BENGALURU: Despite having several social groups, organisations, and welfare policies which read excellently on paper, welfare systems and structures in post Independence India have failed. It thus becomes important to question and examine the reasons behind this failure.

As per a 2009 survey, there are two million NGO’s in India, which estimates to just over one NGO per 600 people. In a densely populated country like India and with the nature of resources at disposal (if used appropriately) just over one NGO per 600 people is a good number. With the number of social groups and organisations existing in the country; it is important to raise the question of why then have India’s social and welfare problems continued to be the very same, with only a change in the manner in which they manifest themselves? Several policies, programmes and structures to address these issues have also been put in place through legislative, parliamentary and judicial process, yet they persist – why?

While the question may seem complex, the answers to it are fairly simple. To begin with, most state policies and organisations look to attack the manifestation (effect) of the problem, rather than root cause of it. Instead of investigating the issue, they look to directly address it without any sort of background, understanding or examination of the issue.

Evidence based interventions, backed by primary and secondary research and understanding is known to be more effective approach; however, in India we do not seem to believe in evidence based policies and interventions. Instead of planning strategies and interventions based on ground realities and stakeholder needs, they are planned on what the groups, organisations and policy makers think is most essential for those concerned and affected.

Take for example the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 2016. It’s provisions are not based on an understanding of why are children having to work or choosing work instead of pursuing education – is it because their family needs the extra support, the lack of access or the irrelevance of the education being provided? Rather it is based merely on the opinion that ‘children should not work.’ Agreed, that children should not work, but in order to address that, it becomes imperative to first investigate why children have to work? Working children are not the problem; it is the reason why they are working and lack of social welfare and security that are the problems.

Second is the problem of looking at matters in isolation. All developmental challenges have social, economic, cultural, political and ecological aspects. The social cannot be addressed in isolation of the economic, cultural, political, or the ecological / geographical and vice versa, they all factor in and intersect at some point.

Take for instance, the issue of farmer suicides – like all others this too is a problem having multiple dimensions. The farmers are economically affected, which is causing increased socio - economic marginalisation, which would also affect the community’s culture practices. The inability of farmers to pay back loans to the state gives the issue a political angle and lastly, the fact that farmer suicides are due to the drought, which is a result of climate change gives it an ecological aspect. Farmers in some states being worse affected than farmers in other states, gives in a geographical aspect. Given the multi – dimensional nature of the problem, the approach towards its resolution requires to be need based and multi – pronged that addresses the problem in a holistic and nuanced manner..

The third problem is of taking ‘apolitical’ stances. Issues related to social justice and welfare by their very nature are political and an apolitical approach towards them is bound to fail. Issues of gender, for instance, cannot be addressed ‘apolitically’ since at the heart of the issue lies the politics of the body, discrimination, patriarchy and semantics.

The fourth challenge is the lack of study of historical context. History is taught for a reason - so that mistakes do not get repeated and good practices can be replicated. Just as the manifestation of social and development problems evolve, the approach towards them too has to evolve and in order for them to evolve, there has to exist an understanding of the history of the issue.

Take as example the disability rights movement, the movement still faces the same challenges as before; it is only their manifestation which has changed. However, the understanding of disabilities, approaches towards rehabilitation and even terms used to address persons with disability have evolved over the years.

Last are the matters of lack of foresight and the absence of macro planning. Groups, organisations and policies look to address the immediate problems at hand, but fail to come up with sustainable and flexible long term strategies. Often in the pursuit to fulfil short term goals, organisations instead of enabling and empowering their stakeholder, end up making them more dependent.

Another issue to be acknowledged is that of ‘expertise.’ Even though the solutions to problems of social justice and welfare may seem obvious and easy - the field requires individuals who have studied, researched and engaged with the issue before they begin to design intervention strategies.

And like in any other field, with an expertise come certain ethics and frameworks which lie at the core of practice and intervention in the field and while engaging with vulnerable stakeholders. There is often a misconception that the field does not require an expertise or any formal study, but what is forgotten is that social issues are complex and require an understanding of a range of subjects such as law, human behaviour, economics, historical context, socio – cultural context and several others.

Until social groups, organisations and policy makers recognise and address these challenges, issue of social welfare and justice are going to remain unresolved within the country.