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“No 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.”
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 include:
The 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.
Civil society organizations 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 cooperate 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.
Cicero, 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.
Civil society promotes the concept of democracy by contributing as:
However, against these important roles to play in a democracy, civil societies have their own 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.
Along 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.
But 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.
In 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 will.”
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