Gandhiji’s Views On Social Work
Gandhi wanted his teachers to be social workers and social workers to be teachers. Thus he said: "Our teachers will touch the levels of grown–up people and, if at all possible, penetrate the Purdah. Instruction will be given to grown–up people in hygiene and about the advantages of joint action, for the promotion of community welfare, such as making village roads proper, the sinking of wells, etc, and as no school will be manned by teachers who are not men or women of good training, we propose to give free medical aid as well". These rural schools were run most economically, because one of the conditions was that villagers should provide for the teachers' boarding and lodging and the villagers willingly contributed grain and other kinds of agricultural produce.
Social worker should be Samagra Grama Sevak
Gandhi's approach to social work as a total process was best expressed in his concept of Samagra Grama- Sevak that he once explained in 1946. After a life-time of field experience, he had realized how difficult it was to break down the passivity of the Indian villager. The villagers' response varied from one part of the country to another. When he entered to Orissa in 1927 he said: "Never since the days of Champaran have I witnessed such death like quiet as I did on entering Orissa…… There was a spirit in the ryots of Champaran after a few day's stay in their midst. I doubt if the Orissa ryot would respond so quickly. The rulers have known the existence of abject fear among the ryots. But they have done nothing to remove it." Sevagaon, a small village Gandhi had adopted, presented a similar challenge. How was one to penetrate the blank wall of passivity? Gandhi had come to the conclusion that what was needed was the type of Samagra Grama-Sevak. He had in mind a resident social worker who identifies himself completely with the village he serves - a worker who serves an entire village. The teachers of his Champaran rural schools were teachers as well as friends, philosophers and guides to the entire village. Let me give you a picture of a Samagra Grama Sevak in Gandhi's inimitably vivid language: "The Samagra Grama Sevak should know everybody living in the village. He should render then such service as he can. That does not mean that the worker will be able to do everything single handed. He will show them the way of helping themselves. He will procure for them such help and materials as they require. He will train his own helpers. He will so win over the villagers that they will seek and follow his advice". Gandhi suggested that his work will begin with his being a teacher himself in his spare – time till the villagers themselves feel the need for a teacher. Similarly, he will create the need for an expert weaver and he will find a teacher or a weaving expert when the villagers are prepared to employ him for their own benefit. Gandhi said: "I will teach them hygiene and sanitation. If they ask for a sweeper I will say 'I will be your sweeper and train you to do the job' this is my conception of Samagra Grama- Sevak" Gandhi anticipated what may be passing through the minds of some of you "How can one find a multi-purpose social worker of his conception in his age?" "Then I will say", Gandhi answers, (I am quoting his words), "We cannot hope to improve our villages in this age". A Samagra Grama-Sevak is not the poor Village-Level Worker (V.L.W) of this unregenerate age. Gandhi identified him as "A man whose strength lies in knowledge. True knowledge gives a moral standing and moral strength. Everyone seeks the advice of such a man".
Social Worker must be brave, Intelligent and persevering
If the problem is one of " moving the inert mass", as Gandhi defined problem of social work, what was his advice to social workers as regards their correct attitude to social work? Addressing the Kasturba trainees in 1946, Gandhi said the social workers must be brave, intelligent and persevering. The villagers may not readily respond. They may even prove hostile. Many vested interests have to be disturbed before the necessary social change can occur. But non-violent workers, as he put it, should choose the line of least resistance. They should suffer in their own person before they could aspire to gain the co-operation of inert villager, on the one hand, and hostile villagers, on the other. They must perserve and persist without resentment and bitterness. Then only will their conduct strike the imagination of the villagers. And this element of surprise will open their way into their hearts. Once the inert mass begins to yield, work will make rapid progress. I do not know whether one can think of a better strategy of social work in our backward villages. Gandhi's injunction of following a line of least résistance must not, however, be misunderstood. He didn't mean that the social worker should behave as a neutral specialist who merely gives advice if and when it is sought, and who is not worried by the consequences of his advice. A social worker must be an activist. He persists and perseveres. He is prepared to suffer in the face of the hostility of vested interests opposed to social change. Only then will this element of surprise, viz. Self – suffering , contained in this kind of positive attitude will strike the imagination of those who are indifferent to social change as well as those who are hostile to it.
This brings us to the important issue of the social workers' attitudes to politics. Gandhi's position on this question deserves our earnest attention today. He maintained a certain position on this question till the end when his own design for social work in a free India was rudely shattered by the hand of an assassin.
Social reform and politics
In 1938 Montagu had asked Gandhi: Why was it that a social reformer that Gandhi was, had strayed into politics? Gandhi gave a characteristic reply. He said that his politics was an extension of his social activity. He could not lead a religious life, unless he identified himself with the whole of mankind, and this he could not do, unless he took part in politics. "The whole gamut of man's activities today", he said "constitutes an indivisible whole".
Former Professor of Economics and
Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University.
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