Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The role of social work and professional work in the Dalit movement

Some dalit social workers project dalit professionals as selfish people who are "running after money". They ask how and why the professionals can "run after money" sitting in their AC rooms, when most of their dalit brothers live and die in misery. These social workers want dalit professionals to "leave their AC rooms" and come and work in the fields among the poor dalits. This has caused a lot of guilt among young dalit professionals. Some dalit professionals have started personally and directly getting involved in social work putting their professional careers at risk. Their careers may not grow as well as they would have if these youngsters would have focused on their careers and merely financed and remotely guided the social work. But the youngsters and the social workers who have driven them down this path claim that these youngsters are no longer "running after money" and that makes them better Ambedkarites than those who continue to "run after money". I am going to try again to explain here, how and why young dalits should not do this and explain alternative paths ahead for young dalit professionals.

A dalit professional, who lives a balanced and morally upright life, exceling in his chosen profession, contributing more money and less time to social causes is fully in harmony with the ideal householder described by the Buddha and Dr. Ambedkar. Most dalit professionals are already making large personal, famility and community level sacrifices to prove themselves, create wealth and earn prestige for their families and community. These sacrifices are large because, in the abscence of pre-existing social and community networks in the professions, alit professionals already have to work harder than their non-dalit peers to achieve the same level of professional success. Their sacrifices are not visible and easily measurable in money terms, but this does not mean that the value of their sacrifices is low. And in particular, one has to know ones value, else like the case of the man who dropped the goat he was carrying, when convinced by four people that he was carrying a dog, our youngsters might stop believing in the transformative value of the knowledge and skills they have and satisfy themselves with a lower level of token transformation, namely social work. The han's does not need and should not seek certificates from the bagala, because the bagala just does not know, because he is not a hans. In my view as a pioneering private sector dalit professional, the value of the sacrifices of dalit professionals is atleast as much as the value of the sacrifice of full time social workers, who have sacrificed monetary pursuits for social causes. In fact, I think that because success in social work is easier for dalits today, the value of such success is low. And because there are few top level dalit professionals (in IT, Medicine, Law, Accounting, etc) and businessmen, the value of success in professions and business is higher from the dalit movements point of view.

Since talented youngsters capable of rising to the top levels are becoming partial-focus professionals, it is only fair to expect that we are now unlikely to see dalit CEO and dalit businessmen in a hurry. Despite Dr. Ambedkars advice to move towards cities, our young professionals are joining the social workers in going to villages to serve people, more like the advice of Gandhi. At a time when we need more role models of successful moneyed professionals to inspire our youngsters, our youngsters are getting convinced of a Gandhian life-style and Gandhian social service. Despite leaving a large concrete monument to his views on this topic in the form of his own house, Dr. Ambedkar is used to justify a Gandhi style social service centred movement by people claiming to be deep Ambedkarites. Coming at a time, when we badly need our professionals and businessmen to stand on their own legs, compete in the markets and create wealth for the community so that we can invest in our own destinies, it is a strategic, tragic and suicidal error for the movement. Considering the expected decline in the supply of talented dalit professionals, this error is happening at a totally inopportune time. Sadly there are points of time, where one can only let people know ones sincere views and then leave it to them to understand and modify their own views, words and actions.

The true problem of the community is that it is too poor and that investment without strings to reduce its poverty is unlikely to arrive from non-dalits or foreigners. The pune pact sealed the political path and the only paths for liberation are economic activity based on intellectual and dhamma capital. But our young dalit professionals are running away from this true challenge faced by the community, under the guise of social service. They want to run two-penny-rebellions in the villages and slums, by organising poor people ---- for what and how --- they have no answer. They claim that they are working for education of children. But why does one need to be an engineer to focus on social service is unknown. Why can't engineers and managers focus on mastering their respective professions and excel at them, while financing and guiding social service by better trained focused social work professionals. If some of these youngsters had political ambitions and that drives them, do they not know that the pune pact makes their efforts totally wasteful in terms of bringing about any meaningful change through the political mechanism?

Social service involves spending money raised through donations. It assumes that there are donors. In the absence of wealth in the community, such wealth is usual taken from outside the dalit community and is likely to have strings attached to it. So wealth creation to ensure sustenance of social workers and social service needs to happen. So successful professionals and entrepreneurs are required. So social workers must not do anything to discourage the pursuit of professional and business success by our dalit professionals and enterpreners. The continuing behaviour of dalit social workers of questioning the contribution of professionals and entrepreneurs from the dalit community is totally misguided and harmful to the dalit movement. In fact, the dog-in-the-manger behaviour of dalit social workers is the height of misguidance to young dalit professional and entrepreneurs. At a time when such youngsters should be working towards proving themselves in their professions and businesses, some youngsters are setting out on social work at the cost of their core capabilities. Ideally the social service experts should carry out the social service and the professionals and entereprenuers should only finance and provide direction/guidance for spending the money, based on their professional and business skills.

Finally social work is a token approach to social change and hardly classifies as revolution. If youngsters really want to change things in a revolutionary way, they should join the private sector and do hard work, rather than social work. They should prove themselves, earn a lot and donate a lot and have successful professional careers respected by everyone and be good role models for young dalits. Some of them like IITians have done in silicon valley, should start their own companies, compete with Tata's within the constitution and succeed.

Let us start the real revolution.

--- Edited views of Prerna Tambay, my wife

I admire and appreciate the commitment and sacrifice of people who are into social work. The chains of poverty and unemployment are still howering on our heads like vultures. It's time to break these chains. Everybody in a big or small way must try to contribute for theupliftment of our needy people. With due respect to all our social workers, social work needs money and large funds to increase "social work" and to invest in increasing the wealth of the community through building sustainable income generating assets (including companies). Those who are capable of contributing in that form should take the opportunity to contribute in that way.

I am in the profession of teaching. Is teaching not social work?Are there any set definition for social work? Let social workers not make others guilty wastefully to pamper their own egos. Do your own work. Don't spend your time finding fault/guilt with others.Our community needs to be self-reliant. Only when ones earn more than ones needs, can one donate for social good. If every one wereto seek money from others for own-need + social-good, then who will give. Currently those who get money from foreign buddhists seem to be dis-respecting the small amounts of money that our dalit community can donate. Such disrespect is harmful for the dalit movement. It will hardly make us a self-reliant community. Even in small dalit groups, we have differences on so primary things. Really are we doing the right things to strengthen the forward motion of the dalit movement? Lets try to benefit from each others strengths rather than finding fault/guiltwith each other.

My family is in the forefront of peaceful social revolution. My husband Pratap is a sincere Ambedkarite struggling hard to carve a niche in the corporate sector? Many dalits from the government and public sector as well as social workers do not even try to understand the unique perspective, predicaments and contribution of people like him, while beating their loud social contribution drums. My family's peaceful social revolution requires working daily in the company of the oppressor, mastering one's anger, taking 2 rupees and delivering 40 rupees worth of work to force the oppressor to realize the errors of his ways and to reform himself. It requires being a good employee, a good citizen, whom no one can easily find faults with. It requires accepting that others may be favored unfairly at times, because the system's legacy is currently against you. It requires not leaving ones hard work and good behavior, despite efforts of the system to discourage you. It requires behaving likethe heroes of "jo jeeta wahi sikandar" and "on the waterfront". It requires more than two-penny rebellions outside the market-place. I have worked with Shikshana Prasaraka Mandali Pune's WelingkarInstitute of Management Development and Research for a long time in this manner and through hard efforts became "head of the department of human resource management" at this institute, despite the prejudice against our folks. It is my sheer hard work and independent contribution which helped me to come to UK.

My research work on "Diversity and AffirmativeAction" is as important as the work of any social worker to the dalit movement. It is a direct emulation of Dr. Ambedkar himself. Every one has their own unique competence. I am leveraging my talents to the highest capacity for the movement in my own way. After my MBA I had very high paying job offers but I chose to be a Management teacher. I call this as proof of my socially responsible behaviour and my direct contribution to society. By being a teacher I had lot of freedom to do my social service and was not dependent on external sources of funding for my social work. I teach and groom and mentor students, who go and perform "peaceful social revolution" in the industry, because I inculcate good values in them. My special efforts and interest in grooming students of our community to become equally competent are well know and much appreciated by senior management of the Institute. I prefer to continue my social service in the way I havebeen doing it already. Nobody has any authority to certify other people's social service and contributions. Social workers should refrain from this "certification" business that they sometimes get into.

Social workers of high credentials and credibility in the community should try to understand the peaceful social revolution being carried out by families like mine. We work where there is organized oppression, in the real battle grounds of the modern world, rather than in the nooks and crannies, away from the cities, where social workers focus.
Post a Comment