a touchable carpenter but more than she would a Paravan. Mammachi did not encourage him to enter the house. She thought that he ought to be grateful that he was allowed on the factory premises at all. And allowed to touch things that Untouchables touched. She said that it was a big step for Paravans” (The God of Small Things 56).

The attitude of Mammachi towards Velutha is highly capitalistic and reminds us of the concept of the centre-margin. This of course ties in with Das as he stipulates that, “Velutha’s subjugation is multiple. He is born Paravan son of a Paravan a Community in Kerala, subjugated to extreme ignominy through ages”. To escape the inhuman humiliations Velutha’s forefathers had embraced Christianity. But the Christians themselves had adopted as a matter of the natural form of adoption the strict and unavoidable caste-system thus the Paravans had only received the status of untouchable Christians with separate church and priest (“The Social Realism in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things”33). Ironically, the church makes a distinction between the lower caste and the upper caste which is contrary to the Christian dogma.That notwithstanding, it remains indisputable that though the untouchables are subjected to a similar ordeal by the upper caste their responses are not similar. In A Fine Balance just as in The God of Small Things, Mistry and Roy respectively, reduplicate the fate of the Chamar caste in Indian. They are subjected to myriad forms of agonizing tortures by the Hindus. This is significant as V.S Naipaul in An Area of Darkness points out that, “the worker in leather is among the lowest of the low, the most tainted of the tainted” (18). Together with the other Chamaars in the village, Dukhi just as the Paravans in The God of Small Things lives on the carcasses of dead animals. He uses the hides to produce sandals. His social status is that of an untouchable. As such he does not formally belong to any of the four main castes of the Hindu society that is Brahmins (priest), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (traders and peasants) and Shudras (craftsmen and servants). Indeed, the caste system according to Hinduism believes that his position within the caste system is determined by his behaviour in a previous incarnation. Reincarnation as a Brahmin, for instance, is taken as a sign that one has acted in accordance with his duties as a representative of his respective caste. Unlike class, the system of caste is not based on meritocracy. According to Allison “Class is a system of rewards. Caste imprisons a man in his function” (23). This is obvious because the system of caste postpones social mobility to a future incarnation. A future incarnation, however, will only bring about a rise to another stratum if the individual conforms to his present caste status. Thus the social status-quo is not to be questioned; paradoxically, it is better not to resist the social status-quo if the individual wishes to improve his standing in his next life. The belief in reincarnation holds out the hope of rebirth in a higher social status. Once an untouchable accomplishes his task in this life with a loyal and humble heart, he is qualified for an improved next life. Consequently, members of the lower castes such as the untouchables resort to this conventional explanation and find self-comfort in seeing it as an escape from the oppressive reality. Like other untouchables in all parts of India, Vellya Pappen in The God of Small Things is convinced of his lot to be a slave by birth and devotes his loyalty to the masters of the upper caste. With no subversive ideas in him, Vellya Pappen “had come to tell Mammachi himself. As a Paravan and a man with mortgaged body parts, he considered it his duty …” (242). The narrator says that; “Vellya Pappen, an old Paravan, who had seen the Walking Backward days” and “torn between Loyalty and Love” (42), sacrificed his love for his son, Velutha, making up his mind to be a good and well-behaved slave. In this episode, love loses its battle to the teaching imposed upon the individual in the Indian culture. As Todd McGowna contends in The End of Dissatisfaction, “prohibition has always functioned as the key to the social organization as such, demanding that subjects sacrifice enjoyment for the sake of work, community, and progress … Every socialized individual he must be given up by those who enter into it” (12).

It is observed that, people who work hardest to produce wealth suffer the most in the postcolonial societies represented by Head and Mistry. The subalterns are minimized, victimized, tortured, segregated and treated cruelly and shabbily by the most powerful in the postcolonial context. The writers in the novels in the study articulate the way the downtrodden are victimized by a strong capitalistic system. They reveal a sensible and sensitive understanding of social exploitation in the postcolonial South African and Indian society. Mistry and Roy reveal the scale and degree of the painful struggle of the outcastes in capitalistic and aggressive postcolonial society in the novels in the study. Untouchables are economically exploited by others. Head and Coetzee equally highlight the despicable condition of the blacks in their capitalistic society. They lose their identity as individuals and join the banished section of humanity.

Political Intimidation

Intolerance is equally practised in casteism in the political sphere as visible in the novel A Fine Balance and The God of Small Things. Pandit Lalluram’s attitude in A Fine Balance reminds us of Pillai’s nonchalant attitude in The God of Small Things. Pillai does not miss the opportunity to oppress and defile Velutha. Pillai is indeed an epitome of all the unpleasant deceptive aspects of the political system who will go the extra mile to inflict pain on the less privileged or the subalterns in the postcolonial context. The sham façade which is instituted by the local power is visible in men like Pillai. The irony in the whole show is that Pillai represents a party that advocates workers’ interests and this party is functional and legal because it has been voted by the masses to protect them from all kinds of socio-economic exploitation. Their leadership survives on the slogan-raising and noisy marches challenging such a society that is based on all forms of inequality. The narrator writes that; “Only then when it was too late, and paradise pickle slumped softly to the floor without SO much LIS a murmur Or even the pretence or resistance- did comrade Pillai realize that what he needed was the process of war more than the outcome of victory. War could have been the stallion that he rode; part of it is not to the legislative Assembly, whereas victory left him no better oft than when he started oft” (The God of Small Things 67).

Pillai’s diabolic plans are visible when he plots to trap Velutha and when he joins hands with the state police in smashing Velutha for no just crimes. Velutha indeed epitomizes the class of downtrodden untouchables used by the politicians and the police as mere guns in the political war front. Pillai’s deceptive political strategies are difficult to understand, even for Chacko. In the novel, the narrator recounts that “nobody ever learned the precise nature of the role that comrade Pillai played in the events that followed. Even Chacko-who knew that the fervent, high-pitched speeches about rights of untouchables delivered by comrade Pillai during the Marxist party siege of paradise pickles were pharisaic never, learned the whole story” (89). Pillai just like Indira Ghandi in A Fine Balance, represents those pretentious and egoistic politicians who have very little or no interest in the welfare of the masses at heart. Just like Velutha in The God of Small Things, Narayan in A Fine Balance being of a lower caste, decides to assert his right to vote for a candidate of his choice rather than having the upper caste members vote for him. This attitude of Narayan makes the upper caste leader Thakur Dharamsi furious as he considers himself at the centre of political affairs. Narayan and the other two men, who are in his favour are taken to Thakur Dharamsi’s farm by his men. At the farm throughout the day, at intervals, they are flogged mercilessly and are hanged naked by their ankles from the branches of a banyan tree. Thakur’s men urinate on the three inverted faces and after the election is over, burning coals are held up to the three men’s genitals, then stuffed into their mouths. Their painful screams are heard through the village until their lips and tongues melt away. Then their silent bodies are taken down from the tree. But the moment they begin to stir, Thakur’s men think they are still alive. So they transfer the ropes from their ankles to their necks. Finally, they are hanged for no fault and their dead bodies are displayed in the village square so that others may learn a lesson. Thakur Dharamsi is revengeful for Dukhi Mochi whom he accuses of turning cobblers into tailors distorting the society’s timeless balance. Dukhi, Roopa, Radha and their daughter are also killed by Thakur and the dead bodies of all are dispersed into the river. Only Ishvar and Om survive because they were with Ashraf. When they go to the police station with Ashraf to register an F.I.R. the police inspector refuses to file it. Here, Mistry paints a very gloomy and nerve-wrecking picture of the political situation in India. The untouchables are treated like filthy rags and are subordinated and relegated to the periphery and are treated as subalterns. They dare not have a say in the political affairs of their society for any concerted effort to challenge the status quo is tantamount to destruction as in the case of Velutha and Dukhi Mochi’children in The God of Small Things and A Fine Balance respectively.The conflict between the upper caste and the untouchable is a sort of concrete reality in India. Mistry’s representation of Dalits in this novel brings a sensible and sensitive understanding of social exploitation inherent in the class structure of India and the novel points out how a marginalized person loses his identity. As a humanist and social novelist, it becomes easier for Mistry to describe the dignity, value and freedom of the individual human being with their identity. As Narayan states, “Life without dignity is worthless” ( A Fine Balance 144). But the price he pays for maintaining it is his life and the life of the members of his family.

To assert his individuality, Narayan tries to cast his vote in the assembly election where, as usual, Thakur Dharamsi and his goondas ask the low caste men to put their thumb impression in the register and go away without casting votes. When Narayan claims “It is our right as voters” (145), Thakur Dharamsi refuses to give the ballots to him. Narayan and his family are brutally tortured and then hanged in the village square. Other untouchables are beaten up at random, their women raped and their huts burnt down. Mistry delineates the brutal handling of these low caste men by the oppressive caste Hindus thus, “Throughout the day, at intervals, they were flogged as they hung naked by their ankles from the branches of a banyan tree… His men urinated on the three inverted faces. Semiconscious, the parched mouths were grateful for the moisture, licking the trickle with feeble urgency” (146). Mistry, Further depicts the cruel deeds of these men when he says that; “In the evening, after the ballot boxes were taken away, burning coals were held to the three men’s genitals, then stuffed into their mouths. Their screams were heard through the village until their lips and tongues melted away. The still, silent bodies were taken down from the tree. When they began to stir, the ropes were transferred from their ankles to their necks, and the three were hanged. The bodies were displayed in the village square” (A Fine Balance 146).

Narayan’s desire to maintain individuality and lead a respectable life in society is crushed by the powerful force of the upper caste. Thakur Dharamsi brutally kills all the members of Narayan’s family including Dukhi and Roopa except Ishvar and Om who have gone away on that fateful night. The law enforcing authorities are not ready to prosecute and take action against the perpetrators of the crime. Instead, they warn Ishvar and Om to leave the police station without making a fuss. The sub-inspector shouts at Ishvar: “What kind of rascality is this? Trying to fill up the F.I.R. with lies? You filthy achhoot castes are always out to make trouble! Get out before we charge you with public mischief!” (148). This is indicative of the indifference of the law enforcing authorities towards the low caste men as they are treated as subalterns. Omprakash dreams of revenge but both Ashraf and Ishvar know the futility of such dreams and instead decide to send Om to Bombay. With this move, a new phase starts in the lives of Om and Ishvar. In the city, it is class rather than caste that oppresses them. Mistry creates an authentic record of the sad plight of the Dalits in India. Presenting the Dalit existence in A Fine Balance, Mistry raises the marginalized and subaltern voice of the Dalits which has been restrained for too long within the caste boundaries of the traditional system of varnas in India. In A Fine Balance, at the temple of justice, the corpus of justice facilitates justice only to the people in power. The narrator explains that “What can be expected when judgment has fled to brutish beasts, and the country’s leader has exchanged wisdom and good governance for cowardice and self-aggrandizement? Our society is decaying from the top downwards” (A Fine Balance 561). In A Fine Balance, the most horrifying acts of the emergency and its repercussions are felt by the main protagonists. Ishvar and Omprakash are the two characters from the lowest strata of the Indian caste Chamaars. They try hard to move up the social ladder to that of tailors. But their life is fraught with peril and they have to leave the village, where their family is burnt alive. In search of a better life, they go to the town and then to the metropolis in the big city where Ishvar and Om have to live under ghastly conditions. Unable to do sewing anymore, they are once again reduced to being low caste members, as they become beggars. Their only joyful moments are the only lunchtime meals that Dina still manages nearly every day to offer them secretly in her brother’s house. One person consoles Ishvar in the camp that the operation is reversible though very expensive “Never mind how expensive-we will get it done! We will sew like crazy for Dinabai; night and day I will get it reversed for you! Om wailed Ishvar”(20). Thus the tailors are punished the second time. Firstly, their whole family is burnt alive and secondly, Om is castrated, killing his dreams of getting married. In this scene, Mistry brings out the pathos of the situation in all its intensity.

Therefore, almost four months after coming to the city, the tailors return with Ishvar sitting on a platform with castors like the beggar Shankar, with Om, now turned into a eunuch, pulling it with a rope. In this scene, Mistry paints a realistic picture of the life of the lower caste who are victims of political intimidation and manipulation. Here Alison notes that “A Fine Balance is also a text in which Mistry has made a conscious effort to embrace more of the social reality of India, although the novel opens with a Parsi woman Dina Dalal’s story in Bombay, it soon enlarges its scope to include her lodger Maneck Kohlah from a hill station in North India and tailors, Ishvar and Omprakash, who come to her from a village” (77). However, unlike class, the system of caste is not based on meritocracy: “Class is a system of rewards. Caste imprisons a man in his function.” (23). The system of caste postpones social mobility to a future incarnation. A future incarnation, however, will only bring about a rise to another stratum if the individual conforms to his present caste status. Thus the social status quo is not to be questioned; paradoxically, it better be affirmed if the individual wants to improve his standing in life.

Roy and Mistry do not mince words in describing the maladies and coercion of the lower caste people. The lower caste people are politically conscious. They opine that despite new laws banning untouchability, they are treated worse than animals. Narayan in A Fine Balance, gives vent to his pain thus: “I want to be able to drink from the village well, worship in the temple and walk where I like” (13). He gets into a rebellious mood and speaks his mind at the booth about casting his vote himself instead of handing it over to the goons of the landlord as has been done earlier. He notes that; “It is our right to vote” (14). Soon the goons arrive and force him to put his thumb down on the registration paper. For his insolence, he, along with some others, are taken to the Landlords farm and tortured. This reminds us of Velutha’s ordeal in The God of Small Things. Camrade Pillai pretentious attitude is glaring when Velutha visits him. Pillai like Pandit Lalluram in A Fine Balance decides to remain cold-blooded at the way he eats his meal. The narrator tells us that “Comrade Pillai finished his curd unhurriedly. He wagged his fingers over his plate. Kalyani brought water in a little stainless steel container and poured it out for him. The leftover Morsels of loud in his plate, rose and floated? She brought him a hand towel. He wiped his hands. Belched his appreciation and went to the door” (109). The manner in which the workers' leader disowns and snops at Velutha illuminates the horrible fate of the untouchable who are bound to go through a great ordeal and have been relegated to the position of the lowest of the lowly by the upper caste in the society. In order to set the record straight, Camrade Pillai reminds Velutha that; “But Camrade, you should know that party was not constituted to support worker’s indiscipline in their private life” (45). From all indications, Camrade Pillai fails to act as a source of support to Velutha. Indeed Velutha has been abandoned by a party that is supposed to act as a source of support to him especially in times of crisis like the one he is going through. Roy puts Velutha’s plight agonizingly in this way; “Velutha –watched comrade Pillai’s body fed on the door. His disembodied piping voice stayed on and sent out slogans. Pennants fluttering in an empty doorway. It is not in the party’s interest to take up such matters. Individual’s interest is subordinate to the organization’s interest. Violating party discipline means violating party unity. And there it was again another religion turned against itself. Another edifice constructed by the human mind decimated by human nature” (67).

Velutha is betrayed by the only party he has put all his trust in. He is equally betrayed by Comrade Pillai by whose side he has remained standing loyally as a party worker and as a trade unionist. Remarkably, the world represented by Roy is indeed a world of a double standard. Das observes that “principles and ideals are used as a mask to cover the worst kind of social injustices where cruelty and barbaric behaviour are used as tools to perpetuate the age-old exploitative system” (219). According to Das, “the author seeks to attack, but the self-seeking politicians in general whose principles and ideological commitments are as a well-wrought facade behind which dubious games are played” (212). We get to understand that Roy is disgusted and dissatisfied with political hypocrisy which is so deeply implanted in politicians who put on a glittering mask when campaigning for political positions but when they are voted they become glued to their seats of power and become dubious in the game of politics. The author interrogates the social setup that allows the inhuman treatment of people by others. This is ties in with Das as he notes; “Velutha, the skilled Paravan embodies the fate of untouchable in free India. His plight is not much different from that of Anand’s Bakha. Despite his inborn noble qualities and physique, he is not yet empowered to strike back. Though the days of crawling backwards with a broom sweeping away the footprints have become a tale of the past, the Paravan’s fate has not yet witnessed the change. Velutha in The God of Small Things left no footprints in the sand, no ripples in the water” (212).

Just as racism is the fundamental factor in dividing people in South African history, the caste system is a factor that hampers the integration of people in India. It equally affects the socio-economic and socio-cultural system of Indian society. In this society, the untouchables just as the blacks in South Africa are exploited socially, economically, culturally and politically. We have observed that the post-apartheid regime which is reflected in Coetzee’s Disgrace is similar to the apartheid regime visible in A Question of Power. Racism as a social ill which is inherent in this era as reflected in Disgrace is different from the one that is visible in A Question of power in that it is not legalized. In the novel in the study, the authors depict how the powerful objectify their victims in ways that are graphic and profoundly unsettling. While Head and Coetzee are critical of the apartheid and post-apartheid regimes respectively and both stands for the reconstruction of South Africa Mistry and Roy are arrantly disenchanted by casteism in India. The writers in the study, throw light on the injustice, cruelty, traumas and the disparity suffered by the downtrodden in their respective postcolonial societies. Both Mistry and Roy, through a complex and pathetic story, narrate the very dark but prevailing side of India in which the subaltern class and the marginalized people in India, like Dalits, women and minority, inherit and inhabit their lives in the margin. They don’t go near the centre, the power-ruling upper class who relegate them to the margin. The lives of the Chamaars like Dukhi, Ishvar and Om are clear instances of the treatment meted out to the Dalits during post-colonial India as reflected by Roy and Mistry in the narratives in the study. Just like Roy and Mistry acting as voices to the voiceless in the Indian society, both Coetzee

It remains obvious that Mistry and Roy in the novels in the study in the study do not take side with the social injustice practised in their societies. They suggest that stark injustices are inherent in the practice of casteism in Indian society. Which tie in with Chinweizu et al., in Toward the Decolonization of African Literature as they uphold that, the writer might portray his comment “by treating the burning issues of the day, or he may also do so by treating themes germane to his community’s fundamental and long-range interest” (152). Chinweizu et al., believe that any committed writer should reduplicate the plight of the people in his society. The realities of casteism in Indian as represented in the novels of Mistry and Roy bring to the limelight the horrors of social injustice visible through casteism which are prevailing in their society.


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