Social work

Hidden agendas, corruption, symbolism: why social work and politics cannot survive together

A a good social worker with basic knowledge of social issues can provide valuable insight into the issues people face in the field. They can help formulate and implement a framework for needed social policies. Ultimately, politics is the general framework under which social policies are developed. Social workers work day in and day out to implement these social policies in an effective, efficient and professional manner. However, if the wrong political process for policy-making is used, it could mean that social workers have the desperate task of introducing faulty logic which, in turn, would rally in favor of faulty practice.

I have observed how an upcoming election cycle brings out the best social work undertaken by politicians. My ideals as a social worker have always been apolitical. However, we have a unique perspective and an obligation to recognize and conflict with political intersections. Social work is ultimately the application of psychology and sociology to social concern through which we can provide support to disadvantaged and marginalized sections of society. We must strive to ensure that political incentives are kept out of the way or used properly, so that they contribute to good development.

I have always fought for the rights of disadvantaged people, for their inherent human dignity and worth. I have always focused on caring for communities, families and individuals who are struggling due to faults in the socio-economic order. At the same time, I have tried to challenge the factors that perpetuate or inflict harm and oppression on this article. It is our duty to work, train and commit ourselves to intervene in their misery and fight for their upliftment. It is our duty to organize workshops and initiatives, so that the problems they face (such as oppression, suffering and neglect) can be eradicated. Then they can truly emerge as free individuals who can choose the kind of life they feel comfortable with and want to pursue.

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Having worked daily in slums, I have seen how the people who live there have been affected by poverty and deprivation. I feel like the poor have been disempowered by society, made weak, forcibly oppressed and forced to live without a voice. Their lives only matter to people when elections are approaching. Slum dwellers have always been victims of social injustice stemming from the inherent but unjustified economic forces and inequalities that exist in our society.

While working on our Misaal project in 2018, a senior politician told me that he would support the cause but would only provide support if I told people it was his initiative. There is no doubt that we need social workers in the political landscape of our country. If politics becomes a game of individual ambitions, it is up to social workers to take over and be the drivers of positive change. That’s why I find politics to be corrupt and cutthroat; working with politicians always involves hidden agendas. They will put their own motives ahead of the welfare of the people they are meant to help. Once, the wife of a parliamentarian told me that I cannot expect an MP to work with people on the ground. On the other hand, social workers have hands-on experience when dealing with important issues in the field.

While working on a Misaal Mumbai project in Bandra, I received a phone call from a friend of mine. He was a minister and we had known each other for almost a decade. He had planned to contest the elections in a constituency where I had recently been called upon to carry out an investigation to implement the same project as in the Jaffer Baba of Bandra. My friend was upset because I didn’t want to work with him. It strained our relationship, but it was something I had to let go of. As a social worker, I have no right to take sides or be biased against anyone. Otherwise, the whole purpose of serving for the upliftment of a community is defeated. The only thing that should matter for a social worker is to serve humanity without being biased by caste, creed or religion. Social workers must learn and respect the traditions of individual communities, but, at the same time, elevate them from the superstitions and taboos they harbor.

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After completing about twenty-five slum transformation projects, I was contacted by a well-known builder in Mumbai. I still remember when I had a cup of tea with him, he told me that I had to convince the inhabitants of the slum to make way for a luxury shopping center. These are the atrocities against which we fought. We cannot let such people trample on the lives of the poor and oppressed. He went on to say that he would offer the residents enough money to move out and would be able to work out a better deal with them if I was interested. I asked him a question: What would happen to all those families who lived there? Money is not the alpha and omega of life. No one should be forced to leave their home with false assurances of a better place to live.

This excerpt from ‘The Slum Queen’ by Ruble Nagi has been published with the permission of Garuda Prakashan.