Paper presented in the National Conference on ‘Transforming the lives of the oppressed and the under privileged through social work’, 15th March 2013, Department of Social Work, Hindu College, Chennai
Today we have Twenty 20 Cricket match. We have fun and it’s thrilling. And it’s over in a few hours. You are famous overnight. Very much result oriented. Social Work is also increasingly being seen in the same manner by many – individual donors or CSR-Corporate Social Responsibility or govt or even a bilateral organisation. In this context, Michael Reisch aptly says that ‘social work practice is forced to shift from long term sustainability to short term outcomes’ (Michael Reisch, 2011). The face of ‘Social Work’ is forced to change by other agents who are behaving as ring masters than the wish of the stake holders. If we, the professional social workers succumb to this, soon all our theories of conscentisation, Community Organisation, Case work, etc may have to be restructured to suit the quick fix approach!
Social Work and Social Workers are considered as change agents, catalysts and facilitators who steer social change and transformation among individuals, groups and society at large. Social Work is said to emerge in a crisis to ease tensions and solve problems and sustain the effort. Social Work is also a profession that maintains social order, by institutionalising preventive measures.
Radical social Work
The very term Social Work in itself was termed as radical a few decades ego. The moment one started thinking about the sad state of the society, its status, situation, necessary interventions, problems faced, etc., you are looking and thinking different. You are not in the normal situation, you are questioning the authority, you are trying to inform the uninformed, motivating the people who don’t have to struggle to have, and you are questioning the duty bearers and encouraging or engaging the right holders. You are talking about structural changes addressing the needs and requirements of the oppressed, and then you are radical. Thus collective campaigns and collective activism were recognised as radical social work. [These are normally (going with the dictionary also) recognised as fundamental work, essential, deep seated, sweeping, thorough, drastic and some time extreme, extremist, uncompromising, militant, revolutionary, die hard...]
It is very difficult to capture the application of radical social work for social transformation in a definition. Again radical social work is highly contextual and situation based. A person who advocates fundamental political, economic and social reforms by direct and often uncompromising methods is recognised as a ‘radical person’. [So, don’t miss read it as ‘rash’ person. Many individuals who take rash actions tend to crown themselves as radical]. Dictionary defines ‘radical’ as ‘thorough going or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms; a radical change in the policy of a group or a company’.
The most important aspect here is that radical social work looks at fundamental changes and addresses the issues at a macro level, than addressing individual cases at micro level. E.g, as and when the state tries to shirk its responsibility of welfare, services to the people, the need for thinking differently becomes inevitable. You can engage yourself in providing services to a child, a family or a group or to a community. But, when you start questioning the system, ‘why’ this situation is and address the root causes, policy, programme, and target the law makers and the administration in a strategic manner, you enter the sphere of radical interventions or radical social work demanding for equitable social development.
There is a slight difference between what we studied in social work classes to what we are observing in social work practice. By this I am not undermining the social work studies. The schools of social work are teaching us about long term sustainable development plans as a core value. But the Govt and the NGOs are getting satisfied by short term gains, I mean short term benefits. The terms like sustainability, long term vision, sustained development, etc., are slowly disappearing in the so called one year development plans. (From 5 day test cricket matches, we found results in one day matches, now more than the result you want thrill. So enters Twenty 20!). So also the murky tripartite understanding of Corporate, Govt and NGOs in fixed (match) developments in short durations! They are misrepresenting social dependency models as ‘social work’. Social Work should be seen from Paulo Freire’s conscientization point of view, ‘the process of developing critical awareness of one’s social reality through reflection and action’ for social transformation.
Look at some of the recent development political mantras that said to bring change in the society! ‘Cash transfer and doling of ration to family’ is forced on the people, who would not even question it now. They see the money in their account and provisions at their door steps, but not the consequences they may have to face in the coming days - shrinking allocations by the Governments to social welfare. You question this as a responsible social worker, with a radical mind, but get branded as anti-establishment, so anti social! So also when you understand that there is some fishy dealings in theAnganawadi food procurement and supply and raise it in an appropriate platform, you are actually risking your life! So, most chose otherwise. (Satyam brooyat, Priyam brooyat, Na brooyat satyamapriyam! Let Mahatma, probably the most radical social workers of the last century rest in peace).
Social Work for Social Transformation
While respecting the need for service delivery in some sectors we have experienced per se social work being largely misunderstood as social service in the current context, has largely compromised with the ruling class and community. Such groups also fall in line to take ill designed and under budgeted Government programmes and projects and struggle to meet the so called goals and objects. I strongly feel that such sub contracting of Govt. Projects and programmes are responsible for slow growth and puts off the fire of ‘rights’ based approach.
Rajaram Mohan Roy raised a question on the situation of widows and said that they too are human beings. Basava, a 12th Century thinkier, questioned the caste class structure and saw a radical possibility of equality. But, many of these could not be digested by the then society.
Dr.Sudarshan, who initiated Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra-VGKK in Biligiri Rangana Hills, Chamarajanagara, Karnataka, raised the rights issue with respect to tamarind trees ownership in the tribal habitats in the forests. He argued that the tree patta/ownership title deed should be of the family and the man of the family cannot be the sole decision maker. This questioned the very fundamental belief of the social system. The Government, tribal jury, leaders and the middlemen who were making the most profits by deceit practices were shocked. Dr.Sudarshan’s perspective towards breaking the cycle of exploitation and ending impoverishment, indebtedness, gave a radical touch to the whole development social movement in the region.
Most radical social workers are not from schools of social work Dr.Sudarshan, Mr.Hiremath or Ms. Aruna Roy or Mr.Aravind Kejriwal. There are exceptions like Prof. HMM or Ms.Medha Patkar who are from schools of social work but continued to question and took radical steps in upholding the rights of the people.
Going with the good old Social Work terms, these are efforts to reduce structural exploitation; reduce inequality and societal transformation, through questioning, thinking about an alternative, finding a new perspective and organising people around an idea. For that matter Gandhi could be the best example for ‘radical thinking and radical approaches to address an issue’. The radical social work approaches once opposed are now part of the ‘new society’; order and the way of living. But, still there are very many areas which need intervention, rather radical intervention, using social work methods.
In the midst of several theories on radical social work and social development, there is also an approach which claims that ‘radical social workers criticise the state’s intervention’ (Braverman, 1970’s). I beg to differ with Braverman’s statement.
Child related social problems are endless. Government, NGOs, international bodies, now CSR all are attempting to address them: homelessness, orphans, destitute, disability, cruelty, discrimination, malnourishment, deaths (IMR U5MR), child marriages, child labour, devadasi system, trafficking, infanticide, what not? When the Govt or international bodies are failing to solve the problems, the societies apathy towards the burning issues, local governments and peoples representatives (MLAs and MPs), media are not bothered about them who should raise voice? Do you expect children to come up in groups and masses to come out on streets to demand?
Who raises voice for them? Most NGOs indulge in providing services in a ‘piece meal approach’. You just treat the symptoms or the wounds seen over the skin and feel good about it. Even the victims will praise you. The govt just wants this and provides inadequate (sic) funds in various names. Corporate Social Responsibility also echoes the same mantra. Only few look beyond the symptoms. What are the causes? Here you start Questioning. Question the inadequacies and demand for rights and the privileges to live as human being in the society. There you enter the sphere of Radical thinking – radical social work and development.
Raise questions on the fundamental aspects, the root causes, take a step to straighten the law makers, catch hold of the media to write on real issues, pull up the local government and wake them up with real facts... and make the system work, move the rusted wheels turn to act. If need be, oil them... that is radical and such social work interventions are needed to bring social transformation now.
For our discussion, I have taken methods in radical social work as referred by Ana MiljenovicRadical Social work for social change- a. Demonstrative Activities; b. Cooperative Activities; c.Formative Activities; d. Transformative Activities. I also connect some of our works and experiences from the field to them.
1. Demonstrative Activities: We had a long standing question, about Grama Panchayats, the village level local self governments: why they are not taking responsibility of the children in their jurisdictions? (Bellary district, 2003) This was a new and amusing question to the Panchayats and the Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, GoK. We asked them some obvious questions, ‘do you know that there are children in your villages?’ This followed by, ‘can you tell how many children are there in your Panchayat?’ Although the GP members accepted the existence of children, they were not aware of the number of children, male female break up or the status of the children – health, protection, birth and death rate, school drop out, child labour, Sc/St, minority, etc. What followed was a demonstration of data collection and analysis about children in about 15 Grama Panchayats and presentation of the same to the Panchayat community, comprising of elected representatives, service providers, children and adults. A startled GP members and service providers found that given a chance, with information, community and children can participate and raise issues for solutions. What followed was getting a Government approval in the form of a circular to conduct formal, ‘Child Rights Special Grama Sabhas’ in every Grama Panchayat of Karnataka (RDPR, 2006). Today you find children actively participating in the special Grama Sabhas and getting solutions to the problems they are facing.
From Panchayats, let us move to the State level. Can you expect the Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to talk about children passionately in Assembly meetings? It is happening now in Karnataka. Legislators not only raise questions and ask the Govt to take stands on child rights issues, they are now organised into Karnataka Legislators’ Forum for Child Rights. They show interest and seek information to protect the interests of the children.
These are examples from radical demonstrative activities where such an intervention was not in existence considering children as citizens of this country and also confirmed that people, including children have capacities and with information can take responsibilities too.
2. Cooperative Activities: We keep hearing about people and organisations coming together for a cause or a purpose. Such coming together for a common cause or purpose is also referred as networking. Building alliances, collaborations, coalitions and forming into groups is a legitimate method to apply pressure to demand justice. Alliances are formed for a wide range of issues now a day at local level and national and international level. What is radical in this is holding on to the network and its cause for a sustained period and moving ahead from one level to another. With groups having a child rights perspective, we initiated KCRO-Karnataka Child Rights Observatory.
Another example in this sector is the Annual Children’s Parliament and interaction with the Chief Minister of Karnataka at Vidhana Soudha. This is a cooperative effort between NGOs with KCRO network and the Karnataka Legislators’ Forum for Child Rights.
3. Formative Activities: In our pursuit to spread awareness and educate the concerned stake holders, we go on our own (self invited) to various forums and educational institutions to share our experiences. Motivating the students (social work, women’s studies, media, sociology and political science) to learn about the situation of children from rights perspective and take up evidence based studies in the society and document the learning for better action. Although it is not rocket technology, it is a special and specific knowledge transfer to put an element of rationale in the minds of the future professionals.
4. Transformative Activities: The activity which need long term follow up and patience to see that legislative reforms are brought in. In the last 25 years we have seen several laws formed and changed in the interest of children. eg., RTE, JJ Act, Child Marriage Prohibition Act. All these were possible due to radical thinking and approaches by some individuals or groups. This also includes legal activism. Taking the right questions to the courts on the situation of children. I can also cite the ‘Question Hour Analysis’ of the business of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly and Council of Karnataka to fix the responsibility of the legislators for the welfare of children, who are the most oppressed and voiceless.
With all these, if you think radical social work has found its place among social workers, you are wrong. Almost all the radical social work approaches for social transformation are seen as ‘trouble making’ (who throw stones into still waters). Radical is right based approach. When you question the system, which is in order (!) from many decades the system refuse to change. If we have to have social development in a sustainable manner, the only way now is to go on questioning the exploitative, oppressive order.
You are not liked by Government, but media loves you momentarily (as long as you give them juicy news), support agencies or funding agencies distance themselves away from you and even the social work associations keep you at bay! The Association is very weak and does not recognise the radical social work approach as important. Police are not happy if you desperately come on the street questioning their authority or inability to protect; courts sulk when you doubt their ability in some obvious cases when they delay justice; media is unhappy when you want more space for real social issues!
Similarly, even now not all social work education institutions have taken practitioners to teach the social work students on practical and radical social work approaches. Mere theoreticians will not be equipping the future social workers, rather the most required radical social workers. With these discussions, I foresee in the near future schools of social work documenting the experiences of radical social work in India and thereby evolving theories to equip the budding social workers.
Vasudeva Sharma N.V.
Social Work Learning Academy
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