Quality Enhancement of Social Work Profession in India: Issues and Challenges

Professional Social Work Education and Practice in India—Strengthening Inclusive Perspective and Approach
G. Sathiyan1 and P. Ilango2

ABSTRACT Social exclusion and inclusive policy are key concepts that are being talked about much worldwide. Particularly, in India, the policy makers and planners have been giving a lot of importance to the multifarious issues relating to ‘inclusive growth’ in the recent years. Even in the field of higher education, these concepts are being considered more seriously these days with the UGC’s timely and appropriate initiative of setting up of a number of Centres for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy in about 35 selected Universities from all regions of the country. Professional social workers are recruited to these centres in various capacities such as Lecturer cum Assistant Director, Reader cum Deputy Director, Professor and Chairperson/Director and even as Research Assistants. Professional social workers have ample scope to contribute their might in uplifting the poor, marginalized and socially excluded groups of people for which they need to have a strong foundation in the theoretical constructs of social exclusion, inclusive development, inclusive policy and related aspects. This paper highlights the need for an ‘inclusive perspective’ in social work education and practice in different fields.


The word “inclusive” has become not only fashionable but also quite relevant in our country. The Oxford Dictionary gives four meanings to the word, and the most inclusive meaning is “not excluding any section of society.” In this sense, the title of the Approach Paper on the Eleventh Five Year Plan “Towards faster and more inclusive growth” reflects the need to make growth “more inclusive” in terms of benefits flowing through more employment and income to those sections of society which have been bypassed by higher rates of economic growth witnessed in recent years. The recognition of the need for more inclusive growth by our planners is a welcome shift in emphasis from mere increase in growth rates to improvement in standards of living of those below the poverty line through increase in employment opportunities as well as better delivery systems to ensure access to intended benefits by intended beneficiaries (Nampoothiry, The Hindu, 3rd Dec., 2006).
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Lecturer-cum-Assistant Director, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy. Professor & Head, Department of Social Work, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli-24, India.

Professional Social Work Education and Practice in India—Strengthening Inclusive…


The National Development Council (NDC) gave its unanimous endorsement to the Eleventh Plan (2007–12) setting an accelerated economic growth of nine per cent per annum for the five-year period, with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, asserting that inclusive economic development is “a national goal”. In his concluding remarks at the 54th NDC meeting with State Chief Ministers, the Prime Minister refuted the allegation that the “untied” resources for States were shrinking with a corresponding increase in centrally sponsored schemes and ‘tied’ assistance. He said the new approach helps to promote decentralised planning and monitoring while simultaneously increasing the resources available to specific sectors that are critical for enabling inclusive growth. The Prime Minister firmly said the Eleventh 11th Plan is for the poor and it does not attempt to divide people on the basis of caste, creed or gender even as it pays special attention to the needs of these marginalised groups and targets them in a precise way. The Planning Commission Deputy Chairman, Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, denied that there is any sub-plan for minorities but said “we cannot achieve inclusive growth and the social harmony it will bring, if the minorities remain excluded” (The Hindu Business Line, New Delhi, Dec. 19, 2008).

Social exclusion (and inclusion) is a topic of major importance in contemporary social work and has been a core feature of social policy developments in the UK and Europe in the past decade. Michael Shepperd (2006) argues that the issue of social exclusion lies at the very heart of social work and he examines the implications of this position for both theory and practice. He discusses a range of major themes in social work, looking at how they reflect an underlying concern with social exclusion. They include empowerment, need, the exercise of authority, choice, evidence-based practice and reflexive practice. He also makes clear that even though the term ‘social exclusion’ is of recent origin, it provides a framework for understanding the enduring themes of social work.

The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work. Social work in its various forms addresses the multiple, complex transactions between people and their environments. Its mission is to enable all people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional social work is focused on problem solving and change. As such, social workers are change agents in society and in the lives of the individuals, families and communities they serve. Social work is an interrelated system of values, theory and practice.


Quality Enhancement of Social Work Profession in India: Issues and Challenges


Social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals, and its values are based on respect for the equality, worth, and dignity of all people. Since its beginnings over a century ago, social work practice has focused on meeting human needs and developing human potential. Human rights and social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action. In solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion. Social work values are embodied in the profession’s national and international codes of ethics.

Social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognises the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including biopsychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organisational, social and cultural changes.

Social work addresses the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society. It responds to crises and emergencies as well as to everyday personal and social problems. Social work utilises a variety of skills, techniques, and activities consistent with its holistic focus on persons and their environments. Social work interventions range from primarily person-focused psychosocial processes to involvement in social policy, planning and development. These include counselling, clinical social work, group work, social pedagogical work, and family treatment and therapy as well as efforts to help people obtain services and resources in the community. Interventions also include agency administration, community organisation and engaging in social and political action to impact social policy and economic development. The holistic focus of social work is universal, but the priorities of social work practice will vary from country to country and from time to time depending on cultural, historical, and socio-economic conditions. (International Federation of Social Workers, 2005).

In sociology, marginalization is the social process of becoming or being made marginal (to relegate or confine to a lower social standing or outer limit or edge, as of social standing); “the marginalization of the underclass; “marginalization of literature” and many other are some examples. Marginalization involves people being

Professional Social Work Education and Practice in India—Strengthening Inclusive…


denied degrees of power. Marginalization has the potential to result in severe material deprivation, and in its most extreme form can exterminate groups (Mullaly, 2007). Material deprivation is the most common result of marginalization when looking at how unfairly material resources (such as food and shelter) are dispersed in society. Along with material deprivation, marginalized individuals are also excluded from services, programs, and policies (Young, 2000). Marginalization can be understood within three levels: individual, community, and global-structural/policies. Although examples are listed within these three specific levels, one must recognize the intersecting nature of marginalization and its capacity to overlap within each.

Marginalization at the individual level results in an individual’s exclusion from meaningful participation in society. An example of marginalization at the individual level is the exclusion of single mothers from the welfare system prior to the welfare reform of the 1900s. The welfare system is based on the concept of the universal worker; entitlement to welfare is based on one’s contribution to society in the form of employment. A single mother’s contribution to society is not based on employment resulting in the mother’s ineligibility of social assistance for many decades. In modern society, caring work is devalued and motherhood is seen as a barrier to employment (Lessa, 2006). Single mothers are marginalized for their significant role in the socializing of children and due to views that an individual can only contribute meaningfully to society through employment. As a result single mothers continue to suffer from material deprivation, as well as their children (Lessa, 2006). Another example of individual marginalization is the exclusion of individuals with disabilities from the labour force. Grandz (as cited in Leslie 2003) discusses an employer viewpoint in hiring individuals living with disabilities as jeopardizing productivity, increasing the rate of absenteeism, and creating more accidents in the workplace. Cantor (as cited in Leslie 2003) also discusses employer concern of the excessive high cost of accommodating people with disabilities. The marginalization of individuals with disabilities is prevalent today despite the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Employment Equity Act, academic achievement, skills and training (Leslie, 2003).

Many communities experience marginalization, with particular focus in this section on Aboriginal communities and women. Marginalization of Aboriginal communities is a product of colonization. As a result of colonialism, Aboriginal communities lost their land, were forced into destitute areas, lost their sources of income, and were excluded from the labour market. Additionally, Aboriginal communities lost their


Quality Enhancement of Social Work Profession in India: Issues and Challenges

culture and values through forced assimilation and lost their rights in society (Baskin, 2003). Today various communities continue to be marginalized from society due to the development of practices, policies and programs that “met the needs of white people and not the needs of the marginalized groups themselves” (Yee, 2005, p. 93). Yee (2005) also connects marginalization to minority communities when describing the concept of whiteness as maintaining and enforcing dominant norms and discourse. A second example of marginalization at the community level is the marginalization of women. Moosa-Mitha (as cited in Brown & Strega, 2005) discusses the feminist movement as a direct reaction to the marginalization of white women in society. Women were excluded from the labor force and their work in the home was not valued. Feminists argued that men and women should equally participate in the labor force, the public and private sector, and in the home. They also focused on labour laws to increase access to employment, as well as recognize childrearing as a valuable form of labour. Today women are still marginalized from executive positions and continue to earn less then men in upper management positions.
Global and Structural

Globalization (global-capitalism), immigration, social welfare and policy are broader social structures that have the potential to contribute negatively to one’s access to resources and services, resulting in marginalization of individuals and groups. Globalization impacts the lives of individuals and groups in many capacities with the influx of capitalism, information technology, company outsourcing/job insecurity, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Alphonse, George and Moffat (2007) discuss how globalization sets forth a decrease in the role of the state with an increase in support from various “corporate sectors resulting in gross inequalities, injustices and marginalization of various vulnerable groups” (p. 1). Companies are outsourcing, jobs are lost, the cost of living continues to rise, and land is being expropriated by large companies. Material goods are made in large abundances and sold at cheaper costs, while in India for example, the poverty line is lowered in order to mask the number of individuals who are actually living in poverty as a result of globalization. Globalization and structural forces aggravate poverty and continue to push individuals to the margins of society, while governments and large corporations do not address the issues (George, P, SK8101, lecture, October 9, 2007). Certain language and the meaning attached to language can cause universalizing discourses that are influenced by the Western world, which is what Sewpaul (2006) describes as the “potential to dilute or even annihilate local cultures and traditions and to deny context specific realities” (p. 421). What Sewpaul (2006) is implying is that the effect of dominant global discourses can cause individual and cultural displacement, as well as an experience of “de-localization”, as individual notions of security and safety are jeopardized (p. 422). Insecurity and fear of an unknown future

Professional Social Work Education and Practice in India—Strengthening Inclusive…


and instability can result in displacement, exclusion, and forced assimilation into the dominant group. For many, it further pushes them to the margins of society or enlists new members to the outskirts because of global-capitalism and dominant discourses (Sewpaul, 2006). With the prevailing notion of globalization, we now see the rise of immigration as the world gets smaller and smaller with millions of individuals relocating each year. This is not without hardship and struggle of what a newcomer thought was going to be a new life with new opportunities. Ferguson, Lavalette, and Whitmore (2005) discuss how immigration has had a strong link to access of welfare support programs. Newcomers are constantly bombarded with the inability to access a country’s resources because they are seen as “undeserving foreigners” (p. 132). With this comes a denial of access to public housing, health care benefits, employment support services, and social security benefits (Ferguson et al., 2005). Newcomers are seen as undeserving, or that they must prove their entitlement in order to gain access to basic support necessities. It is clear that individuals are exploited and marginalized within the country they have emigrated (Ferguson et al., 2005). Welfare states and social policies can also exclude individuals from basic necessities and support programs. Welfare payments were proposed to assist individuals in accessing a small amount of material wealth (Young, 2000). Young (2000) further discusses how “the provision of the welfare itself produces new injustice by depriving those dependent on it of rights and freedoms that others have… marginalization is unjust because it blocks the opportunity to exercise capacities in socially defined and recognized way” (p. 41). There is the notion that by providing a minimal amount of welfare support, an individual will be free from marginalization. In fact, welfare support programs further lead to injustices by restricting certain behaviour, as well the individual is mandated to other agencies. The individual is forced into a new system of rules while facing social stigma and stereotypes from the dominant group in society, further marginalizing and excluding individuals (Young, 2000). Thus, social policy and welfare provisions reflect the dominant notions in society by constructing and reinforcing categories of people and their needs. It ignores the unique-subjective human essence, further continuing the cycle of dominance (Wilson and Beresford, 2000).

Upon defining and describing marginalization as well as the various levels in which it exists, one must now explore its implications for social work practice. Mullaly (2007) describes how “the personal is political” and the need for recognizing that social problems are in deed connected with larger structures in society, causing various forms of oppression amongst individuals resulting in marginalization (p. 262). It is also important for the social worker to recognize the intersecting nature of oppression. A non-judgmental and unbiased attitude is necessary on the part of the


Quality Enhancement of Social Work Profession in India: Issues and Challenges

social worker. The worker must begin to understand oppression and marginalization as a systemic problem, not the fault of the individual (Mullaly, 2007). Working under an Anti-oppression perspective would then allow the social worker to understand the lived, subjective experiences of the individual, as well as their cultural, historical and social background. The worker should recognize the individual as political in the process of becoming a valuable member of society and the structural factors that contribute to oppression and marginalization (Mullaly, 2007). Social workers must take a firm stance on naming and labeling global forces that impact individuals and communities who are then left with no support, leading to marginalization or further marginalization from the society they once knew (George, P., SK8101, lecture, October 9, 2007). The social worker should be constantly reflexive, work to raise the consciousness, empower, and understand the lived subjective realities of individuals living in a fastpaced world, where fear and insecurity constantly subjugate the individual from the collective whole, perpetuating the dominant forces, while silencing the oppressed (Sakamoto and Pitner, 2005).

There is a real need for strengthening the ‘inclusive perspective’ to professional social work education and practice in India. Even though the entire philosophy and practice of professional social work, right from its inception, has been addressing issues of marginalization, alienation, oppression and various forms of social exclusion and its resultant detrimental effects on vulnerable and affected groups, there is not much of concentration, in the professional training and practice in India, on the theoretical constructs of ‘social exclusion’, ‘inclusion’ and related concepts such as ‘inclusive development’ or ‘inclusive growth’ besides the policy issues. It is highly imperative that social work education and training have to be geared to consciously and comprehensively address social exclusion, inclusive policy and related issues with the ultimate objective of enabling ‘professional social workers’ to get a proper understanding and develop genuine appreciation of the need for an ‘inclusive perspective’ to the professional domains of training, practice and research in the field of social work. For this, the first and foremost requirement is that social workers, whether budding or full-fledged, should develop an ‘inclusive mindset’ in its real sense.
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