The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: From Hijras to Crumbling Socio-political Structures

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Very few writers possess that genuine quality of voicing the concerns of the weak and the oppressed. Arundhati Roy is one such writer whose work involves knowing the harsh realities of the society that we live in and trying to change the wrong ideologies and paradigms infused in it. Decoding the suffering of mankind and penning it down is an extremely hard task but someone needs to do it and we see how Roy brings together so many known and unknown aspects of our society in her socio-political novel “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.” However, this ambitious novel becomes a Pandora box at certain points because there is so much happening in the novel. It’s as if “Roy wants it all; she wants to put everything she’s got into this one book: everything, all of India, the starving of Urdu, the fading of Sanskrit, the hijra community, the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Anna Hazare movement, the rise of the saffron brigade, Ayodhya and Godhra and prime ministers, past and present, the North-East, gau rakshaks, and Dalit politics” (Pinto).

Roy wants the system to change. For that, she uses every political issue, every tragedy, and every human emotion to invoke the anger and dissatisfaction in her readers who would then support her in the cause. She lifts the veils off of crooked ideologies, corrupt politicians, and self-centered philosophies with which the system manipulates the common man and she lays it naked in front of all of us to decide what the truth is. She admits that “in everything (she does) or (has done) in life (she always felt) an anger towards authority, and (she is not) at all calm about major issues or major questions” (Sokol).

The novel speaks about the issues of the underprivileged communities – the Hijras and the Dalits and the double marginalization that they face i-e gender and religious discrimination towards the Hijras and religious and caste discrimination against the Dalits. What these power-hungry and authoritarian systems do is divide us into so many insignificant differences that the truth and the real meaning of our existence are lost. They target the weaker minorities, genders, and people to try to snatch away their little freedom by accusing them of being a threat to a certain religion or a social class. This is the same as how dictators and authoritarians justify their heinous crimes that they commit against innocent people; all they have to do is blame an innocent person of being a perpetrator, and a nonconformist who rebels against the injustices of the society. In the novel, we witness the abuse and the harassment that the transgender community faces on a daily basis. While trying to escape a raid on a mid-night wedding party, Anjum, the Hijra, and her colleagues were “dragged” out of the car, “kicked on their backsides as though they were circus clowns and instructed to scram, to run all the way home if they did not want to be arrested for prostitution and obscenity”. Surprisingly, this is not even the troublesome part, the issue becomes mind-boggling when Anjum admits that “it was only a routine bit of humiliation for Hijras, nothing out of the ordinary and nothing at all compared to the tribulations others endured…” (The Ministry…, 35). When you normalize violence in a society that is already divided at the very basic levels of its existence, then lines begin to blur between truth and falsehood and that is exactly when strident and corrupt systems take over the masses.

Portraying the dark side of humanity, Roy captures the thin layer of cover that exists under the ideologies of secularism and democracy; it is below this cover that we see how racism, discrimination, injustice, and intolerance are flourishing. The cover is symbolic of the separation between the privileged elite class and the lower labor class. Anyone above this cover has all the privileges that a secular, democratic state has to offer because this class has the money to buy their voice and freedom. However, anyone below this cover is automatically subjected to the violence that this unsecular and undemocratic state possesses.

Inter-faith violence and destruction are aptly portrayed in the novel where on one side you have Muslims being massacred in Delhi under the leadership of prominent Hindu government officials and on the other side, there are several hundred Hindus being killed in Kashmir’s Independence struggle. The question that comes to one’s mind is: ‘Where is the government and why cannot it protect its citizens?’ Any secular state is obliged by its constitution to protect the lives and honor of every religion, caste, and gender living in the country. But what we witness in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is the crumbling socio-political structure whereby the poor are stripped of their basic rights. Their properties are snatched away by powerful business companies and tycoons who wish to make industries on the annexed land; the capitalist mentality of these tycoons does not even let them feel the tiniest bit of remorse. Also, when there is massive social instability coupled with the inabilities of the government to provide for the people and thus, widespread frustration, the majority religion, caste, gender reacts to it by targeting the minorities. This is because they need to exert their power and the weak are always preyed upon. Unfortunately, Muslims and Hindus have a lot of disparity between them and this hatred then turns into mass killings and chaos.

A complete mockery of the political system and its hypocrisy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness challenges the patriarchal society and questions the role and responsibility of governments and its officials. It brings to our attention the sidelined issues that people, especially the poor face in our society. It exposes the corrupt system and how it exploits the weak, the less fortunate ones, and begs us to be more careful in our dealings with the poor and exploited citizens. There are actual walking, breathing stories around us that we fail to see and recognize.

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