Civil Societies

According to the World Bank, Civil Society refers to a wide array of organizations, community groups, Non-governmental organizations [NGOs], labour unions, charitable organizations, etc. 

● Globally, In 1980’s the term ‘Civil Society’ became popular, after which it started to be identified with non-state movements defying authoritarian regimes, especially in Eastern Europe and Latin America.

● When mobilized, civil society – sometimes called the “third sector” (after government and commerce) has the power to influence the actions of the government in the policy process.  

Civil Society in India

Civil society derives its strength from the Gandhian tradition of volunteerism. In independent India, the initial role played by the voluntary organizations started by Gandhi and his disciples was to fill in the gaps left by the government in the development process. 

Types of Civil societies in India

As given in 2nd ARC:

  • Registered Societies formed for specific purposes
  • Charitable organizations and Trusts
  • Local Stakeholders Groups, Microcredit and SHGs
  • Professional Self-Regulatory Bodies
  • Cooperatives

Role of Civil Society

  • Civil Society plays a crucial role in good governance. As India has not been a true participative democracy yet a representative democracy, the government takes all major decisions by itself. Civil Society acts as an interface of interaction between the government and the governed.
  • Civil society’s functional contribution to good governance could be:
    • Watchdog — against violation of human rights and governing deficiencies
    • Advocate — of the weaker sections’ point of view
    • Agitator — on behalf of aggrieved citizens
    • Educator — of citizens on their rights, entitlements and responsibilities and the government about the pulse of the people
    • Service provider — to areas and people not reached by official efforts or as government’s agent
    • Mobiliser — of public opinion for or against a programme or policy
  • Civil society acts through ‘social capital’— the capacity of people to act together willingly in their common long-term interest.

Case Study

1. The Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI) represents a landmark legislation, which emerged from

the domain of civil society, demanding transparency and accountability.  Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan played a vital role in the formation of RTI act. 

2. The Lokpal bill is an anti-corruption legislation. The issue of Lokpal came to the center stage in 2011, when Anna Hazare, a civil society activist, sat on an indefinite hunger strike in Delhi, demanding that the civil society draft or the Jan Lokpal bill be passed. The legislation finally passed as Lokpal and Lokayukta Act 2013. 

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