Special Articles / Shankar Pathak / Social Work and Social Welfare
There is a widespread belief among professional social workers that social work in India had attained the status of a profession on the eve of the Independence of the country. The assumption that social work in India became a profession many years ago, deserves to be carefully tested. This chapter attempts to discuss the professionalization of social work in India, particularly during the past thirty years, in historical perspective. The label 'professional social workers' is used here in a broad sense to distinguish a group of social workers from other types of social workers, such as sarvodaya social workers, voluntary social workers and paid social workers who have had no education in schools of social work. The analysis will focus on the group of social workers who have completed their education at the post-graduate schools of social work and have worked or are currently working in the field of social work in India; their impact on the field of social work; and their achievements and failures in their quest for professional status.
The terms 'profession' and 'professionalization' are used in a specific sense in sociological literature. Professionalization is defined as "the dynamic process whereby many occupations can be observed to change certain crucial characteristics in the direction of a 'profession' and profession is defined as 'an ideal type' of occupational organization which does not exist in reality, but which provides the model of the form of occupational organization that would result if any occupational group became completely professionalized".1 These crucial characteristics are variously stated by different authors. The most commonly stated characteristics include a specific area of operation, a specialized body of knowledge and techniques, the establishment of educational programmes usually in the universities, development of a code of ethics, establishment of a professional organization, ideal of service, and public recognition of the professional status of the occupation.
Goode has stated that there are some characteristics which are core or generating traits and the rest derive from these. According to him, a basic body of abstract knowledge and the ideal of service are the two generating traits.2 As Parsons and others have pointed out, it is not helpful to differentiate occupations and professions on the basis of the criterion of service, because both self-interest and the ideal of service interpenetrate whether in the commercial occupations or professions. In any case, the ideal of service has always been the hall-mark of social work and in fact, the over-emphasis on this ideal has proved to be a serious barrier to the professionalization of social work in India. In our view, the three core traits of a profession are: (1) a specific area of operation, (2) a basic body of knowledge and skills, (3) and public recognition of the claim of the occupation for professional status. Other characteristics are derived from these core traits. The public recognition is the most important of the three traits. Because in the final analysis it is a political process. If an occupational group somehow succeeds in persuading or pressurizing the government to act in favour of its claim, irrespective of the presence or absence of the other two traits, it will achieve professional status.
Some sociologists have identified a sequence of steps in the professionalization of occupations. As Goode has commented, this is neither empirically correct, nor theoretically convincing.3 Because most of these processes are going on simultaneously and it is difficult to state whether one actually began before another.
Before proceeding to discuss the professionalization of social work in India, let us briefly examine the claim that it has become a profession and, the naive and simplistic arguments put forth in support of this position. First of all there is no agreement, even among those who take such a position, as to when social work emerged as a profession in India. Was it in 1936 when the first school of social work was started? Was it in 1938 when the first batch of trained social workers came out of this school?4 Or was it "in the forties" as mentioned by a former director of this school?' Whatever may be the answer to these questions, the argument is based on a simple logic which runs somewhat as follows: social work in U,S.A. had developed a body of knowledge and skills long before 1936 and it had become a profession there. This body of knowledge and skills is of universal application, though slight adaptation may have to be made to suit the local culture. When the first training programme for social work started in this country, it had access to this professional knowledge and skills. So, with the establishment of a school of social work, the profession of social work came into existence.
A close look at the above argument reveals that it is based on three 'facts', namely the professional status of social work in U.S.A. prior to 1936, the universal applicability of this knowledge and skills, and the access to this professional knowledge to the training school in India in 1936. If none of this is true, as we shall point out, then the whole argument falls to pieces.
Despite the claim of many social workers regarding the professional status of social work in U.S.A. as early as the nineteen thirties, independent observers have not accepted this claim. Etzioni, for example, considers it a semi- profession.5 Social workers who have examined the professional status of the field on the basis of certain objective criteria have concluded that it became a profession only during the fifties. As regards the development of a specialized body of knowledge, Wilensky and Lebaux in their wellknown study of social work in U.S.A. observed that the knowledge base was shaky as it rested mainly on psycho-dynamic theories whose scientific status was uncertain.6 A similar view was expressed by Goode in 1969, and Bartlett in 1971.7 Though American social work writers and also some Indian social work educators talked in terms of an universal profession of social work (meaning thereby that American social work theory and skills were applicable by and large to any country) it is now recognized that this was sales talk. Now thoughtful American social workers concede that much of this is culture-bound and largely inapplicable to other cultures. Finally, about the accessibility of this knowledge and skills at the time of the founding of the first school in India, none of the faculty had been educated in a school of social work in U.S.A., and they had "very limited literature from the social field, secured from U.S.A.8
It is obvious that professional social work in India could not have come into existence in 1936 or 1938, nor even by 1947 when the country became independent. Students of the professions have noted one fairly universal tendency when an occupation starts on the road to professionalization. The members of the occupation begin to talk about their professional status by making claims. A perusal of the pages of the Indian Journal of Social Work upto 1947 will convince any reader that this was not true of trained social workers in India. It is extremely rare to come accross the word 'profession' or 'professional' in the literature during this period. On the other hand, words like 'scientific charity', 'trained social workers' are found more frequently.
It is significant that by the beginning of the fifties, the words 'profession' and 'professional' gained currency in the articles published in the Journal. The Jamshedpur session of the Indian Conference of Social Work, which was held in December 1951 had a section on University Training for Social Work. The two memoranda written by the heads of the first two schools of social work to be part of their respective universities as also the President's address, are replete with words like 'profession of social work' and 'professional social workers'. Between 1952 and 1955 three articles appeared in the Journal, discussing the professional status of social work in India. Nanavatty's article written in 1952, was the first attempt to apply the sociological criteria of professions as stated by Carr-Saunders, to the field of social work in India.9 Though the article begins on an optimistic note, and is conspicuously silent in expressing any judgement on the professional status of the field, the discussion of the four criteria and the quotation from Coyle toward the end seems to suggest a negative conclusion. In a refreshing contrast is the article by Ranade published in 1954. Like the earlier author, Ranade also uses sociological criteria to examine the question whether social work could be called a profession. He is quite forthright in his judgement: It is a discipline and an approach; but it is not a profession. Ranade, however, does not define what he means by a discipline.10 The next article by Nanjan, written as a student for an essay competition, used the famous six criteria of Flexner. He noted that one of the characteristics (professional organization) was absent and some others were controversial.11 This means that it had not become a profession at that time.
It is also interesting to recall here that at a symposium organized on this very issue much later in 1961 in Delhi, the participants (all of them trained social workers) were sharply in disagreement on the question whether social work in India was a profession.12 When finally it was decided to form a professional association at a meeting in October 1961, after a heated exchange on various alternatives, the members by a majority chose a long, cumbersome, mouthful of a name, 'Indian Association of Alumni of Schools of Social Work' rejecting other names such as 'Association of Trained Social Workers', and 'Professional Social Workers'. Finally, to complete this part of the historical story, in 1964 when the name of the Association was changed, the alternative name incorporating the word 'professional social workers' was again rejected in favour of ‘The Indian Association of Trained Social Workers'.
On the basis of the historical material presented above, we can say that the process of professionalization began definitely by the early fifties. Several factors contributed to this development. Between 1947 and 1952, four more schools came into existence in different parts of the country such as Baroda, Delhi, Madras and Varanasi, two of these as part of the universities and two outside them. During 1947 for the first time an American social worker came as a visiting teacher for a period of one year, to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. This was soon followed by the appointment on the faculty of two alumni of this school who had been to American universities for further studies in social work. The two new schools at the universities of Baroda and Delhi also had on their faculties two or three teachers who had their education in social work in U.S.A. and some -of the alumni of these schools were appointed as faculty members at Madras and Varanasi. In other words, the idea that social work is a profession had taken hold of the minds of some of the teachers in these schools of social work during their study in U.S.A. and through the process of socialization during training, it was impressed upon the students of these schools. Also, the number of trained social workers was no longer small and they were to be found in sufficient numbers to form a group and develop a sense of separate identity, at least in the major cities of the country.
No wonder then, that professional consciousness began to emerge among the members of this group during the early fifties and a first attempt to form an association was made in 1951, at the time of the annual session of the Indian Conference of Social Work (now known as Indian Council of Social Welfare). This attempt, however, proved to be abortive when the group faced sharp reactions and strong opposition from a more numerous, prestigious, and powerful group of voluntary social workers, some of whom had already become ministers in the provincial governments and also held important positions in the I.C.S.W. The group decided to meet informally every year at the time of the annual session of the I.C.S.W. and elected a president and a secretary; they however could not function in the absence of an organizational machinery. The ritual of holding an informal meeting of trained social workers at each of the annual sessions of the I.C.S.W. and electing a new president and a secretary until the next session continued for a decade. With the decision to establish a formal organization of trained social workers, which was taken at a meeting of the group in Delhi in 1961, at the time of the biennial session of the I.C.S.W., the process of professionalization moved into the next phase.
Contrary to the widespread belief, the influence of American social work on India did not begin until 1947-48. It is true that the first school of social work broadly followed the pattern of social work education in U.S.A., but for reasons stated earlier, the influence was minimal. Beginning in the late forties, the American influence gradually increased and reached its peak during the fifties. In addition to the appointment of U.S.A. trained Indian social workers on the faculties of schools of social work during 1948-52, two important developments contributed to this situation. During the post-independence period, there was an increasing international traffic between India and U.S.A. in the field of social work. Firstly, several trained social workers from India went to the U.S.A. for study tours or advanced studies in social work with the financial facilities made available by U.N. fellowships and scholarships, and also by fellowships and travel grants provided by philanthropic foundations, universities and inter-governmental exchange programmes like Smith-Mundt scholarships and Fullbright travel grants. Most of them came back influenced by the views popularly held by American social workers and social work educators regarding the professional status of social work.
The second major development was the U.S. government's Technical Cooperation Mission and Council on Social Work Education Exchange Programme (TCM-CSWE Exchange Programme). Under this programme, during 1957-62 a team of American social work educators came as consultants to selected Indian schools of social work and, in exchange, faculty members from these schools went for a year's study to different schools of social work in U.S.A.13 This exchange programme covered five schools of social work in Baroda, Delhi, Lucknow, Madras and Varanasi. Apart from the consultants working at these five schools of social work, the team or a member of it was also invited by other schools of social work for a short period of consultation or for conducting faculty development programmes. Perhaps at a later date it should be possible to assess the impact of this exchange programme with a greater measure of objectivity.
The American influence on social work education and through it on social work practice in India, has not been an unmixed blessing. There have been some positive benefits and some undesirable consequences. On the positive side, we must mention their contribution to organizing and improving field work programmes in schools, and faculty development programmes in terms of better methods of teaching courses, particularly the methods courses, and better supervision of field work; and to the development of indigenous teaching materials and systematic curriculum construction. A major achievement of the TCM-CSWE Team is that they paved the way for the emergence of the Association of Schools of Social Work in India. The summer seminars organized and financed by them were held in hill stations in different parts of the country. These seminars provided the proper physical climate and mental atmosphere for the meeting of teachers from different schools of social work and helped to break the barriers of communication, mistrust and rivalry. On the negative side, they tried to mould the curriculum of schools of social work on the American pattern. This led to the curtailment of the social science content, inadequate emphasis on social change and social development, and neglect of social reform.
The reason for these consequences are many. A major reason is the narrow view of social work in U.S.A. which was more individual oriented and concerned with curative functions than macro-oriented, preventive, and interested in social change. The insularity of American social work did not prepare the American consultants for appreciating the local differences in socio- economic conditions, the national heritage of social reform and social work, the indigenous techniques of social work, and the cultural differences in terms of values and norms. 'When they arrived here, they generally recognized this. But, the short period of their assignment (which was usually one year), lack of knowledge of the local language which hampered communication with the people in the field, and in a few cases, a limited perspective and intellectual capacity necessary for a quick adaptation, made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to function in a manner which could have avoided or at least minimized, the negative effects of this cultural influence. There were, however, a few notable exceptions.
We shall now proceed to examine the process of professionalization of social work with reference to the three core traits. Among the three traits 'the availability and the importance of a specialized body of knowledge is the most publicised trait. It is claimed that this is the foundation of professional practice and that only those who have undergone an approved course of formal training can acquire these knowledge and skills. Professional knowledge is of two kinds. A body of "general concepts drawn from different social sciences" and "systematic empirical knowledge relating to typical problem situations and ways of handling them".14 Harraud classifies the professional knowledge into "Legal and administrative knowledge of a more factual kind, and scientific knowledge as the basis for practice".15 It is generally recognized that the social sciences are an important source of conceptual knowledge for social work, particularly sociology, economics and psychology. At the time of the establishment of the first school of social work in India in 1936, there were only three universities which had departments of sociology, namely, Bombay, Lucknow and Mysore. Even these departments had been in existence for a short period of about a decade or two. There was not much of sociological literature which could be helpful for the practice of social work.
Wit h the exception of Calcutta university, it is doubtful if there was any other university in India at that time which had a full- fledged department of psychology. Psychology was taught in most universities as part of the courses on philosophy, and it was relegated to an obscure position. It had little opportunity for the development of conceptual or empirical knowledge which could be useful for social workers. Economics was in a slightly but not significantly better position. Teaching of social sciences like sociology and psychology, and psychiatry became fairly widespread only during the post-independence period, and that too after the fifties. It is true that these sciences had developed fairly well in western countries, particularly in some European countries and U.S.A. There were a few persons in India in 1936 who were educated in these countries and some of them were on the faculty of the first school whether on a fulltime basis or as visiting teachers.
But this does not refute our main argument. It is admitted that in the field of social sciences, the development of conceptual knowledge is not of the same level of abstraction and scientific validity as to be universally applicable without adaptation to local situations. Even if it were, this knowledge would be still unusable unless the theoretical concepts are applied to Indian situations. Though a good deal of research has been done and literature produced since the1950's in all of the social sciences, particularly in economics and sociology, the relevance of these to Indian society is being questioned by the Indian social scientists themselves.16 The absurdity and the irrelevance of Freudian personality theory is graphically illustrated by the comment of a graduate of one of the wellknown schools of social work in India (who later became a social work educator in the U.S.A.) that "students were learning about the traumatic implications of over-strict toilet training in a country with an extraordinarily casual attitude towards defecation.17 It is doubtful if there is any significant change in the content of the course on human growth and development in many of the Indian schools of social work, sixty years after the graduation of this author. Even now, there are only a few published empirical studies on child-rearing practices and on Indian personality. A few social anthropological studies of village communities contain some more data on this topic.
The second type of knowledge which is used by a profession is the knowledge derived out of the cumulative experience of the practitioners. This is sometimes referred to as 'practice wisdom'. This knowledge is of a more practical kind which is the basis of 'ways of handling the typical problem situations'.18 Despite the fact that nearly seven decades have passed since the first batch of trained social workers came out of a school of social work, and an increasingly large number of them have been working in a variety of practice settings at many levels, the literature produced by them is extremely limited. Much of this literature is of an interpretative and descriptive type, lacking in analytical thought. More often the greater part of the articles written by the practitioners at the field level consists of borrowed ideas from published literature which is mainly from the west.19
Very few social workers at the field level have written articles. A great proportion of articles and books published are from faculty members of schools of social work, most of whom had little or no practical experience in the field.20 To-date there are two books on community organization, two on social action, two on social case work, one on group work, and a few articles on social welfare administration. Group work has received little attention by social work writers. There is a good deal of literature, some of it in 'the form of books, on practice settings such as labour welfare, medical and psychiatric social work, probation, community development, etc.
There has been very little research by social workers on areas of social work operation. Except for one survey of professional social workers, and a few studies of social welfare manpower, most of the research done by social work teachers have been on social problems like beggary, sex delinquency and prostitution or on other non-social work areas. One evaluative study of a pilot project on urban community development and two evaluative studies of the national family planning programmes have been made by a social worker as part of the pilot project or the Evaluation Unit of the Planning Commission. In recent years, a major part of the research on social work practice in U.S.A. has been undertaken by students working for their doctorate. In India, there was no provision for doctoral study in social work until 1960, when the Lucknow University initiated a doctoral programme in social work. Delhi University introduced doctoral study in 1965, the Tata Institute of Social Science in 1967 and the Kashi Vidyapith a few years later. Among those who have completed doctoral study in social work very few have published their dissertations or findings. Available information on the titles of doctoral dissertions, indicates that perhaps with two or three exceptions, they are not about social work practice.21
The second core trait, which was mentioned earlier, is a specific area of operation. Specification of an area of operation which could be considered to be the exclusive domain of social workers has been a serious difficulty in all countries. Where professionalization of social work has progressed to a large extent, as in the U.S.A. and U.K., it has been possible to achieve a measure of agreement and acceptance among fellow-professionals and the public at large. The difficulty is much greater in India where professionalization has been very limited and progress in this direction very slow. Barring labour welfare, medical and psychiatric social work, and family planning the rest of the field of social work is largely dominated either by paid workers with no training in social work or by voluntary social workers.22 To add to this difficulty many areas of social work in India are still to be occupationalized and the popular conception of social work is still of an activity voluntarily undertaken by any person in the service of fellow human beings and without remuneration. Two studies have revealed that this image of social work is widespread among college students in a big metropolitan city like Bombay and even among social welfare agencies employing trained social workers.23 A survey of opinions of fellow-professionals like doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers etc. will not probably reveal a different image.24
Finally we come to the last of the three core traits, namely; the public acceptance of the professional status of social work. This question has been partly answered by our discussion of the second trait. We may briefly examine this issue in a practical way by asking to what extent social work qualification have been specified as the essential minimum qualification for social work jobs and whether social workers with training have been appointed to these jobs. The most desirable situation for any profession is the statutory recognition of its professional status. In case of professions like law and medicine where private practice is fairly common, the licensing system for practice ensures that activities which require professional knowledge and skills are performed only by those who have the requisite professional education. The professions have also an opportunity to both lay down the standards of education and enforce these standards. When this is not possible, as in the case of social work, the next best situation will be that jobs which call for a certain type of knowledge and skills for efficient performance are by law required to be filled by persons who have acquired these through a process of training in approved institutions. It is of course possible that while there is no such statutory requirement for these jobs, generally the employers may select only persons with requisite training. Both these forms of recruitment will be a clear indication of the public recognition of the professional status of the occupation.
In India, the labour welfare officer is required by statute to possess social work qualification. But, this does not apply to positions like industrial relations officer and personnel officer. And the plums of the field in terms of salary, position and prospects are to be found in the latter jobs. Social work qualifications have been laid down as compulsory for the appointment of probation officers in Tamil Nadu and case workers in the Directorate of Social Welfare in Delhi. Generally, the posts of medical and psychiatric social workers are filled by social work graduates. In family planning, for the posts of extension educators, social scientists, propaganda officers, etc., social work degree or diploma is one of the alternative qualifications. Most of the states now have posts of Director of Social or Harijan, or Women's Welfare. At the central level there are social work positions in the Central Social Welfare Board, the Department of Social Welfare, the Planning Commission, and some of the ministries. Although, some of these posts have been and are held by qualified social workers, there is no acceptance of the idea that these are technical posts which should be filled only by those with appropriate technical qualifications as in the case of comparable positions in the Ministries of Education, Health and Public Works.
It is estimated that there are about 7000 voluntary social welfare agencies in India in 1970. This large voluntary sector is run almost wholly without trained social workers. Some trained social workers believe '(or like to believe) that this is due to the poor financial resources of the small local voluntary agencies. But then, the situation is not very different even in the case of national level voluntary organizations or government agencies dominated by voluntary social workers, like the Central Social Welfare Board, which employ full time paid staff on good salary for jobs requiring technical knowledge and skills of social work. It may soothe the ego of professional social workers to claim that the value of social work training is being increasingly recognized by the government and to quote references to training in the reports of some government or parliamentary committees. But the meaning of the term 'training' for most of these official bodies is not the same as understood by professional social workers.
We have discussed earlier the historical developments which led to the establishment of a formal organization of trained social workers in India. The major functions of a professional organization comprise the promotion of better practice, the fostering of a sense of fraternity among the practitioners, to serve as a clearing house of information, to strive for the improvement of working conditions of the members, and influencing of social policy.25 To perform these functions, the organization needs to be strong both in terms of membership and financial resources. We shall briefly review the progress and performance of the Indian Association of Trained Social Workers which came into existence in 1961.
In 1964 the Association had a membership of about 300 out of a total of 4,000 trained social workers by that time. Assuming a rate of attrition of 40 per cent there were at least 2,400 of them working in the field of social work. The membership of the Association in 1964 was approximately 8 per cent of the total number of trained social workers, and about 12 percent of those who were working in the field. In 1977 the total number of trained social workers may have been around 12,000 and the membership of the Association was about 500. This means that the proportion of membership to the total strength of the group was 4 per cent and if we make allowances for the attrition, it was about 6 per cent of those working in the field.26 This decrease in the proportion of the membership of the Association to the potential number of eligible trained social workers clearly indicates that the Association is becoming weaker both in terms of its representative nature of the group and its capacity to play an effective role to promote the interests of the group. What are the reasons for this lack of interest in joining the Association?
The leaders of the Association are generally agreed that it is due to weak professional consciousness and the disappointing performance of the Association in working for the improvement of salary, job opportunities, status and prospects of promotion for the members of the group. Opinion varies as to why there is little professional consciousness among trained social workers. While some people blame the schools of social work for not inculcating it among their students, others attribute it to the narrowing of loyalty to the fields of specialization during the period of training.27 An additional reason and an important one in the Indian context is the fact that a large number of trained social workers have specialized in the field of labour and are working in this field. Most of them do not identify with social work and they tend to develop loyalty to the field of industrial relations and personnel management.
We now review the working of the Association during the last sixteen years of its existence. A popular activity of the Association and its branches has been to organize lectures, symposia, institutes and seminars. They have also submitted several memoranda to various government departments both at the central and state level, and official bodies like the Administrative Reforms Commission, the Pay Commission and the U.N. Team on the evaluation of family planning programmes in India. Through the submission of these memoranda accompanied in a few instances, by the deputation of delegations to explain the Association's viewpoint as contained in these, the Association has tried to influence the authorities to create jobs for trained social workers, to lay down social work qualifications for the existing jobs in the field, to improve the salaries of trained social workers, to appoint trained social workers to the senior positions in the field and to influence the government to initiate programmes and policies which they considered as essential or desirable. The impact of this "memoranda approach" has been negligible in influencing governmental policies in the field of social welfare and promote the interests of the members of the profession.
A notable achievement of the Association is the publication of a quarterly journal, Social Work Forum, for fifteen years. It was an extremely ambitious venture when it was started in 1963. The Association was then only two years old. It had neither the financial resources, nor a large membership which could support the Journal by paid subscription. Then again, Indian social workers, particularly at the field level, are notoriously reluctant to write. But with the active help of a small band of dedicated workers and the support of a few advertizers, the Association has managed to bring out the Journal during all these years. Through its pages, the Association has tried to perform, though to a very limited extent, some of its functions. The editorials of the Forum especially, have tried to coax, urge and appeal to the members to write articles sharing their experiences; to develop a sense of fraternity and also to boost the morale of its members. A few of the articles are of a high quality; most others range from average to poor in quality. As a writer in one of the early issues put it, there has to be information to clear, if the Association is to function as a clearing house.28 The Editorial Board of the Forum have certainly tried hard to create 'information' which they could clear. If they have not succeeded, the blame lies with the profession.
The Association has shown a strange sense of priorities. One of its earliest actions was to prepare a memorandum on minimum standards of social work education which was submitted to the Association of Schools of Social Work in India in 1961 and was adopted by that Association as a basis of its work. Subsequent to this, the Association has done very little effort to accomplish its objective.
An inevitable consequence of professionalization is that the occupational group becomes more interested in such matters like career opportunities, improvement of status and salary for its members. It loses interest in larger societal issues such as eradication of poverty, the promotion of social justice, income redistribution, etc. A similar situation developed in the case of trained social workers in India. Writing in the official journal of the Association, a sympathetic, external observer chided them for their excessive concern with their self-interest and their neglect of the larger social issues. (see chapter No.12.) A little later an editorial in the same journal sharply differed with this view.
The Association has been conspicuous by its silence on most of the urgent social issues which should have been its major concern. During the early 1970's while the whole country was involved in a serious debate on the elimination of poverty, and the means to achieve it, trained social workers demonstrated little interest in this. The Association did not even submit a memorandum or hold a seminar on this issue until December 1976, which are its characteristic methods of influencing social policy. On the contrary, one hears in formal and informal meetings an increasing concern to be rid of the taint of being a ‘profession of the poor’. In its quest for upward occupational mobility, the group is behaving like the new rich who feel embarrassed by their poor relations. In a major piece of criticism of the social work profession in the U.S.A. the authors referred to the profession's disengagement from the poor.29 In India, trained social workers have only a reluctant engagement with them. It is just not possible to avoid working with the poor when 40 to 50 per cent of the country's population live below the poverty line. However much the trained social workers may yearn for a better image of a profession of the well-to-do if not the rich, they find to their dismay (even consternation) that the poor are always with them and everywhere.
Though the record of trained social workers has been dismal in the areas of social policy, commitment to social justice and social action, there have been a few bright patches here and there. Worth mentioning are volunteer work in times of national emergency such as for the jawan's welfare, medical social service at a naval hospital in Bombay, relief work among the refugees from Bangladesh, sending a team of social work educators to assist in organizing famine relief in Bihar, promotion of school social work in Delhi, and initiating action with the support of other organizations to introduce a bill on adoption.
We may briefly mention two major failures of the profession. One of these is its inability to establish a link with the national heritage of social reform and social work, especially with the Gandhian social work. Trained social workers have felt acutely uncomfortable in the company of Gandhian workers. They have shown neither the open-mindedness nor objectivity sufficient to appreciate the contribution of Gandhi and his followers to the development of a philosophy, a social perspective and methods of working with people. Despite a long dialogue between the two groups which began in 1964, on the initiative of Jaya Prakash Narayan, a genuine meeting of the minds between the two groups has yet to take place. For this to happen, it is necessary to move out of the seminar rooms into the field where the action is taking place. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
The other failure is the neglect of the rural areas. This is the result in part of professionalization, which is to be found in the case of other professions too. The other part of the explanation for this state of affairs is the pattern of social work education which is mostly at the post-graduate level. The trained social workers are almost wholly to be found in urban areas, these too in the major cities. Though a few schools of social work offered courses in rural welfare, it was never popular among the students. The proportion of students taking up rural welfare as compared to the total number of trained social workers was 15 per cent in 1957-58 and by 1964 it was reduced by half to 7 per cent. Not even one per cent of this group was actually working in the rural areas at the time of the survey of professional social workers in India.30 In contrast, about 2,000 workers were trained for rural welfare work by Gandhian training institutions by 1952.31 This raises the question: to what extent the present pattern of social work education is suited to the needs of our country, where 70 per cent of the population live in rural areas?
The general tenor of this paper so far may be considered too critical. The writer may be taken to task by his peers for 'denigrating the profession and belittling its achievements'. He can only say that he has tried to be objective. If this chapter seems to present the performance of professional social workers in an unfavourable light, it is because their achievements have been so few and unimpressive, compared to their failures which are many. In the opinion of this writer the achievements, stated briefly are: (1) Professionalization of a few segments of the field, namely, medical and psychiatric social work, labour welfare and family planning, (2) significant reduction of the status gap between the voluntary social workers and professional social workers, (3) a limited recognition of the expertise of this group as manifested by the crucial position accorded to it in the National Service Scheme and by the slightly increased involvement of a few heads of schools of social work and social work administrators in the government, in the areas of social planning and social policy, and (4) production of considerable indigenous literature on some methods and areas of practice of social work.
The earlier discussion of the process of professionalization of social work in India with reference to the three core traits leads us to conclude that it has not yet become a profession in 1970. It is doubtful if it will become so in the near future. This need not be a matter for regret. In U.S.A., there has been a demand for de-professionalization from a section of the students of social work. Recent developments in that country are interpreted by some writers as indicative of a trend towards de-professionalization.32 The major problem seems to be how to reconcile professionalism with the spirit of social reform. On the face of it, this seems an impossible task. But that need not deter those in the field from trying.
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