Group work practice in pre-independence India was not well organised, formal, or systematic, and it was heavily influenced by the distinctive features of Indian society.
The social institutions performed the essential functions of group work.
In pre-independence India, social institutions wielded considerable power over people's lives. These institutions' situations and experiences benefited their members, and the need for external intervention by professionals or professional agencies was limited. The aspects of group work found in all walks of life in pre-independence India are summarised below.
The Dravidian traditions were introduced to India in 2000 BC, and this is when the joint family system emerged as a distinctive aspect of Indian society. Three generations share a home with one another as a joint household. The senior family member is responsible for overseeing the joint family. Despite the fact that their respective earning capacities vary, all of the family's members are equally entitled to its income and property. This system offered its members possibilities for growth while also offering them financial support, emotional support, entertainment, personality development, and care for the elderly and less fortunate members of society.
Group activity serves the crucial purpose of knowledge construction. In that regard, the historic Gurkula system is comparable to a type of group labour. Yet another distinctive element of ancient India is the gurukulam. It all started with the Vedic era (1500-600 BC) 2 \s. According to this method, a teacher must possess the nine qualities of bramana (peacefulness, self-control, discipline, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom, and religiosity) as stated in the Bhagavad Gita. Students must adhere to rigorous celibacy throughout the entire time, and they must have the right drive, disposition, and natural qualifications based on inborn characteristics.
On the economic front, guilds emerged as a distinct and multifaceted form of organization. The guild system began in the early Buddhist period, or the fifth century, and lasted until the Mauryan period5. The guilds were an important part of ancient India's socioeconomic structure. People of the same craft began to band together as more people became artisans. They discovered that they could accomplish more than any of them could alone, so they banded together and formed the guild. Different guilds were formed by different crafts and artisans.
Scenario of Religion
The caste system, which was established between 1000 BC and 600 BC 7, is another distinctive feature of Indian society. Even today, caste is very important in Indian social life. The caste system identifies its members and determines their social status. The social and familial lives of its members are governed by caste rules.
It offers people psychological support. Changes in the traditional caste system have occurred over time as a result of social changes, Sanskritization, and social legislation. Even in a democratic system today, caste can act as a pressure group.
In the context of group work in pre-independence India, Christian missionaries deserve special mention. Missionary work began in British India. The dedicated service rendered by Christian missionaries and the impact of Christianity were crucial in bringing about a change in the outlook of Indians, particularly towards then prevalent social evils such as sati and the social prohibition of widow re-marriage. Christian missionaries, who were active during the colonial period, are an organised group of people engaged in the evangelical work of spreading the gospel. Since then, various Christian missionaries have visited India.Since the early 1900s, the education mission has been thriving. Bandel church was given to the Roman Catholic group of Don Bosco Salesians in 1928.
They established Don Bosco school branches throughout the colonial period and after. Christian missionaries followed humanitarian ideas and emphasised people's social development.
As a prelude to evangelation, Christian missionaries prioritised the improvement of indigenous language and literature, as well as the spread of education. Serampore trio also advocated for the reform of Hindu social institutions. They aided in the passage of legislation. Serampore was also a forerunner in the fields of printing and publishing. They also advocated for the rights of Bengal peasants.
Contact with village reality exposed them to the anachronisms of colonial land revenue policies and the judicial system. The Christian missionaries worked to mobilize public opinion in England and India in support of reforms to India's socioeconomic system.
The ancient rulers dominated the political scenario of Indian society in ancient times. They all took a welfare-oriented approach to their subjects and completed several works of public utility. However, there were few political organizations, associations, or groups to which lay men belonged. With the rise of national movements in British India, such associations arose.
Though there were many social ills in the society at the time, the issue that required immediate intervention was political freedom for the nation, the fruits of which would benefit the entire nation.
In this context, the Indian National Congress and Gandhi deserve special mention. The formation of the Indian National Congress signalled a new political awakening. People from all walks of life joined Congress, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's words and writings, and it grew into a mass movement. Along with advocating for political freedom, they also advocated for better women's and sarvodaya status, which meant the upliftment of all sections of society. Gandhi preached and practised a constructive programme to achieve this. Gandhi's leadership and activities through the Indian National Congress and Sarvodaya were able to bring people from various backgrounds together and work toward a common goal, the ultimate goal of which was total welfare.
There was a lot of reform activity at the individual and group levels in pre-independence India. Some of the earlier reform initiatives are summarized below.
The Serampore missionaries' crusade against sati culminated in the efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who succeeded in passing sati-abolition laws. In 1815, he founded the Atmiya Samaj, which later evolved into the Brahma Samaj, which advocated for the abolition of the caste system, sati, and the promotion of equal rights for women, among other things. These efforts were aimed not only at reforming Indian, Hindu society, but also at the welfare of underprivileged groups such as women, children, untouchables, and so on.
Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar was the first to launch a movement against the prohibition of widow re-marriage by demonstrating that it did not contradict the preaching of Hindu scriptures, and it was as a result of his tireless efforts, particularly an appeal made to the government in 1885, that the Hindu Widow Re-marriage Act passed in 1856. In 1861, Justice Ranade, a widow re-marriage advocate, founded the Widow Marriage Association to promote widow re-marriage.
Pre-independence India's common group work practises generally lacked scientific understanding. They mostly developed as a result of particular needs. The principles, procedures, and tactics used varied widely. Later, when social work became a profession in the west and its affects could be seen in India as well, this method of aiding people was modified.