In The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Velutha is a member of the "Untouchables" - the social class at the bottom of society.

What I find slightly paradoxical is that he holds employment in Mammachi's factory as a carpenter. This is defying social norms in so many ways - he's educated (well, as a carpenter, but this sort of education is already more than what society says he can get), and has a pretty good job (again, good for his class). Oddly enough, this is okay for Mammachi and Baby Kochamma. We see the latter file false complaints against Velutha that ultimately kills him after he defies social norms again (he has a relationship with a woman of higher class).

But why did Velutha have "good" employment to begin with? From my understanding, it didn't affect Mammachi or Baby Kochamma that much.


Note: I'm not a professional historian, so my knowledge of the times is a bit vague and from school textbooks.

The events of Estha and Rahel's childhood takes place in the 1960s. That is more than ten years since India gained Independence, and thirty years since the death of Sri Narayana Guru. Sri Narayana Guru had started a social reform movement in Kerala rejecting casteism and aiming for emancipation of the lower castes and casteless people. Mahatma Gandhi also strongly supported uplifting the untouchables, as did a number of other leaders of the Indian Independence movement.

The net effect was that, officially, there was no discrimination towards them, and indeed, the government had to undertake various measures for their welfare. While there was a lot of discrimination, the lower castes were not actively prohibited from education, or even prestigious jobs. Progress was slow, but there was progress. Further, Velutha's age makes it likely that his birth or childhood coincided with Sri Narayana Guru's life, so Velutha may have been a direct beneficiary of his movement.

Another factor would be the Communist movement. Kerala, the Indian state where the story takes place, was officially created in 1956, and has always alternated between Congress and Communist governments since. Kerala's first government was Communist, which started radical reforms.

Lower-caste leaders of the time, like Dr. Ambedkar, had complained about the paternalistic attitude of the upper-caste people towards those beneath, so it may also be possible that Ammu's family maybe indulging in this by "letting" the untouchable get a good job.

To conclude, the events of The God of Small Things takes place in a Kerala that was well on the way to social reform.

Personally, my father, who would be of a similar age to Estha and Rahel, and is of a similar situation to Velutha, attended the local public school, which was considered one of the best in the district, and an engineering college, and go on to get a decent job.

  • Umm... Wow. I had never thought of it like that. My personal interpretation was that the book was a sharp, critical reflection of the class system, and how defying it in numerous ways would eventually crunch you down (obviously, I had tried to connect many events together that I didn't mention in the question). I had never heard this perspective, let alone had the knowledge to even think about it. Oh my goodness, I can't get over it. I think you've given me a newfound appreciation for the book. Thank you so much! :D
    – Zizouz212
    Feb 1 '17 at 2:34
  • @Zizouz212 while caste system is one of the main points behind the story, my own personal interpretation was that Velutha would have been left well-enough alone, since his accomplishments were never harming the upper-caste people, but it was Baby Kochamma's personal resentment that did him in. If I were to make a poor comparison, I'd do so with the events leading to Frank Kennedy's death in Gone With The Wind. In both cases, the "upper caste" people only acted against the "lower caste" ones when they thought the latter laid hands on their women.
    – muru
    Feb 1 '17 at 3:24
  • 2
    @Zizouz212 Caste discrimination doesn't work the way you assume. Consider racism in the US. It is a strong force indeed, but that doesn't mean there are no highly educated African-American professionals. It simply means that they have to battle the odds. Nor does their success insulate them from being subject to social discrimination and even violence. In that way, their situation is just like Velutha's.
    – verbose
    Feb 13 '17 at 10:48

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