In India, the term ‘social work’ is generally used to include almost any activity which intended to help, restore, or promote some aspects of the physical, economic and social well-being of individuals and groups (Nagpaul, 1988). It is not at all a new thing and it has been done as it still is. Social work in India has been practiced as an act of friendship and in the ordinary course of duty by the priest, the teacher, the doctor and the lawyer. Historical analysis of the development of social work in India on the basis of striking characteristic feature of particular period is presented under different following heads.
Social Work in Ancient India
The roots of social work found in the ancient India. During this period, social work was practiced as a social service activity in the form of Charity. The reference of charity is found in the Rigveda which encourages charity by saying “May the one who gives shine Most”. The Vedic term Dana (Charity), which reflects the social philosophy of those days to help the needy people of the society. Dana and Dharma are the terms often used during Vedic period which means not only distribute wealth to needy people but also scattering bounty all around in the form of planting trees, building highways, excavating wells and tanks, and providing places of shelter and treatment, of which all persons and even animals might avail themselves.
The prevalence of the system Yajna, Havana and Dana clearly states that it was a society in which all the members used to participate in the productive enterprise and fruits of their collective labour used to be distributed among them. Yajna was the most popular ritual known in Vedic days performed for the sustenance of its life and reproduction. It was a collective from a labour without any division. Each and every person tried his bit towards the Yagna. Their intention was common welfare of all and there were no personal desires to be fulfilled. Havana was the distribution of the daily proceeds of collective labour among the individual members who used to consume them. Dana was the distribution of goods acquired in war among the people in the community at festive time. It is a helping process through dana seems to have found due recognition that period when ‘Rigveda’ declares that “The riches of the one gives do not diminish ... The solitary eater is also a solitary sinner”.
In the Bhagwad Gita, Dana, i.e., charity is described in terms of material aid, knowledge and protection against fear, i.e., ‘Abhayadan’. Aparigraha and Loksangrah, the terms used in Gita’s principle which mean that materials and money should not be collected for self and that one should work for the welfare of community respectively. Gita advises that when any profit accrued as result of the total dedicated efforts of the many, is misappropriated by man, than he is a thief. No single member has a right for a larger share. The community was sure to succeed in progress and welfare when it has learned to live and strive as one entity. The privileged class moral duty to serve the poor, such persons who served the society with all their ability are freed from all sins, but those who cook for themselves or produce for their own gains are eating sin. In Mahabharata we find that when Bhishma talked to Yudhishtira, he described that essence of religion, non-violance, truth, the conquest of anger and charity.
Upanishads like Brihadaranyaka, Chhandogya and Taittiriya prescribed that every household must practised charity.Upanishads concept of Ishats and Apurtas become socially accepted. Ishats were individual goods performed by philanthropic and economically well-off persons and Apurtas were social goods in the form of wells, rest-houses etc., performed by the people for the general welfare of the public. The concept of individual charity as an instrument of repayment of various types of Rinas (debts) also became widely accepted during this period. The habbit of giving alms was common and no householder turned away a beggar empty handed as to do so was considered a s sin. According to Manusutra, it was his duty to feed his guests first, then his servants and later he and his wife might eat last at all.
Hindu scriptures say that the man who helps other or gives charity does not show the sense of superiority. According to Aswalayana Griha, one must daily perform Pancha Yagnas they are service to God, ancestors, animals, one’s ownself and one’s fellowmen. The Chhandogya Upanishad says that life is succession of Yagnas or service for others. Charity is not merely a social duty but it is like prayer. One does it for its own sake, because one feels it is a privilege because one is serving the Lord through it. The Taittiriya Upanishad declares that it is better not help at all rather than help without showing due respect to the recipient of charity.
According to Shastri, in early Vedic period, the communitarian republics (society) which functioned like an extended family, everybody’s needs were catered by everybody. There was a life of complete mutuality and reciprocal assistance whether the needs were basic or special, generic or arising out of vulnerable situations like disease and external danger. In knowledge and skills of people differed only in quantity and everybody did for others in need what others did for him in similar circumstances. The whole business of helping people in need was everybody’s business mainly handled in a collective way. Thus everybody was client and agent either on different occasions or for different purposes.
With the development of agrarian society with private group ownership of land, the concept of charity came in to existence. Earlier when there was common ownership of property by the tribe, dana was a protection as of right, against starvation, for the sick, the aged, and the weak, who had the first claim on social property. But during late and after Vedic period the private property and class rule came into existence. Dana was converted from an instrument from an instrument of social insurance to a privilege of the ruling of the ruling class and became now a voluntary virtue and charity of the kings and Kshatriyas.
By the later vadic period, dana became institutionalised and acquired the characteristics of charity with religious ideology. Dana was given to acquire punya (merit). It was no longer given merely in celebration of an event or a heroic personality or in connection with a ceremony.
During the period of Smritis, psychological help in the form of “Tatwa Jnana” and “Atma Jnana”, in addition to material assistance was also made available to the people in order to improve their social functioning. Buddhists and Jains also continued the tradition of helping people. Both Jainism and Buddhism promoted equality and non-violence. These are institutionalised religions in terms of Sangha. Sanghas were the centres of shelters and learning and were responsible for the spread of literacy. Lord Buddha also talked of welfare of the masses (Bahujana Hitaya.., Bahujana Sukhaya).
The evolution of Buddhism during the Magadha empires changed the characteristics of Indian Society. It was changed from tribal agricultural settlement to a class-based agrarian economy. Buddhism also accepted the karma theory which served the purpose of explaining the origin of social inequality. Buddhism laid a great emphasis on punya and dana. Charity was seen not only as a means of alleviating the sufferings of the materially poor but also as the giving gifts. Kings like Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Kanishka and Harshawardhana influenced by the Buddhism who initiated the welfare activities for the needy people. Buddhism is the only Indian religion which crossed over the frontiers into Asia and then became a world religion.
Guilds were important corporate organisations which performed a variety of economic and welfare functions in ancient India. Guilds played important role during Buddhist period. Apart from economic and political functions, these guilds were providing social security to the oppressed class of the society. Some part of the funds was utilised for the relief of deserving persons such as the distressed, the blind, the idiotic, the infirm, the orphans and helpless women.
With the development of agrarian society, a new type of polity developed in the form of early Kosala and Maghada States. Bimbasara became the king of Magadha about 300 B.C. He was the earliest of Indian kings to lay the foundation of an efficient administrative system. He paid special attention to the development of roads and development of agriculture. Serve punishment was inflicted on cruel and corrupt offers. His son Ashoka succeeded him in 273 B.C. Social and political activities of the king during Maurya’s period have been recorded by Kautilya in his book.
The concept of helping contained in the concept of Dana got further boost in the Kautilya’s Arthashastra which holds the king of responsible for the care and protection of helpless, the weak, the aged, the women, the afflicted and also the member of the families of the decreased soldiers and workers. Ashoka has developed comprehensive system of social welfare which included women’s welfare, rehabilitation of prisionrs, rural development, free medical care, regulation of prostitution and provision of public utilities like roads, rest houses for travellers, wells and etc. During his time, helping process got institutionalised in the appointment of ‘Goops’ who kept records of castes, births, marriages and looked after people when sick. Officers in-charge of liquor and prostitutes were responsible for helping the victims of these social evils too. One of the edicts on pillar of the King Ashoka that “... I consider the promotion of the peoples’ welfare my highest duty..” gives a clear picture of welfare activities he had taken during his time.
In 78 A.D Kanishka, like Ashoka, took an active interest in the welfare of the society. He gave liberal donations and grants for the construction of Buddhist vihars, monasteries, stupas etc. These were the centers for learning and help to the needy people. The period of Gupta rule is one of the brightest is the history of India. The Gupta dynasty included a succession of brilliant rules like Chandra Gupta, Samudra Gupta, who established a well-governed empire and people were happy and prosperous. “Welfare of the people” was the main task of the king who devoted his like for same. Harshaverdhan (606 A.D) was an enlightened and benevolent ruler. The welfare of his subjects always dominated his thoughts. He established hospitals, dispensaries, orphanages and homes for destitute. He distributed presents among men of religion, the poor and the needy. In one of the five-yearly assemblies at prayag he is believed to have given everything he had and had to borrow from his sister.
During Sultanate and Mughal Rule
The Sultanate was an Islamic state. The duties of the king included maintenance of peace, protection from external attacks, levying and realisation of taxes, providing justice to the subjects. Besides the ruler did little for the general welfare of the masses. Malik Ali, a noble of Balban, was more generous in giving alms. He always gave a gold or silver coin to the beggar. Ghias-ud-din Tugalak was a charitable king. Mohammad Gawan spent all his wealth on the poor and himself ate food of peasant and slept on the ground with a straw mat for a bed. Sufi Sheikhs use to distribute gifts to the needy Muslim masses who came to their Khanquhas. Usually one of the disciples of the sheikh was appointed as the manager to look after needy.
During the Mughal period when society was being ruled in accordance with the principles of Islam, Concepts of Zakat and Khairat were socially accepted. Muslims in India have been giving two and-a-half per cent of their earnings compulsorily as alms to the poor and needy by way of Zakat. Similarly they have been giving alms to the indigents and destitute by way of Khairat which has been voluntary. Many Muslim rulers has been deeply interested in the organisation of social services for the needy. They had established hospitals for the treatment of patients, educational institutions for the education of children and inns to provide for the way side lodging to the way-farers.
Humayun was the first Muslim King who made a blood attempt to prohibit the Sati system. Akbar was the great ruler who brought many reforms in Indian society along with abolished slavery in 1583. He introduced equality among the people irrespective their religion. His policy of religious equality and he granted full freedom to the subjects in matters of religious beliefs and practices. He was liberal in granting money and land for the benefit of Hindus, Jains, Parsees etc. Akbar had a comprehensive system of poor relief, Relief for the poor was of two types. The first was granting relief in cash and kind to any and every needy person who appeared before him at his daily court. The second type was a systematic and organised assistance which was provided regularly. Stipends (Wazifas) were also given to the students. He constructed three houses for the poor in order to control beggary.
The Era of Religious Reforms
The Charter Act of 1983 made provision for promotion of education and approved the work of the Christian missionaries. Emphasis laid on spreading the Western education recognition of the dedicated and devoted service rendered by the Christian missionaries and impact of Christianity were significantly instrumental in bringing about a change in the outlook of Indians, especially towards the prevalent social evils like sati and social prohibition of widow remarriage.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the first greatest Indian of the nineteenth century who sowed the seed of religious and social reforms. He invested most of his talents and power towards abolition of sati. He was in favour of widow remarriage and female education. Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s opinion was that only by freezing woman and by treating them as human beings Indian society would free itself from social stagnation. He believes that the social evils cannot be eradicated by social legislations but this can be done through enlightened public opinion which could be built up through education. He established number of education institutions through which he promoted female education. He vehemently advocated the abolition of caste distinctions. He started the Atmiya Samaj in 1815 which later grew in to Bramho Samaj in 1928. Keshub Chander Sen, Devendranath Tagore and Dwarakanath Tagore as followers of Raja Ram Mohan Roy successfully carry on the activities of the Samaj after death of Raja Rama Mohan Roy in 1929.
Prarthana Samaj established in Bombay by Dr. R C Bhandarkar and Justice M. G. Ranade. The Samaj was organised Paramahams Sabha in Maharastra in 1849 for bringing about the caste reforms. The Samaj was made significant contribution in caste reforms. Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar was the second great social reformer of the nineteenth century and the first person who launched a movement against the prohibition of widow remarriage by establishing that it was not on contravention to the preaching of Hindu scriptures. He advocated for widow remarriage, economic self reliance, women’s education and prohibition of polygamy. The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act which was passed in 1856 was the result of incessant efforts, especially of an appeal made by him to the Government with Raja Ram Mohan Roy. In order to bring about an improvement in the condition of women, Ishwar Chandra Vidhyasagar started a large scale programme of the education of girls.
Justice Ranade formed Widow Remarriage Association in 1861 which was aimed at promotion of widow remarriage. He also helped in the foundation of the Sarvajanik Sabha in 1870. Bal Shastri Jambhekar was the first professor at Elphinstone College, Bombay, who condemned the evil customs of sati and female infanticide as well as trafficking of girl children. He tried for the framing of laws to abolish these customs. But he believed that these evils could be removed only through social reforms and by searching for some sanctions in the shastras so that they would be acceptable to the people. Gopal Hari Deshmukh of Bombay promoted modern education for the establishment of dispensaries, maternity homes, orphanages, etc.
Sasipada Banerjee was an energetic and notable social reformer of Bengal who worked for the improvement of the lot of women, especially by making arrangements for women’s education and widow remarriage. He was the person who practiced what he preached. He himself married a widow when his first wife died. He arranged several marriages of widows and gave shelter to widows in his home. He was pioneer in taking up the welfare work for labourers. Jyoti-Bha-Pule, was an active reformist in Poona. He was working for the cause of female and low caste people education. He also worked towards improving the condition of Maharashtrian peasants. He established the Sathya Shodhak Samaj in 1868 for the social and economic uplift of the low caste people. His wife Savitri-Bhai-Pule was the first person who started exclusive schools for girls in Poona.
In 1875, Arya Samaj was establishd by Swami Dayanad Saraswathi. The Samaj was against idolatry, caste and child marriage. It was in favour of widow remarriage and abolition of untouchability. It counteracted the work of proselytisation that was being vigorously undertaken by Christian missionaries by permitting the readmission of converts from Hinduism. It led to the establishment of a chain of educational institutions in the country. As an Arya Samaj, Lala Lajapat Rai started many types of social services and Swami Sharadanad undertook the work of the uplift of the depressed classes. Telang, Lokahitwadi Deshmukh, Bhandarkar and D.K Karve were the prominent leaders of social reform movement in the west especially in Poona. Tilak and Gokhale also worked for the cause of upliftment but they were more engaged in political activists. V. R Shinde initiated welfare work among the tribal people, N M Joshi and N G Chandavarkar established Bombay Social Service League which organised night classes and recreational programmes among mill workers in Bombay.
Anglo-Mohammedan College at Aligarh was founded in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, which later developed into Aligarh Muslim University. He had strong faith in English education and founded the Mohammedan Social Reformer as a means of publishing his views. Arya Mahila Samaj was organised with a view of improving the condition of women by Indian Christian missionary Pandia Ramabai in 1882. The Theosophical Society was founded by Madame Blavatsky and C. Olcott in Madras. But the Samaj did not play any significant role till the joining of Annie Besant in 1893. She actively involved herself in exposing the Hindu doctrines and defending the rites and rituals. The Central Hindu College at Benaras was established by Annie Besant. In 1987, Ramakrishna Mission was founded by Swmay Vivekananda which has been rendering various kinds of services. The mission has been seriously pursuing services of the needy as its motto.
Mahatma Gandhiji became active in political as well as social field in 1920. Gandhiji was interested in the welfare of everyone and propounded the concept of ‘Sarvodaya’ (Welfare of all). He wanted Ramarajya - a society where the values of love prevail and the conditions necessary for all round development of the individual exists. He symbolised the integration of political reform with social reform. He gave constructive programs which were aimed at welfare of women and children, welfare of Harijanas, welfare of aboriginals, rural welfare, educational reforms, national integration and prohibition. He also fought for the equality between men and women. Gandhiji always argued that for the development of country was not only essential that it should be free from foreign rule, but it should also be free from many social evils which hinder and sometimes block the process of development. He believed in the purity of both ends and means, instead of putting the service above the self and emphasised devotion and dedication to the cause of service emanating from the core of heart. Gandhiji was a true social worker.
Har Bilas Sharda made efforts to culminate in 1929 into the enactment of the Sarda Act fixing the minimum age of marriage at 14 years for girls and 18 years for boys. Pandith Madan Mohan Malaviya and Seth Janalal Bajaj got the temple entry thrown open for all. Narayana Guru of Travenncore propounded the doctrine of ‘one religion’, one God, launched a vigorous campaign the temple entry of untouchables and built up a network of temple and educational. These are the major milestones in the history of social work in India. The history of social work in India is never completed without mentioning the above incidents.
Contribution of Organisations
The important organisations which played vital role in the development of social work are Bramho Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosophical Society, Ram Krishna Mission, Muhamudden Literacy Society, The Bombay Widow Remarriage Association, Bengal Hindu Widows Association, Indian National Social Congress and the Servants of India Society. Bramho Samaj founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy who started the Atmeeya Samaj in 1815 which grew into Bramho Samaj. It worked for the abolition of Sati, widow remarriageand women’s welfare. Arya Samaj was founded by Swami Dayanada Saraswati in 1975. He opposed the caste system and child marriage. Theosophical Society was founded in 1881 in Madras by Madame Blavastsku and Colonel Olcott. Swami Vivekanada founded Ram Krishna Mission in 1887, started its programmes with education, treatment and general help. Indian National Social Conference came into being in1887 for the thorough discussion and implantation of social welfare programmes. The contribution of the social reform movement in improving women’s education cannot be underestimated. The efforts of social reformers along with the missionaries paved the way for the development of public female education in the early nineteenth century and provided impetus to the emergence of a group of educated women.
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