Social service is, no doubt, necessary. For man does not live for himself, but for the society to which he belongs. If we only think and care for ourselves, we become self-seeking. We must think of others, — first of our immediate neighbours, then of our community, and finally of everyone else in the world.
Unfortunately, we seldom think of others. We are careless of how others live. We dump our household garbage at our neighbour's door; we elbow our way through a crowd to be first everywhere, thoughtless of the discomfort to others; let our needs be served before all, it does not matter what happens to anyone else, i.e. let devil take the hindmost. Irresponsibility is seen in many other cases.
A locality suffers from various wants, there may be absence of welfare clinics; the children of the less prosperous or unenlightened persons may have no opportunities for elementary education; but how many of us think of these? It is the duty of every person to be alive to these social needs.
The problem is particularly pressing in a country like ours where forty percent live below poverty line. We have lived for generations under a foreign government. For many years a society like the Ramkrishna Mission was sufferer in this respect.
How difficult the position could be was well represented by Rabindranath in his novel, 'Gora'. Secondly, a subject that people lack initiative. It is taught to look up wistfully to the government. This has deadened our sense of social obligation and responsibility.
But now that India is independent, there should certainly be a change in our outlook. All of us should realise our duties and responsibilities outside the sphere of our own lives. We must shed the inertia, which is a legacy from our foreign rulers. Old habits die-hard. Besides, many look up to a national government to remove all our wants. But that is a wrong attitude. Wherever there is a shortcoming, it is the duty of every citizen to seek to remove it by collective and concerted effort. It was a good sign when our students started organizing Health Homes.
But if we, as individuals, are not alive to this aspect of our lives, we must be made aware of it. Here comes the question of compulsion. In Japan, we are told, each householder is responsible for the cleanliness of the public thoroughfare in front of his dwelling house.
In New China, students have to devote a portion of their time for educating the illiterate adults. Therefore, in our state that has turned 50th years of independence, every able-bodied citizen should be compelled to devote a part of his time for the good of the community. Let it be according to his capacity.
A doctor should be compelled to devote an hour at a clinic; a teacher should be compelled to teach a few illiterate adults everyday at a night school. Every member of the community must be able to contribute something to the general welfare, according to his aptitude and capacity.
Of course, compulsory social service, like compulsory military service, is only permissible in a period of emergency. It cannot be a permanent feature of national life. Ultimately, the governments, the municipalities, the public bodies constituted and paid for doing special jobs, must bear the responsibility of serving social needs. But when the evils are the accumulation of ages, when they are too expensive and deep-seated to be easily uprooted, the services of the people may be conscripted for quicker results, otherwise the remedy might be worse than the disease.
In India, we are face to face with a kind of social emergency. Want of education, want of sanitation, absence of facilities of building up the 'body beautiful', the widespread adulterated food,—to name some of the major evils under which the country is suffering, should have to be combated vigorously. So nothing, less than a total mobilisation of resources will be able to achieve it.
Hence, for the time being it is necessary to introduce some form of compulsion in the social service. If each citizen is required to contribute his mite, his time and energy towards this end, wonders will be achieved. No one likes conscription but when a house is on fire, when a people face a calamity, what is necessary has to be done.
Social service has a liberalising and cementing influence. Its appeal is to the noblest instincts of the people. It ennobles our whole attitude to life. Social service can be a means of achieving emotional integration in the country.
The British system of education in this country encouraged among the educated a sort of aloofness from the illiterate common people. Social service means, in our country today, service to the illiterate and the backward, downtrodden masses by the educated. The fortunate ones can remove the barrier of suspicious and bridge the gulf between the two classes.