Theorising Anticasteism in The God of Small Things
Ms Preetha Mukherjee, Assistant Professor of English, Greater Kolkata College of Engineering and Management, West Bengal, India
An intricate, clever and skilfully constructed story which overwhelms by its exuberance and verbal virtuosity, Arundhati Roy’s magnum opus The God of Small Things is inhabited by a fractured community in the throes of political and religious caste discrimination seeped in revenge, hatred and brutality. As a novel that so effectively cuts through the fabric of caste to
reveal the bare bones of humanity, The God of Small Things can be treated as a testimony for anti-casteism. Roy dives deep into the root of conflict of castes by presenting the factors dominant behind their germination, growth and expansion in the Indian society. The novel narrates the tale of an untouchable, who marginalised by caste and class is juxtaposed against the age-old restrictions imposed by the traditionalist Indian society. As the story is woven around the forbidden love between an upper class Syrian Christian and an untouchable, Velutha, the prodigal Paravan, becomes Roy’s spectrometer to portray India’s caste-ridden society. He is a representative of an untouchable Pariah and a suppressed Dalit who is gifted with carpentry and mechanic skills. Though named white, Velutha is destined to confront his dark fate in his unfair treatment and undeserving death. Adept in his mechanism of carpentry, he attempts to represent the changing face of India as he himself does not approve the social discrimination. Roy with her remarkable narrative art graphically presents the suffering and miserable conditions of such subalterns. She also traces the historical background of these untouchables, as with the advent of British rule in Malabar, they were converted to Christianity in order to escape the scourge of untouchability. Velutha is the only character from the Dalit community who is depicted in the novel with a sense of equality amidst a dangerous unwillingness to agree to the performance of his low caste status. He marked a step forward in violating the age-old laws which forbid cross –cultural relationships. He offers what is denied to Ammu – ‘untouchable within the touchable’. Ammu and Velutha together aimed to explore the possibility of establishing a society beyond all manmade love laws. Velutha is illustrated in accordance to the social structures he inhabits which allows him to speak in limited ways. He rather her appears in the novel as a body or as the object of other characters’ fear and desire. At the end, he is debased and reduced to the stature of a dog. The tragic and pitiable end, Velutha meets with, evokes centuries’ prejudices against low-born untouchables.