THE All India Harijan Sevak Sangh is an independent national level non-profit voluntary Organisation with Branches in 26 States.
Historic background : It was founded in September, 1932 in the wake of Gandhiji’s Epic Fast at Yervada Jail, Pune, resulting in the historic Poona Pact. The immediate historical background dates back to the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931 when Ghandiji opposed the segregation of the depressed classes (untouchables) of the Hindu community into a separate electoral group. Gandhiji saw in it a sinister device of the British government to create a split in the Hindu community in furtherance of its policy of ‘divide and rule’.
Despite Gandhiji’s strong opposition, the British government made a “Communal Award” in August, 1932 providing for separate electorate for the depressed classes. The then British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald rejected Gandhiji’s appeal for reconsideration of the decision.
Choice of the name Harijan
There was some controversy about the choice of the name “Harijan”. During his visit to Madras in December, 1933 when the Harijan leaders met Gandhiji and told him that they resented the word Harijan, Gandhiji replied to them as follows:
'You say that the Depressed Classes were not consulted. They consulted me. That is the point. I have visited all parts of India. “Why are we called Harijans”. I am asked why should they not have a better name. That is the generality of the feeling. “For heaven’s sake do not call us coolies.” They pleaded. At one time this word had a particular significance. A whole race was called by that name. If it was not now used it does not mean there has come about a change of heart. The offence to the ear has been removed. That is what the new name has achieved. It is not as I said. An untouchable pleaded with me not to be known by any expression of eternal reproach “Depressed” or “suppressed” which reminds them of slavery. He very rightly said “I have no name to suggest, will you suggest? I asked. Then the man suggested “Harijan”. He quoted in support from Narasimha Mehta, the Gujarati poet, who had used this term in his works. I jumped at it. I knew also the Tamil saying “Thikkatravanukku Deivamay Thunai”. Is not paraphrase of “Harijan”? The outcastes are God’s chosen. That is what “Harijan” signifies as applied to suppressed classes.'