NATIONAL WEEK AND GUJARAT
From now on,we will describe Antyajas too as dalit. The term was first used by Swami Shraddhanand. Swami Vivekananda chose an English word having the same meaning. He described the untouchables not as “depressed” but as “suppressed” and quite rightly. They became, and remain, what they are because they were suppressed by the so-called upper classes. The Hindi word for this is dalit.
I asked serious readers of Navajivan to suggest to me a substitute for the word ‘Antyaja’. One of the three or four suggestions received has appealed to me. Shri Jagannath Desai writes from Rajkot(It said that the word ‘Harijana’ was in use in many villages and Narasinh Mehta had used it to refer to Antyaja devotees) Thus the word is not new, but a beautiful one already used by the father of Gujarati poetry. Moreover, as used by him, the word ‘Harijana’ can also mean men of God who are abandoned by society. The third advantage of that word is that, probably, Antyaja brethren would lovingly accept that name and try to cultivate the virtues which it connotes. Following the example of Kaliparaj becoming Raniparaj, may the Antyajas become Harijana both in name and nature.
“My Notes” Navajivan,2-8-1931
WHAT IS IN A NAME?
Q. From the psychological point of view, I think, the name ‘Harijan’ instills into the minds of the people to whom it is applied a feeling of inferiority, however sacred that name may be. This feeling is very difficult to wipe out from them—to whatever extent they are advanced—if they are always called ‘Harijan’. Similarly if a man in the street is asked about a ‘Harijan’, the first thing he will speak of is ‘untouchability and the Depressed Class’. Would it not be possible to save the ‘Harijan’ from involuntarily acquiring such an inferiority feeling, and other people from thinking about them without the ‘qualification’ usually ascribed to them? Would it not be preferable to choose a name which could also bring in its fold people from other sects?
A. This subject was years ago dealt with in the pages of Young India. The name ‘Harijan’ has sacred associations. It was suggested by a Harijan as a substitute for Asprishya (untouchable), Dalita (depressed), or for the different categories of ‘untouchables’ such as Bhangis, Mehtars, Chamars, Pariahs, etc.The Government officers put them in a schedule and, therefore, called them the Scheduled Classes, thus making confusion worse confounded. Those who were not untouchables were classed among the Scheduled and the ones who could be so called were excluded. We have now arrived at a stage, thanks to the Government policy, when to be included among the Scheduled Classes is to be coveted. The Government have created a separate electorate agitating for seats in all elective institutions. I do not mind such ambition, if it carries honest merit with it. But it becomes positively mischievous, when seats are coveted irrespective of merit. The wish to be so educated as to be qualified for the highest post is to be appreciated and encouraged, the wish to be appointed to such a post on the basis of belonging to a caste or a class is essentially to be deprecated and discouraged. The real remedy has been suggested by me. The feeling of inferiority must go. It is going, but too slowly. The process can be accelerated, if every Hindu would deliberately shed his superiority and in practice become a Harijan or, if you like, a master, the lowest class among Harijans. Then we all will become true children of God as the word ‘Harijan’ means. Until this is done, no matter which word signifies ‘untouchables’, it will smell of inferiority. The process has to be carried out thoroughly in every walk of life till the last trace of untouchability is removed. When that happy day arrives, every quarter will be a Harijan quarter and cleanliness of the heart and the home will be the order of the day.
NEW DELHI, April 5, 1946