Social work, as an academic discipline and a human service profession has emerged, though recently, to
scientifically study human problems and sufferings. It has evolved modalities and strategies to intervene effectively. The scope of social work is vast, almost encompassing all the manifestations of human sufferings and pains. Likewise, much varied are the approaches, methods and strategies for interventions.
There have been many movements, efforts and initiatives that proclaimed their base to Gandhian
philosophy. Yet, some succeed and many failed. Perhaps, truly understanding Gandhiji and Gandhian values and philosophy and pretending to value it makes the entire difference. However, unflinching compassion along with ever mounting commitment to fight for the justice and rights of unprivileged and marginalised groups, a lot of perseverance and tolerance, consistency and concerted efforts are required for success in mobilisation and social action. In the words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “for a successful revolution, it is not enough that there is discontent. What is required is a profound and thorough conviction for the justice, necessity and importance of political and social rights”. Both the legends, Mahatma Gandhi and Baba Saheb Ambedkar have, adhering to their own philosophies, principles and approaches have, untiringly, worked for the marginalised communities at the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy – the untouchables/Harijans/Dalits. Both of them have envisioned an Indian society resting on the pillars of equality, social justice, care and compassion for the fellow-beings.
The book highlights the process of community empowerment. To most of us, community implies people
living in the particular geographical area sharing ‘same levels’ of life situations, pains and vulnerabilities, aspirations and capabilities, and more so, have a common ‘identity’. The notion of such a community having many commonalities in terms of identity, perspectives, attitudes, capabilities, etc., poses few challenges in organizing and empowerment. However, more often than not, such homogeneous communities exist only theoretically and not in reality.
The philosophical position taken by the change agents is for ensuring human rights, social justice and equality. Human rights give us dignity and equality and are necessary for us to live as humans. It strongly advocates for realising a culture based on democratic values, where all human beings, irrespective of their religious affiliation, caste, gender, ethnicity, are guaranteed access to basic and developmental needs. From this perspective, instances of poverty, malnutrition, hunger deaths, illegal detention and torture by police, slavery and bondage, lack of opportunities for decent livelihood, denial of education to children, stigma and discrimination based on religion and caste, all are examples of gross violations of human rights, against which voice was raised. We also believe that though ensuring human rights of fellow being is the duty of all the citizens, the role of State is most crucial. And, especially the Indian government is bound by its constitutional commitments to guarantee rights to all its citizens.
Let us now pay attention to the beginning of the movement of
Dalit empowerment. Several years of work of
fighting for the justice and freedom of bonded labour and child labour, it is
realised that for reinstituting the civil rights of the most downtrodden section of society (Dalits, backward class and tribals), in rural as well as urban locale, a movement is needed to ensure equal opportunities. For this, attack is necessary on the feudal, Brahminical and patriarchal social structure. In India, caste system is not only a structure of cultural values but also it is an indicator of caste based hierarchical system reflected in ruling power equation and unequal distribution of resources and property. Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar had said, “You move in any direction, the monster of caste system would be there to hinder your way. Without killing this monster, neither political nor economic upliftment is possible”. That is why PVCHR tried to integrate Gandhian ideology on rural India with Ambedkarian critical perspective, which is manifested in its concept of Janmitra Gaon (people-friendly village). It aims to establish the identity of Dalits and marginalised in the social, economic and political domains. Thus, we are organizing and mobilising disadvantaged people to create a Janmitra society, where people stand for their own civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. The spirit of our initiatives is to facilitate the marginalised community to take initiative to organise itself to address the challenges and problems. It means that there should be shared understanding, shared decision-making, shared leadership and shared initiative from the community side. It adheres to participatory and democratic approach in the process of making of Janmitra village.
One of the worst forms of human exploitation and discrimination is seen in cases of police torture as they arbitrarily catch hold of Dalits, primarily, poor Musahars and Muslims, and mercilessly and brutally torture the victims to confess the crime, about which they do know anything. Custodial torture often results in permanent disability or even death. Victims have spent decades of their productive life in prisons for no fault of their own. Chapter five ‘Surviving torture and defending human rights’, projects instances and implications of such cases of custodial torture on innocent Dalits. It documents their fight against victimisation. The role of testimonial therapy and the process of uniting village fellow-men to collectively fight against perpetrators of torture have been demonstrated in this chapter.
Though labour bondage is centuries-old practice, in its newer forms, it still governs the lives of about 10 per cent of India’s workforce. Caste system and poverty perpetuate bonded labour system. Even the strong
legislation against labour bondage has largely proved to be mere paper tiger. Mostly observed in agriculture and brick kiln industry, bonded labour system has engulfed several generations from old to children. Ample instances of abuse and exploitation, physical, sexual, financial, inaccessibility to basic civic amenities, sense of utter helplessness, that characterize bonded labourers, not only shiver any sensitive human being but also puts shameful blot to India’s pride and prestige. Chapter seven, ‘From bondage to liberation’ is the demonstration of the movement that freed many bonded labourers who had been surviving in inhuman conditions as they are able to break the shackles of oppressive feudal and capitalist system.
Hopefully, the readers, as they go through the book, are not only intellectually, but also emotionally, able to connect with the sufferings of the Dalits, get charged up with their struggle as they rise from ashes and cheer as they win against all odds. ‘We’, humbly and earnestly, welcome you to be the part of this journey of unwavering human spirit towards emancipation.