Voluntary Action in India
Role, Trends and Challenges
Anil Bhatt The voluntary sector needs to play a more overt political role if it is to make any long-lasting dent on social transformation.
T H E last t w o decades have seen an unprecedented growth of voluntary or nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in India. While voluntarism has been an age-old phenomenon, it is only in the last couple of decades that so much is being talked, written, debated and done about it. There is a good reason for this. Modern voluntarism is signicantly different from the conventional voluntarism in form, content, intent and impact. Conventional voluntarism was primarily aimed at charity and relief or at best, social welfare and social
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The variety is so wide and overlapping that it defies any neat classification in terms of activities, functions, approaches and roles [Pandey 1984].Butunderlying all this variety and divergence is the mission of social transformation. There was a growing realisation by the end of the 60s that the state and its political and public institutions had failed to do much about poverty, inequality and injustice. On the contrary, the political processes and developmental policies had often led to the strengthening of the powerful and the rich and increased the stranglehold of the dominant groups over the deprived. It was this realisation and deep pessimism about politics and government that led middle class, highly educated, sensitised youth to go to villages and urban slums and start voluntary action separate and independent of existing political and governmental establishments. More than two decades of work by these voluntary groups has now raised the question of what role they have played, w i t h what results, and what challenges await the voluntary sector in the 90s. There are several ways of looking at the role of modern voluntary organisations (VOs) depending upon one's framework of analysis. One can simply prepare a long list of roles that voluntary groups perform, based on their activities and functions, a common format used in classifying VOs. But viewed in terms of impact, modern voluntarism can be considered as performing