Concepts, Values and Practices Common to Sikhism and Social Work

1) Compassion, Love and Charity

Compassion towards suffering brethren is an inherent part of human nature. It is an innate human urge. It is because of this impulse that people have always come forward on their own will and accord to provide help to persons in distress. People want not only means for
survival, but also love, affection, autonomy, respect, recognition, self-actualization, moral and spiritual development. Generally it is out of their natural feeling of devotion and dedication to serve the mankind or at least the members of their own society that people extend their helping hand to the needy. People generally do it because of their desire to go to heaven after death or to get rid of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (for example in Hindu religion) by attaining salvation through charity or other forms of help to the oppressed and suppressed in the society. When we look into history of social work, we can find that social work started with charity. Both compassion and charity can be seen in Sikhism and Social work as well.

2) Universal Brotherhood and Welfare

Both Sikhism and social work believes In universal brotherhood and welfare. Both believe that an individual should have affectionate, pleasant and respectful attitude towards fellow human beings. An individual should not be selfish; he/she should think about the welfare of all and battle for the downtrodden as well as for the best interest of whole society.

3) Equality and Liberty

Both Sikhism and social work talk about equality for every individual in the society without discriminating on the basis of caste, creed, religion, gender, wealth and race. Everyone is equal and alike in front of God.

They should be given love, respect and equal treatment. According to Sikhism man is made the ultimate judge of the worth or desirability of every social and political institution while social work also holds the same view. Both give emphasizes that everyone in the society has liberty to take his/her decisions. Sikh Gurus brought the transformation to the status of women which is also an area of social work concern. Women are to be respected as equally good members of the society. The Guru (Guru Amar Das) denounced Sati as an infliction of unforgivable cruelty on women and tried hard for the emancipation of women from this forced brutal social practice. He condemned female infanticide. Such opposition had been made by many social reformers in the past and professional social work also promotes same values.

4) Justice

In Sikhism an individual has to live and die for justice and whoever does wrong has to suffer at the hands of dispenser of justice. They believe that persons should be far away from sinful acts. Beggary was not considered to be good. Corruption, graft, lack of impartiality constitute unjust practices. Sikhism envisages a society wherein justice forms all its activities and institutions which is identical with modern social work. In social work, social workers are engaged changing the unjust societal conditions. They are particularly sensitive to the most vulnerable members of the society. For this, social workers are committed to promoting public understanding of the effects of such oppression and encouraging an appreciation of the richness to be gained from human diversity.

5) Voluntary Service (Sewa)

Voluntary service is one of the key concepts in the profession of social work. Many social workers give their services in the field of education, health and so on. Most of the voluntary organizations provide their services voluntarily in times of emergencies such as
famine, flood and in such similar situations. Similarly, in Sikhism, voluntary services are inherent in the form of sweeping and cleaning the floors of the Gurudwara, serving water to or fanning the congregation, dusting the shoes of the people visiting Gurudwara. Such
practices from the place of worship motivate the Sikhs to extend the same to the larger community.

6) Social Responsibility

Sikhism emphasizes that a Sikh should give charity to the needy and should care for the elderly. Social work’s values also teach an individual that he/she should be socially responsible towards oneself, the family and the society. This value cautions the social worker not to neglect himself/herself, his/her family and the society in which he/she is living while he/she is discharging his/her professional duties.

7) Non-violence and Truth

Non-violence and speaking truth are inherent to both social work and Sikhism. In fact non-violence was one of the models of social action practiced by world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and freedom fighters in South Africa. Social work has imbibed such methods,  values and practices over the years from various religions, national leaders and social movements.

8) Langar (Community Kitchen)

In the practice of community kitchen, individuals develop the feeling of community togetherness and participation for a common purpose, self help, co-operation and coordination which is similar to the community organization method of social work. Langar is the common kitchen room in the Gurudwara where everyone irrespective of their caste, class, creed, religion and sex sit together in a pangat and eat from the common kitchen. In social work also a social worker is taught to respect an individual’s racial and ethnic background, culture and religion and to avoid discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, sex and religion.

9) Education and Empowerment of Women

The Indian society has accorded differential status to women throughout the history. Both Sikhism and social work also give importance to education, which is a tool for social change and empowerment of women. In the words of the former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, “Empowering women is a prerequisite for creating a good nation; when women are empowered, society with stability is assured. Empowerment of women is essential as their thoughts and their value systems lead the development of a good family, good society and  ultimately a good nation”. Education and the empowerment of women are both essential and indispensable for a prosperous nation. The approach of Sikhism to empower
women and to give them equal status is in line with the principles and values of social work.