Harijan (children of God) was a term popularized by Gandhi referring to communities traditionally considered so-called “Untouchable”.
Gandhi started publishing a weekly journal called “Harijan” in 1933 from Yeravda Jail during British rule. He created three publications: Harijan in English (from 1933 to 1948), Harijan Bandu in Gujarati, and Harijan Sevak in Hindi. These newspapers found Gandhi concentrating on social and economic problems, much as his earlier English newspaper, Young India, had done from 1919 to 1932.
Announcement of Communal Award in August 1932 was another example of ‘Divide & Rule’ policy, as it meant Harijan (Dalit) could only vote Harijan, Hindus vote Hindu & Muslim vote Muslim. Gandhi started his fast against it, and Poona Pact was signed in September 1932.
After Poona pact, Gandhi decided to commence an ‘Untouchability prevention movement,’ as he was always against untouchability. In November 1933, he embarked on a country-wide tour which covered 12,500 miles and lasted for nine months.
The tour evoked great enthusiasm for breaking down the barriers which divided untouchables from the rest of Hindu community. However, Gandhi faced a lot of trouble from reactionary forces. His movement was known as” Harijan Yatra.”
His entire campaign was based on principles of humanism and reason. He said that the shastras do not sanction untouchability, and if they did, they should be ignored as it was against human dignity.
Significance and Impact of Movement
Gandhiji repeatedly described the campaign as not a political movement but was primarily meant to purify Hinduism and Hindu society.
Gradually, the campaign carried the message of nationalism to Harijans, who also happened to be the agricultural labourers in most parts of the country, leading to their increasing participation in the national and peasant movements.
Gandhiji’s movement included a program of internal reform by Harijans covering education, cleanliness, hygiene, giving up the consumption of liquor, and removing untouchability among themselves.
In 1938, Removal of Civil Disabilities Act was passed by Madras legislature, which provided that no Harijan would be disabled from any social or public amenity.
In the same year, Madras legislature also passed Malabar Temple Entry Act, which threw open the temples in Malabar to the untouchables.
Practising any type of untouchability stopped constitutionally after independence, and became an offence under Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.