ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gandhi’s Conception of Harijan


The term “Harijan” for all practical, political, and legal purposes has been put to rest. It has almost been banished from the public expression in India. Today, it is considered politically incorrect to use the term. Its use comes with the cost of annoying a social section of “untouchables,” to whom it is claimed to have been historically attributed, or with the consequence of a legal action. A large group of people, who are still considered as “untouchables” by the “touchables” of different religious dispensations, find this term extremely stigmatising, while a few interpretators of Gandhi find it embedded with moral violence (Loomba 2014: 30). For the Gandhian scholars the term Harijan has remained a symbol that is used by Gandhi to promote his political values (Parel 1969: 515). For most Gandhian activists, however, it has remained a useful device that can help them escape the moral pain of guilt that has its origin in the savarnas being the source of untouchability.

Given that the term does not have a political charge and it also fails to attract the intellectual attention of the scholars, the question arises: Why should one be interested in writing about the term at all? It is indeed important to revisit the term “Harijan,” for the sole purpose of restoring to it a hermeneutic justice that has evaded it due to continued misunderstanding, particularly of the untouchables, and misinterpretation of it by the Gandhian activists and scholars. Based on the reading of Gandhi, it could be argued that the Gandhian conception of Harijan seems to have lost its control over its original meaning in the way it has been handled by the scholars on the one hand, and the activists on the other.

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Updated On : 5th Oct, 2019
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