During the past ten or so years, there has been an interest in seva as a practice of social service during the freedom movement. These investigations have described seva as part of a history of Gandhian voluntarist activism, or as a political practice which resulted in the emergence of a public sphere.
In a seemingly different strand of thinking, influential historical perspectives on developmental welfare in India have usually seen welfare as a concept that was already available to the Indian ruling elite and bureaucracy from the West. In concrete terms, the moment of arrival of nationalist government in some ways took over, replaced and subsumed the moment of the national struggle.
The problem is, in what dimension of nationalist thought, discourse and practice is the idea of welfare grounded? What are the ethical and political reference points for the administrative practice of welfare in India? Or to put it in a different language, what is the rationality of governmental intervention (when does the state intervene in a situation, why, and to what extent) in our specific context? On what bases are the questions of responsibility and its adequacy of these interventions tested. While the economic limit is one that surely governs such decisions, I would like to argue that the ethical concept of seva is another such principle of reference that emerges as a historical universal in the context of the freedom movement.
This presentation is an informal description of a work in progress towards writing a book on seva from this perspective.
R. Srivatsan is a senior fellow at Anveshi Research Centre for Women's Studies, Hyderabad since 2004. He works in the Critical Development Studies, Health and Healthcare Systems, and Public Domain and Outreach Initiatives. He is currently working on a Development Reader that aims to provide non-economist academics a framework for understanding development policy. He is also a co-editor of a volume Towards a Critical Medical Practice: Reflections on the Crisis of Medical Culture Today which is the outcome of a collaborative effort between Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore, and Anveshi. His research interests include critical development studies, visual culture and media studies.