Special Articles / Henry J D'Souza / Social Work Profession in India: An Uncertain Future
“I do not long for kingdom, heaven or rebirth, but I wish to alleviate the sufferings of the unfortunate” proclaims Yudhishtira in Mahabharata1. The Upanishads state, “Let all be happy and healthy, let all be blessed with happiness and let none be unhappy.” Such quotes, cited rarely, can indeed form the basis of a Hindu liberation theology of Dharma and significantly validate the struggle for economic and social justice for the poor and suffering millions of India. To be sure, it is astonishing that the Supreme Court of India’s justices chose to cite these quotes in its 1997 historic decision, Samatha vs. Govt. of Andhra Pradesh (Ramaswamy, Ahmad, & Pattanaik, 1997, p.26), which essentially upholds the principle of social justice when the Government of Andhra Pradesh conspired to give extracting rights to transnational mining corporations, in the tribal lands protected under the Fifth and Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. Samatha (means equality), the human rights organization working for the rights of the tribal groups in Andhra Pradesh, sought to stop corporate usurpation of tribal and Dalit (the term used to refer to the untouchable communities or the Scheduled Castes) lands to strip them of valuable extractive reserves, by its successful appeal to the Supreme Court. Since then, similar decisions have been issued prohibiting the corporate usurpation of tribal and Dalit lands in Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Rajasthan (Press Trust of India, 2012).
The struggles for social justice have some successes to celebrate; yet these successes, even after 66 years of independence, a progressive Constitution, an activist judiciary, eleven Five-year plans, and three Central Ministries exclusively set up to alleviate the suffering of the historically oppressed minorities, have not eliminated poverty and hunger for millions. Why has India not witnessed a major revolution? Does it have anything to do with a national psyche determined by its Vedic culture? This paper is an attempt to gain some understanding of a democracy of 1.2 billion people and its struggles in pursuit of social and economic justice.
Mahatma Gandhi, besides his fearless leadership in India’s freedom struggle, also attempted to bring harmony to a religiously diverse and strife-prone India, festered with religious conflict, especially between Hindus and Muslims and also to rid India of its abominable caste system that condemned a third of its population as untouchables, again a position inspired by a Dharmic theology of liberation. The Sarvodaya movement has continued the work of Mahatma Gandhi. Earlier, Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824-83) who established the Arya Samaj (Society of Nobles) advocated the abolition of sati, untouchability (hierarchical caste system determined by birth), dowry, and equality for women. He advocated abandoning the ritualistic practices and wanted to reform Hinduism which he considered had digressed from its ancient Vedic origins.Swami Agnivesh, a saffron-garb-and-turban-wearing sadhu (holy man), and a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award 2004 (Alternative Nobel Prize), at present follows this path. In his position statement, ‘Back to Vedic Faith’ he reiterates that Varna Vyavastha (Varna means color, refers to caste system) that Vedas envision, is based on Guna, Karma, and Swabhava (virtue, behavior, and instinctual nature, temperament or aptitude) and cites the Purusha Sukta of Rigveda. Dharma, Agnivesh, asserts should not be concerned with personal salvation alone but must include transformation of the society and values such as love, truth, justice, and compassion which are basic to spirituality.
Scriptural hermeneutics is a tricky affair even when there are written scrolls that go back to a few thousand years. Epistemological confusion between languages, historical and contextual reinterpretations or misinterpretations is abundant in such a mission. Biblical interpretation is its own discipline—Hermeneutics has made a number of academic careers and divided its followers into churches, such as Orthodox, Coptic, Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Pentecostal, Baptist, Anna Baptists, and Evangelists, not to mention thousands of nondenominational and independent congregations. Hermeneutics of the dominant groups tends to survive. Interpretations of Vedic scriptures of polytheistic Hinduism that are considered to have a longer history, and were passed on to generations based on oral traditions, are more complex. There are four dominant sects today, (1) advaitic2 (non-dualistic) Saivism, (2) Shaktism—worship of the divine mother—Devi, (3) dvaitic (dualistic) Vaishnavism, who worship Lord Vishnu and his avatars Lords Krishna and Rama; and (4) a nonsectarian and liberal, Smartism—who worship gods from all the above sects (Kauai’s Hindu Monastery). The devotee in this tradition selects one’s own god, Ishta Devata (preferred god). Endeavors of Arya Samaj and Agnivesh to promote a Dharmic liberation theology are likely to remain only on the fringes.
One of my friends who heads the department of nuclear medicine in a U.S. University, and who I consider to be a critical Hindu scholar, said to me that Hindu liberation theology has not taken a strong hold in India primarily because of the belief in reincarnation or rebirth—why change anything if one is going to reincarnate. A pathologist friend of his, and a Vedic scholar, who started a local Hindu Vedic Society strongly objected to it, stating that most Hindus do not believe in it. He substantiated his position this way. He was charging an annual fee of $5.00 to be a member of the society, $50.00 for life membership, and $100.00, after life (reincarnate) membership. He claimed that there were no takers for the third option. My friend retorted: “I will pay that amount in my next life.” Paradoxically, both these scholars are right. The belief in rebirth is so strongly embedded in the Indian psyche that reincarnation itself becomes the alternative to liberation in the present life. Belief in reincarnation combined with deterministic Karmic fatalism—what you are today is because of your actions in a previous life—provides a poor and suffering person, a psychological self-defense mechanism of denial of personal responsibility for one’s present situation. It also helps the social and economic elites to enjoy their privileges with a degree of spiritual comfort, as rewards of one’s good Karma in a previous birth, and at the same time, for some, continue to exploit and live a life of Adharma being oblivious to the possibility of an inferior reincarnation full of misfortunes and pain. If the majority of the Hindus in India lived a Dharmic life to secure even better reincarnate life, there would be far less poverty and suffering among the masses in India. Yet, that is not the case. Call it Vedic materialism if you like. Marx, after studying the role Christianity played in England, proclaimed that religion is the opium of the people because it allows them to accept their suffering in the material world with a promise of a pie in the sky of heavenly reward after death. For Hindus, death is not the end of material life. The belief in Karmic reincarnation besides enabling the oppressed to bear their suffering also enables the elites to enjoy their privileges as the blessings of good Karma and the oppressed minorities to concede to such privileges. Such religious beliefs pose serious challenges to movements that seek to rectify social and economic injustices in this life.
In spite of this, achievements of Swami Agnivesh are significant. He advocates Ahimsa, path of nonviolence in thought, word and deed. The campaigns he has led include abolition of bonded labor (slavery)—the Bandhua Mukti Morchabon (Bonded Labor Liberation Front, BLLF); ending female foeticide (aborting female fetuses); Baal Mukti Andolan—movement against child labor; alcoholism; and Naari Sudhar—women’s emancipation. He urged the youth to participate in a second struggle for independence to get rid of corruption. In 2011, when his controversial taped phone conversation with ‘Kapil’ surfaced, it caused a rift with the Anna Team, which has led the anti-corruption movement. At the time of this writing, he was facing charges for making public statements hurting religious sentiments.
There are various shades of social justice: eye for an eye—revenge justice, justice in terms of rights and liberties, legal and political and gender equality and economic or redistributive justice. While such distinctions are often made in the academia, the focus of this paper is on economic or redistributive justice because economic justice ensures fairness in other spheres and lack of it reinforces injustice in gender, religion, caste and tribe.
The Samatha judgment details historically the quest for social justice indicating its origins to the Simon Commission report in 1930 of the colonial British Administration. This report identified backward land tracts occupied by the aborigines—known in India as Scheduled Tribes—a label that arises from the fact that the names of tribes from various areas in India are listed in a Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The main concern of the Commission was alienation of the means of production—land—from the tribes to the non-tribal usurious money-lending landlords and converting them to the state of miserable agrarian proletariat—landless agricultural labourers. Indeed, the task was so daunting that it recommended the responsibility of protecting these lands be given to the Executive Council, constituted by the Governor of the State and the Governor General or the Viceroy instead of Federal Legislature or the State Legislature. The Constituent Assembly, instituted to write the Constitution of India, essentially continued this practice by setting up state Tribal Advisory Councils to advise the governors who were given the powers to nullify any state laws that they deemed to harm the tribes (Ramaswamy, Ahmad, & Pattanaik, 1997, p. 11).
The commitment to social justice and equality appears in India’s Constitution in numerous clauses and sections. These are cited throughout the Samatha decision, which makes it rather tedious to read. The Directive Principles, aspirational in essence direct India to strive for a secular, socialist, democratic republic—a truly revolutionary vision to achieve. The Preamble of the Constitution quoted below, states in no uncertain terms its commitment to social, economic and political justice and includes the word socialist, democratic, and secular republic.
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a [SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the [unity and integrity of the Nation];
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twentysixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION (Government of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, 2007)3.
Dr. Ambedkar, often referred fondly as the father of India’s Constitution, and Mahatma Gandhi, revered as the father of the nation, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, all strongly supported a major role for the state in redistributing the resources to those who were deprived and poor although they did not endorse a Marxian socialist state abolishing private property and the private sector of the economy.
India has a Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment; this name was adopted in 1998. The previous name was Ministry of Welfare which included Women and Child Development and Welfare. In 1985 Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Tribes (hereafter SC and ST) and Backward Classes, then under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Wakf Division (Islamic Charity) then under the Ministry of Law, were moved to form the Ministry of Welfare. Ministry of Tribal Affairs was formed moving tribal development out of the Ministry of Welfare. Again in 2007, minorities (religious) welfare along with the Wakf Unit, Women & Child Development were relocated to form a separate Ministry of Women & Child Development. Now, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is responsible for the welfare of Scheduled Castes, Backward Classes, persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and victims of substance abuse (Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment). While it is difficult to speculate on the reasons for the politics of setting up separate ministries, it is clear who the beneficiaries of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment are. The name of the ministry itself is revealing in the sense that it has appropriated the terms used by social justice activists. Besides this, there are two separate ministries—Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Ministry of Women & Child Development. In fact, there are three ministries fully dedicated to achieving social justice for the untouchables (ST and SC), Backward Classes (BC), religious minorities, women and children, the elderly, the disabled and people with drug addictions.
Besides the official ministries, there are 54,744 voluntary organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGO) officially signed up with the NGO – PS (an online Partnership System) where voluntary organizations partner with various ministries of the government, especially those cited above and others (Planning Commission, Government of India). This facility is offered by the Planning Commission in collaboration with the National Informatics Centre to bring about enhanced partnership between government and the voluntary sector and improve transparency, efficiency and accountability. These agencies are engaged in one or more of the 42 sectors or areas of engagement that range from education and literacy, health and family welfare, children, to tourism and prisoner issues. Based on the information available on the Planning Commission web site a typical NGO is involved on an average 12 sectors with about 70% engaged in education and literacy followed by health and family welfare (60%) and prisoner issues (3%) at the lowest end (see Appendix A for a detailed list)4.
There are various estimates of all the NGOs in India. Based on a government study reported by Shukla (2010) there was one NGO for every 400 Indians, that is, 3.3 million as of 2009, probably the highest number among the nations of the world. Ten states have 80% of the NGOs—the largest number of NGOs are registered in Maharashtra (480,000), followed by Andhra Pradesh (460,000), Uttar Pradesh (430,000), Kerala (330.000), Karnataka (190,000), Gujarat (170,000), West Bengal (170,000), Tamil Nadu (140,000), Orissa (130,000) and Rajasthan (100,000). More than 80 per cent of registrations come from these 10 states (Shukla, 2010). The numbers of NGOs registered were 179,000 until 1970 and increased to 1,122,000 in 2009. The major donor is the Government of India through its various ministries with a total of `180,000,000,000 ($3,000,000,000 based on an exchange rate of ` 60 for one US $) under the XI Plan, followed by the foreign donors contributing nearly half that of the government ` 97,000,000,000 ($1,620,000,000)(Shukla, 2010).
While the vast majority of the NGOs provide welfare and other services, there are others that do not rely on government funding but are involved in political advocacy challenging the take-over of tribal lands by big corporations for extracting mineral wealth, environmental protection, forest protection, seed patency resistance, and environmentally risky dam-building projects. Some of these are: Lok Shakti Abhijan, the Balco protest, Gandhamardhan Protection movement, Chilika Bachao Andolan, and Mada Mukti Andolan, Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti’s long but successful struggle ‘Vedanta Hatao’ (Remove Vedanta—a British alumina mining company) of Orissa. In fact, the anti-corruption movement led by what is called Team Anna has received media attention and the attention of the Parliament as well. One has to review the findings of the Transparency International on corruption in India.
According to the Transparency International (TI), a global organization that monitors corruption around the world, ranked (lower the rank, worse the corruption) India 94 of 176 in corruption and assigned a low failing score of 36 out of 100 score in the Corruption Perception Index in 2012 (Hardoon & Heinrich, Corruption by Country / Territory, 2012). The public opinion poll conducted by the TI, The Global Corruption Barometer Survey of 2010 – 2011 for India, further confirms pervasive corruption: 54% admitted giving bribes in 2010; only 25% expressed that government efforts to fight corruption were effective, the rest did not. A mere 10% stated that corruption had decreased during 2007-2010; an overwhelming 74% indicated that it had increased and the rest (16%) held that it had stayed the same(Hardoon & Heinrich, Global Corruption Barometer 2013, 2013).
The findings shown in Chart 1, based on the Global Corruption Barometer Survey, are quite disheartening for one of the largest democracies in the world. Political parties, police and parliament and legislature get the worst scores in being corrupt. Even the judiciary and NGOs are not spared. Corruption is so pervasive that it is embedded in all institutions of society.
Chart 2 below shows the percentage of respondents admitting paying bribes to various institutions in the last 12 months. Again the findings are disconcerting. Police, land and permit services followed by tax authorities are the most frequently bribed.
It is not surprising that such a dismal situation has spurned social movements against corruption. These have resulted in legislative initiative such as the anti-corruption bill, Lokpal (Citizens’ Ombudsman) and Lokayuktha bill passed by the Parliament in the winter session of 2013 after Anna Hazare, the leader of this movement, went on a fast and ‘satyagraha’ until this bill was enacted into law. Arvind Kejriwal, who has collaborated with Hazare on this cause, has grabbed not only media headlines in India but also worldwide (Subramanian, 2013). Kejriwal, a mechanical engineer by training, with a much-coveted career in the Indian Revenue Service, ironically a department known for corruption, gave it up to struggle against corruption. He won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award5 in 2006 for his role in the enactment and implementation of the Right to Information Act (RTI). He donated the award money to found Public Cause Research Foundation. In 2012, he launched a political party, Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party with an anti-corruption and populist message which won the elections to Delhi assembly in December, 2013 and became Chief Minister of Delhi.
Anupam Jha, the Executive Director of the Transparency International, India indicated that those who live below the poverty level are the losers. India Corruption Study, 2008 estimated that the poor lose ` 9 billion ($195 million) every year, an unkindest pound of flesh. According to Jha, governmental anti-corruption agencies such as Central Vigilance Commission, Central Bureau of Investigation, Comptroller and Auditor General, and Central Information Commission have not exercised the powers they have in tackling corruption (Jha, 2010). Transparency laws such as the Right to Information (RTI) and social audits have the potential to empower the powerless and hold politicians accountable (although politicians have been trying to pass amendments exempting them from scrutiny). High tech solutions have been proposed. A 12-digit identity card based on demographic and biometric characteristics have been given for each resident. The Aapka Aadhaar (Your Identity) campaign has popularized it based on the argument that it will help target the benefits to the needy and prevent resources and entitlements from being siphoned off to others. Yet there is always a danger of its misuse. While business interests and bankers will certainly use this data on citizens—to monitor credit worthiness of their customers, design marketing campaigns, and use them in hiring and monitoring employees, the governments could use it for surveillance of its citizens.
Poverty in India is quite staggering. Nearly 30% of Indians are living below the poverty level based on a monthly per capita consumption expenditure (hereafter MPCE) of ` 673 for rural areas and ` 860 for urban dwellers in 2009-10. It works out to be ` 26 and ` 32 per day (that is $0.4 and $0.5 per day based on an exchange rate of about ` 60 per one U.S. dollar) which is too little to survive even under semi starvation (Business Line, 2013, pp. 10-11). The minimum wage was raised to ` 115 ($2.00) per day in 2011. The movement led by Swami Agnivesh has demanded that instead of fixing an arbitrary amount from time to time, a living wage that provides a decent standard of living should be considered. Bandhua Mukti Morcha (BLLF) and the Citizens’ Commission on Bonded and Child Labour propose the future minimum wage to be pegged to the salary and allowances of class IV Central Government employees. Based on the recommendation of the VII Pay Commission the lowest entry-level monthly salary of ` 21,000, the daily minimum wage should be ` 700.00 ($12.00), six times the current minimum wage (www.gservants.com).
The Global Slavery Index 2013 published by the Walk Free Foundation, presents a dismal picture of the situation of people in bondage in India. Here are the findings in brief as cited in the report:
While India ranks 4th out of the 162 countries ranked, it has the largest number of people in modern slavery with an estimate between 13.3 and 14.7 million primarily in debt bondage or bonded labour followed by China between 2.8 to 3.1 million. Pakistan takes the third place with 2 to 2.2 million (Bales, David, Datta, & Grono, 2013, p. 2). Global Slavery Index defines modern slavery this way:
In 2013, modern slavery takes many forms, and is known by many names: slavery, forced labour or human trafficking.
‘Slavery’ refers to the condition of treating another person as if they were property – something to be bought, sold, traded or even destroyed.
‘Forced labour’ is a related but not identical concept, referring to work taken without consent, by threats or coercion.
‘Human trafficking’ is another related concept, referring to the process through which people are brought, through deception, threats or coercion, into slavery, forced labour or other forms of severe exploitation.
Whatever term is used, the significant characteristic of all forms of modern slavery is that it involves one person depriving other people of their freedom: their freedom to leave one job for another, their freedom to leave one workplace for another, their freedom to control their own body (Bales, David, Datta, & Grono, The Global Salvery Index: Executive Summary, 2013).
A number of progressive legislative initiatives to deal with these problems are in the Parliament. The National Food Security Bill, Targeted Food Distribution System, assuring at least 35 KG of highly subsidized food grains to the families below the poverty line, the National Right to Homestead Bill 2013, and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act which promises 100 days of work for every rural household, if implemented should make a huge difference.
India accounts for 33% of the world’s poorest who live on less than Rs. 80.00 a day ($1.25) (World Bank, 2013). Although the World Bank report claims that there has been reduction in extreme poverty from 1981 to 2010, based on its low poverty threshold ($1.25 dollar a day), India’s share of the poor increased (22 to 33%) compared to China whose share decreased considerably (43 to 13%).
When we look at the Human Development Index (HDI), India ranks 136 out of 187 countries and the bit of good news there is that India’s HDI rose by 1.7% annually from 0.345 to 0.554 between 1980 and 2012 (United Nations Development Programme, 2013).
The troubling question is why will India fail to reach its modest UN Millennium Development Goals of reducing the population below poverty line to the target of 23.9 % by 2015? Given the firm commitment of the Constitution, the numerous progressive laws, progressive judgments by the courts, a vast voluntary sector and a large number of social justice movements, Dalit struggles, simmering Maoist insurgencies in states with high poverty rates, the extreme poverty and hunger is a reality for over 400 million and poverty for additional 400 million at least. Policies of liberalization and privatization pushed globally by transnational capitalist institutions, namely, the World Trade Organization, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, with much internal support, have no doubt increased the wealth and transferred it upwards. This wealth has not trickled down. Why has the nation state failed to redistribute wealth? Wide spread corruption is one significant factor. It is an institutionalized mechanism of controlling and using the nation state by the capitalist and the entrepreneurial class when people in a democracy do not give this class electoral political power. Corruption has different rationale and consequences based on one’s class position. The poor bribe and are indeed, forced to bribe to keep what little they have. The rich bribe to use the state to transfer wealth (land, extractive resources, subsidies, and other forms of wealth) to enrich themselves. When I worked as a community organizer in coastal villages of South Kanara (Dakshina Kannada) in the late 1970s, monsoon floods had destroyed large number of houses of small farmers and agricultural laborers. The government had provided relief funds to rebuild their houses. The revenue inspector (local government official) had to certify that each beneficiary had lost one’s house for which he demanded his cut which added up to a substantial amount. When the floods receded, the revenue inspector built a nice house for himself; and the people called it, in the local Tulu dialect and Kannada language, as Nay-ray Manay (flood house). In a satiric tone, which also sounds humorous in Tulu, “Floods came and gave the revenue inspector a flood house.” Ironically, the term also means, neighbour’s house. This is an example of one official siphoning off large amount of government aid in one incident. To get a passport can cost up to a thousand rupees, truck drivers’ bribe to highway police officers can add up to billions a year, and building plan approvals from city or municipal officials can amount to thousands for ordinary citizens. Unfortunately, there are voluntary organizations that do this too. Based on social audits done under the RTI, there are estimates as high as 35% of government programme resources that are siphoned off by officials and intermediaries who have to bribe higher officials and eventually politicians to keep up their jobs, contracts or funding. In fact, Rajiv Gandhi had claimed that only fifteen percent of every rupee spent on welfare reached its intended beneficiaries. Begging in Mumbai, and probably in other metropolises, is organized by the local mafia with a share of the begged loot going to the police and to the politicians.
The major scandals are even worse. According to Global Financial Integrity, India ranks 8th among the top 10 countries with illicit financial outflows between 2001 and 2010 of $123 billion—capital outflows that stem from crime, corruption, tax evasion and other illegal practices (Kar & Freitas, 2012). Based on a 2008 diplomatic release by WikiLeaks, Parliamentary votes to ratify the civilian nuclear energy deal with the U.S. was bought by a pay-off of $25 million through an Indian politician (Subramanian, The Agitator, 2013). During Indira Gandhi’s rule, a 1976 U.S. Embassy cable read like this: “a direct and positive relationship between laws against corruption and the extent of corruption itself, i.e., each such laws only means that there are more people to bribe (Subramanian, 2013, p. 33).” The 2010 Common Wealth Games get all the awards with cost overruns from a modest initial estimate of $190 million to an obscene $2.9 billion to build sporting venues some of which have fallen apart because of substandard construction. Treadmills rented for $18,000, toilet paper rolls for $80.00, and soap dispenser for $61.00 have surfaced. The Central Vigilance Commission estimated a misuse of up to $1.8 billion (Subramanian, 2013, p. 34). Bribery and corruption have become stable institutions and means of controlling the nation state, undermining political as well as economic democracy. An estimated $19 billion (` 1,140 billion at ` 60.00 for 1 US $) a year is lost to bribery and black money (Nelson, 2011). A screen shot of the web site launched in 2010, http://www.Ipaidabribe.com taken around midnight October 23, 2013 (IST) documented 17, 371 instances of bribes paid in 572 cities with a total bribe amounting to ` 573 million (see Appendix B) . While these figures are a gross underestimate of the corruption endured by ordinary citizens because it only includes reports from 10 big cities, these are also biased toward those who have the knowledge, willingness and the courage to report it. Yet, it gives us insight into the nature of corruption experienced by ordinary people. The rich benefit from it most, and the anti-corruption movement is forcing the legislatures to act. Remarkably, the business and corporate interests led by Kausic Basu, Economic Advisor to the Ministry of Finance, have called for legalizing bribe giving but not bribe taking with the hope that the corrupt officials will be exposed. Even the Infosys chairman, Narayana Murthy has endorsed the proposal (TNN & Agencies, 2011). As much as I wish to be proved wrong, this will not work because wealthy bribe givers reap huge returns. Why would a politician lobby to increase the price of natural gas which will transfer huge amount of wealth from millions of consumers to a handful of owners and affluent stockholders of this industry? It is merely a cost of doing business, and indeed, tactic to get the national resources at an incredible bargain. Exposing the bribe takers will result in black listing and retaliation by a bureaucracy and the political elite that run it. Which businessman that seeks to get liquor permit to sell alcohol will admit giving huge bribe, that generates far larger profits, and jeopardize enormous future revenues? Why would a private businessman who bids lucrative contracts for building roads, bridges, dams, and other construction projects from the Public Works Department expose an official who lets him obscenely profit from the contract? Will a robber who used a ladder to sneak into your house, ever think of kicking the ladder out once he is in?
Social work as a profession emerged in a capitalist system to remedy its ills such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, chronic unemployment, resulting from economic recessions and depressions. Although social work embraces ‘person in the environment’ model in assessing the problems and determining interventions, there has been a historical tension between those who focus on the individuals and help them adjust to their environment, and those who strive to change the environment to diminish or eliminate individual dysfunctions caused by it. While Mary Richmond, with her well-known early attempts at using scientific methodology to help individuals, detailed in her book, Social Diagnosis, (Steyaert & Harris, 2009), Jane Adams established the first settlement house, Hull House in Chicago, to advocate for children and the poor through legal advocacy and social activism. She was also a peace activist who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 (Steyaert & Harris, 2009). In Unfaithful Angels, Specht and Courtney lamented the trend in the U.S., where social workers in increasing numbers have pursued therapy-driven and licensed private practice seeking individual solutions and abandoned their mission to promote social justice and serve the underprivileged in their communities (Specht & Courtney, 1994).
The first school of social work in India, Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate School of Social Work, now known as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) was established in 1936 under the leadership of Clifford Manshardt, a missionary from the United States, who was trained as a social worker in the settlement houses of Chicago (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, 2013). While TISS has a pioneering history of generating knowledge, setting up service projects, and promoting social action struggles in Mumbai, one cannot conclude that social work profession in India has perused social justice. One of the popular specializations offered in the schools of social work, Labour Welfare, ends up training students to take up well-paid management positions in personnel and human resource departments of big business corporations. To be sure, there have been local efforts by social workers in terms of legislative advocacy against evictions of slum dwellers, or much larger ones that have received international attention such as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Struggle) against building environmentally destructive and population-displacing dams led by social workers like Medha Patkar, an alumnus of TISS.
At the national level, there have been two review committees of the University Grants Commission (UGC) specifically addressing social work education in India. The first one, set up in 1960, recommended strengthening of the curriculum (Sharma & Sharma, 2005, pp. 167-174); the second review committee, set up in 1975, besides repeating the need for improving the curriculum, faculty development, and strengthening research, publications and field service projects, recommended to set up a Council for Social Work Education to maintain standards, guide policies, and rational use of resources and manpower. When the second review committee began its work in 1975, it identified only 34 schools or departments of social work in India. As of 2012, this number was as high as 350(Botcha, 2012, p. 202), a tenfold increase in 33 years with serious damage to the standards and quality of social work education. Nair attributes the rapid growth to the emergence of profit-making and self-financing schools of social work in an environment that lacks national regulatory and accrediting bodies and proactive national professional associations(Nair, 2013). Some of the social workers educated in the schools of social work will surely commit themselves to serve the vulnerable and poor by engaging themselves in developing programmes in the voluntary or the government sector, organizing local communities, and initiating struggles for social and environmental justice. Without research, it is difficult to assess the extent or the impact of professional social workers and their struggle for social justice in India.
Social justice struggles in a diverse, complex, and largest democracy will need to continue fearlessly and with relentless determination. Giving up based on reincarnate justice cannot be an option. In describing the present system of injustices, one should not lose sight of the progress that has been made. Untouchability and segregation have been abolished in the Constitution although some of its social and cultural remnants linger especially in rural India. A system of constitutionally mandated reservation—affirmative action (as it is labeled in the U.S.) has made it possible for lower castes to attain a better standard of living, in spite of the fact that much more needs to be done. Land reforms have given land to the peasants and sharecroppers abolishing the feudal system of landlordism. Work of Richard Hawkins and David Sloan Wilson, evolutionary biologists should give us hope. Dawkins who claims that a selfish gene is responsible for altruism for our collective survival (Dawkins, Richard Dawkins on Altruism and The Selfish Gene, 2012) and Wilson, who in his study, now in its seventh year, of 47,000 residents of Binghamton, New York state, asserts that humans are altruistic by nature and does not characterize it as genetic self-interest (Tippett, 2013&RSA Animate, 2010). When ruthless exploitation of the planet earth for profits, causing global warming and pollution, that is threatening the very survival of the human and other species, this altruistic gene is likely to become the dominant gene at this evolutionary period. Indeed, this is clear from thousands of resistance movements that have struggled to achieve justice for the poor, thousands of voluntary organizations and millions of people who strive to alleviate the suffering of people every day not only in India but all over the world. Maybe, Yudhishtira was well aware of this altruistic gene among us. Only virtuous Karma—upholding social justice in the world we live in—will fulfill Yudhishtira’s (also known as Dharmaraja) wish to alleviate the suffering of the ill-fated millions in a Bharath abundantly blessed with dharma.
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