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(hâr`ĭjănz') [children of God], in India, individuals who are at the bottom of or outside the Hindu castecaste
[Port., casta=basket], ranked groups based on heredity within rigid systems of social stratification, especially those that constitute Hindu India. Some scholars, in fact, deny that true caste systems are found outside India.
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 system. They were traditionally sweepers, washers of clothes, leatherworkers, and those whose occupation it was to kill animals. The term is also sometimes applied to the hill tribes of India, who are considered unclean by some because they eat beef. Originally called untouchables or pariahs, they were given the name Harijans by the Indian political and religious leader Mahatma GandhiGandhi, Mohandas Karamchand
, 1869–1948, Indian political and spiritual leader, b. Porbandar. In South Africa

Educated in India and in London, he was admitted to the English bar in 1889 and practiced law unsuccessfully in India for two years.
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, who worked for many years to improve their lives. Many now refer to themselves as Dalits [Marathi,=broken] to indicate their oppressed position outside Hindu society; legally the Indian government groups them as "scheduled castes."

Until the Indian constitution of 1949, Harijans, who constitute 15% to 20% of India's population, were subject to discrimination and social restrictions because of their "polluting" effect on those with whom they came into contact. Under the constitution, the Harijans were recognized as scheduled castes and tribes entitled to educational and vocational opportunities, as well as representation in parliament; however, widespread discrimination still exists.

Some Harijan leaders have become powerful in Indian politics. Jagjivan Ram, one of the first of his caste to receive a formal education, held several cabinet posts under Indira GandhiGandhi, Indira
, 1917–84, Indian political leader; daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. She served as an aide to her father, who was prime minister (1947–64), and as minister of information in the government of Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri (1964–66).
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 and was a leader of the Janata coalition that unseated her in 1977. K. R. NarayananNarayanan, K. R.
(Raman Kocheril Narayanan) , 1921–2005, Indian government official. An "untouchable" or Dalit (see Harijans), he nonetheless graduated from the Univ. of Travancore (now Kerala, 1943) with high honors.
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 was a government minister and served as India's president (1997–2002), and Meira Kumar was the first woman to be elected (2009) speaker of the Lok Sabha, India's lower house of parliament. Others have obtained a strong voice in state politics, particularly in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. Militant untouchables formed the Dalit Panthers in Mumbai, while many have sought to escape the stigma of their birth by conversion to Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam.


See B. R. Ambedkar, The Untouchables (1948); J. M. Mahar, The Untouchables in Contemporary India (1972); D. Hiro, The Untouchables of India (1982).

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References in periodicals archive ?
It has to be worked from below by the people of very village" (Harijan, 1948).
The village of Nelvoy had a total of 211 houses divided into two distinct geographic units based on the prevailing caste system--the 'Harijan colony', comprising of 127 (60.19%) houses and the 'Main village' comprising of 84 (39.81%) houses (Fig.
The delegation comprising Parkash P Chanaal, the patron chief of the Pakistan Harijan Federation alongwith general secretary Kali Das and others apprised the metropolitan commissioner about the problems facing by the minority employees of KMC in their residential quarters.
" The land use of two colonies -- Shastri Park Extension and Harijan Basti Gharoli Extension -- would have to be changed.
Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) [India] October 17 ( ANI ): The Kerala Information and Public Relations Department's internal circular has directed to avoid usage of words 'Dalit' and 'Harijan' in its official communications.
Addressing a press conference in his office here on Tuesday evening the SSP said, the Police arrested two accused involved in the theft of five religious statues from Harijan Krishna Temple in Samiabad near Ali Goharabad Mohallah of Larkana, in the limits of Market Police.
"I have other personal belongings of Mahatma Gandhi like the original of the 'Harijan' journal, cotton clothes spun by him and his blood samples.