Way back in 1988-’89 one was visiting drug and alcohol de-addiction and rehabilitation centers in Delhi and elsewhere as part field study for research to write a 30 episode serial for All India Radio. Radio DATE [ Drugs, Alcohol, Tobacco Education] was a joint initiative of All India Radio and the Indian Council of Medical Research [ICMR]. After visiting many centres the head of a government run facility asked what was one’s next place of visit. When he heard Navjyoti Delhi Police Foundation he sarcastically commented that at that centre started by the first woman IPS officer Kiran Bedi in Sarai Rohilla police station, they were practicing “Danda Therapy”[therapy using the rod]. He was told that as a media person one would go and find out what therapy was being practiced in Navjyoti.
One was warmly received by Suneel Vatsyayan, the young and dynamic Director of Navjyoti, a Master of Social Work from Jamia Millia Islamia [presently member of the governing body of NAPSWI]. He took me around for interaction with the patients. One was convinced that a professional social worker running the centre [with the guidance of a senior police officer who started Navjyoti out of a felt need when Delhi faced large scale addiction and related petty crimes] was not using ‘Danda Therapy’. It was professional social work in action and one was drawn to volunteer for Navjyoti for many years. In fact one was part of a one year programme of training recovering addicts as peer support counselors, supported by the UNODC [then UNDCP] as a trainer and Prof. Sanjai Bhatt of the Delhi School of Social Work was a consultant.
It was therefore, a learning experience and an opportunity to discern between two streams of academic disciplines by attending the three day 6th Indian Social Work Congress 2018 on the theme “Human Development and Social Inclusion: Imperatives for Social Work Education and Practice” in Delhi last week[1-3 November] organized by the National Association of Professional Social Workers in India[NAPSWI]. The earlier Congresses were held in Delhi, Pune, Rajasthan,Varanasi and Kerala and the 7th will be in Lucknow.
The focus on Human Development and Inclusion in the theme opened up food for thought for contextualizing contemporary challenges in social work. According to a Congress spokesperson ‘’Human Development is the process of enhancing the human capabilities to expand choices and opportunities, so that a person can lead a life of respect and value’’. Similarly, “Social inclusion strives for many purposes for socially excluded people. It attempts to establish an egalitarian social order based on ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity in place of social order based on mutually exclusive social categories such as caste and race”. The above mentioned Navjyoti / UNODC programme of training recovering addicts as peer support counselors is an excellent example of social inclusion of bringing socially rejected addicts to the mainstream.
One also learn that the Congress had for its deliberations, the UN document titled “ Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” marking a paradigm shift towards a more balanced model for sustainable development.
It is heartening that the Congress and the social work fraternity endeavored to contribute towards understanding, analyzing and interpreting the sustainable development goals in the context of social work education and practice towards achieving human development and social inclusion.
The Congress provided an opportunity to know more about the profession of social work and its present application. A cursory look at the sheer numbers of the Congress is proof enough to the significance and the volume of work transacted- 655 participants [from institutions/ colleges /universities and voluntary organizations from almost all states], presence of 7 vice chancellors, Vice Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, 3 Members of Parliament, 165 paper presentations and release of eight books. The speakers included a veritable who’s who from the profession and academics, besides practitioners.
To a layperson there is often no distinction between sociology and social work. Social work is generally perceived as acts of kindness, altruism or even philanthropy. Many aspiring politicians do social service to attract public support. Of course both sociology and social work education draw their knowledge base from similar body of knowledge. While sociologists are largely involved in research and study, social workers apply their knowledge in alleviating problems and concerns of individuals and families; social work is a ‘people business’ indeed.
It was difficult to catch up with all the deliberations of the three day Congress and quote from presentations by erudite scholars. However one would flag a few sessions of the Congress. The multidisciplinary approach and nature of social work were evident from the speeches, presentations and discussions. As social work deals with the problems of people, the range of deliberations encompassed almost all areas of human activity and behavior. The topics chosen for the sessions and paper presentations included, to name a few- ‘’Social Justice and Human Rights’’, “ Health and Social Work’’, “Indianisation of Social Work, “Malnutrition”, “Social Work and Child Rights”, “Corporate Social Responsibility: Social Problems, Violence and Criminal Justice”, “Gender Discourse”, “Mental Health” etc.
As part of highlighting just a few areas from among deliberations on a large number of issues, let’s start with the Panel Discussion on ‘Malnutrition’. It threw up important issues by experts including senior government functionaries. Rising hunger in India is a concern even as in the Global Hunger Index we rank 103 of 194 nations. People in the urban settings are more prone to malnutrition. Climate change and global warming are threatening food production and security. The increasing consumption of fast foods like pizzas, burgers and noodles is depriving children of natural food. The big shift in food crop production to commercial crops results in lesser access to locally grown natural food. Multi layer farming in small holdings would increase food production for farmers’ sustenance. There is no strict quality control on the food grains in the public distribution system and many products are packed in harmful materials. Well, these are some of the issues that call for the attention of social workers who have a task at hand for advocacy and dissemination of relevant information.
Prof. Sanjai Bhatt, introduced a topic which of late has emerged as a matter of debate- Indianization of professional social work and social work education. Evolution of Social work education in India was discussed. The credit for pioneering social work education goes to the Tatas. The Tata Institute of Social Sciences [ TISS] established in 1936 in Nagpada and then in Andheri in Bombay [now Mumbai] is the oldest institute of social work in Asia. Started as Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate School of social Work by Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, it was rechristened in 1944 as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. TISS came to its permanent campus in Deonar and later started many other campuses. In 1964 the government of India declared TISS as a deemed university. Over the years TISS has emerged as an iconic institution and later various schools of social work like the well known Delhi School of Social Work have come up across the country with thousands of young people passing out each year to pursue professional social work.
The first director of TISS was American Sociologist Dr. Clifford Manshardt. For a new academic discipline like social work, obviously the syllabus and pedagogy came from the west and all the theories- psychosocial, psychodynamic, transpersonal, cognitive or systems were entirely western and so were readings from Sigmund Freud , Erikson or Skinner. Later Indian academics like Prof. Shankar Pathak or Prof. M Y Qureshi brought out textbooks of social work. Now, the debate in the Congress was on the relevance and suitability of western theories and texts for our social work students. Some of the senior academicians opined that it is difficult to replace time tested theories but the practices are now specific and suitably adopted for our aspiring social work practitioners. There were a few dissenting voices demanding a thorough overhauling of the syllabi, texts and practices based on Indian heritage and her ancient wisdom. This debate is sure to continue for years to come.
Whatever discussions one heard, were sadly bereft of Gandhi ji and his genre of social work with volunteers or Sathyagrahis involved in constructive work for social transformation. It was therefore a grand finale for the 6th Indian Social Work Congress 2018 to have a valedictory address by none other than the new Vice Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Harbans Narain Singh invoking the Father of the Nation in the context of social work. He specially mentioned the concept of Buniyadi Shiksha Kendras started by the Mahatma to catch children young to be self reliant. His erudition and experience were evident in his address. One would conclude with Gandhi ji’s famous Talisman as a Mantra for everyone :-
‘’ I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test:
Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? That test alone can make our plans and programmes meaningful.”
- Prof. T.K Thomas, Senior Journalist.