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History of Social Work in India

Social work in India has a rich and enduring history, deeply intertwined with the country’s cultural, social, and political fabric. Rooted in the principles of compassion and service, the profession has evolved over centuries, addressing the diverse challenges faced by individuals and communities.

In this article, we embark on a journey through time to explore the historical milestones and significant developments that have shaped the social work profession in India.

history of social work in India
history of social work in India 2023

History of Social Work in Ancient Indian Philanthropy and Altruism

The essence of social work in India can be traced back to ancient times, where the concept of “daana (दान)” (charity) was deeply ingrained in the culture. Philanthropists, kings, and wealthy individuals dedicated resources to provide for the less fortunate, fostering a spirit of giving and altruism within the society. The history of social work in India focuses on empowering communities and individuals for positive change. The history of social work in India, focusing on empowering communities and individuals for positive change, has paved the way for a more just and inclusive society.

History of Social Work in India during Ancient Period (Before Common Era – BCE):

  • Ancient India had a rich tradition of philanthropy and altruism deeply rooted in its religious and cultural practices.
  • The concept of “daana” (charity) played a significant role in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, where individuals were encouraged to give to the needy as a moral duty.
  • Kings, rulers, and wealthy merchants engaged in acts of charity, building temples, educational institutions, and public facilities to serve the community.

History of Social Work in India during Mauryan Empire (c. 322 BCE – 185 BCE):

  • Emperor Ashoka, one of the most prominent rulers of the Mauryan dynasty, was known for his philanthropic endeavours.
  • Ashoka established hospitals, veterinary clinics, and wells for both humans and animals across his empire.
  • He promoted welfare measures and religious tolerance, seeking to alleviate suffering and promote the well-being of his subjects.

History of Social Work in India during Gupta Empire (c. 240 CE – 550 CE):

  • The Gupta period witnessed further philanthropic activities, with wealthy merchants and individuals contributing to the construction of temples, stupas, and other public structures.
  • Educational institutions like Nalanda and Taxila flourished during this era, thanks to patronage from the ruling class and affluent citizens.

History of Social Work in Indian during Medieval Period (c. 500 CE – 1500 CE):

  • During the medieval period, philanthropy continued to be an integral part of Indian society, with charitable acts supported by religious institutions and leaders.
  • Sufi saints and Hindu gurus established “khanqahs” and “maths,” respectively, where they provided food, shelter, and spiritual guidance to those in need.
  • Temples and religious centers served as hubs of philanthropic activities, offering services like free food (“langar”) to pilgrims and the poor.

History of Social Work in India during Mughal Empire (c. 1526 CE – 1857 CE):

  • The Mughal emperors, like Akbar and Jahangir, were known for their contributions to various charitable causes.
  • They established gardens, mosques, and hospitals to support the well-being of their subjects.
  • The Mughal courts encouraged art and culture, with artists and artisans receiving royal patronage.

History of Social Work in Indian during British Colonial Era (c. 1600 CE – 1947 CE):

  • With the advent of the British colonial rule, philanthropy underwent some changes. Christian missionaries and philanthropic organizations began establishing schools, hospitals, and orphanages, often with a focus on converting people to Christianity.
  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy, a social reformer, promoted philanthropic efforts, advocating for education and widow remarriage and challenging social evils like Sati (widow burning).

Throughout history, ancient philanthropy and altruism in India have exemplified the spirit of compassion and selflessness, with individuals and rulers contributing to the well-being of their communities. These acts of kindness and support laid the foundation for the social work profession’s evolution, guiding the commitment to serve and empower those in need even in modern times.

Impact of Colonial Rule on social work in India:

During the British colonial era, social work took on a more structured form as Christian missionaries and philanthropic organizations began establishing welfare institutions. These institutions catered to diverse needs, including education, healthcare, and women’s empowerment. Notably, social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar played pivotal roles in challenging social norms and advocating for societal change.

history of social work in India
history of social work in India 2023

Historical development of social work in India post-Independence Era

The post-independence era in India witnessed significant developments in the field of social work, as the government and civil society recognized the importance of social welfare and human development.

During this period, social work evolved from being largely charity-oriented to a more professional and systematic approach, with a focus on addressing social issues comprehensively.

Let us explore the historical development of social work in India during post-independence era:

  1. Government Initiatives: After India gained independence in 1947, the government took on a more active role in social welfare. Various social welfare programs were launched to address poverty, education, healthcare, and employment issues.
  2. Five-Year Plans: The government’s Five-Year Plans (starting from 1951) included provisions for social welfare and development. These plans allocated funds for social programs and initiatives, aiming to improve the well-being of the marginalized and vulnerable populations.
  3. Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB): In 1953, the Central Social Welfare Board was established to coordinate and support voluntary organizations’ efforts in the field of social work. CSWB played a crucial role in promoting and supporting social work initiatives across the country.
  4. Professional Social Work Education: With the growing demand for trained social workers, professional social work education gained prominence. Institutions like Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai and the Delhi School of Social Work played a pivotal role in providing formal training and education in social work.
  5. Community Development Programs: Community development became a key focus in the post-independence era. The government introduced community development programs to uplift rural communities and empower local people in decision-making processes.
  6. Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS): In 1975, the Integrated Child Development Services was launched, aiming to provide nutritional, health, and educational support to young children and pregnant women.
  7. Family Planning Program: In the 1950s and 1960s, the government-initiated family planning programs to control population growth and improve maternal and child health.
  8. Women’s Empowerment: The post-independence era saw increased attention to women’s issues, with efforts to promote gender equality, education, and empowerment.
  9. National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA): In 2005, NREGA was introduced to provide guaranteed employment opportunities to rural households, addressing poverty and unemployment.
  10. Social Work Research and Advocacy: As the profession matured, social workers began engaging in research to inform evidence-based practices. Advocacy efforts also gained momentum to address social injustices and promote policy changes.
  11. NGO Sector Growth: The post-independence era witnessed significant growth in the non-governmental organization (NGO) sector. NGOs played a crucial role in delivering social services and advocating for the rights of marginalized communities.
  12. Focus on Rights-Based Approach: Social work in India transitioned from a charity-based approach to a more rights-based approach, emphasizing the importance of empowering individuals and communities to claim their rights.

Thus, the post-independence era in India marked a period of remarkable growth and development in the social work profession. Social work in India emerged as a dynamic and essential field, with professionals playing a vital role in addressing social issues, empowering marginalized populations, and promoting social justice and human rights.

The social work profession in India continues to evolve, adapting to the changing needs of society and contributing to the betterment of individuals and communities across the country.

Timeline wise historical development of Professional social work education in India

The historical development of professional social work education in India can be outlined in the following timeframe:

History of Social Work in india during Pre-Independence Era (19th Century):

  • 1893: Mary Clubwala Jadhav established the first women’s welfare center in Bombay (now Mumbai), marking the early initiatives in social work education.
  • The Sir Dorabji Tata Trust founded India’s first college for professional social work education in Bombay in 1936.
  • An American missionary named Clifford Manshardt, who had social work expertise in both America and India, spearheaded the main effort to build this first school of professional social work. Manshardt also served as the institution’s founding director.

History of Social Work in Indian during Post-Independence Era

  • Early post-independence years saw the establishment of schools and institutions that offered informal social work training.
  • 1952: The Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) was established to support voluntary social work organizations.
History of Social Work in India during 1950s-1960s:
  • 1955: The Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work was established in Mumbai, becoming one of the first formal social work education institutes in India.
History of Social Work in India during 1970s-1980s:
  • During this period, social work education started to diversify, with the establishment of more colleges and institutes offering social work programs across India.
  • Focus on Empowerment and Community Development: In the 1980s and 1990s, social work in India began to emphasize community development, empowerment, and a rights-based approach. Social workers started collaborating with local communities, working together to identify needs and design sustainable solutions.
History of Social Work in India during 1990s-2000s:
  • Social work education witnessed further expansion, with more universities and colleges incorporating social work programs into their curricula.
  • 2005: The National Association of Professional Social Workers in India (NAPSWI) was founded to promote professional standards and ethics.
History of Social Work in India during 2010s-Present:
  • Social work education continues to grow, with increased emphasis on specialized fields such as medical social work, mental health, child protection, and community development.
  • Integration of technology in social work education, facilitating online courses and virtual learning.

Thus, the historical development of professional social work education in India has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the pre-independence era to a robust and diverse field with multiple institutions offering quality education and training opportunities. As social issues evolve and new challenges arise, social work education remains crucial in producing skilled and compassionate professionals who can address the complex needs of individuals and communities in the country.

New Frontiers: Mental Health and Human Rights:

In recent years, two essential fronts have emerged in Indian social work: mental health and human rights. The growing recognition of mental health as a crucial aspect of well-being has led to an increased focus on providing mental health support and counselling services to individuals and families. Additionally, social workers are actively engaging in human rights advocacy, striving to address systemic inequalities and promote social justice.

The history of social work in India is a testament to the power of compassion and altruism in transforming lives and societies. From ancient philanthropy to modern-day professional interventions, social work continues to play a vital role in addressing India’s complex social challenges.

As the profession evolves, social workers remain committed to their noble mission of empowering the vulnerable, advocating for justice, and building a more inclusive and equitable society. Through their tireless efforts, social workers leave an indelible mark, reminding us of the transformative potential of compassion-driven change.

By Admin