This story, ‘Deliverance’ (Sadgati in Hindi) by Premchand deals with caste relationships within an agrarian community. Sadgati roughly means salvation in Death. In other words, a worthy death. We see the working of caste laws in this story which results in the death of Dukhi, the tanner.
Summary and Analysis
In the first section we are introduced to Dukhi and his wife Jhuriya. Both of them are making preparations to welcome the Brahman. Dukhi is a tanner who in the traditional Hindu social order are untouchables. Their job is to work with hides and remove dead animals. They belong to the lowest strata of the society. Ironically he is named Dukhi(sorrowful) to ward off evil. We see feverish activity in the Dukhi household. Dukhi is sweeping the floor clean and his wife is plastering cow dung on the floor. Cow dung is believed to clean and purify.
Interestingly, the discussion between Dukhi and his wife is centered around making their house fit for the visit of a holy man, the Brahman. We get a glimpse into the social norms prevalent in the village. The caste hierarchies are such that no one would give them even a pot of water if they asked for it. So instead of a cot they decide on making a mat of Mohwa leaves for the Brahman to sit on when he visits. They must also offer the Brahman food as offering but they cannot offer it in their own utensil because it is considered impure. So they decide to offer food on a leaf once again. Jhuri is advised to buy the offering from the village merchant but not to touch anything because the touch of the untouchable is impure. She is advised to take the help of the gond girl who is a tribal girl. The tribes do not belong to the Hindu fold and consequently escape the rigid caste laws. Dukhi makes a list of offering to be made which seems quite impressive considering the status of Dukhi. Finally, he leaves for the Pandit’s house to invite him with a big bundle of grass as a present.
This section not only introduces us to the main characters and the setting, it also in a very subtle way lays bare the tension and hypocrisy present in a rigid, caste based society. While Dukhi is considered an untouchable, whose touch pollutes whatever he touches, his offering and gifts are accepted by the Brahman. Dukhi lives on the margins of this society. He has no rights only obligations and duties. At the same time Dukhi seems to be a willing partner in the perpetuation of this system. He seems willing because he is kept ignorant and he is made to believe that indeed the Brahman is a holy man.
The second section brings us to the house of Pandit Ghasiram. After a short account of Pandit Ghasiram’s devotion to God and rituals we witness the meeting between Pandit Ghasiram and Dukhi. Pandit Ghasiram on his return from the temple finds Dukhi at his door. Dukhi immediately prostrates himself on the ground. Dukhi on being asked states his purpose for the visit. Dukhi wants the Pandit to visit his house and pick on an auspicious date for his daughter’s betrothal.
Pandit Ghasiram sensing an opportunity to get some work done for free immediately sets him off on errands. He orders Dukhi to plaster the floor of his sitting room with cow dung, and then split the wood and to take out the hay and put it in the barn. Dukhi, conditioned to obey orders of the Brahmans, immediately sets out to work.
Unfortunately, Dukhi had nothing since morning and he was terribly hungry. The Brahman was not offering him any food. He decides to smoke a pipe instead. But his own house was a mile away. But Brahmans unlike the low castes and untouchables did not smoke tobacco. Dukhi remembers the lone Gond who stayed in the village. He visits the Gond who offers him both a pipe and the tobacco. But Dukhi needs to light his pipe. He returns to the Pandit’s house and asks for a light. The Pandit asks his wife to give Dukhi a light. This upsets the Panditayan and she reminds Pandit Ghasiram about the caste laws. The Pandit on the other hand reminds her of the free labour that Dukhi is rendering and goads her to relent. Finally the Panditayan relents and throws a piece of coal at Dukhi. Dukhi smokes his pipe and gets back to work. He works hard at splitting the wood but lacks the experience to do it. The Panditayan feels a little pity for Dukhi because in the act of throwing a piece of coal at Dukhi, she almost synged him. She wonders if they could give Dukhi something to eat. After some deliberation they decide that feeding Dukhi was not worth the effort. So Dukhi keeps working without a morsel in his stomach.
This section focuses on the hardhearted nature of the Brahmin couple, the servile mentality of Dukhi and the exploitative nature of caste system. The Brahmin’s holiness is almost entirely constituted in the meaningless rituals that he follows religiously. Ironically the first part of the ceremony of worship consists of preparing Bhang (an intoxicant) and the reward for the rituals is a steady stream of clients at his doorstep everyday. The Brahman is in the business of religion and it seems quite lucrative too. The Brahman’s meaningless self- decoration and other rituals have very little to do with God or people. But the Brahman sees it as an investment that generates a fair amount of business.
Dukhi, on the other hand, hardly understands anything about these rituals. But his servile mind perceives holiness in, what appears unremarkable to us, the Pandits glorious figure. We see mental slavery acted out here through the actions of Dukhi. His mental subjugation is complete, so much so that the sight of the Pandit fills him with reverence. The sandalwood markings on the rotund figure of the Pandit appears godly to Dukhi and he is more than willing to do the Pandit’s bidding.
What we see next is a fine example of the cunning, the greed and the hardhearted nature of the Pandit and his wife. When Dukhi pleads with the Pandit to grace his house and pick an auspicious date for his daughter’s wedding, the Pandit immediately seizes the opportunity to exploit Dukhi’s labour. Not only does he exploit Dukhi’s labour he even fails to relate to Dukhi as a human being. Tired and hungry, Dukhi keeps working but the Pandit does not have the decency to offer him any refreshment. More over his attitude towards Dukhi is inhuman. Dukhi hears the conversation between the Pandit and his wife where the wife’s chides the Pandit for allowing a tanner inside the house. But instead of hurt or anger we see him in agreement with the Panditayan’s arguments. He has no respect for himself. He reasons that the Brahmans are clean and holy and consequently all unclean and impure people including himself must worship and respect the Brahmans. The extent of Dukhi’s mental slavery becomes very clear in this scene. Though abused and humiliated, he refuses to blame anyone except himself and accepts it as his due.
Dukhi sets about the job of splitting the wood after smoking the pipe. In the meanwhile the Gond visits him and tells him of the futility of his efforts. The Gond is sympathetic to Dukhi and enquires if Dukhi has had anything to eat. He also helps in chopping the wood for some time before he gives up. He advises Dukhi to give up the work for which he is not being paid and then he takes his leave. Dukhi, for a moment, considers quitting the work. But he is unable to summon the courage to do it. He starts shifting the hay from the store to the fodder bin. Tired, hungry and exhausted he falls asleep. In the meanwhile, the Pandit after a nice nap comes out and finds Dukhi asleep. Instead of being thankful for the service rendered by Dukhi, he starts belittling him and his caste. He also threatens Dukhi with unpleasant consequences if the work is not completed. Dukhi is shaken. After all if the Pandit refuses to pick an auspicious day then the marriage would be a disaster. A mix of awe, respect and fear gets hold of Dukhi and he gets into a state of delirium. He works the axe so hard that after sometime his tired and exhausted body gives up. He is dead.
The death of Dukhi complicates the story a little. Dukhi dies in a Brahman village, save the Gond. Removing the body of the tanner becomes a problem. The Gond’s subversive activity complicates the issue further. The Gond tells the tanners in their village that if they touched the body of Dukhi they would get into trouble with the police. Consequently, the tanners do not pick up Dukhi’s body. Moreover, Dukh’si wife, daughter and a dozen tanner women go to Pandit Ghasiram’s home to mourn. The scene ends in a stalemate.
This section, apart from reinforcing the hard heartedness and cunning of the Pandit and the mental servility of Dukhi, introduces a new theme. The possibility of upsetting the caste hierarchies is presented by the Gond. The Gond is an outsider in the sense that he does not belong to the Hindu fold. Though he also lives on the margins of this society he is not mentally enslaved as the tanner. He is able to see things in their perspective and is able to see through the exploitation and meanness of the so called holy Pandit. Chikhuri, contrasts the holy Pandit with the colonial administration and finds the latter better. For, as he says, even if the government forced you to work they at least paid for your labour.
The prodding’s of Chikhuri forces Dukhi to contemplate quitting Pandit’s work. The Gond had made him aware that Pandit Ghasiram and the caste system was more exploitative than the colonial administration. But Dukhi lacks the courage to rebel against it. Further, Pandit Ghasiram’s threat about not finding an auspicious date for the wedding of the daughter forces Dukhi to abandon all thoughts of rebellion. On the other hand Dukhi’s pitiable condition evokes no pity in the Pandit’s heart. Dukhi, with ‘stomach pasted to his backbone’, kept axing the wood which was as hard as steel.
Even Dukhi’s death does not move the Brahman. It is only an irritant for him. The Gond tries to fan a revolt by asking the tanners to refrain from touching the body. Dukhi’s corpse lies infront of Pandit Ghasiram’s house in a state which is worse than a dead animal. The utter insensitivity of the Brahmins is revealed when we see them more worried about the pollution rather than trying to give the man a decent burial. This seems even more appalling when we consider the fact that Dukhi died while serving Pandit Ghasiram. The attitude of the Brahman’s is made amply clear by the remark of one old woman who says “why don’t you have this body thrown away?” Throw away the body of Dukhi as one throws away the carcass of a dead animal.
Dukhi’s corpse lies in front of the Brahman’s house as no one would touch it. The tanner women keep up their weeping and lamentations late into the night. The corpse begins to stink. But for Pandit Ghasiram and his wife this is only an irritant. After an uneasy night Pandit Ghasiram decides to take matter into his own hands. He manages to get a noose tied around the dead man’s feet and drags the corpse to the fields outside the village. After he gets back he takes a bath and performs the purification rites. The abandoned body of Dukhi in the fields becomes food for the scavengers (jackals, kites, dogs and crows). The story ends with an extremely ironic comment, ‘This was the reward of a whole life of devotion, service and faith’.
There is poignancy to this short concluding section which makes us acutely aware of the inhumanity of the caste system. Dukhi, literally, dies a dog’s death. There is a jarring contrast between the weeping and the insensitive, callous attitude of Pandit Ghasiram and his wife. It is difficult to miss the profound irony of the ending. What Dukhi could not achieve in life he manages to do that in his death. Pandit Ghasiram, who considers the touch of Dukhi polluting, is forced to drag the dead body of Dukhi himself. This subversion was possible, of course, due to the effort of Chikhuri, the Gond. But the price was a dog’s death for Dukhi, left in the field to be devoured by scavengers.