Role – demand change.” Joe Biden. According to

Role of civil society in democracy today


fundamental social change occurs merely because of government acts. It’s
because of civil society that the conscience of a country, begins to rise up
and demand – demand – demand change.”

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                                                                   Joe Biden.

          According to UN, Civil society is the “third
sector” of society, along with government and business. It refers to the
aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest
interests and will of citizens. Examples of civil society organizations

and other faith-based organizations

groups and social media communities

organizations (NGOs) and other nonprofits

and other collective-bargaining groups

entrepreneurs and activists

and collectives



National Dialogue Quartet of Tunisia comprising of the civil society
institutions, which has negotiated for a consensus-based constitution and led
to transition towards robust democracy, has been awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace
prize.  This emphasizes the role of civil society in maintaining the
values of democracy.



society organisations have been a part of the society since ancient times. In
ancient times, civil society was marked by the individual contributions towards
philanthropy leading to the societal development. For example in Hinduism,
Rishi Dadhichi donated his bone marrow to make a club to save Gods from the
demons. However with the development of the civilization the need to co-operate
became more evident. The modern day NGOs are a reflection of these social
groups which were made for the people by the people inside a community and were
aimed at welfare of the community.


a Greek Philosopher also deliberated upon civilas societas before 400BC.
He was referring to civil society, a society of citizens, who were free and
equal participants but had unequal abilities. It has been seen to correspond to
notion of “Rationalization of life-world” through the power of the people to
imagine, reflect, organize, communicate and act voluntarily for public
interest. Thus, state and civil societies have always had that tussle between
exercise 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 and
strengthening of democracy.




society promotes the concept of democracy by contributing as:


— against violation of human rights and accesses/ failures of the executive.
The NGOs like MKSS, trade unions like CITU, religious groups etc ensure that
transparency is practised in the administration, equal rights are ensured to
all the citizens and no injustice is meted out to anyone.


— of the interests of weaker sections of society like deprived sections,
farmers, SC/STs,  women, etc. The establishment of Apni Mandi in Punjab by
the 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 poor
and needy ones.


on behalf of aggrieved citizens:- When citizens are fed up of the
administration of the executive seek to redress the grievances through other
modes. Civil society can act as the agitator or congregator of the
aggrieved citizens.  The rise of India Against Corruption was
phenomena where civil society acted as agitator for the citizens. It further
strengthened the democracy of India and the belief of the people in the system
of democracy.


society dons the double role as an educator.  While it advertises the schemes
and policies of government, it also spreads awareness about the rights and
responsibilities of citizens.  These rights and responsibilities are basic
tenets of democracy. Further, it also indicates the pulse of the masses to the
executive in order to enable the executive to work for welfare of people.

provider — The government and administration has its own constraints of budget
and will power to reach every nook and corner of the country.  In the
areas which remain out of the reach of administration civil society acts as the
service provider for the people. The work done by Swades Foundation in the area
of rural empowerment is a example NGOs acting at service providers

of public opinion:- No policy framed by any government can be so meticulous
that it can fit all.  Therefore the executive always feel the need to know
the requirements of the citizens in order to frame better policy.  At this
stage, civil society comes to help the executive by mobilising the public
opinion and highlighting the beneficial as well as drawbacks of any public



against these important roles to play in a democracy, civil societies have
their on drawbacks and concerns which hamper its effectiveness. The first and
foremost concern for the civil society in today’s times is that they are being labeled
and discriminated against according to the whims and fancies of party in power.
 The intelligence network has been left loose to probe their activities
and they are not being allowed to work up to their efficiency.  Their
funds are being frozen and they are being maligned through the media so that
they lose their credibility.


with this, civil society suffers from trust deficit in the areas of Scheduled
Tribes.  It also has the constraints of resources which adversely impacts
their functioning.  Furthermore, the system of accountability in the Civil
Society organizations is also a bone of contention. The preachers of
transparency sometimes themselves lack the same.


it is not that the model of civil society is failing in keeping up the values
of democracy.  Rather in modern times, with more youthful population and
virtually connected world, the use of civil society has attained more
significance. The advent of World Social Forum in the backdrop of World
Economic Forum is an example of how complex the functioning and the role of
civil society has attained. The Umbrella movement in Hong Kong to stabilize the
democracy has shown that civil society still is a vibrant one and it is not
fading away.


modern avatar, with advent of digitalization and low airfares, the efforts of
civil society have become more interconnected across the world. The success of
The Jubilee campaign against the policies of WTO, cancelling the unjust debt of
the poor countries, proves the harmonized efforts of civil society.


Finally, role of civil society in democracy can be
summed up in the words of David Blunkett, a legislator in UK, that “Changes to
parliamentary procedures won’t transform the lives of the people whom I
represent. Decentralizing, devolving decision-making and renewing civil society


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