Special Articles / Annie Namala / Social Work Profession in India: An Uncertain Future
Foundations Laid in the College
The caste system is a detailed well laid social structure of graded inequalities that assign privileges and rights as one goes up the ladder and obligations and duties as one goes down the ladder (Ambedkar,1968). The system sanctions, practices and perpetrates human rights violations as segregation, humiliation, abuse, physical and sexual violence, caste based occupation, obligatory duties, economic exploitation and exclusion from decision making against Dalit communities1 (Scheduled Castes) that fall at the bottom of the hierarchy and are considered ‘outcastes’. They are considered polluted and polluting, and are excluded from social, economic and educational rights with little possibility for social mobility and change. In addition, the caste based beliefs in untouchability, purity and pollution prohibit social relationships and interface between Dalits and other social groups, succeeding to exclude them from the larger society. Caste based inequities and disabilities are also reflected in the social, economic and educational status of other social groups –Tribals2, Nomadic Tribes, Denotified Tribes, Minorities especially Muslims, and even some Other Backward Classes. In the case of Dalit women, and women from other marginalized communities caste principles operate together with patriarchy and weave a complex web of poverty and disabilities around them.
Dalits constitute 16.6% of the Indian population covering 1241 identified social groups, the population being 201.33 million out of the total Indian 1210.5 million people (Census 2011). Independent India under the chairmanship of Dr. Ambedkar put in place a Constitution that lays down detailed provisions to dismantle the centuries old hierarchical water tight compartmentalized caste structure to an egalitarian social structure based on equality, liberty, fraternity and social justice. Recognizing the persistent and multiple nature of Dalit disabilities, the Constitution put in place protective and promotional measures to dismantle the caste based disabilities they faced. However, these central ideals of the Constitution have remained more on paper and not translated into social and daily life as the dominant communities continue to hold on to caste beliefs and attitudes. Members of the Scheduled Castes may break them inviting threat to their wellbeing and even life.
I did my Masters in Social Work which included Personnel Management and Industrial Relations (PMIR), Medical and Psychiatric Social Work, Family and Child Welfare, Correctional Administration and Community Development (CD). There always was high demand from students to specialize in PMIR. We often debated whether PMIR fell within the purview of social work. There were more takers for PMIR than seats available. There were limited takers for the Community Development specialization, most often it was thrust upon those who could not access PMIR. Looking back, I do not remember any instance where the college explained the different specializations and their relevance to promote students’ interests equally towards all of them. There was an unwritten understanding that the PMIR was not only a priority for the institution but also will have promising careers. Community Development at the other end was for those who did not qualify for PMIR. Hence it was a surprise when some of my friends and I chose to specialize in CD even when we could have accessed PMIR. It is important to note that the college maintained a hierarchy around the different specializations and allowed this hierarchy to percolate to the students in their choice. Such hierarchy about knowledge and occupation is a central precept of the caste system and it may not be wrong to think that a kind of caste system existed within the specializations available in the study of social work.
Preparing Students to Work with Contextual Realities of Marginalized Communities
Engaging Class Rooms for Evolving Agendas
As part of fulfilling my Master’s degree in Social Work, specializing in ‘Community Development’, I remember reading the topics social work as professional education, the different approaches to and many stages in the evolution of social work education, community development as a field of social work curriculum, independent India’s experiments with community development and extension work, a splatter of international experiences of institutionalized community development work, etc. As part of the larger social work studies, one learnt the tools of case work and group work, dabbled a little with legislations and undertook a research. The course also included regular field work of two days a week and a block placement in the second year of one month where we could spend more time in field work. All these did not however prepare me for the ground realities when I went out to pursue a career in ‘community development’ in rural India, as that is where I thought social work and community development were most relevant and required.
My first engagement with rural communities was in the rural areas about 60 kms outside of Hyderabad. Trying to organize agricultural workers to access and benefit from the state development provisions, we were suddenly confronted with the murder of an agricultural bonded labourer we worked with. Our studies which included a course on legislations had not prepared us for engaging with any particular legislation, labour legislations on bonded labour or minimum/equal wages. We did not know the system of bonded labour or the nuances of an Act that abolished bonded labour in 1976. Least of all did we know how to intervene with the police, how to file a first information report (FIR), how to intervene with the revenue or judiciary in the matter. While we deemed it our responsibility to intervene in the matter, I was not sure the family/community demanded any intervention as they did not expect this instance to be any different from other violence and exploitation they faced regularly. Least of all were we prepared for the deep fissures that characterize our rural population in terms of the contradictions between agricultural labour and farmers, between Dalits and non-Dalits. Needless, indignant as young professionals can be, deeply convinced about the injustice around the issue and in sympathy with the family of the victim, we took up the matter in earnest – held meetings with the victim’s family and community to file the FIR, had the body exhumed, brought state commission for enquiry and followed up the case to the court – all under threats from the people and communities that we thought were part of the community organization work we were engaged with. The social cracks were in the open, the fissures widened and we were in opposite camps during the investigation. The lines of touchability-untouchability unknown to us had drawn the lines in our agricultural labour organization. The idyllic picture of Indian rural communities that I read about in literature and which was not contested in my social work studies were broken with that experience in early 80s. Lucky for us a few senior activists in the area, advocates who sympathized with the left party and conscientious officers who worked to promote the legislation against bonded labour supported our efforts. Looking back, I realize how important it is to strengthen social work students on the foundational preamble of equality, liberty, fraternity and social justice in our Constitution, and a practical way to understand legislations and procedures. This understanding has to be grounded in the realities of the marginalized sections and with the intent to promote their human rights and not from the standpoint of doing faceless community development work. With that first opening on the issue of bonded labour, it is encouraging that those communities now seek legal recourse to bonded labour issues.
Thirty years later the practice of bonded labour continues in diverse ways and has evolved into a form of debt-bondage. The person in need takes an advance on wages to be paid off by working. In lieu of the advance payment, they are not paid market wages, have to work extra hours and do extra work, do not get mandatory time off and have to suffer indignity and even violence. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in early 2013 estimated 11.7 million bonded labourers in India. Shantanu Dutta of the International Justice Mission reflects ‘the metamorphosis from a vestige of the traditional feudal agrarian system into a source for cheap labour in the age where profit maximization is the driving force has meant that bonded labour can be found in every sector that has a large unorganized component – construction, gems and jewellery, mining and quarrying, carpet weaving, rice mills, and sericulture among others’. The majority of bonded labourers in India come from the Dalit and Tribal communities.
In our social work class we had students who in their communities must have encountered similar situations and crossed tremendous barriers to reach our course, who could have grounded our education with reality bites. However, the course neither recognized their experiential knowledge or resilience nor shared them with other students through a genuine dialogue across boundaries. Even as Dalit and Tribal students bring much knowledge and resources into the class rooms, they find it difficult to integrate into the class rooms given the alien and inhospitable nature of the class rooms that are patterned on dominant community paradigms and ethos. Many of these students under-perform, drop out and are even pushed to commit suicide. A number of cases of suicides among Dalit and Tribal students in professional colleges and higher education institutions have been reported over the past few years. These are explained away as the failure of the students to cope with the academic pressures. Even when students have clearly indicated caste based harassment they experienced, naming responsible persons in some cases, little action is taken. One can parallel this to dowry harassment deaths; often the cause of death is attributed to the stove burst in the house or mental instability or the loose morals of the girl. Most often the hostile environment in the home, the incitement by the family or the physical and mental torture is rarely attributed to the cause of her death. Similarly the courage and capability of students who have crossed innumerable hurdles to reach the higher education are not celebrated and made an opportunity for social inclusion. Such courageous students are ostracized by the environment and victimized by the system pushing them to escape and leave the system. Unfortunately we too had a somewhat similar story in our batch. Putting in place mechanisms by which the knowledge and resources of the marginalized communities are recognized, valued and promoted to enrich the mosaic of India is the very purpose of reservation in educational institutions. Promoting equity and social inclusion in educational institutions is an important task, and colleges of social work not only have the responsibility to ensure it within their colleges but also to develop a science and knowledge system to do so, and make it part of the curriculum of social work. To me, the relevance of social work studies, distinct from other similar fields, lies in its ability to address social problems and in particular social problems from the perspective of the marginalized communities. The predicament of Dalit and Tribal students in educational institutions points to necessary changes to be made in the system. Social work studies need to expand and evolve these concerns into subjects and knowledge that can promote problem solving capabilities of students. By not putting in place a system to integrate equality-liberty-fraternity foundations of our Constitution with learning social work studies does not become relevant to students. These discussions and perspectives were missing in our college when we studied and I am not sure if these are in practice now.
Dialogue on Identity Issues
Social identity that shapes our social interface, development opportunities and participation further bore out in our work in organizing an agriculture workers’ union in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Over 80 social action groups and NGOs working in Andhra Pradesh came together in the 80s to promote an Agricultural Workers’ Union across the state. It became evident that while different sections of the population were engaged as agricultural labour, the large majority of them were Dalits. Others who engaged in agriculture labour work did not consider themselves as just agriculture labourer, ‘coolie’ as the term was used. The term ‘coolie’ was the marker of the scheduled caste agriculture labourer than for those from other communities. It was soon clear that social marker than economic markers defined people and communities. Thus even as we tried to evolve an economic association, it was under-written by a social identity. The reality of the Dalit agricultural worker was quite different from other agricultural workers and there was not an easy alliance across their social identities. In a period of ten years, the collective of Dalit and non-Dalit agricultural workers separated into two organizations, one of which was the collective of Dalit agricultural workers ‘Dalit Bahujan Shramik Union’ marking an identity based organization.
Thus a journey that was initiated to promote community development work among rural marginalized communities soon had to contend with the existing identity issues and caste contradictions in our society. Our work got more and more focused on the Dalit communities. It was almost as if you work with the Dalits, you may not work with other communities. We continued to learn the contradiction between the Dalit agricultural workers and other agricultural workers and other contradictions which broke all images of the pan-rural community waiting to develop itself, willing to engage with social work graduates in this process. While class associations have been promoted for considerable time in both social and political formations, I am often in a dilemma as to what will work and how we can move from sheer identity based organizations to larger forums across identities. Dr. Ambedkar’s contention that the caste system does not just divide labour, but divides labourers is an important insight and starting point for those of us working on organizing and building institutions among workers. These debates need to find place in the colleges of social work that can become precursors to the students who take up such work in their career. I am sure there are related dilemmas in other fields –ethical issues, strategic issues– while there are no clear and straight answers, their discussions provide pointers to students when they get on with their own lives and profession. Social work studies can become fertile grounds where social dilemmas can be effectively thrashed out to provide a foundation to understand them.
Community Development to Empowering Excluded Communities
In our social context the dynamics of hierarchy and social exclusion best detailed in the caste system play an important role in the development/non-development of various communities and it is important to recognize it for laying down the frame to address them. The stark negative impact of the system is evident in the lives of Dalit communities. State and the larger civil society interpret and excuse these disabilities as cultural and religious, and historical and generational, hence the inability to address them. It is important to recognize and address these as violations of our Constitutional principles and legislations, and the global mandates that we are committed to. They are human rights violations and punishable offences even in our own legal systems, and have well laid out mechanisms and punitive measures. It often surprises me that we are unable to lay Constitutional and legal frames over agendas that benefit the poor and marginalized even as we lay them neatly on agenda that benefits the powerful. We have given up many old cultural customs and evolved new ones, including those relating to death or birth ceremonies, festivals to suit the new demands of our times. Industrialization and globalization are recent entrants into our ways of production and market. We have ever evolving systems to align them and even substitute our earlier forms of production and management at both national and global levels. Industries and corporations are unwilling to forego their benefits however new these mechanisms may be or however much they may displace traditional norms and values. Hence a political will to implement legislations and provisions benefiting the marginalized is an important step to further their implementation. The human rights violations and negative impact of our social system can be best reflected from its impact on Dalit communities and the following section gives an example for deepening our understanding and evolving our strategies for wider application.
Addressing Human Rights Violations in Caste Based Violence
Dalit communities continue to face caste based violence even today, despite untouchability and all forms of caste based disabilities being prohibited. A recent National Tribunal in Delhi in October 2013 by the All India Dalit Mahila Andolan Manch (AIDMAM) heard 45 cases of violence against Dalit women from 7 states. The nature of violence spanned a wide spectrum: i) discrimination, ii) kidnapping, iii) murder, iv) physical assault, v) sexual assault, vi) sexual violence and murder, vii) trafficking and viii) witch craft. The Tribunal noted ‘human rights of Dalit women are violated in peculiar and extreme forms. Stripping, naked parading, caste abuses, pulling out nail and hair, sexual slavery and bondage are some of the forms that are often employed’. The caste-based beliefs and attitudes are evident in the nature of the violence as seen below:
The National Human Rights Commission report (2004) reported
• Every 18 minutes – a crime is committed against a Dalit
• Every day
• three Dalit women are raped
• two Dalits are murdered
• two Dalit houses are burnt
• 11 Dalits are beaten
• Every week
• 13 Dalits are murdered
• 5 Dalit homes or possessions are burnt
• 6 Dalits are kidnapped or abducted
While violence against Dalits is widely prevalent and covers a wide range, their access to justice is negligible. They face various hurdles to have their case taken up to the police stations and courts for any form of justice. At the very first instance the family is concerned about further repercussions if they pursue justice. Further there are community pressures, followed by threats from dominant communities, police refusing to register, police not registering cases under proper sections, and various efforts to have the case compromised. All these are further complicated when one manages to have the case registered with the judiciary not always poised to hear cases against dominant sections, the cost of litigation, the time taken and so on. In a study of 500 cases of violence against Dalit women committed during 1994 to 2006, the results were startling in exposing a culture of violence, silence and impunity for violence against Dalit women (Irudayam, et al., 2006). Social activists working for more than two decades on addressing violence against Dalit communities have identified a number of gaps in the existing SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 through meticulously following up cases in the courts and community consultations. In addition, they also worked with the parliamentarians and judiciary to evolve amendments to the Act and Rules. With this long engagement, finally the cabinet had approved the amendments and we hoped that the amended bill would be passed in the winter session of the Parliament in December 2013. But it did not materialize. It was a long process and the collaborative effort of diverse set of stakeholders.
Development Work as Promoting Participation in Governance
‘Nothing about us without us’ is a slogan of the persons with disabilities and I think this is the crux of governance accountability. Concerned persons, persons who will be affected by decisions need to be stakeholders in the decision-making process. One of the four principles of the Child Rights Convention is the right of children to be heard and participate in matters that have impact on their lives and how much more is the need to adhere to this principle in all matters related to adults and communities. The social system succeeded in perpetuating the inequalities and injustices by keeping Dalits and other marginalized communities out of the decision making processes. The reservation policy providing reserved seats in the legislature and parliament, and 73rd/74th amendments formally give all people the right to participate in decision making and governance. It further reserves seats for women and marginalized communities to help them overcome entry level barriers. This is in a way turning the hierarchical system in its head to make it egalitarian. However, even though formal spaces for participation from the local governance to the national level have been opened up for all citizens and mechanisms devised, they continue to face a number of barriers to their participation. A study of 200 Dalit women (Mangubhai, et al., 2009) who were elected to the Panchayats in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, reported that 12.5% were pressurized not to file their nominations. On the day of the election they were obstructed from freely exercising the right to vote, physically threatened and forcibly prevented from entering the polling booth. Other Dalit women who wished to vote for them were physically threatened or prevented from voting, and were subjected to caste-gender based verbal abuse. In the majority of these cases, the dominant caste leaders played a central role in preventing and prohibiting the participation of Dalit women in the electoral process which would open up spaces for them in decision making. Many of these women could not play their due role even after they were elected to the position for various reasons. In a number of cases they were put up by dominant caste persons and were elected only as ‘benami’. The dominant communities adopted this means as the seats were reserved for Dalit women and they could not contest. Not having regular interface with other communities on equal terms, the Dalit women themselves were not confident and feared to participate.
The caste and patriarchy frame is evident in preventing and prohibiting these women from exercising their righs as citizens of the country. Dominant community members do not think Dalits, least of all Dalit women, have the right to occupy positions of authority over the dominant castes even when these are sanctioned by the law of the land. These positions and roles are not in keeping with the social norms of the caste and the dominant community does not wish to recognize the law of the land and demand that the caste norms be followed. AIDMAM report (2013) cites an example in understanding the caste based nature of prohibition; A Dalit woman who was elected to village panchayat was told not to come to the office as she was a Dalit. When she insisted, other members wrote jointly to the authorities that they did not want her as member. She was told that she could not sit on the chair in the panchayat office as that was not the social practice. When she demanded that a road be built toward their habitation, she was abused in public on caste names. Even though she filed a complaint under the SC/ST (POA) Act, the accused were nominally arrested and released on bail, while the panchayat head was not arrested.
Economic Empowerment as Development Work
An important role of the caste system has been in regulating skills, occupations and employment. Each caste is prescribed the kind of occupation, skills and income earning they can have. The system prescribed polluting, undignified jobs for Dalit communities, laid obligations on them to perform these jobs which are poorly paid, and any attempt to change occupations is dealt with severe violence. One of the worst forms of such occupations is that of manual scavenging where Dalits clean, carry and dump human excreta from dry latrines. While the practice has been prohibited under the ‘Employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry latrines (prohibition) Act’ 1993, it continues and the government is guilty of violating their own law in maintaining dry latrines in the municipalities and townships. Indian railway is a major employer of manual scavengers engaging them to clean night soil from the railway tracks. Strangely in implementing the law, the primary support from the government went to owners of dry latrines to convert their dry latrines to flush ones. The Act did not put down adequate provisions to support the manual scavengers liberate themselves from the practice with financial resources to steer them through the period of giving up their current employment, access to new skills, and education among them. Social activists from the community, prominent among them Wilson Bezawada4, began to mobilize the community against this practice, creating awareness on the indignity of the practice: Wilson raised the issues with the government and in the international forums as violation of the fundamental human rights. In his work which began in the late 80s, he had a herculean task in making the government acknowledge the practice through photographs and testimonies. The government attitude, particularly the railways, that it is very expensive to convert the thousands of railway toilets to eliminate the practice stems from a mental sanction of the practice as acceptable in the caste framework. Similar attitude is prevalent among the administrators who refuse to support the manual scavengers when they approach them for relief and rehabilitation even when schemes have been provided and budgets allocated. The government had sanctioned Rs.735.6 crores in 2012 under a new scheme Self Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) to liberate and rehabilitate the manual scavengers, of which only 31% were reported to have been spent. It is comforting that the Supreme Court has taken the PIL seriously, and holds the state and various departments accountable to eliminate the practice which has strengthened the activists in their efforts. Social attitude to people who are employed as municipality sweepers, and who are engaged in clearing drainage and sewers is negative. There is hardly a murmur when workers die in sewers owing to the poisonous gases. When social activists took it up, the courts had to specify that such workers be provided with protective gears. But they are employed in large numbers on contract basis as cheap labour. Municipality workers are not paid for months on end.
It has been more difficult for the marginalized communities to break out of their caste prescribed occupations and economic status. In fact, on one hand they are forced to remain in the traditional occupations and on the other new technology and mechanisms have pushed them out of their traditional occupations. A case in point is the leather work. Dalits were the sole producers in the industry being considered a polluting occupation. However over time, their stakes have come down particularly in its knowledge base, technology and market, pushing them to the margins of the now lucrative industry. They continue to be flayers and small time producers, while the large scale production has totally gone out of their hands. In the rural areas one still sees the leather workers, the agricultural workers, the shepherd communities, the butcher communities, the blacksmiths continuing the caste based occupations. In many cases one also sees that the knowledge and market parts of these operations have moved on to dominant communities, while the hard work, the undignified work and the poorly paying work parts have remained with the Dalit communities. Even religious conversions have not helped them change their social status or occupations.
Dalit women and men are known to be more active in the labour market driven by poverty and the necessity to work to live, having no luxury of staying out of the labour force. Prohibited from owning land and becoming cultivators under the caste system, Dalits continue to be highly represented in casual labour. The National Sample Survey (2004-05) report observed that 41 percent Dalit men and 20 percent Dalit women were engaged in casual labour compared to 19 percent of non- SC/ST men and 8 percent of non-SC/ST women. A World Bank study (2011) reported how little had changed for Dalit communities in terms of access to employment and economic mobility. It observed that there had only been marginal shift away from casual labour from 44.6% to 41.7% and small shifts towards self employment from 11.0 to 15.6 percent among Dalit men since the 1980s. Dalit men are still mainly restricted to menial, low paying and often socially stigmatized occupations, while ‘upper caste men’ are concentrated in preferred occupations. While the reservation policy has opened up regular salaried jobs in the government sector, currently being 13% so employed, this is lower than the mandated reserved proportion of 16% which is their due share. The World Bank report also noted that the real difference is ‘not in the proportion of Dalits and non-Dalits in regular salaried work, but in the kind of jobs Dalits land even in salaried jobs. The assignment to low end jobs in the salaried markets leads to wage differentials in favour of non-Dalits as a result mainly of occupational segregation’. Deshpande and Newman (2007) in their studies on Dalit and non- Dalit graduates find that Dalit students are far less likely to find jobs in the private sector. Kijima (2006) also documents lower returns to education among Dalits, with the decreasing employment in the public sector and the biases in the private sector employment. A study by Jeffrey, Jeffrey and Jeffrey (2008) in UP finds that formal education has helped increase the sense of dignity and confidence among Dalit men, but has not led to increased employment leading to ‘masculine Dalit resentment’. In addition to differential access to salaried employment, wage differential has also been recorded between Dalits and non-Dalits. ‘The Oaxaca-Blinder decompositions of wage differentials show that 59 percent of the earning gap between SC workers and general category workers is accounted for difference in treatment or the return to characteristics than to endowments’ (World Bank,2011). The typecasting of Dalits in employment is seen in the government sector too where 59% of all sweepers come from the Dalit community while they constitute 13%, 14.5% and 16.4% respectively in Groups A, B, and C respectively. Jodhka and Gautam’s (2008) study on entrepreneurship showed that moving into enterprise is a great challenge to Dalits given negligible access to social and economic capital. While a few big entrepreneurs have emerged through DICCI, the large majority did not find it economically benefiting and often do it to overcome the social discrimination and humiliation. On the other hand the dominant communities have not been obliged to stay on only with their caste based occupations, but have been able to access economic mobility of the highest order both nationally and in the international market. While the religion prescribes religious vocation to the Brahmin communities and vocations related to protection and security/ruling to the warrior communities, miniscule from among them currently engage in these occupations. Their head-start in social status, education and economic resources has helped these communities to enter diverse arenas of vocation, occupation and employment.
The prohibitions and violence even spill over to economic activities as was in the case of a couple in Gujarat who regularly supplied milk to the local dairy. One day when the husband entered the cooperative, he was asked to leave his slippers outside, though everyone else was wearing slippers. When he asked why he should do so, he was beaten and abused. From then for three months, no one bought milk from this family. 20 litres of milk were being wasted everyday and they had to sell 7 out of the 10 cows they had. After considerable struggle they were able to get support from the police and could start to supply milk to the cooperative though the discrimination continued (AIDMAM,2013).
Prohibition to own land and to participate in decision-making further strengthened the stranglehold to maintain the marginalized communities on subsistence livelihood. This continues to be reflected in the economic status of SCs and STs which lags behind other communities. Higher percentages of SCs and STs live below the poverty line as compared to others. In more recent times, much work on poverty analysis has helped to recognize the multi-dimensional nature of poverty going beyond income poverty. So also the more recent expositions on social exclusion which help deepen the understanding on social exclusion as the cause behind even poverty.
Promoting Equity and Social Inclusion in Education
In our system, education was always tied to social hierarchy and one’s location in it. The Constitution gave the state the mandate to provide education to all children upto the age of 14 years and the freedom to study breaking social barriers. India is also signatory to global objectives to universalize primary education. The government norm to expand primary schools to remote areas and within one kilometer of every habitation has spurred demand for education by Dalits since the 80s. Thus the enrolment rate of Dalit children in primary schools is high with overage and underage children getting admitted. These children cross many barriers at the family level to reach school – they most often are first generation learners, parents are not literate and hence not able to directly support their children in their schooling. In addition, their homes lack the space and environment to study, they spend their time in household support activities as fetching water, grazing animals, taking care of younger siblings or elder people or the sick. Important provisions by the state to address these constraints include scholarships, free books, free uniforms, mid-day meals, residential schools, welfare hostels and reservation in higher education. But the implementation of the special provisions is extremely poor. The lack of even basic learning aids is holding children back from not only achieving better grades but even from being interested in what they study . Similarly the conditions of welfare hostels where children in higher education stay are also pathetic. Hence despite high enrolment, 50% drop out by the time they are in class VIII and 70% by the time they are in class X. Annual Status of School Education in Rural areas (ASER) reports across the country reveal poor learning of children in schools. A natural question arises as to why children in such large numbers drop out from schools when the state has taken the steps to ‘universalize schooling’ through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, meaning ‘education for all’. An added important question is how does this drop out impact the national development agenda?
Monitoring the Protective and Promotion Mechanisms under the Constitution
The disabilities of our social system with its entrenched hierarchical norms and privileges to a few communities at the top of the social hierarchy sanction exploitation and violence on those below them. Even when individuals may be convinced of the injustice or violence in the system and are willing to make changes in their own lives, the social web steps in to prevent them. Religious beliefs step in to further the barriers if they have already crossed the social barriers. Often well intentioned persons are persuaded against the change when confronted by religious dilemma. As against a social system that sanctions and perpetrates inequality and exploitation, the Constitution mandates that all people enjoy equality before law under Article 14. One recognizes the importance of this provision in making changes in our society knowing that ultimately social inequalities and injustices have to be brought before law. Discrimination on any count, be it religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any other is prohibited under Article 15 (1). The Constitution abolished untouchability and made it a punishable offence under Article 17 with potential to change the everyday lives of millions of people.The Constitution mandates that there should not be discrimination on any ground in public employment, that state can make special provisions for any backward classes of citizens, including reservation in recruitment and reservation in promotion too under Article 16. The state can make special provisions for women and children under Article 15 (3). Article 46 declares that the “state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular the scheduled castes and the schedule tribes and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”.
An important provision for promoting economic development of the Dalits and Tribals is the Special Component Plan (SCP renamed as the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan –SCSP) and the Tribal Sub-Plan developed in the 70s. The plans stipulate that population proportionate budgets be allocated and utilized under every ministry/department by both the central and state governments for the development of these two communities and reduction of the development inequalities between them and others. The Prime Minister, in his address to the 51st Meeting of the National Development Council on 27.6.2005, had inter alia, stated as follows: “If the benefits of growth have to reach all sections of our diverse society, there is a need to equip them with the necessary skills and resources to become active participants in growth processes. This is the only way of achieving our dream of an inclusive, prosperous society. In the mid-1970s, the Special Component Plan and the Tribal Sub-Plan were initiated. Tribal Sub- Plans and Special Component Plans should be an integral part of Annual Plans as well as Five Year Plans, making provisions therein non-divertible and non-lapsable, with the clear objective of bridging the gap in socio-economic development of the SCs and STs within a period of 10 years”
In more recent years, the state has evolved many principles and tools to promote a functional democracy. The principles and tools include promoting greater accountability and transparency in governance, and setting up citizens’ charters and grievance redress mechanisms. India has been in the forefront of promulgating a series of rights based legislations - The Right to Information (RTI) Act, Forests Rights Act, Right to Education, Right to Rural Employment under MGNREGA, and Right to Food are recent examples. It is important to note that they have come into being through civil society efforts and can be recognized as mechanisms that can change some of the social and cultural exclusions. Yet, it is found that provisions that are specially meant to protect Dalits and to promote their interests are not implemented or implemented badly. There is a neglectful attitude to its implementation and the authorities do not seem to be concerned enough to implement them. A stark example of this neglect and non-implementation is the case of the SCSP budgets. The MHRD handles the largest share of the SCSP funds of the union government. In 2010-11, MHRD was allocated 17,590 crores out of the total union budget of 58,823 crores, which amount to 30% of the total union SCSP budget. It is found that while the norms demand that the funds are spent to provide direct benefit to the individuals and families, a disproportionate amount was spent on capital assets and grant-in-aid. Only 3% of the amount were spent on direct schemes. Implementation of other provisions was also equally neglected.
As mentioned earlier, the social system in our context is complex, as is most evident under the caste system. It has been long-standing and deeply entrenched; and it organizes the day-to-day life and mindset of people. While legislations, programmes and provisions have sought to address these barriers and discrimination, communities are constantly struggling against them in various ways. Caste system is now recognized as the longest standing social structure, very tenacious, emerging in new forms and very resistant to change. Similar forms are currently identifiable in other countries too – where one group of people holds domination over other groups without obvious reasons, but owing to social customs laid down and practised over generations. The system has become a subject matter of study internationally, with scholars from across the world studying the phenomenon. An important need then is to develop an area of specialization on Dalit and Tribal Development in the social work curricula. Social work has moved through various phases in its approach of charity, welfare, development and currently the rights based approach to ensure that rights are available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable to all people and most importantly, the marginalized. Within the rights- based frame work, further focus by social groups, gender, ability, region, class and various other dimensions is essential to ensure that the rights holders enjoy their rights. Social work studies more than other fields probably need to constantly engage in a praxis process between theoretical knowledge and field action. Contexts change; people’s capacities and aspirations constantly change; and the dynamics of power and potential are never stagnant, which are important ingredients to the realization of the social work objectives of social justice, human rights and empowerment. The schools need to think of engaging field practitioners to be part of their faculty for periods of time.
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