Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. XXI, No. 3 ( December 1960 ) . ...
Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. XXI, No. 3 (December 1960).
AMERICAN TRAINING FOR INDIAN SOCIAL WORKER:
CURE OR CURSE?
D R . B E N S C H L E S I N G E R
". .I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed.
I want cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I
refuse to be blown off my feet by any. . ."
Mahatma Gandhi
In the following pages, the author examines why and how the Indian students go
abroad for higher studies. He regrets that scholarships are frittered away without inquiring
into the personality, merits and motivations of the students. He cites the story of Vimla
which had a happy ending: She married a nice man and is now a good housewife. .. ."
In this context, the author feels that there should be a South-East Asia School of Social
Work, a kind of school which might bring about less frustrations and difficulties than felt
by American trained workers.
Dr. Ben Schlesinger holds a Masters degree in Social Work of the University of Toronto,
Canada and a Doctorate in Child Development and Family Relationships of Cornel University,
U.S.A. He was associated with Aloka Centre for Advanced Study and Training, Yewlwal,
Mysore. He is now on the staff of the School of Social Work, University of Toronto, Canada.
Presently there is great status attached to
We should not blame the Indian student
going abroad for training. The large amount alone, for his desire to go overseas. The rate
of scholarships, fellowships, and grants, which at which many foundations and organizations
are available for Indian students, enable offer financial help at times is astounding.
about 3000 to study in the United States, and It is true that some foundations have
another few thousand to study in European a sort of screening and orientation, but others,
or other Asian countries. The visiting card just "give the money away", without
handed out by a graduate to a visitor, reads inquiring into the personality, merits and
proudly: Mr. B. . . . B.A. (Madras), M.A. motivations of the student. One of the things
(Oxford)". There still appears to be more which is not done usually, is to ask the student
value in a British degree, than in American what he or she wants to do with the training
training, since anything American has the they are getting overseas. This leads at
added thought behind it that "it was easy to times to situations in which students remain
get", and that American degrees are "mass in America for five years or more, and then
produced". I have the feeling that this need have a very difficult and frustrating time upon
to travel out of India has many reasons, their return to India, if they return at all.
among which is the feeling that students can-
We must remember however that in
not get the type of training they want here certain specialities students have to study out-
at home, and the second is the need "to get side India since training is not available here.
away". We do not have research studies I will limit my discussion to students who
which give us the real motivations for Indian have gone to America (Canada and the
students desiring to go overseas, and some of United States), for training in social welfare,
my findings are only from personal contact and some of the dangers, and pitfalls, in which
in India, and in America, and thus are not they have found themselves upon their
systematically organised.
return to India. I will also try and discuss

2 6 2
DR. BEN SCHLESINGER
the type of training which these students are students. Her colourful sari attracted the
getting in America and how this adds to their student body and she was beseiged by eager
frustration. The case of Vimla, an Indian young men and women, who questioned her
student who came to America to do social about life in India. The time-table for lectures
work training at an Eastern university might and held work was given out. We must remem-
illustrate some of the difficulties faced by ber that most of the American schools of social
many students.
work are on post-graduate institutions, and
the schedule is a heavy one. Vimla glanced
The Case of Vimla.—Vimla was a 22-year at her sheet and found that she would have
old girl, who came from an "upper class" to do held work twice a week, and three days
family in Bengal. She was single and had of lectures. About eight hours, at least
taken her undergraduate work at an Indian are devoted to library work. What a change
University. Most of her life she had lived in from her student days in India. During her
an urban setting in India, and had not lived first lecture period, she found that no lecture
away from home. One day, she had read a was given, but rather a seminar, in which the
notice in her university, that fellowships were students were asked to discuss social work.
available for those who want to study social She was called on to talk about Indian social
services in America. Vimla, who did not work and Vimla was nervous, frightened,
have previous work experience in social work, she stumbled a little, after all, she did not
aside her few visits to the "poor" districts of know much about social work in India and
Calcutta, applied. To her surprise she was she was not prepared. This "new system" of
accepted, and arrangements were made for education was getting her down. The next
her to proceed to one of the universities in day she was told to report to a welfare agency
America. No one had told her that what for field work. Wearing one of her less
she should expect in America, a distant rela-
colourful saris, Vimla presented herself to the
tive told her that America was "wild", new supervisor at the Department of Public
and that she had to protect herself' constantly. Welfare of the large American city. The
The cultural and social habits of Americans supervisor greeted Vimla and then said:
were unknown to her, and no one volunteered
"Miss Vimla, I am wondering if you have
to help her understand them. Her views were anything to wear besides that sari. Our clients,
based on the movies imported to India, which who live in the slums here, would not under-
give the wrong picture of life in America.
stand, and may be it would be best for
So Vimla left for the U.S.A. A 22-year you to have some western clothes when you
old, native girl who had been sheltered most visit them. . . . " That evening Vimla cried
of her life, who had not had any experience and confided to a few of her newly made
in social work came from an upper class friends that she did not have "western" cloth-
family. With a warning "to be careful" she ing and she felt insulted in the morning.
was seen off at the airport in Calcutta. I will She felt like going home. Her friends consoled
skip the difficulties of adjustment to American her and lent her some "western" clothing.
life since these have been portrayed many
Field Work Visit.—At the next field work
times in Indian periodicals by students who visit, Vimla had to visit slums. Even in
have faced the tremendous transition from America these districts can be a terrible
East to West.
experience. Needless to say, Vimla had quite
Vimla arrived at the school of social work, a difficult time. Through trial and error, and
and was warmly greeted by the staff and through patient guidance of an understanding

AMERICAN TRAINING FOR INDIAN SOCIAL WORKER: CURE OR CURSE?
2 6 3
faculty and supervisors she managed to con-
Vimla accepted the offer. Two months after
tinue her work.
her graduation she landed in Calcutta, and
began to assume her newly acquired position.
Now back to school. The formal lectures
and seminars concentrated on Psychodyna-
Her work was supposed to be with refugees
mics, theories of social work, child welfare, from Pakistan. She tried to do case-work but
medical and legal aspects of social work in found that there were "masses" to serve. Basic
America, human growth and behaviour and needs such as food, sanitation, housing,
weekly lectures by a psychiatrist on mental and work had to be obtained for them. Daily
illness. Most of this was new to Vimla and Vimla was faced by thousands of outstretched
the volume of readings which were assigned hands, by hungry children, by angry parents,
to her, plus the assignments kept Vimla busy demanding the basic necessities. She had
for most of her days.
never faced people like this, she had been used
to dealing on a face to face relationship
Most of the courses were geared to the or one to one basis with her clients. Vimla
American scene. The social work problems of came home at nights, and began to have head-
the American public were examined, the com-
aches, sleepless nights, and finally had to
munity organization methods in American leave the agency. Her training had not
cities and towns were discussed, and the laws equipped her for such work, all her know-
dealing with public and private social work ledge was of no use. She had forgotten in
in America were diagnosed by a lawyer. Vimla her two years that Indian conditions and
listened attentively and made copious problems were quite different from those pre-
notes, and read many books, and memorized valent in America. The story has a happy
many theories of personality. She dealt with ending. Vimla married a nice young man
the "emotional" problems of her clients, using and is now a good housewife . . . .
the case record method to write down all her
work with them. She began to analyse the
Many of you will say that the case of Vimla
problems of her clients, by using Freud's is exaggerated, that is only one case, and you
interpretation of the emotional growth of can cite many cases which will show that the
people and began to have some knowledge of training overseas is beneficial. It is my feel-
the Psychodynamics of behaviour. For two ing that the case of Vimla is a mirror of many
years of careful work, Vimla worked very students who take overseas social work train-
hard, she had accumulated a store house of ing and could be applied to other professional
knowledge and had some appreciation of case training obtained in America by Indian
work. Her contact with her clients seemed students.
to improve during the second year of study
Two Cultures and the Problem.— We have
and she became quite good at "diagnosing" to examine first the two Cultures, and the pro-
the problems which her clients represented, blems which each of the Continents face,
and which ranged from alcoholism to un-
in order to understand the wide gap in the
married mother problems. She wrote a thesis training in America and the needs of India.
on "The Unmarried Mother and her Rejec-
About 80 per cent of India's population lives
tion of Children" and in a colourful ceremony in rural areas, and the social work has to be
she received her Masters degree in Social centred in these areas if we are to benefit
Work. One day, prior to her departure on the millions of villagers and the new-
a tour of America, she received a letter from born generation of India. The students who
an agency in India, which offered her a job. go for training have usually no knowledge of

2 6 4
D R . B E N S C H L E S I N G E R
the problems of the villages and many of them
Social Work, in America, who teach Asian
have never visited a village. These students students, to pay attention to the influence of
are usually "sophisticated" urbanites who have
culture, case, religion and tradition in the con-
grown up in the "marginal" stage of being-
text of preparing social workers for their task
caught between the "old" and the "new" of at home. More emphasis will also be needed
India. They come from wealthy families. T h e to assure that most Indian students have some
latter is not a bad thing but it does have rural experience, so that they can get a "feel
its drawback in the context of India's society, of the land".
in that it is difficult for that group to under-
On the other hand, why look overseas for
stand the villager who is usually "illiterate". remedies? Can we not satisfy the need for
Albert Mayer, in his excellent book, Pilot proper training right here in India? The
Project India, points out the need for village answer is that in our eagerness to begin to
social workers, when he states: "A village "assimilate" all new methods and theories,
participation worker requires not only what we forget that right in our own backyards
we may call the theoretic and psychological we may have the "remedies". The existing
understanding that several of our principal schools of social work in India, will have to
trainers do have, but a feeling for the village, be strengthened to meet our needs in India
and understanding of the "swing" of the so that they can train their workers in India
village, its music, its humour, its habits, its using the field situations which are real to the
l o r e . . . ."
country, and allowing the student to see and
It is my feeling that we are working in feel for himself the immense problems which
different directions. If America plans to con-
are facing the villages and cities of India.
tinue to train social workers for India, then
some of the approaches will have to be
Need for a South-East Asia School.— My
changed. In the area of field work especially, suggestion also would include the set up of a
great thought will have to be given to the "South-East Asia" School of Social Work,
type of placement offered to Indian (or preferably in India, and to staff it with Asian
Asian) students. Work with the American faculty members. This faculty should have
Indians, on their reservations, or with had experience in the field, and should be
Canadian Eskimos, or with other minority aware of the problems facing Asian countries.
groups in America, which face some similar I am sure that many of the foundations which
conditions and problems to the Indian scene, are helping Asia might offer financial aid for
would be helpful. In the theoretical aspect such a project.
much more emphasis will have to be placed
United Nations help can be requested, so
on the Psycho-cultural approach. Some of that consultants from other countries can be
this has been done with displaced persons, attached to the school. A word about "con-
the negro client in America, the Japanese-
sultants from countries" which have recently
American and other minority groups in undergone changes, and which have similar
America. T h e Psycho-cultural approach can problems like India. The selection of students
be defined as, "the approach emphasizes the for this School should not be based on "edu-
impact of the process whereby the individual cational" classifications. We have seen
starting through the parent child relationship, too many B.A.s and M.A.s in Honours
is 'culturalized' along the lines of the persistent
English or Literature, failing in Community
traditional patterns of the g r o u p . . .". In this Development work. The criteria for admission
context it may be necessary for Schools of should be graduation from high school, with

AMERICAN T R A I N I N G FOR INDIAN SOCIAL W O R K E R : C U R E OR C U R S E ?
2 6 5
at least three years experience in working with thing is the readiness to use t h e hands and
people in his or her own country. A
feet that God has given us. . ."
great emphasis should be placed on field work
A school of that kind might bring about
in the villages, since these are the proving less frustrations and difficulties than felt by
grounds of social work. I also have a sugges-
our American trained workers. Let me con-
tion for a uniform for this school. My idea clude by stating that there is some value in
is not original since it came from M a h a t m a training in America, but this value can only
Gandhi who said, " O n e of the requisite quali-
be appreciated by Indian social workers who
fications for village worker is that he have much experience, and who are going to
must be a habitual khadi wearer. . . . " I
would interpret Gandhiji's statement in the America to do some comparative studies and
light of my experience in India and say that who are senior people in the field of social
what we need is less white shirts and ties, welfare in India.
when the workers enter villages, and more
T h e world has shrunk considerably in our
dhotis. I should set up the school on a co-
contact with Continents. We cannot assimi-
operative basis in that the students carry out late other methods, before we have under-
their own day to day living, such as prepara-
stood our own local problems, and have tried
tion of food, scheduling, etc. In India and to deal with them using local experience and
other parts of India, many of the so-called our own existing facilities. It is very nice to go
social workers have forgotten what it means on a trip and visit other countries, but what
to work "with your hands" and I would we need in India at the moment are workers
include manual labour as part of the course who are trained to go into villages, and the
of study. Gandhiji pointed this out when he cities and to work with the mass of people
said, "no labour is too mean for one who who will need some form of help in their day
wants to earn an honest penny. T h e only to day life.