Sample donated: Gina Williams
Last updated: September 11, 2019
Role of civil society in democracy today “Nofundamental social change occurs merely because of government acts. It’sbecause of civil society that the conscience of a country, begins to rise upand demand – demand – demand change.” Joe Biden. According to UN, Civil society is the “thirdsector” of society, along with government and business. It refers to theaggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifestinterests and will of citizens.
Examples of civil society organizationsinclude:a. Religiousand other faith-based organizationsb. Onlinegroups and social media communitiesc. Nongovernmentalorganizations (NGOs) and other nonprofitsd. Unionsand other collective-bargaining groupse.
Innovators,entrepreneurs and activistsf. Cooperativesand collectivesg. Grassrootsorganizations TheNational Dialogue Quartet of Tunisia comprising of the civil societyinstitutions, which has negotiated for a consensus-based constitution and ledto transition towards robust democracy, has been awarded the 2015 Nobel Peaceprize. This emphasizes the role of civil society in maintaining thevalues of democracy.
HistoryCivilsociety organisations have been a part of the society since ancient times. Inancient times, civil society was marked by the individual contributions towardsphilanthropy leading to the societal development. For example in Hinduism,Rishi Dadhichi donated his bone marrow to make a club to save Gods from thedemons. However with the development of the civilization the need to co-operatebecame more evident. The modern day NGOs are a reflection of these socialgroups which were made for the people by the people inside a community and wereaimed at welfare of the community. Ciceroa Greek Philosopher also deliberated upon civilas societas before 400BC.He was referring to civil society, a society of citizens, who were free andequal participants but had unequal abilities.
It has been seen to correspond tonotion of “Rationalization of life-world” through the power of the people toimagine, reflect, organize, communicate and act voluntarily for publicinterest. Thus, state and civil societies have always had that tussle betweenexercise of power and the welfare of people. But even after these obstructions,civil society has played a vital role in the development of society, advent andstrengthening of democracy.
Roles Civilsociety promotes the concept of democracy by contributing as: a. Watchdog— against violation of human rights and accesses/ failures of the executive.The NGOs like MKSS, trade unions like CITU, religious groups etc ensure thattransparency is practised in the administration, equal rights are ensured toall the citizens and no injustice is meted out to anyone. b. Promoter— of the interests of weaker sections of society like deprived sections,farmers, SC/STs, women, etc. The establishment of Apni Mandi in Punjab bythe farmers is an example of the rising of civil society. Self help groups,cooperatives, and micro-financing organisations like Grameen Bank of Bangladesh,by socially aligned groups are examples of civil society empowering the poorand needy ones. c.
Agitatoron behalf of aggrieved citizens:- When citizens are fed up of theadministration of the executive seek to redress the grievances through othermodes. Civil society can act as the agitator or congregator of theaggrieved citizens. The rise of India Against Corruption wasphenomena where civil society acted as agitator for the citizens. It furtherstrengthened the democracy of India and the belief of the people in the systemof democracy. d. Civilsociety dons the double role as an educator. While it advertises the schemesand policies of government, it also spreads awareness about the rights andresponsibilities of citizens.
These rights and responsibilities are basictenets of democracy. Further, it also indicates the pulse of the masses to theexecutive in order to enable the executive to work for welfare of people.e.
Serviceprovider — The government and administration has its own constraints of budgetand will power to reach every nook and corner of the country. In theareas which remain out of the reach of administration civil society acts as theservice provider for the people. The work done by Swades Foundation in the areaof rural empowerment is a example NGOs acting at service providersf. Mobiliserof public opinion:- No policy framed by any government can be so meticulousthat it can fit all. Therefore the executive always feel the need to knowthe requirements of the citizens in order to frame better policy. At thisstage, civil society comes to help the executive by mobilising the publicopinion and highlighting the beneficial as well as drawbacks of any publicpolicy. However,against these important roles to play in a democracy, civil societies havetheir on drawbacks and concerns which hamper its effectiveness. The first andforemost concern for the civil society in today’s times is that they are being labeledand discriminated against according to the whims and fancies of party in power.
The intelligence network has been left loose to probe their activitiesand they are not being allowed to work up to their efficiency. Theirfunds are being frozen and they are being maligned through the media so thatthey lose their credibility. Alongwith this, civil society suffers from trust deficit in the areas of ScheduledTribes. It also has the constraints of resources which adversely impactstheir functioning. Furthermore, the system of accountability in the CivilSociety organizations is also a bone of contention. The preachers oftransparency sometimes themselves lack the same.
Butit is not that the model of civil society is failing in keeping up the valuesof democracy. Rather in modern times, with more youthful population andvirtually connected world, the use of civil society has attained moresignificance. The advent of World Social Forum in the backdrop of WorldEconomic Forum is an example of how complex the functioning and the role ofcivil society has attained. The Umbrella movement in Hong Kong to stabilize thedemocracy has shown that civil society still is a vibrant one and it is notfading away.
Inmodern avatar, with advent of digitalization and low airfares, the efforts ofcivil society have become more interconnected across the world. The success ofThe Jubilee campaign against the policies of WTO, cancelling the unjust debt ofthe poor countries, proves the harmonized efforts of civil society. Finally, role of civil society in democracy can besummed up in the words of David Blunkett, a legislator in UK, that “Changes toparliamentary procedures won’t transform the lives of the people whom Irepresent.
Decentralizing, devolving decision-making and renewing civil societywill.”