Starting with one institute offering a programme in Social Work in 1946, we have today a hoard of such institutes functioning from all across the country. The earliest graduates in Social Work migrated to the United States of America or Europe because Social Work is a recognised profession there. A degree in Social Work offered good employment opportunities as well as scope for private practice.
In India Social Work never got established as an independent profession. The government social welfare departments, hospitals largely employed trained social workers against lower middle rung posts. When Indian labour laws made it compulsory to appoint welfare officers in the factories, Social Work degree became a passport to appointment against these posts. With time, welfare officers saw themselves becoming personnel officers and later human resource development (HRD) managers. People with Social Work background thus got higher status in society.
When management education came to India (also from the USA), HRD became a preferred area of specialisation and management graduates soon replaced Social Work graduates from HRD jobs. A new attractive field opened for the Social Work graduates when some non-government organisations (NGOs) adopted corporate culture under the influence of its foreign donors. But these employment opportunities were limited in numbers because how many NGOs in India would find foreign funds? High profile jobs for Social Work graduates were therefore ruled out.
The scope for practicing Social Work as private profession in India is next to nil. Petty political party workers who also call themselves social workers appear to be doing better. The image of a social worker amongst the general public is such that if a trained social worker were to introduce himself/herself the response coming from the opposite person most likely is to be: I am a social worker too.
It is difficult for the Indian people to conceive that there could be professionals around called social workers to be approached when facing personal or family problems. The reason is not far to see. Helping each other in the Indian traditions is a noble cause. Every body therefore shows eagerness to help every body else. Why in that case someone pay a social worker? Since the very concept of professional social work is missing from the Indian minds, trained social workers are going to find it very difficult to establish roots in this country. It is also to remember that profession wise it is the clients who approach the professionals and not the other way round.
If we look at the methods of professional social work, they talk of (1) helping people individually (Social Case Work Method) (2) helping people in groups (Social Group Work Method) and (3) helping people’s communities (Community Development Method). It may be seen that of these, the last two methods can not be practiced by trained social workers in private practice since these require a larger setting. Only organised bodies such government, corporate houses, NGOs can afford it. Trained social workers therefore have to be necessarily employed to be able to practice these two methods. This leaves Social Case Work method as the only method that can be employed by trained social workers to earn an independent living.
In Social Case Work method, the trained social worker interviews
his/her client, in private and takes down the personal history. Through this he/she makes an assessment of the likely cause for the problem faced by the client. The process of interviewing is simple chit-chatting. The client may not even know if he/she is being helped or having a street corner talk. One interview with the client is not sufficient; more have to be arranged. Some clients may not be prepared for repeat visits. Even if the cause is discovered successfully, the solution that is offered to the client may not be out of the ordinary. It consists of plain suggestions and motivational talks. Unlike doctors and psychiatrists who prescribe medicines, professional social workers prescribe no such thing. This leaves the clients a bit disappointed. In fact, many people (the household social workers) have been giving advises to them.
Experience shows that people in India are happier discussing their personal problems with astrologers, tantrics, priests and saddhus for they offer mantras, tabeej (locket), bhasma (ashes), flowers, etc said to be containing charismatic powers or ask to perform certain rituals such as feeding the fish, donating mustard oil, performing puja etc that heal all the problems. People have no hesitation in paying them; sometimes even paying big money. It appears that people are more interested in purchasing hope than getting rid of the problem.
From the discussion so far it is clear that professional Social Work is a big failure in India; it can neither provide you decent employment nor earn an independent living. Students of Social Work at the universities, colleges and departments are therefore heading for a disaster. The government should take steps to weed out such unnecessary disciplines from our education system or consider modifying these to suit our conditions. Employing trained social workers in rural areas where community organisation is a big challenge also appears to be an attractive option. Is any body listening?