To the members of the Working Group of Gandhian and professional social work this is a familiar subject. Therefore, I am only listing some of the impediments to the growth of social work in India in outline, as points for discussion, without any attempt to explain or elaborate them.
The Concept of Social Work
There is a lack of clarity in the meaning of social work, a peculiarity to India. Like God, each beholder has his own vision of it and like the Scriptures each devotee interprets it in his own way. In Gandhian era, the political worker and social worker became interchangeable terms, and even after that era is over, the aroma continues to confuse individuals and groups, to the advantage of the politician and the detriment of the social worker. The process of clarification must begin from within, from where the confusion started. Attempts at sifting from "outside" are likely to be less successful and may set in motion defence mechanisms.
At the same time there is need for greater agreement among social work "experts" on the meaning and content of social work. When the layman looks to the professional for guidance, a divided guidance is worse than no guidance.
The Making of a Social Worker
(a) What stuff is the social worker made of? It is said that social work is not drawing the best brains among our youth to the social work training institutions. It is even suspected that social work does not need a high intelligence. Social work has become the last resort of the young man in despair of higher education in any other field. If you cannot do anything else, why not take to social work. If this is true in any large measure, we cannot build social work in our country with such material. Can this be rectified by giving social work a statute in the country, by creating a cadre for social work, by making it one of the competetive avenues for the young aspirant?
(b) Our training institutions are not all they should be. There are very few which can be said to be imparting worthwhile training in social work. There is a mushroom growth of training institutions, which do not have qualified staff or director, library or field work. Yet they too produce social workers who have the stamp of being trained, but who in practice are not able to deliver the goods and do more harm than good to the development of social work in the country.
(c) Even the reasonably good schools of social work suffer from lack of staff with field experience, while they are quite well qualified in theory.
Since social work is essentially a matter of practical field work, guided by sound theory and vice versa, the earlier we are able to balance this need in our training institutions the better for the growth of social work.
The Image of the Social Worker
As a result of the various factors that influence the concept of social work and the making of the social worker, a warped image of the social worker emerges in India which impedes the growth of social work. It is presumed that he is not necessarily intelligent; he has now taken it as a career because he chose to get knowledge in the subject through training; he cannot be devoted to the cause because he seeks not only to raise other people's but his own standard of living, for, if he had the right spirit he would have embraced poverty and gone about doing good with a halo round his head. He may be an agent of social justice, but why should he be the recipient of social justice?
On the other hand, the professional is guilty of still not having evolved a code of ethics for himself. We have been talking of it for some years. It is true a committee is working on it now and it is hoped that by the end of this year we may be able to give ours elf a code of ethics. It is then to be seen how far each social worker will measure upto that code and whether that will provide a better criteria for the country to judge him. In the last analysis the social worker will be known by the fruits he bears, by his deeds and not by his claims.
Lack of a Social Policy
In a developing economy, the State can be an aid or an impediment to the growth of social welfare. In India it is neither. It renders lip service to social work but does not give it the serious consideration it deserves in the councils of the State. Any action taken by it, any money allocated by it, is only as a concession to nitwits who pester the powers that be with the importance of social work. Social work to the State is a woman's world, which therefore needs to be humoured by timely words of sugar and occasional crumbs from the economic table. The fact that development is to be of human beings and that it is to be measured in terms of human values is still alien to our Government and therefore social work gets a stepmotherly treatment. Only when our economic and industrial policy is integrated 'with our social policy will social work find itself and become an agent for the total growth.
The Need for Central Agency and Direction
(a) Social work both at the Centre and in the States, suffers from lack of a coordinated approach, an integrated philosophy of social work, ano purposeful direction and guidance. For years the social workers of the country have been advocating a Central Ministry of Social Welfare. A beginning has been made, though a very unsatisfactory beginning. It does not seem to have a purpose, a policy or a programme. This is mainly because of the attitudes of Government listed above. There should be a Ministry which can remove the impediments that hamper the growth of social work in the country, enunciate a social policy, guide the States and organize and promote both statutory and voluntary social work. Today it is not fulfilling these functions of a Central Ministry.
(b) There is a department of social welfare in some eight out of fourteen States of the country. They suffer from the same lack of purpose and efficiency as the Central Ministry. It is not considered an important department of the State. If social work is to move ahead, all the States must have separate departments for social welfare.
(c) Even where there are departments of social welfare, they are manned by non-professionals. Both in the Central and in the State departments of social welfare, even where it is conceded that it is a technical department, it is headed and mostly staffed by untrained administrators and others. This has prevented a systematic growth of social work. There is no basic thinking, no sound planning and very poor execution of programmes. I.A.S. Men are posted to be directors of the department of social work either as a punish- ment, or as a temporary stop-gap measure, while awaiting a "suitable" posting, or as an administrative solution when they cannot decide what else to do with a particularly dull, inefficient or troublesome officer. This is the general impression in the country. We can only hope this is not so in a majority of cases.
(d) Social work programmes have to be administered not only by social workers, but by administrators, both in the rural and urban areas. Unfortunately, these administrators are not yet people who have an understanding of the role of social work in the developmental processes. They give it lip service only to pamper the meddle some faddists or to practise their administrative tact in a democracy.
Lack of Data
Planning and programming is seriously handicapped by the lack of ad- equate data in this field. There is need for a great deal of information on social problems and on methods to deal with communities. We lack scientific information on methods that will be effective in the Indian setting, both rural and urban. Example: While the Census Report tells us that over 77 % of families in rural and town areas are nuclear families (small and medium), and therefore the breaking up of the joint family is going apace, other studies indicate that caste councils no longer exercise the authority they once did. But in actual village community life, can the social worker adopt his methods in community organisation based on such data? The spirit of the joint family and the influence of the caste are still factors that help or impede social work programmes.
Motivation for Social Work
While there is considerable amount of social work in the country, the quality of work and its progress is affected by motives that govern individuals and groups who undertake social work. The motivation is an amalgam of both the selfish and the unselfish. The growth of social work would be assured if social workers were assured that the more unselfishly one is motivated and the more service he renders, the more recognition he will earn. The tragedy is that in our society this does not always happen.
(b) Social work agencies far too often are born not out of the need to meet a felt need of clientele or to solve a social problem, but to provide a platform for individuals or groups. It is not uncommon for some people to form an organisation and then to say, "What shall we do now to justify our existence?" In a democracy, social work has become an easy platform for social and political climbing.
These factors lead to inter-agency jealousies and rivalries which militate against the healthy growth of social work.
Intrusion of Politics lnto Social Work
Social work must be beyond the bickerings of political parties. It should be possible to evolve a social policy for the country, a national plan for social welfare, and State plans for different States in the country by agreement between all the major political parties of the country. Today the weaker sections of the community are exploited by different parties and an inflated sense of rights is created among them to the detriment of their sense of obligations and discipline. Social work agencies both at the national and State level become objects of political competition and intervention without serving the cause for which they came into being.
The Need for Cooperation and Coordination
Both in the Government and voluntary sector, cooperation and coordination is conspicuous by its absence. I have already suggested how coordination and integration through a ministry or department can promote the cause of social work. As a result of a combination of doubtful motives, political intervention and interests coordination and even cooperation among voluntary agencies is sadly wanting. Undue political patronage also dulls the desire to cooperate with other organisations not so favoured. The State must develop an impartial and helpful attitude to all social work organisations where worthwhileness of the programme and the efficient running of the programmes alone must be the criteria of any State patronage. Such an attitude can help greater cooperation among voluntary agencies.
Coordination is essential in social work to get the best out of the limited finances, qualified personnel and equipment, including buildings and materials.
(a) It is becoming increasingly difficult to raise voluntary contributions for voluntary agencies. Conceptually, the more the State and the political parties sell the idea of a democratic socialistic society, the less does the citizen feel his responsibility for his fellowman. He expects the State to bear the burden. Consistent with its declared policies, increasing taxation has dried up the surplus from the average wage-earner and the salaried. Even the rich feels that his margin of saving is reduced by taxation and he is not in a position to be as philanthropic as he used to be.
(b) On the other hand, with the general increase in the cost of living, social services have also become more expensive. An institution with the same number of inmates or clientele today as before, say a decade ago, has to spend considerably more on the same services.
(c) With increasing industrialization, and the general complexities of life, with a policy that pays attention only to economic growth and not to the concomitant social growth, social problems have increased. All this has resulted in the need for greater amount of social work, but with lesser means to do it.
(d) That the State has to render greater financial assistance to voluntary agencies seems to be generally accepted. But there seems to be lack of clarity on the methods of doing it. The position, status and functions of the Central Social Welfare Board are still a matter of confusion and controversy. It is today neither fish nor fowl, nor good red herring. Conceived in liberty, it is increasingly being subjected to a cordon sanitaire. Its main function of grant-giving is hamstrung by pulls and pressures and Government procedural rigmarole.
Grant-in-aid can be a process of developing social work on healthy lines. It can be so when it has a policy and a programme. The bureaucratic procedural complications seem to have hindered rather than aided social work agencies in the process of using Government grants. It is an eternal question as to how much of it could be simplified consistent with the needs of accountability of public funds.
On the other hand, the very attitude and lack of efficiency of grant-receiving agencies has complicated the problem of grant-giving. The need and their responsibility for accounting for public funds received as grants has not yet become part of the thinking and practice of voluntary agencies, by and large. Every question asked, every form to be filled, is taken as an affront to their dignity and their honesty and a lack of appreciation of the virtue of their voluntary service. When Government and voluntary agencies can strike a happy Balance between bureaucratic irrationalism and the pathology of voluntary agencies, an important impediment to social work will have been removed.
Planning for Social Work
Social work and social work agencies seem to be living from day to day. AE a result of the various difficulties and problems suggested earlier, long-term planning has not yet become part of the programme of our social work agencies. There is urgent need to rectify this error. When long-term planning for three or five years is undertaken, they will be compelled to pay attention to research and survey, for they would need more information for planning, better qualified staff, better methods of raising funds and utilising available funds and evolving of clear-cut ideas and policies. This is likely to yield better and more lasting results and the role of social work in national development will become more pronounced.
Working Conditions in Voluntary Agencies
Due to a variety of reasons, financial, ideological, attitudinal or ignorance, service conditions in voluntary agencies do not seem to be satisfactory. Voluntary agencies employing full-time or part-time workers, trained or untrained, should develop appointment procedures, rules of conduct and discipline, salary scales, rules for leave, hours of work, removal procedures, etc. A sense of stability and justice is necessary for an individual, even if he is a social worker working in a voluntary social work agency.
Management of Voluntary Agencies
We as a nation are heir to the concept of ascribed status. Recognition of achieved status by individual merit and talent is comparatively new to us. When we look for leadership in social work agencies, to hold offices or to be on the managing committees, we turn to people of power and position in fields other than social work. Our voluntary agencies are thus full of men and women who are not guilty of any knowledge of, or experience or training in, social work. Very often there is danger of their gracing the chair and ruining the programme. This situation leads not only to a mismanagement of the agencies concerned, but retards appreciably the progress of the organisations and therefore social work. From such positions of vantage they express opinions on social work, irrespective of their ability to do so, and unfortunately guide the destinies of social work.
Social Work Serves People without Faith in People
In the last analysis, it seems to me, that our biggest impediment is our basic lack of faith in our people. We talk of big principles in community development and then instead of planning with them, and from below, we plan for them and from above. We give them a democratic form of administration to run their affairs, but concentrate on the district and the samiti and cannot trust the gramasabha. We form voluntary agencies and impose leadership from above or outside. Social work will succeed to the extent it enables people to help themselves. It has to provide the conditions for them to seek their own redemption.
Ex. Director, Central Institute of Training & Research in Public Cooperation, New Delhi; formerly served as Welfare Adviser to the Governments of Burma Ethiopia.
Towards a Philosophy of Social Work in India,
Edited by: Sugata Dasagupta, Popular Book Services, New Dehli-3.