Voluntary action born out of absolute free will of its initiators and run without any form of external influence is of course a rarity (perhaps even an impossibility) (Kulkarni, 1984). Voluntary Action, that action which is not directed or controlled by the State, has a long and useful record of services in various field of human endeavor in India (Chatterji and Singh, 1972). Voluntary action born out of free will of its initiations and runs without any form of external influences is of course a rarity. A action inspired, sponsored or engineered by external agent and its management dictated or directed or even conditioned by authorities outside the organization can hardly be voluntary (Kohli, 2000). Voluntary action brings a lot of personal satisfaction and its benefits people who suffer different types of social problems. For example, in fighting against physical and social disability, voluntary action can facilitate social integration, if negative stereotypes are removed. It extends the training opportunities for employment for the unemployed youths. Voluntary action also gives the opportunity to self development to the youth participating in the voluntary activities and it also enhances the capacity of the people in risk taking and overcoming the new unforeseen events (Jagdanand, 2002). Voluntary actions are the actions in which people out of their own free will come together for the solution of a particular problem of community. The people decides its contours, find solutions or remedies, prepare plans, organize themselves, generate funds, monitor and evaluate the plans and programmes, seldom supplemented by outside agencies. The touchstone for such voluntary ventures is the people’s initiative without outside control but only such assistance or guidance based on needs and perceptions of the problems. People’s voluntary action or initiative may be strengthened if the constant assistance sustains their efforts. Voluntary action, as previously thought as welfare and services to the people who need these. This notion has changed in time and space. But still the charity has been the powerful driving force behind the voluntary action.. Today its meaning has been widening to encompass the social and economic dislocations of people for the nation development .Now the voluntary action also aims to enable human survival against natural and anthropogenic disasters, epidemics, and environmental degradations. Contemporary societies are facing various developmental threats on their traditional life styles. Therefore, the voluntary actions now require specialized professional skills and training in order to face skillfully the new emergencies.
The term voluntarism is derived from Latin word volunteers means will or freedom. According to Oxford dictionary, voluntarism is a doctrine that will is fundamental or a dominant factor; it is a principle of relying on voluntary action rather than compulsion (Kholi, 2001). The concept of voluntarism may be termed as an informal creed or system with infrastructure, methods and procedures laid down by the people in an indigenous manner to tackle their problems. The initiative taken spontaneously by an informal gathering or a group may ultimately result in an organization called voluntary agency or in today’s (international) parlance, a non-governmental organization (NGO). The spirit of voluntary initiative or action can be maintained as long as, the structure of an NGO is small, its chain of commands and communication are without outside dictates such as through the condition of grants. Public cooperation and people’s participation are somewhat broader terms, which become operational through an organized network of voluntary agencies and sometimes-local bodies like Panchayats.
2. VO, NGOs or Social Organization
Voluntary Organization (VO), Non-government organization (NGO) or Social Organisation (SO) are more or less synonyms and people of such organizations have began to differentiate between these terms and prefer to be called as Social Organisations instead of either first two. Here for the reference we prefer the use the term voluntary organizations. Though we would prefer and suggest using the Social Organisation. Voluntary agency, an American term generally used for non-government organization (NGO) and United Nation regards these all under the genric name, NGO, referring to any international organastion which is not established by the inter-government agreement (Kholi,2001) whereas in United Kingdom the same term normally cover non-statutory bodies and services. In India it is usually understood to mean non-official societies registered under the Societies Registration Act (Kulkarni, 1984). Voluntary organization, as Ford Lord Beverige defined it, are such organization where its workers are paid or unpaid. Voluntary agencies are the people’s institutions that help in motivating, organising and mobilizing people especially the poor to participate in planning and operation of the development programmes of the government. They assist, motivate and organize people for self-reliant and group-reliant development activities based on local needs and with available resources. They are the vehicle for communication between the people and the various organizations. They also help to fill the gaps left by the existing government-sponsored programmes. The voluntary organization has a big identify and mobilize village and local resources, which are now either totally ignored or grossly under- utilized. They have to bring technology close to the people by application and demonstration through participation of the local people. They have to train a cadre of grassroots workers to bring about professionalism among voluntary agencies. Above all, they have to oversee the delivery system to make it effective at the village level to respond to the felt needs of the village poor. The strength of voluntary action lies in their proximity to the people and their sensitivity to the needs and concerns of the community. It gives a personal touch to the services offered. The voluntary agencies are capable of bringing people together and motivating them to participate in the developmental process. The voluntary agencies make people aware, motivate, articulate, priorities needs; and mobilize for the desired social action. The participatory experiences, learning together and local leadership remove the fear and generate confidence in reforming the people. The main strength of voluntary organizations lies in their capacity to understand local needs, problems and resources; their capacity to involve local people and seek their cooperation and participation. Voluntary organisations play a very important role in development and social welfare services. Apart from providing relief at the time of emergency, fire, floods, famine, natural disaster etc. they contribute immensely in helping the needy, the destitute and the handicapped sections of the society. They do not wait for the government to undertake work but on their own initiative and with their own resources and community participation, they organised the needed services. Voluntary organisations work in close association with people than the Government to reach to the People.
3. Voluntary Action: Historical Sketch
Indian societies have a way of life based on a built-in-system of people’s participation in social service. Temples, Maths and Dharamshalas became the centres of social service on the wide scale. During Muslim period however, much depended upon the initiative of the king. The earliest known social service existed during the reign of king Ashoka followed by Muslim kings who planted trees, established free kitchens and piaos (water drinking booths) during summers, etc. During the British period growth in voluntary action had four sources: initiative for social service by the wives of the British and later Indian Officers through their clubs; caste-based social welfare service by the Indians; social Welfare Service sponsored directly or by agencies created by foreign missionaries; and contributions by wealthy persons for welfare work. Few thousand social welfare agencies in the voluntary sector were registered societies and trusts looking after orphans, widows, the sick, the handicapped etc. One category of rich and influential were motivated by various considerations such as achieving salvation, purposeful utilization of their wealth and perhaps getting social recognition whereas the other category of voluntary agencies working in India was those who managed and funded by Christian missionaries serving the poor and the down-trodden. Some reformers emphasized the role of education, many reformers and social workers like Raja Mohan Roy, Gandhiji, Tagore, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and others started educational institutions particularly for women. Christian missionaries were mostly engaged in educational and medical Services. By beginning of Nineteenth century social reform movement contributed greatly to the development of voluntary action.
Precisely, in India, social services and voluntary action can be traced to the presence of specific institutions fulfilling the purpose in ancient period. During medieval period, voluntary action continued even in the absence of such social intuitions. It continued and gained momentum as social reform movement during the pre-independence period. During the 19th century, cultural renaissance inspired the voluntary social action as progressive section of middle class to bring in the social reform in the social life.
Many type of voluntary action can be noticed i.e. first, philanthropic concern of prominent person; second, Christian missionary focusing the education and health facilities in the remote areas and third, voluntary action was socio-political in nature and was guided by the spirit of nationalism. This type of voluntary action surpassed the boundaries of region and community and attained a universal character (Jagdananda, 2001).