As I picked up Sri Shankar Pathakji's book "Social Work And Social Welfare" my thoughts ran down memory lane, to the time when I left my college in 1974 with an incomplete masters in social work behind me. I had my own reasons way back then, even as just an eighteen year old, for not completing the MSW-because I felt that much of what they taught us in theory had absolutely none or very little relevance to reality, and within me began a rebellion to book learning of social work, and I left following my craving to be in the field. So when Ramesh and shri.Pathakji asked me to be a part of to days programme, I asked myself over and over again if they had made a mistake, and if I was the right person to be given the task for which I stand before you today. Of course I had not read the book at that time. Now that I have read it, let me say that had I been asked to study this book perhaps 35years ago, in 1974, I would have completed my MSW without questioning the relevance of theoretical knowledge - knowledge such as what I gained in this book, that would have lent itself to strengthening my practical. social activism quest. Anyway, it is not I too late and I therefore thank you Sir, Sri Shankar Pathakji and Ramesh for giving me this golden opportunity to become a student, to feel empowered by relevant knowledge one has learnt reading this absolutely revealingly written and brilliantly documented book. I also bow in salutation to one we have all revered as our role model icon, shri. Doreswamyji, and completely humbled, stand before as one in awe.
For one who began a journey in this field 35 years ago, all, all alone, no organization, no NGO, no MSW, I walked into a slum with only a dream- a dream to see a more humane, just and equitable society where there were no tears from hunger and exploitation, or pain- I could never see another in pain or suffering- I was driven by no typicalisms except the concept of what I perceived as humanism, and so when I got tossed around, called a capitalist by some, a fraud by others, a pretender by some and a socialist by others, even a leftist by some and a rightist by others, a Gandhian by some and a nothing by others, I knew I had the courage of conviction and would be driven by the external need and more importantly by an inner "atmasakshi".
And if I were to go a step further, I would unabashedly say that the journey became my prayer, the people my gods, and my "atmasakshi" the charioteer that drove me into the battle field, just as Srikrishna does in Chapter 16 of this book titled "The Helping Process In The Bhagavad Gita" The author explains here that (and I quote) "my purpose is non - religious and limited to exploring the model of the helping process in the Bhagavad Gita. In other words I take the problem faced by Arjuna at the battle front as an eternal human problem - what is ones duty when faced with a critical situation? Self-interest? Interest of "others"? Who are these "others"? What are the guiding principles to make the correct or the ri rht - choice?
Provoking the reader with questions like these, the book reflects on the role of social workers as "conscience keepers" -I quote
"With a definite commitment to the cause of the "underclass', professional social workers as individuals and as a group must retain a continuing and alert awareness of the social situation and the emerging social problems. In collaboration with other organized groups or independently as the situation demands, they have a responsibility to focus public attention on specific social problems and their solutions. In short, the social work profession is essentially a custodian of social concerns and in a limited way one of the conscience keepers of the community. These characteristics of the profession could manifest themselves in the social realm, through the effective intervention of the profession in support of the maintenance of a system of human values. Wherever there is a violation of such values, whether in public policy or the practice of organized groups, social workers have a duty to mobilize public opinion and to take such other organized action as is deemed necessary for putting an end to such injustices. I wonder whether professional social workers in our country are aware of these serious social implications underlying their profession. Is it not time that a serious discussion of these vital issues is undertaken?
As I read these words I remembered those early years in the late 70's and the early 80's when I began my journey of social service as I walked into the slums of Bangalore all alone, new to the city, its people, its culture, no organization behind me, definitely no NGO(I did not even know the term NGO then, forgive me my naievity!) behind me, no donors nor funders. I was hit with a plethora of situations, issues, and experiences that wer grass root realities for the poor and like I had never experienced before. Each day the city's poor woke up to bulldozers and evictions, fires and floods, fear and insecurity, and crisis after crisis that left them running from pillar to post, crying for justice, crying for peace, crying for what was obviously their right like that of any other citizen of this IT garden city, but instead, they were faced with hostility and disdain, with a society that tagged them as criminals, and slums as vice-dens, the poor as dirty and smelly, and their huts, their homes as hovels to be gotten rid of. No one looked at the poor as productive, law abiding hard working, giving, caring, functioning, energetic, dynamic and if I may add the most humane, loving and deserving segment of the city's population.
No sir, no text book taught me this- nor did a classroom teach me about the land mafia that I was to face for years after this, till today, because the question of establishing the rights of the poor, be they urban or rural. revolves around their access and right to land for living and working. And in todays globalized development paradigms getting this right established for the poor is a never ending struggle. Through my working days, to date, the threats to my life have been so real- chased with kerosene cans and match boxes, or cycle chains and even a knife, the nexuses that oppressed the poor would continue to threaten us, and the system that would keep the poor always on the hot coals so to say, hopping and leaping in pain, fear and insecurity would be threatened by our efforts to find justice for the poor. Faced with this reality, the only strength one had was to believe in the huge potential of the exploited masses, the need to make them recognize their self-identity and self worth that poverty had deprived them of, collectivize their wisdom, their experience, their voices, their needs, their dreams, and ultimately establish their right by just being one with them, amongst them (even if I did not live in a slum the best part of my last 35 years has been in direct interaction with communities), learn from them and give it back to them- a point emphasized in this book in many places especially in the concept of the Gandhian way of work as a "Samagra Grama Sevak" striving to be a true practitioner who was willingly a "sweeper", to show the way.
In this challenging journey that has taken me from slums, to villages, to remote villages, to urbanized tribal hamlets, to women, youth and children, to issues of alcoholism, battering of women, to isolation of elders, the sick and destitute with no access to health care, to those with no shelter, etc. my learning was all as a "field activist", or practitioner.
Chapter 12 of the book aptly titled "Social work profession-A provocation", lucidly elicits the profession of social work in India-Though written in 1967, I think it is of great relevance even today-
"The profession of social work in India is more than thirty years old. -Yet, I am afraid, it does not seem to have come of age. Mature thinking, broad perspective, sobriety born of the felt responsibilities of work in a problem-ridden society, a sense of identification with progressive thought, of belongingness to the community and the culture of which it is a part, and a sense of mission and creative innovation in the realm of thought and action- all these are the hallmark of a mature profession where clients are human beings as individuals and as collectives. We may scan the social work horizon to discern the evidence of these, but we see a disappointing and depressing picture. Professional social workers have not shown themselves to be vitally concerned with the serious issues of our time and our society. They are in a state of peace and contentment; they have no right to be, given the living conditions of the people in our country
It goes on to ask-
"What are those conditions? A vast expanse of poverty and deprivation, millions on the verge of starvation, economic exploitation and social degradation for the many, and power and luxury for small groups, ranging from pedlars of potatoes, to pedlars of the intellect. This inhuman situation of apocalyptic contradiction will confront the social worker, wherever he may choose to work."
It goes on to suggest that (quote)"In discharging his task, the most important tool at the disposal of the social worker is his own whole person - his trained intellect, his sympathy and awareness, and his skills in working with others, all acquired in embryonic form during his period of training and further developed, refined and stabilized through the years of field practice. However, it is not enough if the social worker functions only at the level of his intellect and his skills in a mechanical way. He has to import into his work certain personal qualities which are called for by his special relationship between two human persons - one needing help and the other giving it."
"The uniqueness of social work also stems from the fact that it is a service-oriented profession. To render to another occasionally is one thing, but to take to service of others as an occupation and a vocation, obviously calls for a specific set of personal attitudes and attributes.
The latter needs no elaboration since they are well-known to professional social workers. These attitudes and attributes must be firmly rooted in and be perennially nurtured by a consciously felt concern for, and commitment to the cause of our fellow humans in distress. In short, a social worker is not worth his name, nor can he retain his personal integrity and occupational efficiency for long, if he does not experience in the inner core of his being, a conscious identification with the brotherhood of suffering humanity.
Such identification cannot be acquired through mere intellectual effort. It can be felt and cultivated by an individual only through a planned and regular personal confrontation with concrete and specific instance of suffering, deprivation and other human problems. A confrontation of this nature is essential for a social worker in this country, where poverty and deprivation are the daily experiences of countless millions, and where it is so easy for the better-off to immunize their hearts and souls against the joylessness and sordidness of the human condition. The social worker cannot afford to function only as a social technician or engineer, a social technocrat, I believe, is the current term. He has to preserve his basic character as a servant of the society. When he starts functioning from this broad base, his skills as a technician will be more effective and his efforts more rewarding."
Goading the reader into a state of reflection with value based thoughts and ideas such as these, for any social worker, Shri.Pathakji's book could become the eternal conscience keeping handbook that a social worker could go to bed with and wake up to living its truths every morning. I would use it for sure!
Drawing the reader into the ethics of the profession, there is also some reflection on the kind of remuneration a social worker should expect an important aspect of the changing scenarios and expectations, especially when volunteerism has undergone such a sea change in our country over the centuries, if not the past decades the book says (quote) "This question of remuneration I think needs no serious dtseussion to see that the social worker, like any other human being, has certain natural, therefore, normal animal and human urges and needs, which call for satisfaction, and so he should have a minimum of material well-being. The undue emphasis on remuneration which distinguishes the profession in the u.s.A. was born of the predominant place of pecuniary values in a commercial and industrial society based on free enterprise. A society which has always experienced a selective shortage of labour, and is based on competition and free enterprise, and that has depended upon the price-system for the regulation of the economic system and the correct allocation of resources. But, even in that society, the distortions of such a system are many: a professional social worker may be paid much less than a plumber or a truck driver! Therefore, if we adopt such an exclusive pecuniary concept of the profession in our country, where mass poverty and unemployment are rampant, we shall be introducing one more contradiction in a society already riddled with many. Therefore, the central question in this regard is: what is the standard of living or comfort that a social worker should expect to receive from the community for his work? How high is high to be? In arriving at a sensible and rational norm, the most important consideration seems to be to view the problem realistically and as in other professions formulate a code of conduct.
Another ethical value based reflection is on (quote)-
"Professional social workers as a group seem to be concerned much more than they should about their recognition in society, their security and future. Are they, in equal measure, concerned about some of the burning social problems our country is facing today? I am not aware of any effort by organized groups of professional social workers even to discuss such live problems as famine in many parts of the country, untouchability, communal conflicts, the problems of widows, the fate of community development programme and so on. In view of this situation, can we escape the painful conclusion that professional social workers are not adequately aware of their social responsibilities? If social workers attend to their part of the bargain, I have no doubt that society, on its part, will give them the recognition they deserve. Social recognition has to be earned the hard way, through sustained and organized work among the people, never by passing resolution or submitting memoranda."
How relevant is this when most people are busy filling in nomination forms for one form or another of recognition- Yes sir, it comes to those who seek it not- and in my view the greatest of all these awards is truly the work itself; when done unselfishly.
The author in the following paragraphs on
'Working with People' says
I would like to touch upon one important aspect of social work, which is very much ignored in our country. Social work is a profession of practice; it is absolutely essential that its members should have an irreducible minimum of regular field practice.
Again I may not be far from the truth if I say that, in our country, the number of professionally trained social workers whose sole concern is with wooden desks and papers more than that of those who work with people. I am not unaware of the fact that when we work with people, some paper work is involved. However, how much time shall we spend with people and how much with papers is the basic question. One of the fatal weaknesses of the profession in our country is its failure to recognize and enforce the cardinal principle that its members should not only profess to be social workers, but also do a little field practice which requires the use of social work knowledge and skills.
Why have the professional social workers failed to establish a dynamic tradition of taking up worthwhile social challenges? When will they wake up from their unduly long slumber and blaze a new trail of protest against the "sordidness of mean streets" and "the joylessness of withered lives" we see all around us?
What has been the contribution of professional social workers in making this dream a reality? While the state has a legitimate function and duty to perform in relation to the welfare of its citizens, it is neither feasible nor desirable to expect it to take on the total responsibility in this regard. Moreover, the state in the social realm; it can, at best intervene in support of an experiment pioneered by a voluntary group, when its purpose, need and usefulness to society has been proved beyond doubt. Have our' professional social workers assigned to the welfare state the role of the pioneer and to themselves, only that of caretakers? A very disturbing thought, indeed, particularly when, in our country, a vast voluntary movement- Sarvodaya- is engaged in mobilizing the power of the people for their socio-economic development based on self-help and self-reliance.
Taking the reader from the early Mohenja daro and Harappan civilizations, through the social systems based on the 'varnas' of the vedic period, the social reforms of Buddhas moderate middle path that pursued ahimsa, punya and dhana, the golden days of king Asoka, the following Sultanate and Mughal periods, especially the tolerant and benevolent rule of King Akbar, right into the period of the East India company's formation, the advent of the Brtish Rule, the work of the Christian Missionaries, to the Colonial era, pre independent struggles and the post independent status of our country's history, tracing the path of social work and social welfare, of volunteerism and social reforms, of professional social work right upto the emerging trends today in the current NGO sector, Shri.Shankar Pathakji has indeed done the student of social work, or a social work practitioner a great service in enlightening them with extremely relevant, purposeful, meaningful, guided and ethical information- indeed food for thought and for introspection.
Enlisting the different roles of a social worker he has taught us the different approaches taken by a social critic or reformists such as Ram mohun Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar, Social organizers such as Swami Vivekananda, Institute Builders, Animators of Change, Advocates (for change), Mediators, Enablers and Providers of Concrete goods and service. Regardless of which slot one identifies oneself with, that they are all just as relevant in social work is a moot point.
By late last night.ie. the previous night, I had read 300 pages of the book, it was intense and gripping, it was detailed and demanding of one's undivided attention, it was compelling and telling and then came my favourite chapter of the book, Chapter 20 called "Bhakthi-concept, ideology and spread" -the one that spelt out thoughts and philosophies of bhakthi saints like Kabir, Purandra dasa and Kanaka dasa, who remind us the social workers that
"It is hard to be born a human:
You won't be born another time.
The ripe fruit that falls to the ground
Doesn't qrow back on the branch.
Do not torture your body with thirst and hunger,
Give it a hand when it stumbles and falls
To hell with all your vows and prayers
Just help others through life, there is no truer worship':
Finally as I conclude permit me to remember and recollect the life and teachings of a man I saw grow from a small village boy, into an industrialist of stature, who worked hard for the welfare of his family but equally so for all the families of labour in his industry, who made them and their children the extension of us and our family, and who took his entire personal earnings and left them for the poor and exploited children and women of Bharath', through a trust called Ramanarpanam- and today at 89 years, my father Sri.Dwarakanath Reddy has written 8 books, lives in quiet dynamism at Tiruvanamalai imbibing Sri Ramana Maharshis life and teachings, and has guided me, into this path of social work, service or activism by just being who he is-
I salute him for teaching me what Kabir says in the book on social work and social welfare, that-
"I Am The Agent Of All My Actions.
Yet I Am Different From My Deed
The Doer Is Different From His Deed."
Yes, I may be doing and yet , I know it is not me, and this is the universal truth of social work or service.
I share my final thoughts in the pledge made to Gandhiji on his last birthday, that
To Shri.Doreswarny, my pranams.
To Ramesha, and all of you, my most sincere thanks.
Ms. Anita Reddy
Managing Trustee-DRRT, Social Activist