Is Social Action Becoming A Neglected Mission?

February 21, 2013 by  
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Fr. M.K. GeorgeKarnataka, February 20, 2013: Fr. M.K. George SJ, currently the Director of Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, on his maiden visit to the CRI House, New Delhi, for a meeting of CARITAS India, conversed with Sr. Claudette Miranda DSP on his Institute as well as matters related to Social Action. Here are the excerpts.

Fr. George, Tell me something of Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, where you are currently working?

Indian Social Institute, Bangalore (ISI-B), I am glad to say, is celebrating her golden jubilee this year. Started initially as the Training centre for the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, in 1993 ISI-B became autonomous and functions as a resource centre. With the vision of building a ‘Just, Humane, Democratic and Secular Society’ ISI-B has chosen her mission as a Rights-Based Resource Organization in partnership with other likeminded people and groups to accompany the marginalized to claim their Entitlements for a dignified life towards an equitable society.

Her thrust areas of involvement are Human Rights, Gender Equity, Livelihood issues, secularism and ecological issues. The priority groups that get the service from the Institute are Dalits, Tribals, Fishworkers, women, minorities and students.

What kind of programmes do you offer in ISI-B?

Towards the mission of ‘accompanying the marginalized’ ISI-B has taken training programmes for social activists as her priority. The Social Analysis programme of ISI-B, has created a tradition which is much respected. In the seventies and eighties, a lot of priests, sisters and lay men partook in the three month Social Analysis programme, which incidentally created a large number of leaders for social movements across the country, particularly the South of India. It is indeed very gratifying to come across many social activists who are proud of their training in IS-B, either before their initiation into social action or during their work.

The training programmes have now taken a wider range, but focus mainly on Human Rights, Capacity Building, Gender sensitization and so on. One satisfying element of ISI-B’s work is the freedom that people of all walks, all races and castes, even the most marginalized as beggars and sexual minorities find a welcome in the Institute. In fact the infrastructural facilities of the Institute are availed by groups of unimaginable variety. The feedback that all types of people feel at home is indeed a very satisfying one for us because hospitality is indeed a Godly virtue.

Can you tell me about the situation of Social Action by Religious in India?

It is interesting to look at our own understanding of Social Action. There are many who think that working in the area of charity is doing social action. The motivation for charity work or social action, of course, is the command of Jesus to love one another and the criterion for final judgment given by Jesus: whether you did it to one of these my ‘little children’.

It is customary to distinguish between charity work, welfare work, empowerment approach and Rights-based approach. While one cannot discount any of these works, all of them are indeed attending to the most marginalized; there is an increasing awareness among social activists that the first two categories of work create dependencies while the latter ones create self dignity and self reliance.

The CRI survey pointed out that almost 40 per cent of the religious in India are involved in social work. But is the social work charity oriented and dependency creating or are they building citizens with dignity and self reliance? I am afraid that most religious are settling down for charity or welfare work and are not ready for the tougher and more demanding social action.

Indian Society is marked by extreme levels of poverty. Every third person in India is a starving or malnourished person. On the other hand India has the fourth largest number of billionaires in the world: 53 of them. Such inequality must make us think critically. Poverty is man made and so is injustice. We cannot bring justice through charity work alone.

Do you mean to say that charity work and welfare work are outdated?

No not at all. The question is where our priority should be. Given the nature of our commitment, which is prophetic and radical we should be doing much more of social action, involved in acts of justice than just welfare work. If poverty and other social problems are largely man made and are issues of injustice, then we should be fighting for justice not just doling our charity.

Do you mean to say that all of us religious should be on the road, doing dharnas and fighting the state?

Again another misunderstanding! Social action does not mean just dharnas and protests. Social Action is any action born of an understanding the rampant social problems in our country and across the globe are results of unjust social structures. Therefore our commitment to Jesus, the prophet should lead us to acts of Justice. The variety of forms social action can take range from organizing people, networking with people who are working for the poor, doing research, advocacy, lobbying, networking, publishing and just creating circles of caring and friendship among the poor and rich across the barriers. It is an amazing variety of options. If only we knew.

Why do you think religious are reluctant to get into Social Action?

Lots of us do not do it because we have no proper analysis of social reality. Unfortunately the level of knowledge of social realities among the religious is pitiably low. While they are experts in their own professional life, spiritual matters, and may be even some general knowledge, on specific social issues and their causes, their ignorance is sometimes pathetic. Awareness leads to action. Think of the case of Mahatma Gandhi. When he was thrown out of the train in Pretoria in South Africa and had to spend the whole night on the platform, he knew the pain of slavery and he committed himself to fight for freedom. Much like this many of us religious need to get to know the social reality, gruesome in so many cases, so that we are challenged to get involved. It is not that we do not have models. Sr. Valsa is the recent martyr who remains a challenge to every one of us.

Do you mean to say that the religious are neglecting social action?

I believe so. I don’t mean to say we are doing it purposely. It is a lack of awareness, a lack of wills on the side of administration and of course our total subservience to institutions that we have created. My only hope is that many younger religious will heed the call of Justice, and the prophetic call of religious life. Consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church. Shouldn’t we be the front runners for the Justice of God?


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