It was in June, 1958 when I had got admission to M.A Geography at the Banaras Hindu University. Soon thereafter due to continuing agitation of students and teachers, BHU was closed sine die. Admission to Social Work (Master of Applied Sociology–MAS) was still going on. My elder brother knew about the short-term training programme at the Kashi Vidyapith to prepare Labour Welfare Officers under the Factories Act 1948, and also the MAS programme for 2 years under the Institute of Social Sciences, Kashi Vidyapith. He asked me to apply to the 2 – year programme “to kill time” and subsequently to get a job as Labour Welfare Officer somewhere. Graduates from the Kashi Vidyapith used to get jobs either in the Factories, Mines, Prisons or Welfare Departments. Thus what started as “killing of two years’ time” became a lifelong pursuit and commitment to social work education–a shift from geography to society and social welfare.
It was just a coincidence that during July 1958, experts from the Technical Cooperation Mission (TCM-USA) had chosen the KVP’s MAS programme for a few years and books were being added from the USA. Teaching programme was being revamped. So was the case with Lucknow, Madras, Baroda and elsewhere. Whereas the expert from the USA was a Case Work teacher from the University of Chicago and was also heading the Mission, Richard J. Parvis at Lucknow was an expert in Group Work. Course teaching, fieldwork, report submission, seminars, film shows followed by discussions, individual conferences, tours, home assignments, quizzes, etc, apart from informal group meetings, were characteristic features of the 2-year programme which was semester based. Punctuality of time was highly valued. An important aspect in all the theory courses was the application of theory in quizzes and question papers. In one of the quizzes in social casework class, some students scored 100% marks! This spread like wild fire on the campus. It was being talked about among teachers and the general view was that only in mathematics one can score 100% marks. This matter may have reached the course teacher and examiner Ms. Nellie M. Hartman. She asked those teachers in a discussion that what was expected of students in mathematics? One of the spokespersons said, “They are given a problem; they apply a formula or method, and they give solution. If it is correct, they are given full marks!” Ms. Hartman retorted: “In the quiz, students had been given a problem; they applied method(s) and they gave solutions. Those who gave correct answers, they got full marks!” The critics, though fell silent, continued their criticism of western (American) social work. It may be noted here that question papers in the courses on methods of social work used to be longer covering 8-12 pages, and required application and problem-solving. They also set the pattern for future practitioners and teachers. Some students on the campus also used to be misled by their friends and remarks of teachers who found the new pattern of teaching and guidance very demanding. A group of them spread the rumour during Ms. Hartman’s visit to Delhi that the question paper on social case work was leaked out to a few who were close to her Secretary, which made him extremely worried. No sooner Ms. Hartman arrived than he shared his worries with her. A day before the semester examination, all the students were shocked to find that the whole question paper with the name of examiner was put on the Notice Board! The rumour had its natural end. During the examination, there was no invigilator and free seating was permitted. But nine examinees were later identified for copying from others. I was one who was flanked by two of my friends, who, inspite of my warning, did their best in copying. Each one of the nine was summoned to explain his position. Some students clarified their position, while the others, not finding any escape route, confessed that they had copied from their friends to get good marks! Therefore, they had to appear for supplementary examination with an option to write in Hindi or English. Inspite of the medium, they only scraped through.
This experiment led to more seriousness on the campus. It goes to the credit of the authorities of the Kashi Vidyapith that they allowed such innovation and experimentation. With these inputs, the social work programme became a very strong and meaningful one with high morale. These inputs became part of the commitment of a future teacher when the challenge came sooner than later at a fledgling social work institution in Udaipur.
Udaipur School of Social Work
Since 1959, the TCM had started sponsoring seminars of 5-day duration, the first one being held at Mahabaleshwar. The Mussoorie seminar was second in the series. Indian social work educators and TCM experts used to select themes and sub-themes for paper writers and resource persons. There were about 13 social work institutions, including the one at Udaipur. The officiating Principal of Udaipur school of social work had also been invited and he used this opportunity to find suitable candidates for appointment as teachers. It appears that during these informal meetings my name was also recommended by my teachers. I was informed by Ms. Hartman that I might receive a telegram for job interview at Udaipur which I did in a couple of days. When I reached Udaipur, I filed my application. Prof. Richard Parvis was one of the experts who spent quite sometime during the interview. By the time I reached Varanasi, I received another telegram saying “Offering lectureship, Join immediately, Wire arrival.” This telegram led to my entry into social work education. Three new teachers joined in the first week of July 1960; others a couple of months later making the total to 7. The search for a professionally qualified Principal was on and it materialized in June 1961. The new Principal Dr P.T. Thomas was more bureaucratic and autocratic in his functioning. There was more of direction than discussion and everything centered around the Principal. During the first Year (1960-1961), two faculty development workshops of 3- week duration each by Ms. Hartman were held which strengthened my base in teaching, field work supervision and guidance to students who were assigned research projects. Closely supervised field work during the student days, rigorous time schedule, reference work, and regular correspondence with teachers and their empathic responses were a great source of support to me. I got acquainted with the feudal society in Rajasthan. Students were a frustrated lot because they had lost one year in another school which was closed due to local politics. Since Panchayati Raj in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan had started, blocks and villages were taken as agencies for practical work. Dr. Thomas’ interest was more in English literature, bird watching and social administration. Once when I returned from agency visit, he was reading Readers’ Digest on the lawns of the school. He called me to test my vocabulary. I gave 16 correct answers and since then he started assigning to me the task of drafting replies to formal communications, though my expertise in social casework and welfare administration was also recognized slowly. Once a student came late after Dussehra vacation. When he was called by the Principal to explain the delay, he said that he was operated upon for hydrocele. But the Principal asked him to strip and show his private part and he immediately confessed his lie. The second time, the same student got into an altercation with a shopkeeper and punched him. When a complaint was lodged, he was called again. He confessed his punching him as he was a boxer and with only a mild stroke, the shopkeeper fell flat! The Principal smiled at this confession and asked him to get out of his office. A friendly face of the Principal!. The USSW was a new school, but soon it made a place for itself among reputed institutions within a short time due to the professional connections of the Principal and visits by experts in the profession.
Indore School of Social Work
When Dr. Thomas was planning to shift from Udaipur to Indore, he had shared his thought with me about starting a Central India Institute of Social Administration which did not materialize due to local politics. I joined the faculty of the Indore School of Social Work in 1970. A temporary position of Reader (NSS) was sanctioned by the UGC for training NSS programme officers/NSS coordinators. I was selected for this post. When I joined, local opposition was at its peak. It took some time for me to settle down, to experiment, to pilot and to innovate to attain state level recognition. Indore too was feudal as the Vice - Chancellor put it, and he cautioned me about “wine and women” as part of orientation to NSS work. On a local complaint against me, a 2-member committee visited Indore and I showed them around as to what was happening under NSS without knowing that the team had been sent by the Central Government to report about my work. The team returned satisfied as the charges made against me were found baseless. An incident may be narrated here when I, along with the Principal and architect, visited the new building before taking over possession. I pointed out some space which was left open to the sky for ventilation. I suggested that the open space could be converted into a room of 12’x14’. This idea was liked by the architect and the Principal. It was agreed that this room was to be called vice-principal’s room. I was the first occupant without formally being designated as vice-principal as there was no such post. And even if it was ever to be created, it would have gone to another candidate. After I left Indore, the Principal wrote to the Central Government to stop the NSS Training Centre at Indore as it was too much in the public domain. I was carrying out the work of NSS training and programme coordination of Indore University, and fulltime teaching as Reader at the school. Once I got my salary after 15 months and the Principal said that I was getting the salary of the President of India, and that I should part with some amount so that payments could be made to others. I agreed to this suggestion and later got the re-imbursement.
Delhi School of Social Work:
I joined DSSW in 1975 as a Reader. Whereas Udaipur and Indore characterized autocratic and authoritarian style of functioning, Delhi epitomized democratization and dissent. Discussions were frank and consensus used to be worked out. One such incident which is upper most in my mind during the phase of rotation system of Headship was to evolve a consensus through an acrimonious debate on a proposal for the UGC’s SAP scheme of the Department of Special Assistance (DSA). This was in 1988-89. The proposal had been drafted by me as Head of the Department, its thrust area being social development. One teacher wrote an angry note and gave reasons for not attending the meeting. When this note was read out, the point of contention was who will become Professor/Reader/Lecturer in the field of social development. No agreement was in sight. The offer of a new proposal and withdrawal of the first one also did not help. Non-submission of proposal to the UGC would have meant a great loss to the Department for 15 years. When the solution was suggested “social development/community development, etc.”, there was immediate agreement and the amended proposal with the abbreviation “etc.” was finally forwarded to the UGC with an understanding that once the proposal was approved, the ‘et cetera’ will be expanded to suit the interest of the department in future. The “etc” held the day and it is indeed etched in my memory as the department got nearly INR 1crore over the three phases of the DSA project for fifteen years.
The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)
After a quarter century of association with the DSSW, I joined TISS in 2000 as its Director. But the span at TISS was too short which was marked by the revival of the Rural Campus, work at the new campus, linkages with the special assistance programme of the UGC, appointment of NET qualified faculty, disaster relief, and work for assessment and accreditation which had been turned down earlier by the faculty. The first NAAC assessment got ‘A’ grade. One of the social work experts, who was a member of the peer team, after the exit meeting showed ‘V’ sign on the lawns although the result was received after a few weeks. Some instances are worth recalling during my tenure. One was the appointment of a Lecturer, when a candidate did not want to appear for interview believing the rumour that candidates had already been “selected”. This was the question of credibility of the selection process at TISS. When this issue was shared with the committee, it agreed with my suggestion that a message be sent to the concerned candidate from the ST category that he should appear before the committee in about 15 minutes. He was taken aback by this communication. He finally faced the interview and did well. He is on the faculty now. Another case was that of an Army Major who was injured and had lost his sight in the Kargil war. He was admitted at TISS even after the last date as an exception, and later he got married at the end of the second semester: a case of smooth transition from war zone to domestic zone! Another monk, after a year at TISS, left the monastic order and the ochre robe to a familial order by donning bridal clothes! Another experience was when upon the insistence of Dr. J.J Bhabha, the Governing Body offered me the designation “Director Emeritus” after my retirement. But I expressed my opposition to this designation in TISS, a University. Finally, I was appointed as Professor Emeritus to help TISS plan the visit of the Prime Minister which the Institute itself was capable. I spent that one year on the review of practice learning in the library, and attended a few sessions on the restructuring of the Institute which was under way. I was fortunately saved from an embarrassment because the visit of the Prime Minister materialized after I had left the Institute. I cannot forget the “Quintessence” – a unique annual event organized by TISS students which used to be full of creativity and innovation.
This is how I look back through the memory lane about social work which familiarized me with people in different regions, patriarchy being a common denominator. Cutting across all social systems, the Naga society is on top of all where women are neither in the Assembly, nor in urban local bodies, nor in village councils. In parts of Delhi, eastern Rajasthan and Haryana, there are highly skewed sex ratios due to retrograde social customs, and the institution of property. A decision “ to kill time” in 1958 by joining social work has, over the five decades, broadened my horizons; and helped me develop theory courses, evolve structured field work courses and references, and introduce integrated social work, witnessed colleagues as role models, and two of them particularly by not accepting headship at all in preference to teaching. I attended classes of three senior colleagues with their permission. I tried to follow professional ethics and standards. So many have contributed to the enrichment of my learning and continuing education in social work and social development, including the ASSWI. This short piece is an acknowledgement of my deep debt to all of them – colleagues, teachers, friends, students, clients, etc as also my mentors – one of whom is Professor Shankar Pathak.
Headship of an institution under the rotation system is not meant to concentrate and wield power but to lead a team, to tend, to care, and to foster institutional values in sync with those of social work. It is anticipating, identifying and shooting troubles to facilitate development of all constituents, and to shun the attitude of “do not trouble trouble unless trouble troubles oneself!” The agenda in social work education hitherto unattended is that of linking of BSW-MSW courses; semester-wise selection of practice learning courses, reduction in the offer of too many Diploma courses at the postgraduate level, serious work and practice - centered studies under the UGC’s SAP; and integration of practice learning and action research and interdisciplinary work. With the mushrooming of social work institutions, quality, of course, is a major concern along with the diffusion of identity of social work itself.
*Dr. R.R. Singh,
Former Director, TISS.
Former Professor, DSSW.
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