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The Shadowy Picture of Dalits: A Study of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things


The Shadowy Picture of Dalits: A Study of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things


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



The word Dalit was used for the first time by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the framer of Indian constitution and a leader of the Dalit Movement. As per the Anti–Untouchability Act of 1955, under Article 17 of the Indian constitution “Untouchability” has been abolished but unfortunately it still haunts and blackens the life of thousands of people in India. Arundhati Roy in her “Booker Award” winning debut novel has focused her attention on this issue too. The title itself speaks about the God of small things who is in fact no one else but the paravan, ‘Velutha’ who suffers brutally because of the ghastly evils of casteism. The novel also depicts the inhuman treatment meted out to man-made Dalit ‘Ammu’. The story unfolds itself through the innocent but all recording eyes of Rahel, one of the twins of Ammu and shatters us out of our complacency to view the things as they actually stand. In this paper an attempt has been made to analyse the deplorable condition of the untouchables and man-made untouchables in the Indian Society.


Keywords: Dalit, Man-Made Dalit, Rice-Christians, Paravan, Morality, Patriarchy


Arundhati Roy’s award winning highly stylized debut novel The God of Small Things can be analysed in different ways. Some critics find it post-colonial novel deeply imbued with psychological analysis of its characters, some other term it as autobiographical narration of author’s own story but above all this novel serves as a vehicle to sensitize the people about the inexorable humiliation and penury of Dalits. The story is a sensitive perception of innocent but all recording eyes of Rahel, one of the twins of Ammu –the female protagonist of the novel. However, the narrative, the plot, the theme and the characters, as they unfold themselves represent an intricate knotting and knitting of many emotions, events, incidents, conflicts, psychological probings, societal laws, political perspectives, history, caste distinctions, gender discrimination, arbitrary manipulations, love laws, hate, madness, joy, sex, incest, suffering, pity, frustration, memories, dreams, hypocrisy, selfishness–all combating for our sympathy with the furious energy of cats in a sack. We know from the beginning that some tragic event has happened, yet we are not sure about it. The story keeps on jumping from one event to another and the narrative keeps on moving backward and forward in action but it is finally towards the end that we come to know about what had actually happened.


In this paper an attempt has been made to analyse the ghastly evil of casteism as it exists in the Indian society and devastates the life not only of the untouchables but also of Man-Made untouchables. The story line is not simple. The novel narrates the story of a high ranking government officer, Pappachi, a sadist who enjoys beating his wife, of his submissive docile and unprotesting wife Mammachi, who cries at his funeral not because she loved him but because she was used to him, of his frustrated sister Baby Kochamma, who has accepted the fate of a wretched Man-Less woman and thereby lives her life backwards and Chacko. Chacko is an Oxford Rhodes Scholar and he marries Margaret, an English woman, a representative of the colonizers, who divorces him because she wanted space and his daughter fair skinned, blue- eyed Sophie Mol, a true product of syncretism who also rejects her father. The story is also a tragic tale of the have nots, Estha and Rahel-Ammu’s twins – a hybrid of Bengali father and Syrian Christian mother and Velutha – a subaltern, a Dalit, who dared to love her.


According to Mihir Desai the word Dalit means, “burst, split, scattered, dispersed, broken, torn asunder, destroyed, crushed”. The word was used for the first time by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the framer of Indian constitution and also a renowned leader of Dalit movement. Though untouchability has been abolished in India through Anti-Untouchability Act of 1955 but unfortunately it still haunts and blackens the life of thousands of people in India.


Roy in her novel has faithfully revealed the miserable plight of Velutha, the untouchable who dared to love Ammu, a Syrian Christian by birth, but actually a social outcast, a Man-Made Dalit and has highlighted the obnoxious consequences that they had to face for tampering “with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much” (Roy, 31). Arundhati Roy takes us back in History and we are informed that Syrian Christians of Kerala are actually converts from higher castes, “by and large, the wealthy, estate-owning feudal lords” (Roy, 66). Some of the untouchables also converted to Christianity and joined Anglican Church but this conversion was just a false paradise for them which brought separate Churches, separate services, separate priests and a new name, “Rice-Christians”. Infact, nothing had changed. The existing dichotomy between the upper caste and the untouchables was still there. Kelan, Veutha’s grandfather was one of them. Now these were the days when Paravans were not allowed into the house,


They were not allowed to touch anything that touchables touched, Caste Hindus and Caste Christians … Paravans were expected to crawl backwards with a broom, sweeping away their footprints so that Brahmins or Syrian Christians would not defile themselves by accidently stepping into a Paravan’s footprint. (Roy, 73-74)


Infact, the Paravans were forced, “to put their hands over their mouth when they spoke, to divert their polluted breath away from those whom they addressed” (Roy, 74). In a deeper sense, untouchability is not only restricted in not touching a person, but it has moved deeper into the psychology of the people of higher castes. Thus we find Kochu Maria, the high caste cook of the family adorning herself with thick gold Kunukku earrings so that the people may believe, “that despite her petty cook’s job (seventy five rupees a month), she was a Syrian Christian, Mar Thomite? Not a Pelaya, or a Pulaya, or a Paravan. But a touchable, upper caste Christian (into whom Christianity had seeped like tea from a tea bag) (Roy, 170).


Vellya Paapen, father of Velutha is referred to as an, “Öld world Paravan” by the novelist, who is full of gratitude towards the Ipe family because Reverend E-John Ipe had given him the land on which his hut stands and Mammachi, the generous one has “organized and paid for his glass eye” when he had lost it in an accident. His elder son Kuttapen is uneducated and has been paralysed from chest downwards because of an accident. Kuttapen is infact a “good , safe , Paravan” because his physical immobility has paralysed his mind too, where entry of progress and new ideas is prohibited. But Velutha, the younger son of Vellaya is a non-conformist. Thus, his own father is critical of his behaviour,


Perhaps it was just a lack of hesitation. An unwarranted assurance. In the way he walked. The quiet way he offered suggestions without being asked. Or the quiet way in which he disregarded suggestions without appearing to rebel. (Roy, 76)


Even the Touchable factory workers of Paradise Pickles and Preserves hate his rehiring in the factory. Velutha also joins Travancore-Cochin Marxist Labour Union and participates in its procession with a red flag in his hand and here he is recognized by Rahel, though Ammu and Estha express strong doubts about his presence probably because of the presence of Mammachi and Chacko. This event, though it seems to be a minor one, plays a significant role in shaping the destiny of Ammu and her twins and Velutha.


Ammu virtually an “untouchable” of the family suffers from no pangs of conscience in falling for another untouchable of the society. She breaks down age old conventions of morality and takes on a lover who exposes her to her inner soul. Besides this, Velutha is the only one who is affectionate towards her twins – Estha and Rahel. Thus forbidden relationship becomes the only way to achieve selfhood for the oppressed marginalized and defense less people. However, “Superior seed can fall on an inferior field, an inferior seed cannot fall on a superior field” (Dube, 11). So, the transgressors are made to pay heavily for breaking down age old love laws which laid down that “who is to be loved and how.”  Chakravati has aptly described the situation,


When the lower caste man dares to fall in love or enter into relationship, or elope with and marry a higher caste woman, he is … subject to the collective power of the upper castes who will stop at nothing to punish the transgression ... since a woman’s sexuality is still under patriarchal and caste control… these killings have the explicit consent of community, especially that to which the woman belongs. (qtd in Chakravarti,157)


Now, the irony of the situation is that this rendezvous has been witnessed by none other than Velutha’s father Vellya Pappen and so much so is his guilt for his untouchable son having touched Ammu that he feels that it is the beginning of the end of the world. He goes to Mammachi and returns her his sticky glass eye. “He said he did not deserve it and wanted her to have it back” (Roy, 254).


He stared straight ahead with his mortgaged eye. He wept with his own one. One cheek glistened with tears. The other stayed dry…He trembled his own body like a man with malaria. Vellya Paapan told Mammachi what he had seen. He asked God’s forgiveness for having spawned a Monster. He offered to kill his son with his own hands. To destroy what he had created. (Roy, 77)


Now again duplicity of the society is revealed when Mammachi who had willingly conceded to her son’s “Man’s Needs” and infact, she had even paid the objects of his need because, “a fee clarified things” is totally disgusted by her daughter’s illicit relationship. Baby Kochamma comes very close to vomiting when she comments. “How could she stand the small haven’t you noticed? They have a particular smell these paravans” (Roy, 257).


Now, the Patriarchy must punish both the woman who has, “defiled generations of breeding” (Roy, 258) and the Paravan who has transgressed into the forbidden territory. The defenders of the society must do something to, “inoculate a community against an outbreak”. Thereby a conspiracy is hatched and not only the police, the communist leader but the twins are also made a partner to it. Thus, Velutha’s excruciating ordeal as a Dalit begins and ends with his death.


Blood spilled from his skull like a secret. His face was swollen and his head looked like a pumpkin, too large and heavy for the slender stem it grew from. A pumpkin with a monstrous upside down smile. Police boots stepped back from the rim of a pool of urine spreading from him, the bright bare electric bulb reflected in it.” (Roy, 319-20)


However Ammu’s punishment is not yet over. Chacko - her brother the patriarch of the family takes no time in informing her, “what is your is mine and what is mine is also mine” (Roy, 57).


And further still, “Get out of my house before I break every bone in your body” (Roy, 255). Ammu is parted from her twins and damned as a whore dies all alone in a dilapidated hotel at a viable-die-able age of thirty one surrounded by no one else but her own fears. Church burial is denied to her and therefore, she had to be cremated at the Electric crematorium “where nobody except beggars, derelicts and the police custody dead are cremated” and she is reduced to Receipt No-Q498673. As for the twins their life is ruined forever. The brutal murder of Velutha,


… left behind a hole in the Universe through which darkness poured like liquid tar. Through which their mother followed without even turning to wave goodbye. She left them behind, spinning in the dark, with no moorings, in a place with no foundation. (Roy, 191-92)


Estha who was forced to falsely implicate Velutha in charges of abduction – stopped speaking while Rahel could never find conjugal bliss.


Thus we can conclude by saying that in this novel Arundhati Roy has realistically portrayed the scenario that is faced by the untouchables and the Man- Made untouchables in the Indian society. Laws have been passed and claims are made that untouchability has been abolished but its threads are so intricately woven in the Indian Psyche that it will take years before its actual eradication from Indian society.


Work Cited


Chakravarti, Uma. Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens. Stree, 2006.


Dube Leela. “Caste and Woman,” Caste: Its twentieth Avtar, edited by M. N. Srinivas. Viking Penguin India, 1996.


Juneja O.P. Post-Colonial Novel: Narrative of Colonial Consciousness. Creative, 1995.


Nubile, Clara. The Danger of Gender. Sarup, 2003.


Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. Penguin Books, 1997.