Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India S.P....
Addressing the Future of Professional Social
Work in India
S.P. SRIVASTAVA
The article looks into the past of the profession and probes into the present to
foresee the future. It chronicles the weak spots of social work education in India;
debates on the persistent burden of Americanism; refers to the obsolescence of
teaching methods, practicum, reading material and course curricula; probes into
the proliferation of schools/departments of social works; reflects upon the large
number of indifferently trained graduate students; highlights the marginalised
status of the profession; examines the loss of profession's traditional battle
grounds; describes the fierce competition that social work graduates face in the
job-market; brings into fore the weak and ineffectual performance of professional
bodies; and comments on the lessening of people's faith in the competence of
professional social workers. In sum, the article takes a broad look at the scenario
and ventures to make some suggestions at revamping and reorganising the
profession's frontiers to get rid of stagnation and staleness.
Dr. S.P. Srivastava is Professor, Department of Social Work, Lucknow University,
Lucknow.
Six decades of professional social work in India, marked by few
triumphs and too many travails, warrants a serious discussion on what
the future holds for a 'profession' beleaguered by several internal and
external constraints and considerations. While the pace of progress has
been generally considered satisfactory, a large number of veteran
social work educators (Gore 1965; Nagpaul, 1972; Nair, 1981;
Nanavatty, 1985; Oommen, 1987; Ranade 1975, 1994; Thomas,
1967), however feel uneasy on a number of counts. The dissatisfaction
with the state of affairs has been also voiced in large number of other
profession-specific writings, especially in the last two decades. If all
these writings are any guide, there is little reason to cheer, celebrate or
be complacent about the uncertainties that surround the profession.

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India 119
Many experienced social work educators, including the author
(Srivastava 1973, 1995, 1997), have, in the past, raised several critical
issues, diagnosed many malaises and offered plentiful of suggestions
to steer clear the profession out of its present precarious situation. The
host of gala functions (seminars and conferences) held when the
profession achieved its youth (25 years) and, later, when, it achieved
its adulthood (50 years) have also done serious introspection on the
in-house problems of social work education in the country. Now the
consensus seems to centre around making social work education and
practice 'reverent' in the contemporary context. It is, however, regret-
table that precious little change in visible and the inertia and inaction
merrily allows the decadence to continue.
The issue today is not only to recount the old predilections of the
profession on conventional lines but to think of the perils and the
pressing problems of the profession, which, if allowed to go unat-
tended, will herald the decay and even the eventual demise of the
profession. The culture of silence for reasons of indifference or expe-
diency (or whatever) would cause further degeneration and may well
prove to be fatal. The most pressing issue today is to seriously consider
how the wrongs can be righted?
This paper proposes to journey through the past of the profession
and probe into the present to foresee the future. In addressing the
predicaments of the profession, it seeks to chronicle the weak spots of
social work education in India; the irrelevance of teaching, field work,
reading material and course curricula; the mushrooming of sub-
standard Schools/Departments of social work; the churning out of a
crowd of indifferently trained social work graduates; the marginalised
status of the profession; the diminuition of the profession's traditional
battlegrounds in the wake of the state's retreat from its developmental
concerns and commitments; the fierce competition that trained social
work graduates face in the job-market; the weak and ineffectual
performance of professional bodies, that is, the Indian Association of
Trained Social Workers (IATSW) (now defunct) and the Association
of the Schools of Social Work in India (ASSWI); and the loss of
people's faith in the competence and commitment of trained (profes-
sional) social workers.
The discussion is not meant to be all-inclusive; it is simply to
explore the problematic areas concerning the future of the profession.
The full-length discussion on each issue is outside the scope of this
essay, given the constraint of space. However, an attempt has been

120 S.P. Srivastava
made to take a broad look at the retrospect of social work education in
India since 1936 and to reflect upon conspectus of emerging social
concerns and issues. Western references (despite the author's knowl-
edge about recent critical writings on social work education in the
West) are being deliberately avoided to provide legitimacy to the
discussion. The underlying idea is that indigenous (cultural-specific)
problems of the profession need local solutions at the expense of global
prescriptions.
Reflecting upon the Retrospect
While reflecting upon the retrospect of social work education in India
one ought to reason out the rationale as to why professional education
of social work began and with what purpose? The understanding of
the backdrop is necessary to anticipate the future. Those serving the
profession must necessarily take into notice of what has happened in
62 years and what is likely to happen in the next millennium when the
perceptions about the profession are likely to change drastically.
In India, social work as a 'service' has had a long tradition wrapped
and rooted in the country's religio-social ethos. Its limitations notwith-
standing, not many people thought about making social work as an
occupation, let alone a profession. In 1936 a dramatic development
took place and the first school of social work (the Sir Dorabji Tata
School of Social Work, now known as the Tata Institute of Social
Sciences) was established by an American missionary, Dr. Clifford
Manshardt with the help of Dr. J.M. Kumarappa. The purpose of
starting the school was to promote professional education in social
work with a view to equipping social service workers with the knowl-
edge-base and the methods and techniques of doing 'social work' in a
professional manner. The advent of a professional school in social
work undermined the idea of an unremunerated altruistic work in a
country where most people were proud of a long tradition of selfless
social service to the disabled and disadvantaged sections of society.
Now when we look back at the development of professional social
work education in the country, many of us question the rhetoric of
scienticism in social work which the founders of the first school
preached and perpetuated. However, this so-called scientific approach
to social work turned out to be the cause and consequence of later
expansion of social work education in the country (Gore and Khan-
dekar, 1975).

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India 121
The dawn of Independence in 1947 provided a new fillip to profes-
sional education in social work. As increased provisions for social
welfare were made under the Five Year Plans, a number of areas
opened up and the need for professional training in social work was
felt by many. Consequently, the establishment of new schools of social
work has been fairly rapid. By now we have about seventy Schools/De-
partments which are offering undergraduate and post-graduate level
professional training in social work.
The growth and development of these institutions has been a
haphazard phenomenon without much planning for required resources
and adequate infrastructure. As a result, many such Schools/Depart-
ments of social work are said to be of poor quality. Leaving aside a handful
of Schools/Departments in bigger cities and better run universities, most
other schools look more like teaching shops than genuine institutions
of social work instruction and training. These Schools/Departments
have little regard for maintenance of standards in terms of:
• classroom teaching;
• academic background and professional experience of teachers;
• opportunities available for field work; and
• social welfare needs of the constituencies/regions serviced by a
given Schools/Departments of social work (Saxena, 1994:110).
Many of these School/Department have been ushered into existence
without any compelling professional purpose, but for feeding of local
patriotism, or personal prestige, or as a result of mistaken notions about
the scope and prospects of professional social work. In many instances,
the promoters of these schools imagined that they were acting in
pursuance of what is called a 'felt need' (Thomas, 1967:54). Com-
menting upon the proliferation of social work training institutions,
John Barnabas made an observation (1967:75) which is valid till today:
'There is a mushroom growth of training institutions which do not meet
required professional standards. Yet they produce social workers who
have the stamp of being trained but, who, in practice, are not able to
deliver goods and do more harm to the development of social work in
the country'.
The proliferation of sub-standard schools of social work is a major
point of worry for the profession. The growth of these institutions has
gone without control from any apex level accreditation body like that
of the USA. The ASSWI (established in 1959) could exercise very
little authority, as it consists of voluntary membership of institutions.
The Second UGC Review Committee on Social Work Education

122 S.P. Srivastava
(1980), however, took note of the issue and suggested for the estab-
lishment of statutory accreditation body called National Council for
Social Work Education. The much talked about Council is nowhere in
sight, thanks to the indifference of the distinguished social work
educators themselves. Now we are told that the Draft Bill for the setting
up of the Council is ready for its introduction in the Parliament. When
will that be done, no body has any idea?
The disconcerting state of affairs in the lesser-known schools of
social work does not, however, mean that all is well with better known
(reasonably good and established) Schools/Departments of Social
Work. The teaching/training, curricula, field work, staff and other
infrastructural facilities available in some of these institutions have
many marked weaknesses.
Burden of Americanism
Professional social work came to India via the West — USA and UK
(mainly USA). The complaint is not so much about its alien character
but about its unindigenised nurturing. While gloating about the 'gift'
at that time, we did not realise that social work education in the West
had emerged as a response to the needs of the western urban industrial
and capitalist societies which were undergoing rapid institutional
breakdowns with all their old-order values and norms thrown out of
gear. There it emerged as an instrument to absorb the social and
cultural shocks of a society in crisis. Understandably, rehabilitating the
individuals and groups who got disengaged from the traditional insti-
tutions was its primary goal. There, social work was filling in a new
space, an institutional vacuum, created by the emerging industrial
society, and hence was institutionally welcomed (Oommen, 1987:15).
In India, we welcomed it without having considered its western bias.
While nothing was wrong with the new idea, with this new profession
and an altogether new orientation to our tradition of social service,
what was wrong was its uncritical and whole-hog acceptance — a kind
of belief that it was a panacea for peculiar problems of our individual
and collective distress. Euphoric, as we were then, we continued to
build our bases on it without little or no 'nativisation' or indigenisation.
We failed to contexualise it in terms of Indian social millieu and failed
to make it adequately relevant and rooted (Oommen, 1987:15).
Now we bemoan of its western heritage without thinking as to who
stopped us from undertaking the task which everybody though was
central to making the discipline relevant. The irony of the situation, as

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India ! 23
Singh (1994:195) says, is that even today social work education in
India evidences the profound influence of American ideas. Our curric-
ula, as all of us know, are largely structured on the American pattern
of education, as it initially began there. The American hangover still
continues to dominate our thinking and colour our vision. As a conse-
quence, our social work education, by and large, continues to remain
out of context with our social realities, and the proliferation of social
work institutions has made no substantial difference to the situation
(Singh, 1994:194). We hardly have any evidence to suggest that
professional social work has responded or responds to any of the
critical social problems in a visible manner. The profession has rarely
faced the challenges or attended to its ailments, and, the status quo
continues (Oommen, 1987:23). The obsessive attachment to the
American paradigm of social work education is, to a large extent,
responsible for the stunted growth of the profession in the country
(Gangrade, 1976). The indigenisation of teaching and training material
and methodology is still being debated on most occasions in the
available professional fora without much worthwhile action. The
culturebound pattern of social work education and practice is yet to
emerge as we shall soon see in the discussion that follows.
The Professionalisation Pride (?)
Our professionalisation pride, most people aver, is intimately linked
with the American influence on social work education in the country.
Our trained social workers routinely press the claim of being profes-
sional in order to establish their superiority over an army of conven-
tional (non-trained) social workers. This is being done in full
knowledge of the fact that there is little recognition of social work as
a full-blown profession in the country. Social work has not been able
to establish its identity in India amongst the generally acknowledged
professions (Desai and Narayan, 1998:532; Thomas, 1967:52). As
such, the notion of social work being a profession hardly has many
takers in India.
The professionalisation question has attracted much attention of
India's social work educators. The available writings (Nanavatty,
1985; Pathak, 1975; Ranade, 1975) suggest that while social work as
an occupation is known, social work as a profession sounds incredible
to many people in the country. Pathak (1975:192) holds the view that
the claim of social work being a profession is naive and simplistic. It
has not become a profession in India and will hardly become one.

124 S.P.Srivastava
Several other social work educators (Nanavatty, 1985; Ranade 1975,
for example), have also reached to the conclusion that social work in
India is far from being a profession when viewed in terms of the
approved sociological criteria. They held the view that social work is
a discipline and an approach, but not a profession. However, since the
label of a profession adds to the prestige of trained social workers, most
of them press the claim of being professionals. They use the term
'professional' in a very narrow and a loose sense to distinguish the
trained social workers from other type of social workers who have had
no formal education in any School/Department of Social Work and do
not hold a degree or diploma.
The recent American debate on deprofessionalisation of social work
has now made several social educators in India little less concerned
about the professional status of their calling. However, there are still
some who think that the future of the profession of social work will be
jeopardised if it abandons its continuing pursuit to attaining the attrib-
utes of a profession. Some of them link the pursuit to the future of
social work in India and.call for:
• building a systematic and indigenised knowledge-base;
• achieving professional competence comparable to other profes-
sions;
• obtaining community sanction and wider social approval;
• formulating a regulative code of conduct; and
• establishing of a strong apex level professional organisation like
the Medical Council of India.
The ground realities, however, do not permit any wishful thinking
on the question.
The Unindegenised Knowledge-Base
The major shortcoming of social work education in India is its inability
to sufficiently indigenise its knowledge-base. The basic teaching ma-
terial with respect to interventionist methods (the holy trinity of social
case work, social group work and community organisation) is still
primarily American. The challenge, as mentioned before, has not been
met and there is often a lingering doubt in the mind of many social
work educators and trained social workers whether social work in India
can afford to be only concerned with specific individuals, groups and
communities when the problems are really the problems of large
masses of people (Gore, 1985:151). Many of the problems that are
identified as problems of the socially oppressed and economicaly

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India 125
deprived sections cannot be called adjustmental problems (to use the
American phraseology). The social and cultural context of these prob-
lems is well beyond the reach of moral-ethical and/or psycho-social
paradigm of intervention.
The unfortunate part is that while everyone agrees on the irrele-
vance and potentially dysfunctional nature of American heritage,
especially on methods' courses, little has been done to reverse this
legacy. For lack of indigenous teaching material, India's social work
educators have only to blame themselves. They have not taken note of
the plenty of indigenous material which could be effectively utilised
for teaching purposes (Mazumdar 1994: 127-138). Had they been
serious about the issue they could have indigenised western concepts
by supplementing their knowledge-base with relevant illustrations
from their field experiences. As they could not do this, their depend-
ence on American texts continues. Desai's (1987:218) comment is
worth reproducing: 'Indigenisation of literature can only follow indi-
genisation of our practice. As long as our approaches remain western
in their orientation, we cannot hope to indigenise our knowledge, skills
or even values'. In the same connection, Ranade (1975:199) bemoans
of another problem when he says that social work education in India
has not developed any intellectual tradition of its own. Most of us agree
and often feel that many of us in the schools and departments of social
work have not kept abreast with the work done by fellow social
scientists in the Indian Universities. The result is that the educational
apparatus of social work training in India does not have a strong group
of core thinkers who can guide its future course of action and shape
up its destiny.
Public Recognisation of Professional Social Work
Lack of public recognition of social work as a profession is another
critical shortcoming that has a lot to do with its future prospects in
India. The notion of professional social work in the people's mind is
in contradiction to an idealised image of a conventional social service
worker who possess the sterling qualities of heart rather than of mind.
The idea of a paid professional worker is still an anathema to most
people in India who even now cling to the notion that doing social work
is quintessentially a voluntary activity of a selfless kind. Under Indian
conditions 'service' and 'sacrifice', which is selfless and without any
remuneration, is looked upon as higher. A paid social worker, however
good, efficient and capable, is more likely to be looked down upon by

126 S.P. Srivastava
the people whom he/she serves as a professional. With no self-sacrifice
to his/her credit, many persons should not regard the professional
social worker as a social worker at all. They would regard him/her as
an 'officer', a 'para-professional' or a 'mercenary'.
The state social welfare sector, which is the biggest employer of
trained social workers, also shows ambivalence in granting statutory
recognition to social work as a professional activity. At present, there
are no well-defined categories of welfare personnel, except labour welfare
officer, for which social work training is considered essential. In this
regard too an interesting finding emerges from a study (Ramachandran
and Padmanabha, 1969) which clearly indicates that a large majority
of those who have entered the field of labour welfare via schools of
social work do not feel that they perform any social work function.
The fact of the matter is that neither the state sector of social welfare
nor the voluntary sector attaches any special importance to hiring
trained social workers. Both sectors feel that there is not much differ-
ence between the so-called trained social workers and those without
any specialised training. This blurs the distinction between trained
social workers and non-trained social workers. Meanwhile the mes-
sage has gone to the people that non-trained voluntary workers are
generally doing a better job.
This marked lack of public recognition as a professional creates a
feeling of insecurity in the minds of trained social work graduates.
While they regard themselves as being scientific in their approach, the
society denies them the status of a professional. For this state of affairs,
the society and the government are not to be wholly blamed. Much of
the loudly talked about scientiscism of professional social work train-
ing has no relevance in a country where more than one-third of the
population is struggling to meet its survival needs. Trained social
workers, the experience reveals, are too elitist in their approach and
are, therefore, alienated from the masses. Due to their urban middle-
class upbringing, they behave in a manner much different from the
older generation social workers. It is also doubtful that the training
these professional social workers receive really makes them capable
of using scientific tools. It is undeniable, however, that the track record
and the image built over the years places the trained social workers at
a distinct disadvantage. A feeling also persists that trained social
workers are neither able to fully identify themselves with the kind of
help-seekers (clients) they come across, nor are they able to participate
in the people's problem solving endeavours. This is largely due to the

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India 127
aura of officious authority the trained social workers often bring with
them.
Confusion about the Concept of Social Work
In six decades' time India's social work educators and trained social
workers have not been able to clear the confusion about the concept
of social work. In India many terms like 'social work', 'social service',
'public service' and 'community work' are used interchangeably. T h e
public believes that anyone who helps the distressed individuals,
groups or communities is a social worker. Barnabas (1967:74) makes
an interesting comment: 'Lack of clarity in the meaning of social work
is a peculiarity in India. Like God, each beholder has his own vision
of it and like the scriptures each devotee interprets in his own way'.
The absence of an adequate definition of social work is the problem
that confronts trained social workers in each of their encounters with
people. Their clientele groups embrace the notion that the trained
social workers are real do-gooders and can move heavens to help their
clients. In practice this does not happen and, hence, there is widespread
feeling of disillusionment among the traditional social service clientele
groups. Writing about the damage control device, Desai (1975:206)
observed that unless what is meant by social work is clarified to people
in simple and understandable language, there is no basis to develop
sound policy of social work education or the content of that education.
Inability of Reaching the Unreached
Trained social workers' inability to reach the unreached, that is the
marginalised sections of society, has reinforced in people's mind their
image of paid, middle class urban do-gooders to help a small number
of people afflicted with problems of psycho-social adjustment. In a
society like India, where nearly three-fourths people live in the coun-
tryside, the urban location of the schools of social work, and also of
the city-based social work networks has little meaning. Trained social
workers, unlike other voluntary social workers, are not inclined to
move over to rural areas where the heat is and where people really need
help. This raises a basic question, namely, to what extent the present
pattern of social work education is suited to the needs of the country
where large sections of needy people remain unreached by trained
social workers?
The profession's disengagement with the impoverished, depressed
and downtrodden sections of society is the bane of its low visibility

128 S.P. Srivastava
and poor credibility. In pursuit of excessive concern with their self-in-
terest, the profession's trained angels have neglected the larger issues
of mass welfare in India. Their reluctant engagement with the poor
carries the legacy of the elitist urban middle-class western paradigm
(Desai and Narayan, 1998:532). In the case of underprivileged groups,
where large numbers and whole communities are involved, as in the
case of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, they have failed to
identify and gain acceptance for the specialised contribution of profes-
sional social work (Gore, 1985:59). Writing about the professional
social worker's neglect of Dalit issues, Ramaiah (1998:152) adds that
the issues relating to caste, in general, and the problems of Dalits, in
particular, have hardly been the concern of professional social workers.
Obsolescence of Curricula
The obsolesence of curricula is another ailment of social work educa-
tion in India. In recent years, there have been some efforts to cast a
hard look on what we teach and how we teach in our classrooms. The
two reports of the University Grants Commissions (1965 and 1980)
have attempted to grapple with the issue. However, it is indeed
dismaying that the system of social work education has not responded
well to making effective curricular changes to respond to the problems
and situations. The reluctance to change social work curricula could
be because of many reasons, such as lack of commitment to social
change by schools of social work; a strong middle-class bias of the
majority of the faculty; and the lack of sensitivity towards the condi-
tions of the poor and the oppressed. Saxena (1994) seems baffled and
finds difficult to ascertain as to what the schools of social work in India
are trying to achieve through their present curriculum. Much of the
curriculum in the respective schools of social work is based on western
models unrelated to the field situation and unsuitable to the social and
cultural ethos of the country. Despite cosmetic changes the western
legacy continues to have its hold.
In reference to curriculum, it is pertinent to refer to the skill
development aspect of social work education. Ranade's (1975:175)
comment is most revealing in this connection: 'The kind of social work
education given in our schools of social work turns out misfits in the
Indian situation, since they find that there is little scope for the practice
of the techniques they have learnt'. The major reason for the compara-
tive ineffectivity of social work training is that the field is vast and
varied and facilities available at the disposal of the schools are grossly

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India 129
inefficient. Notwithstanding the infrastructural limitations of schools
of social work, there is little emphasis on building attitudes and skills
suited to Indian conditions.
Specialisation Issue
Connected to the issue of training is the contentious question of
specialised versus generic training. The controversy on this question has
plagued the profession for long (Singh, 1994:194). While several social
work educators favour the continuance of different specialisations, there
are still quite many who are opposed to the practice and suggest for
generic training in interventionist methods. The Mathai Committee
(1953) proposed doing away with specialisation in social work
training. This practice, the committee felt, ran counter to modern
experience which laid stress on the essential unity of social work
methods in whatever setting they were practiced. The First UGC
Review Committee on Social Work Education in India (1965) fa-
voured the specialisation pattern, but the Second Review Committee
(UGC, 1980) changed its position. This created a situation where social
work educators have got divided in two hostile camps. The 'great divide'
continus with confusing assertions by pro- and anti-specialisation bodies
in schools of social work with both sides sticking to their guns.
Those favouring the proposition of doing away with specialisation
generally contend that specialised social work is too circumscribed and
hence out of place in the Indian situation. Notwithstanding of the fact
that there are unassailable arguments against specialisation, majority
of the social work educators, however, favour the continuance of
specialisation. The argument is that unlike the United States where
social work education is method-oriented, social work in India is
manifestly field-oriented. Regardless of the merit of the arguments
against the proposition of doing away with specialisation, majority of
social work educators feel that their shops would get closed if generi-
cism triumphs over. The apprehension is understandable in view of the
fact that large number of students join schools of social work to become
labour welfare officers, personnel officers, probation officers, social
welfare officers and medical and psychiatric social workers.
Those who fear that if the specialisations are done away with, few
students would rush to schools of social work, know fully well that the
job-market indeed demands a general purpose worker and the tasks
that the trained social workers are asked to perform do not really call
for any specialised training. Whatever be the justifications of the

130 S.P.Srivastava
arguments advanced by pro-and anti-specialisation bodies, the fact, as
Singh (1994:194) says, remains that job-oriented educational pro-
grammes have converted the Schools/Departments of social work into
vocational training institutions which lack social and critical orienta-
tion.
Unchanging Pattern of Field Work
The unchanging pattern of field work is another marked weakness of
social work education in the country. Its pattern varies greatly from
one institution to another and no school seems to have tried to explicitly
develop its content in relation to the goals of social work education
and practice in the country (Singh 1985:14). While the effectiveness
of field work programmes in the schools of social work has not been
examined, many social workers are skeptical about its relevance.
Kulkarni described the actuality of field work as a mere ritual
(1994:21). Singh (1994:20) sounds no less critical when he writes that
the present pattern of field work has remained traditional and, in some
cases, confined merely to sporadic visits. The Second UGC Review
Committee on Social Work Education (1980) lamented the lack of
linkage between the classroom theories and the realities of the field.
As an educational process, it is inadequately planned, ad hoc and
arbitrary. Rather than being an integral part of social work education,
it has, by and large, remained only a peripheral activity (Singh,
1985:179). Many schools of social work have failed to develop field
work programmes well. There is a general complaint that we have
unconsciously created a great gulf between theory and field instruction
and have failed to identify its objectives, contents and deficiencies in
supervision and evaluation. Singh (1994:206) goes deeper into the
malaise and calls for a field work of commitment rather than of
convenience.
Inadequate Research Base
Social work education and practice in India do not have an adequate
research base. The curricular input in research methods varies from
level to level and from institution to institution (Khan, 1994:163).
Rarely is any attempt made to impart skills in research methodology
and use of statistics. Practical training in research methods leaves much
to be desired. Furthermore, only few institutions have any regular
system of orienting students to computer applications. On the whole,
the research input has several limitations, the most prominent being its

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India 131
direct bearing on teaching and training in professional preparation
(Prasad, 1994:171). Unfortunately, almost all schools/departments of
social work consider the course on social research as purely descriptive
and theoretical without any immediate prospect for its practical appli-
cation. It is,-therefore, no wonder that the course on social research
seems to be an appendage; just an ancillary or fashionable activity.
This downgrading of research is a regrettable part of social work
education in the country.
The Declining Quality of Students
When social work education began in India as a response to the fast
expanding sector of social welfare, better students sought for admission
to schools/departments of social work in the country, obviously for
assured employment prospects. The situation continued until the
1980s. In the 1990s, the new era of liberalisation under the Interna-
tional Monetary Fund and World Bank conditionalities sharply re-
duced the government spending in social welfare/social development
sector. Consequently, a sharp reduction occurred in social sector jobs
for which there had existed promising employment prospects. One
potential area of employment, namely, labour welfare and personnel
management for trained social work post-graduates, received serious
threats because the employers preferred to hire graduates from man-
agement schools which had multiplied manifold in the last decade. No
doubt the voluntary social welfare sector increased tremendously
during this decade; it neither showed any marked preference for trained
social work graduates, nor could it offer them comfortable, good-status
jobs with better salaries and alluring promotion prospects as available
in the state social welfare sector. All this affected the quality of students
who knocked at the doors of Schools/Departments of social work. Now
barring the prestigious Schools/Departments of professional social
work education (which are few in number) most of them are not
drawing upon the best brains. Many of the students are intellectually
and motivationally ill-equipped for doing the kind of social work
people Want. Looking at the quality of students, it appears that social
work has become the last resort for boys and girls in despair of
professional education, notably the management education.
Ineffectivity of Professional Organisations
The spectacle of professional social work organisations, namely, the
IATSW and the ASSWI is both dismal and disillusioning. In over 60

132 S.P. Srivastava
years, these professional organisations have witnessed a complete
chaos, characterising ineffectiveness, indifference, inaction, in-fighting
and total mismanagement of whatever little resources and goodwill
they had in the beginning. As a result, we do not have strong profes-
sional organisations to infuse health and vitality to the profession and
salvage its sagging morale. The one that exists (ASSWI) is in a
moribund condition, incapable and ineffective, and good enough only
for the politics of organisational elections, holding seminars and
conferences (if someone gives money), and occasionally publishing a.
newsletter. How will things change, no one knows? But one thing is
certain: the profession is going to be further marganalised, given the
nature of social and economic changes the polity and people are
destined to witness. The liberalised regimen of open economy will
unleash forces that will convert society into a market and social
relations into business transactions. Where will the profession of social
work be then; whose interests would it champion; and whose wounds
would it heal? This no-win situation is extremely scaring, often demor-
alising. In this scenario most of us wonder whether the lone profes-
sional organisation (the ASSWI), which has not been able to solve its
own problems of organisational and functional inadequacy, may well
come to the rescue of the profession.
The Challenge
Social work education in India faces the challenge of making the
profession relevant to the contemporary situation. The challenge,
wrote Ranade (1994:14), is that of revamping and reorganising the
image of social work education. How relevant is this education is a
question that social work educators in India must address. Kulkarni
(1994:17) discerned the need for carrying out rigorous evaluation of
the role and status of social work education in the light of the changed
(and still fast changing) social landscape of national development. He
sees clear signals of social work education becoming gradually obso-
lete, or, at least, less and less relevant. In view of the weak and
ineffectual response to the challenges confronting the profession,
Kulkarni (1994:22) hazards a guess: 'If schools of social work remain
impervious to changing needs of the field, they would soon run the risk
of becoming static and stagnant'. Ranade (1994:13) feels disillusioned
and says: 'Social work educators have not evinced much interest in
this direction'.

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India 133
These observations of elderly social work educators make a com-
pelling case for reorienting social work education so as to save it from
further marginalisation. The vital issue, therefore, is to look afresh at
the roots where the problems supposedly lie. The question that social
work education and social work practice face in India is whether social
work has a specific professional contribution to make in the solution
of the social problems that people face in an inequalitarian society,
where the constitutional pledge of providing justice — social, eco-
nomic and political — rests in the realm of rhetoric regardless of the
realities of oppression and exploitation of the millions of dispossessed
and disadvantaged persons.
The Futuristic Perspective
Acting upon the need for a careful and informed debate, some of
India's social work educators are trying to formulate a futuristic
perspective to make social work education more relevant to Indian
conditions. The futuristic agenda, inter alia, emphasises the need to
understand both the historical and ideological framework from which
social work grew, and more importantly, the need to evolve concepts,
methods, policies and priorities which are more suited to Indian
situations. The pursuit, feeble though, aims at evolving a more culture-
bound theory of social work and to reorient the educational apparatus
in the context of emerging needs of the country. In the same vein, it is
also stressed that social work will have to redefine its role, demarcate
its areas of work and improvise its tools and techniques of action.
Social work has to cope up with the new reality, integrate its efforts
with others, and develop a perspective that could knit a multiplicity of
efforts into a large movement for changes in social welfare/social
development situation. This underlines the need to understand the
lessons of the last six decades of social work education in the country
and the need to evolve an integrated perspective on methods and
strategies which move from symptoms to causes, from diagnosis to
reflexivity, and from treatment to structural transformation. More
urgent is the need to take it away from its predominantly remedial and
residual functions to the primary task of promoting social change and
enhancing development. Social work concerns, therefore, must in-
clude the developmental and social change activities that result in
social development (Desai, 1975:207). The need to conceptualise the
professional function anew is called for (Gore, 1985:150).

134 S.P. Srivastava
Currently, there is a realisation that professional social workers
and their educators should address themselves to developmental
actions and work for the welfare of the depressed and downtrodden
sections of society, not as individuals in distress but as collectivities
in trouble. They are called upon to take up preventive and develop-
mental functions rather than remaining solely engaged in clinical and
curative functions. In terms of strategy, the first and foremost require-
ment is to sharpen the tools of social action to promote the process of
social development. In the concerned circles of social work education,
there is a feeling that if social workers are to become effective they
will have to turn to systematic and well-planned social action endeav-
ours to strike at the root causes of social problems and expedite the
process of evolutionary social transformation, if not revolutionary
change.
In the given Indian conditions there are few takers of the Marxist
view of social work. The radical and revolutionary notion of social
work stands rejected as irrelevant and out of question. The eminently
acceptable option is social action, for it may create the necessary
conditions and climate in which social work could be done more
effectively (Kulkarni, 1967:112). Social action is regarded as an
essential component of developmental social work practice, since the
adjusting, therapeutic, ameliorative, clinical and social control func-
tions of social work are increasingly found inadequate. The long
history of social reform in India is replete with instances of successful
social action to eradicate a variety of institutional evils in bringing
about social change. Social work educators are now rediscovering the
relevance of social action as a means for improving the oppressive
social conditions, enhancing social welfare, solving mass problems,
influencing social development policies and changing the sociocultu-
ral and politico-economic structure of society.
Interestingly most social work educators concede to the primacy of
social action method and find it most relevant under Indian conditions.
Accordingly, many of them have written a couple of reflective articles
extolling the virtues of social action as a method to provide a new
direction to social work education and practice in India. The ground
reality, however, does not permit any sense of euphoria and there is
little linkage between what is being talked about and what is being
practiced? A review of the available writings on social action reveals
that social action, as a method, has not received any significant
attention either in the curriculum of the schools of social work or in

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India 135
the large part of indigenous writings of social work educators (Sid-
diqui, 1984:26).'
While the social work educators generally recognise the need and
significance of social action as the most effective method of profes-
sional social work practice, few are willing to engage themselves in
social action measures, either individually or collectively. The concept
of social action has only evoked lip sympathy (Gore, 1967:31). Scared
of risks involved in being social actionists, professional social workers
are not prepared to be the practitioners of what they preach. They wish
to remain contented within the classroom confines, or to the protected
welfare settings with limited or no commitment to social action. They
rarely attempt to get across the bridge to join people's movements and
community-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working
in the remote rural areas.
Connected with the rediscovery of faith in social action, social work
educators in India are now talking about the role of social work
professionals as 'change agents'. When someone is talking about this
paradigm shift in social work education, the proposition sounds sim-
plistic, since there are hardly any rebels or revolutionaries amongst the
social work educators. Despite all this tall-talk on the issue, social work
educators and practitioners are themselves guilty of perpetuating the
status quo by resisting change in the organisational set-up of social
work education in the country. Frankly speaking, there are no martyrs
in the social work profession who are willing to burn their boats for a
good social cause. Given the situation, how do we expect social work
educators to produce change agents when they themselves are not
willing to move beyond the protected walls of their schools/depart-
ments? How many of the social work educators are willing to be the
change agents is an open question? The dilemmas in the activist role
are inbuilt in the kind of professional social work we preach and
practice. The role of professional social workers as change agents is
in contradiction to the norms of professionalism and riddance is
possible only with the riddance of the notion of professional social
work. Those of us who make fancy talks on the subject do not care to
explain how a marginalised profession can produce effective change
agents. However, the notion of professional social workers as change
agents continues to captivate the minds of many social work educators
who themselves are doing precious little at their own end in the
schools/departments where they preach things they do not practice. As
long as schools of social work keep producing students for the state-run

136 S.P. Srivastava
social welfare services, or be part of the state-aided NGO sector, there
exists no possibility of preparing students to become change agents,
since there is hardly any agency, governmental or non-governmental,
which keeps revolutionaries on its pay roll.
The tendency to remain in the limelight of the fancy talkshow is
too strong among social work educators who never get tired of talking
impractical things by way of providing new direction to social work
education in the country. The talk of bidding goodbye to apolitical
stance and getting interested in the political process of development
is another instance of being blind to the raw realities of Indian politics,
and for that matter, to the politics of development. The suggestion,
well-intended though, sounds like a sermon from the mount. The
prevailing apolitical stance of social work educators, is a well-en-
trenched tradition embedded in the very ethos of social work profes-
sion. Its abandonment is not possible until social work professionals
remain part of the social welfare bureaucracy. The call for direct
involvement of social work professionals in the political process is a
fanciful idea without any substance and without the possibility of
being realised in the foreseeable future (or, better said never). Most
of us in the schools of social work know fully well that getting
involved in Indian politics, where even angels fear to tread, is beyond
the comprehension of any honest person. Such a notion finds appeal
in seminars and conferences where arm-chair intellectuals throw up
ideas about which they themselves are not sure. Should social work
education desert its politically neutral position is a question that has
not been articulated properly, though there seems to be emerging
some kind of consensus that the professional organisations of social
work educators should start lobbying for structural changes which
they see as necessary. Political awareness on the part of the social
work educators is all right, but actual engagement in the political
struggles and movements is beyond the ability of professional social
workers, given the context and the constraints under which they work.
Politics and professional social work cannot go together, especially
when professional social work, in large measure, is part of the state
apparatus.
The above discussion on the future directions for revamping pro-
fessional social work education in the country suggest that the profes-
sion stands at a confusing road, not knowing where to go and how. The
profession is still uncertain about formulating a coherent and compre-
hensive framework which could assist it in meeting the challenges that

Addressing the Future of Professional Social Work in India 137
lie ahead. However, certain issues need clear thinking and action, and
these are:
• forging strong links with developmental NGOs and other types
of constructive workers;
• developing strategies and approaches to suit to the new socio-
economic reality;
• changing the teaching and practice-orientation from an individ-
ualised clinical and therapeutic perspective to an organisational
developmental perspective;
• meeting the paucity of indigenous textbooks and teaching mate-
rials;
• developing a culture-bound theory of social work and a social
work philosophy for India; and
• reorganising curriculum, field work system and methods of
teaching and research.
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