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Friday, March 27, 2009

Social work - The Missing Catalyst

Editorial, Islamic Voice, September 2008

Social workers play the role of catalyst in a society. They connect the needy with the philanthropists, poor with the resourceful, illiterate with the educated ones, sick with healers, unaware with the informed, unskilled with the trainers. Their voluntary spirit and selfless zeal levels off the socio-economic inequities and inequalities. They find the balm for the social wounds, solace for the restless souls, wipe the tears off the eyes of the deprived, drive away the despondency and herald the hope.

Societies with social workers are societies with hope, though not without inequalities. Social worker fills the gap between the high and the low, privileged and the unprivileged. All nations and communities that have cared to train social workers, rewarded the voluntary spirit and recognized sacrifice, reap the rich harvest of happiness and satisfaction.

Muslims in India have not adequately nurtured social workers. Few have made a mark in the field. Even the term ¡social work¢ is interpreted in narrow terms with limited scope. Helping the needy, doling out charities to beggars, visiting the ailing, organizing the circumcision camps (sunnat e Ibrahimi) for the kids, helping out the Hajj pilgrims is all that constitutes the social work.

But in the larger world we live today, social work has assumed wider scope. Indeed, all members of the society require some kind of succour, counseling, words of compassion, a healing touch at some point of time in their lives. With human knowledge, necessities and realm of human activity having expanded, the citizens always look for guidance and solace from some quarters, notwithstanding their social level and economic strata.

Contemporary social worker has to grapple with multifarious social problems and issues and has to tackle them at several levels, from spreading awareness to mitigation to elimination of maladies even while developing legal framework to abolish and executive apparatus to eradicate certain vices. He has to change with the times and be aware of the modern social norms in order to be in sync with the urges of the times.

As HIV-Aids spreads its tentacles, dowry deaths keep spiraling, drop-out from schools mount, aged and sick are left uncared, marital woes drive women to despondency, kids get abandoned, single-parent home abound, environment is drained off its vitality, farms lose their fertility, fisheries collapse, calamities render millions homeless, juvenile delinquency rises, red light areas thrive, widows find no shelter and ageing spinsters have no takers, the frontiers of social work are limitlessly expanding. Besides, the physically disabled and persons with inadequate sensory faculties (viz, the blind, deaf and dumb, mentally retarded etc) add a vast realm to the existing problems. As societies grow complex, problems and issues too develop complexity. Simplistic solutions do not work. They need a whole paraphernalia for grassroots activism and advocacy.

Organised social work is conspicuous by its absence in the Muslim society. Problems only fester if they are ignored. In a plural society, the moral fabric of the society is not amenable to religious solutions. Paradigm shift is inevitable. Prostitution will not go away by pleading for modest behaviour. Nor delinquency will vanish by advocating deterrent punishments. Nor even interest-free mantra can drive away poverty and indebtedness. Problems are rooted in socio-economic context and deeper study and innovative ways have to be found to combat the evils. Advancement in social sciences have even brought about sea change in key concepts like justice and equality. While Islamist theologians would look at justice from merely punitive angle, its rehabilitative, reformative and compensatory facets have remained totally unknown in the community. Similarly, equality and equity are no longer held identical. Much thought has been invested by modern day social and
political scientists in developing new frameworks for transformation of societies.

The Government too looks at the voluntary organization (or what is called NGOs in modern day parlance) to reach to the grassroots of the people and disburse funds and create awareness regarding various social maladies and remedial measures. This only brings to focus the need to set up credible organization which could bring about change with full transparency and accountability.

The community needs to rise to the occasion and rope its youth into social work. Unless a sizeable body of social workers comes into existence, the community would remain a picture of misery, neglect, apathy, pity, and backwardness.

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