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Humanistic Values at Stake in Postcolonial Era: A Study of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger


Humanistic Values at Stake in Postcolonial Era: A Study of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger


Sahadev Roy

State Aided College Teacher

Department of English

Dewanhat Mahavidyalaya

Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India


Ph.D. Research Scholar

Department of English

O.P.J.S. University

Churu, Rajasthan, India




Aravind Adiga’s debut novel The White Tiger, published in 2008 portrays the darkest side of the Indian society during the post-colonial era. The novel reveals the struggle and misery of the downtrodden people amidst various societal issues like corruption, poverty, unemployment, discrimination in terms of wealth and caste, etc. After the end of colonialism people acquired freedom from the colonial powers. But even in the post-colonial era the lower strata of the society are exposed to all societal evils and they are not treated equally. Their freedom still remains as a big question mark in this modern era. They are dominated and handled like animals. The society’s lack of humanism has paved way for the agony of the poor people. In his early novel, Adiga has taken the challenge of highlighting corruption, the tapping issue and other issues which make the country crippled. This paper aims to bring out the erosion of humanistic values and depicts how the poor people are corrupted and forced to commit crimes to survive this hard era.


Keywords: Post-colonial, Corruption, Colonialism, Societal Evils, Humanism and Crime




During the colonial era the colonizers exploited the colonized people socially, politically and economically and treated them as subaltern. After constant struggle the country obtained independence and the end of colonialism has resulted in the creation of many socio economic groups. People were segregated into upper and lower class based on the caste, community, occupation and economic background. Even after the end of colonialism people like the Zamindars, Landlords, Business men, Industrialists exploited the working class for their wellbeing.


In the post-colonial era the poor people became poorer and it also restricted them from becoming rich and it created a big difference in the society. The poor and downtrodden people had no spokesperson to speak for them. Hence they occupied a minimal place in the society. Even the government and the system were hard on them. They lived an insecure and oppressed life for many generations as servants, drivers and cleaners in the houses of rich people even in the post-colonial era.


Adiga in The White Tiger highlights the pitiable life led by the poor people and how they are ill-treated by the masters of the house. The masters lacked humanism and the poor people were not given proper food, wages, leave etc. They were treated like animals and also addressed as half baked. “Class instinct is subjective and spontaneous. Class position is objective and rational” (Althusser 13). In India people are discriminated based on the class and the caste. In the village where the plot is set four rich people named as the Buffalo, the Stork, the Wild Boar, the Raven exploited and utilized the river, land, roads and other natural resources for their benefit. They financed the poor people and turned them into slaves.


The White Tiger is a story about the class instinct and the plight of the low class people. The protagonist of the novel is Balram Halwai, a man of low caste who desires to be rich and chooses alternative ways to achieve his wish. He follows all illegal ways like bribing, lying, robbing, murdering etc to become a successful entrepreneur. Balram also thinks that these evil ways are the gate ways to fulfill his dream. On achieving his success he wanted to bring to limelight the journey which he underwent; hence he writes a series of letters to the Chinese Premier Jiabao who is on a visit to India to learn about Indian business and to make few Chinese entrepreneurs. Balram narrates his success story to the Chinese premier through his letter because he wanted Jiabao to know the plight of subaltern people in India and how they lead a miserable life under the corrupt political leaders and the system.


Balram represents the dark India filled with destitute, beggars, cleaners, labourers, rickshaw pullers, etc. Ashok, Balram’s employer represents the lighter side of India filled with noble men, aristocrats, landlords, industrialists, rich merchants, ministers, political leaders etc. the former one is the result of the corrupt system, poverty, unemployment, imposed by the latter one. The lives of these subaltern people who come under dark India is decided and destined by the people of light India. These subaltern people are supposed to remain silent and they were muted by the oppressors. They were not given identity to survive individually. Subaltern people were made dependent on their masters for their livelihood. “…India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness. The ocean brings Light to my country. Every place...near the ocean is well off. But [the Ganges] river brings darkness to India—the black river” (TWT 14).


People of dark India were not allowed to speak for themselves. They were made as voiceless victims. The oppressed remained silent and if they raised their voice they were forced to accept the punishment given by their masters. They were made to struggle for their day to day life. “… there they went to the station and rushed into the train— packing the inside, hanging from the railings, climbing onto the roofs—and went to Delhi, Calcutta and Dhanbad to find work” (TWT 26). The rich landlords lived in palaces and mansions in the city but the downtrodden people lived in the outskirts and they had to travel a lot to find job in the city. The lives of the downtrodden and the subaltern people were not considered important whereas the lives of high class people are given utmost importance.


Adiga in his novel The White Tiger gives a realistic picture of the modern India and how the downtrodden people suffer for their survival. Balram, the protagonist of the novel is a school dropout. He is from a low caste, poor economical background and the son of a rickshaw puller. His family is crushed by poverty and because of that he was mocked by the fellow students and also for discontinuing his studies. Deprived of all basic needs, he wanted to become a successful entrepreneur. The protagonist Balram’s father suffered extremely and he was addressed as ‘donkey’ by his master. So, he thinks that his son should lead a respectable life in the society. “My [Balram‘s father] whole life, I have been treated like a donkey. All I want is that one son of mine - at least one - should live like a man” (TWT 30).


The pitiable state of the downtrodden people is not understood by the high class people. But many reforms and schemes were introduced by our government to support the economically backward people. Government offers free education for the children of the subaltern group but they were not allowed to pursue their studies by the upper class. For instance Balram was stopped form school and forced to work in a village tea shop to clear their family debts which they brought from the stork for his cousin’s wedding. Hence, Balram’s desire for studies was cut down from his very early age.


The White Tiger is a grim tale about poverty and oppression. Corruption plays a major role in all the fields. Education, hospitals, government offices, during the time of election etc. few issues of corruption are highlighted by Adiga in his novel. Balram’s hatred for the upper class and passion for becoming rich was sown deeply in his mind during his school days. His school teacher stole the money, food and the uniforms allotted by the children for the poor children. The reason which he states for his theft is that he didn’t receive the salary cheque for few months. So, the corrupt school teacher corrupted the students. “This corruption has entered even in the temple of education. The teacher steals the money of the government scheme for providing roti and dal to each student on the plea that he has not got his salary for a long time. Even the people know it but don’t blame the teacher” (Arora 87). This incident made Balram to think that for being rich and our own upliftment one can commit any sort of crime.


Another incident where Balram faces utmost corruption is when his father was admitted in the government hospital the doctors were interested in doing private service and due to the lack of medical aid he died. So, the corrupt medical system was responsible for the deaths of poor people. This also paved way for the common people to get involved in immoral activities. The corrupted people stand as an example for the corrupted country.


As a school dropout Balram worked in a tea shop and there he learnt about the county’s socio political scenario from the people who visited the shop and also through the newspapers. Balram utilized the time and he learnt driving. He was employed as a chauffeur to a wealthy landlord. In the interview he was enquired about his caste. Balram forges his caste as sweet maker to get a chauffeur job in the city. Even though we tell that caste system is vanished in India through this novel it is evident that even in developed cities like New Delhi it is practiced.


The landlord’s son Ashok and his wife Pinky Madam took Balram to New Delhi where he was exposed to the corrupted city life. Through Balram we can see our India in a new perspective. The rotten practice of corruption has made our country a place unfit to live. Juxtaposition of wealthy and poor is pictured in the city of New Delhi. Balram was fascinated by the rapid growth of the city. To satisfy his wife’s American dream Ashok takes her to malls where people like Balram are not supposed to enter. The suburbs of New Delhi were occupied by the American companies and rich people flocked there for want of American trend and culture. This rapid growth of globalization was fixed in Balram’s mind and it paved way for his immoral act of corrupting others. In today’s capitalist society Balram finds a way to get liberated from his lower caste identity and to become an entrepreneur. He chooses illegal ways to attain success which remains as a social stigma.


Balram chooses to become rich and he uses Ashok as his trump card. He plans to murder Ashok and to rob the money which he had to bribe the ministers for obtaining the coal mines contract. He plans accordingly and murders him by using a bottle and escapes with the money. For the sake of money he goes even to the extent of murdering his master. “I’ll never say I made a mistake … when I slit my master‘s throat...It was worthwhile to know, just for a day, just for an hour, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant!” (TWT 276). Balram does not care about the consequences and he flees to Bangalore and starts taxi services for the call centers and bribes the police for Ashok’s murder and also for the accidents committed by his drivers. Balram becomes hard hearted in achieving his goal. As a revenge for Ashok’s murder his family murders everyone in Balram’s family.


Balram rationalizes this incident by telling that to achieve the ladder of success few comprises can be made. He does not sympathize for his ruthless act and he wanted to earn more money to get rid of the low class stigma. “Since the marginalized have known only the language which has been handed down to them by their exploiters, they should, as Fanon would have probably suggested, use the language of violence at their disposal to give at back and at the same time to continue to deconstruct it from within” (Singh, Randhawa 33). Balram breaks out of the coop and frees himself. “Can a man break out of the coop? What if one day, for instance, a driver took his employer‘s money and ran...Only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyed—hunted, beaten...can break out of the coop” (TWT 176).


Adiga’s prose is an authentic depiction of India’s urban life where they have and have-nots contradict each other in terms of wealth and power. The have-nots like the protagonist Balram are degraded by the haves. Adiga compares these poor people with the condition of the chickens which are kept in a pitiable condition in the cage. He also blames the people who do not rebel for their rights like the chickens. They believe in perpetual servitude and they are trapped in their cages by themselves. They do not want to get liberated from the cage and served their masters whole heartedly. The rooster coop analogy is a metaphor used by Balram to describe the poor people’s oppression. “Rooster coop” (TWT 173). The chickens kept in the cage in the market watch one another killed but they could not break out of the coop. Likewise poor people in India see one another oppressed and tortured by the wealthy landlords. Rarely people like Balram had a quest for freedom and struggled hard to get relieved from the coop. Balram in spite of all the obstacles breaks himself from the social disparity and murders his master and becomes an entrepreneur. Adiga’s point of view is that discrimination between the rich and poor should be avoided and universal brotherhood should be established among people. Every individual should be treated with dignity and respect.


Balram saw tomorrow where people of his caste wanted to satisfy the needs of today. Adiga compares Balram to the white tiger because it is a rare creature and it also possesses extra ordinary intelligence. Even though the white tiger lives in a jungle it follows its own rules and stands apart from other animals. Balram, from the lower class of the society has a quest for freedom and do not wish to be a slave. Rarely people like Balram protest against the system by fair or unfair means.


Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. (Marx & Engels14)


Even though Balram was born the dark India he views life in the lighter side of prosperity and liberation. He is willing to sacrifice his family for achieving his freedom as proposed by his inner self. Balram was totally against the new caste system. He remembers the olden days where everyone had a place and he preferred those days. The system was like everything was predetermined and people were happy. Now due to the laws framed by the government the caste system was abolished but people find it complicated to fit into the new social structure. This modified structure made the rich become richer and benefitted leaving the poor to suffer more. Balram strongly believes that the abolition of caste system will not do anything to improve the inequality in the society. Krishna Singh opines about the condition of low class people as:


Balram is the strong voice of underclass in which marginal farmers, landless labourers, jobless youths, poor, auto and taxi drivers, servants, prostitutes, beggars and unprivileged figure. The underclass is the result of our polity, bureaucratic set-up, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, caste and culture conflict, superstitions, social taboos, dowry practice, economic disparity, Zamindari system, corrupt education system, poor health services, police and judicial working. These forces collectively operate to perpetuate the underclass. This underclass constitutes Dark India. (89-112)


Among all the issues corruption is the primary and hot button issue which is responsible for all the other problems. A corrupted individual corrupts the whole society as well as the entire country. Every professional and government people are involved in corruption. The election voting system is also corrupted. People pay money for becoming ministers. After winning they expect bribes for signing contracts for laying roads, coal mines, etc. rich industrialists and business men pay bribes for getting their works to be done. For instance Ashok’s family bribes the ministers for getting coal mines contract. Adiga’s sharp focus on the tapping issue of corruption shows that our country is in the hands of greedy and dirty minded people who are selfish and concerned only about their welfare. “Adiga has shown that though India is one of the fastest growing economics in the world but its progress is not holistic. The condition of poor people is yet to transform completely. He has attacked hardly on the political authorities and had tried to wake up the spirits of the common people” (Rao A. S. 6).


To sum up, in the post-colonial era, humanistic values are eroded and people of the middle and low class struggle to survive the hard era whereas the people of the higher strata enjoy and lead a peaceful life.


Works Cited


Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger.  Harper Collins Publishers. 2013.


Althusser, Louis. “Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays”: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, translated  by Ben Brewster. Monthly Review Press, 1971.


Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Progress Publishers, 1969.


Rao, A.S. Perspectives on Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. Aadi Publications. 2011.


Singh, Khrishna. “Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger: The Voice of Underclass-A Postcolonial Dialectics”. Journal of Literature, Culture and Media Studies, vol. 1, no. 2 (July-Dec 2009). pp. 89-112.


Singh, Randhawa Harbir. Ed. Dalit Literature: Contents, Trends and Concerns. Swarup Book Publishers. 2010.