By Santosh Digal
Carmel Nisha Pius Franco, a social worker from India, drew international attention when she stood with a placard in Washington DC thanking President Donald Trump’s anti-abortion stance. Franco, a social worker and a full-time Pro-Life activist, is quite clear about her priorities. She also does counseling and content management. Her biggest worry is about fellow social workers falling prey to NGOs who are out to implement projects guided by Western ideologies in her country.
Santosh Digal of Matters India talked to her in an email interview. Excerpts:
MATTERS INDIA: Please introduce yourself.
CARMEL NISHA PIUS FRANCO: I am from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, currently living outside India. I am a licensed social worker. However, my job involves much of unconventional human rights activism, not a typical 9-5 “desk” social work.
I am the director of a nonprofit organization called “Uyirkkural” (voice of life), based in Chennai. Our mission is to restore the dignity of human person and build a culture of life in India. A major part of our work includes raising awareness about the most neglected in society. We do this by writing, speaking, taking part in protests, demonstrations, vigils, and marches. I am also a content manager and a freelance writer. I have written for prominent platforms like Live Action News in the US and have had the wonderful opportunity of working alongside some great personalities like Monsignor Philip Reilly, the founder of Helpers of God’s Precious Infants.
Why did you become a social worker?
I did not pursue social work. It was a calling for me. I believe I was called to be qualified as a social worker. As Pope John Paul said, “There is no mere coincidence in the designs of Providence.” I believe, my education in Sociology and Social Work is a part of that grand design prepared for me and my mission.
What are some issues you have been engaged?
I work for restoring the dignity and value of the human person. Eugenics, forced sterilization, and similar coercive population control efforts, artificial hormonal contraception, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, assisted reproductive technologies, and embryo experimentation are some of the broad range of issues that I engage in individually and as a representative of Uyirkkural.
What are the challenges you face in your work?
Our work is unconventional unlike other social workers, who address poverty, unemployment, child marriage, and environmental issues,
We deal with issues that many dare not to speak out loud such as ‘coercive population control policies’ or abortion. In such cases, we fight against the established mindset and false ideas propagated by ideologists who use media to manipulate people. Let me explain this with an example. Several intellectuals and even clergy in India have refused to talk about abortion and artificial contraception because they are afraid to be ‘misquoted’ as working against the welfare of the nation. They think that abortion and contraception are unavoidable evil that serves larger good of keeping the population of India in check. But, India is not overpopulated anymore. Let me repeat it again.
India is not overpopulated anymore. More than 24 states are below replacement fertility level. Our country is reaching a dangerous stage where, in a few decades, we will not have enough working population to support the growing aging population. People are still under the false notion that India needs “population control” – a panic spread by eugenicists from Western countries. Even activists from the West have debunked the myth of overpopulation in general.
It is not easy to battle such strong misconceptions and bring people to awareness. This is our major challenge. We fight ideas. We say our women do not need abortion, ‘women do not have to kill their children to achieve their dreams’, we say our women have to respected and our people should not be shut with contraceptives when they need food, water, and education, we say our people have to be dealt with dignity no matter the severity of the problem. To bring the “human person” to the center of problem-solving in this materialized culture is quite a challenge. However, that’s swimming against the tide, right?
How do you see the role of social worker in India at the moment?
Right now, we need more social workers who can be advocates, who can be a voice for the voiceless.
India unfortunately has blindly submitted to the Western concept of social work. ‘Professional social worker’ in India is just like any paid worker equipped with tools and techniques to solve problems, but, without the realization that we are dealing with ‘unique’ problems of ‘unique’ persons from a ‘unique’ culture.
Social workers in India need to revisit history to understand how problems were solved within social institutions unique to our cultural patterns. They need to be educated in the concepts of human person, dignity, the importance of family and culture. I believe in the present situation we need social workers who would like to roll up the sleeves and get dirt on their feet. Get to the streets. Talk about religion and philosophy, discuss ideas, explore cultures and most importantly try to understand the ontological reality. Social workers must not be puppets of NGOs who are driven by huge corporations that fund certain ideology. They should dare to stand up for truth.
What are the challenges of female social worker?
Being a social worker is close to the natural vocation of women. Women have this unique capacity to see details and suffer with those suffering. The human aspect of the profession is kept intact by her ‘feminine and maternal’ approach to dealing with problems.
However, certain situations pose a challenge to female social workers. Gender discrimination, work-life balance, traveling alone especially to remote places, taking part in protests or public demonstrations takes its toll on a different level on women social workers.
Safety is an issue, especially in India. Families tend to underestimate the role of women social workers by valuing them based on their ‘salary’ or pressuring them to pursue conventional roles like teaching.
What are the most pressing concerns challenging the country now?
Materialism and complete disregard for the human person is the most pressing concern that our country faces as of now. This reflects in all aspects of our culture today. Take any problem in our country, selfishness and disregard for a fellow person lies at the core of the problem. If we accept the concept of experimenting on human embryos and playing around with them, freezing them, thawing them and justifying the act that it helps in the scientific discovery that would serve a larger population then how can we expect the state to respect farmers’ rights or tribal people’s rights in land acquisition issues? What happens in the family is reflected at large in society.
How can social workers promote human dignity?
Social workers in various fields have a great opportunity as educators, case managers and advocates in promoting a culture that restores the dignity of a human person.
In their general role of helping in problem-solving, they can help people to place the ‘human person’ to the center and priority. Be it hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, refugee camps, orphanage or wherever, being mindful of the fact that we’re dealing with a person made in the image and likeness of God helps to restore the dignity due to that person.
Of course, this is a challenge because we easily tend to be overwhelmed by the problems and become mechanical in dealing with it. But taking efforts to remind ourselves of this fact makes a huge difference and creates a ripple effect.
How does a social worker contribute to nation-building?
By building families. Strong families represent strong societies. The strong society represents a strong nation. Social Workers can contribute to nation building by working to help families stay together and building them rather than breaking them because no institution or welfare state can replace the family. A look at Europe and North America attests to this statement.
(Carmel Nisha Pius Franco could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)