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Civil Society

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I compiled this article for presentation in part of my M.Phil Course work in 2011, in the Department of Social Exclusion Studies, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad – Karthik Navayan

The word web dictionary says “civil” means “Not rude; marked by satisfactory (or especially minimal) adherence to social usages and sufficient but not noteworthy consideration for others, it also says, of or relating to or befitting citizens as individuals

And society means “An extended social group having a distinctive cultural and economic organization, it also says society is a formal association of people with similar interests”

There is no generally accepted definition for the term “civil society”. The London school of economics Centre for Civil Society’s working definition is one clarifying example

“Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interest, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development of non government organizations, faith based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-helf groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups”

We can say in general a civil society is a society of civilized individuals, which treats its members equally and not discriminate people on any ground and works for the similar interests

The Civil society concept is old but recently it is in news in the world because of collapse of Communism and the democratic openings in East Europe and recent trends in the Middle East

The term Civil Society is in the news in India recently, after the so-called anti corruption movement started by some individuals and claimed themselves as representatives of civil society

But we cannot say now that a civil society is emerged in India, in the situation of the caste system, religion and economic inequalities it is difficult to define civil society. Historians and political analysts have described civil society as “the ultimate third way” of governing a society.

The “Indian civil society” is and was never sensitive towards the issues of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, religious minorities and other marginalized groups and it is not at all responding to the problems faced by the north east and Kashmir people

As rightly observed by the Elizabeth Abraham “Issues of Discrimination and deprivation, the core concerns of the dalit communities were never a prime concern in the civil society or a prime focus of Indian politics.” In her paper “Locating Dalit Rights Concerns in Civil Society Initiatives in India” CACIM Forum Fellowship 2008-09[1]

Dilip bobb, in his article “In search of a civil society”? He observed that “Civil society is not inherently virtuous; it is fractured from within and embraces a wide range of people and organizations, which makes it difficult to define. In India, it can embrace spiritual gurus with vast followings and agendas of their own, NGOs, environmentalists, voluntary agencies with political affiliations, corporates on a social responsibility trip, celebrities looking for free publicity and those who are loosely termed social activists. And then of course, there are the largely anonymous claimants comprising students, teachers, executives, retirees, housewives, et al. What they all have in common is that they are all members of civil society. That actually is the paradox. Civil society is a one-size-fits-all description but it is hard to define because it is so diffuse.” [2]

The simplest way to observe civil society is a “third sector” separate from government and business. So the civil society refers to the so-called intermediary institutions like professional associations, religious groups, and labour unions, NGOs, which can influence all sectors of society and improve public participation in democracies. But in India the TV Channels, News papers run for profit and there is no diversity at all, they are only some caste groups owns them. Can they be considered as civil society?

And majority of NGOs headed by Indian Upper caste and they claims international funding but they serve only their own interests. It was proved at the time of tsunami in Tamilnadu, many orthodox NGOs headed by upper caste not extended their help to the dalit victims and they thrown away dalits from the rehabilitation camps. As the upper caste victims don’t want to stay together with so called untouchables

In India the civil society only talking about the issues of elitist class people and it never addressed the problems of marginalized people, Sunitha Naiain rightly said in her interview to infochange.org a web magazine, she says “In the US, the middle class comprises a key component of civil society. It has been in the forefront of major campaigns including the way garbage is collected from homes. But in India the situation is very different. Take the example of the rag picker. How concerned is civil society about this situation? Who is speaking on his behalf? Everyone here follows the NIMBY (not in my backyard) principle. We don’t want something uncomfortable to happen in our own backyards.”[3]

Though she is speaking truth, it is the half truth as the rag pickers in India having a social background, we can find rag pickers from only certain communities like SC,ST, BC and religious minorities. There are very less number of upper caste people as rag pickers.  My own study on pavement dwellers of Jamai Osmania, Kacheguda, Nampally and Secunderabad Railways stations, reveals that most of the beggars, child laborers, prostitutes living on the streets are belongs to SC, ST, BC and religions minorities, and certainly not from upper castes that why no civil society wants to addressed this issue

Roots of civil society in India

Civil society theory is not merely descriptive; it has strongly normative and political dimensions. Specifically, civil society theory recommends forms associational life that is thought to promote the “civility” of society,  in India the attempt to form a civil society was started with  Buddhism, the Buddist set of norms constituting civility, which are put forward by the preachings of Buddha helped to civilize Indian society.

Buddha ensured proper implementation of democracy. He has shown his Buddist monks congregation as ideal in this regard. Buddha is also a general member in monks circle. There is no special status for Buddha in that circle. If we want any reforms in government machinery, it is customary to consider majority members opinion and implement in accordance with that opinion. Buddha carved and implemented present day system of Speaker, general body, discussion, decision two thousand years before. All the transactions related to public administration were taking place in people’s language

.The political and economic policies of Gouthama Buddha are ideal. These were elaborated in the book “Kutadantha Sutta.”  While addressing a small gathering at a village called Alavi Buddha said, “The main reason for violence and unrest is hunger. It is the duty of all citizens to confiscate hunger. It is the responsibility of all states of the world that none should suffer from hunger”

Gouthama Buddha taught economic policy in public administration to King of Kosala King Prasena Jith as “Crimes cannot be eradicated by suffer or hanging the criminals. Every individual of the society must be provided with economic security. Employment must be provided to everyone. Farmers should be in a state of producing enough food for the society. Pensions are to be provided for senior citizens. Taxes should not be imposed on poor. No restrictions pressures and oppressions to be imposed on workers and laborers. Training must be given to the individuals in different professions according to their interest. The rulers should lead a simple idealistic life by keeping away from all luxuries and extravagance. The leader should garner the blessings from the people and not the money. In this way make people to follow your path.”

According to the foreign relations Gouthama Buddha said, “Your state may not be in secured state when your neighboring state suffering with instability and insecurity. When you come to a proper understanding with your neighboring state, then everyone can live with peace and prosperity. You should show kindness to the people of your neighboring state in par with your own people.”

But after the decline of Buddhism in India the Brahmanism and its caste system spread across the country, which is totally against the spirit of “Civil Society”

Lastly, the role of civil society is to ensure state accountability, but how someone expect it from Indian civil society, which itself divided on the caste lines, and the leaders of Indian so-called civil society believes and practice caste system in entire life.  The Indian civil society itself is not accountable for anything, how can it press for state accountability?

Efforts by many social reformers to civilize Indian society is the current history, the struggle is on, it is continuing to civilize the Indian society for the participation of marginalized sections in Indian democracy

[1] http://cacim.net/twiki/tiki-index.php?page=CFF08Elizabeth

[2] http://www.indianexpress.com/news/in-search-of-civil-society/779081/

[3] http://infochangeindia.org/agenda/civil-society/civil-society-is-a-cacophony-not-an-orchestra.html

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