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Insights into Editorial: The crackdown on civil society

Insights into Editorial: The crackdown on civil society


In a democracy, the individual transits from subject to citizen. Yet there is no one more vulnerable and more helpless than our rights-bearing citizen.

In this figurative space, individuals come together in webs of associational life. Associations have the capacity to challenge the brute power of the state through petitions, protests, dharnas and ultimately judicial activism.

Given unresponsive political parties, citizens can access centres of power and privilege only through a vibrant civil society.


A vital sphere: A Vibrant Civil Society:

The only sphere that stands between the individual and the omnipresent and omnipotent state is civil society.

Civil society is, of course, a plural sphere, and all manners of associations find space for themselves present in every type of society. Each democratic association is important, but we cannot deny that civil liberty and human rights groups are an essential precondition for human well-being.

Every political revolution in the world has begun with the rights to life and liberty. These two rights lie at the core of other rights that have been developed and codified as critical for human beings.

The two rights stretch from the right not to be tortured or killed, to the right not to be arrested and imprisoned by the lackeys of the state without due cause.

The right to life is a basic right, but our lives do not mean anything if we are incarcerated for no rhyme or reason.


India was moving towards a social democratic state vide civil society activism.

Today there are few organisations that articulate the right not to be lynched, or who struggle for the right to life and liberty.

Human rights activists are among these few organisations. They have courageously taken on the challenge posed by corporates, a ruthless state and its venal police, and the cadres of right-wing organisations that specialise in violence.

Their role is crucial for democracy because today we are ruled by a government that openly defies ethics and morality, that casts itself in the mould of realism, and that is supremely indifferent to the plight of millions of its citizens.


The Role of Civil Society in present problems in our society:

In a democracy, the individual transits from subject to citizen.

The present-day market economy is neither sympathy nor room for citizens exploited by the State and it looks at its own need for resources, labour and profit.

In a large developing country like India, there are numerous gaps left by the government in the development process. These are the gaps that civil societies try to fill in modern India.

Supplementing the government effort to provide health care to citizens, and by raising awareness in society about issues like child and maternal malnutrition.

A number of NGO’s like Childline India Foundation, World Vision, Arambh India have played important role in raising awareness on child sexual abuse.

In the last 20 years, a very large number of NGOs in India have been active in the area of environmental protection.

The NGOs have often been helped by the judiciary whenever the government of the day has proved

The engagement of civil society and the media in educating citizens about the evils of corruption, raising their awareness levels and securing their participation by giving them a ‘voice’.

Civil society can influence policy and project formulation through membership of committees and submission of memoranda.


Why do we need an active civil society?

  • Citizens have the right to scrutinise the work of their representatives.
  • To publicise acts such as infringement of civil liberties and failure of governments to provide a reasonable standard of life for the citizens.
  • Article 19 of the constitution provides for the democratic right to protest as part of the freedom of
  • The right to participate in an activity should not be restricted to politics and elections
  • Without this right, democracy becomes an illusion.
  • So civil society cannot be conceptualised independent of the state.



Civil society forms the backbone of democracy. Democracy does not just revolve around what happens once in five years (elections) but how rights of the citizens are protected and are allowed to hold power holders accountable.

Civil society derives its strength from the Gandhian tradition of volunteerism, but today, it expresses itself in many different forms of activism.

Civil society refers to formal as well as informal entities and includes the private sector, the media, NGOs, professional associations and informal groups of people from different walks of life.

The state must respect the articulation of the politics of voice and not just the politics of the vote.

The promises of democracy can only be realised through collective action in civil society. A democratic state needs a democratic civil society and a democratic civil society also needs a democratic state. They mutually reinforce each other.


Way Forward:

A strong and vigilant civil society can be a check on corruption and form the basis for countervailing.

Legislation on the lines of the US False Claims Act should be enacted, providing for citizens and civil society groups to seek legal relief against fraudulent claims against the government.

A free media has a crucial role in the prevention, monitoring and control of corruption.

Use of ICT in systems of governance in order to ensure wider participation of civil society groups and the private sector in the decision-making process of governance.

Voter education, electoral reforms and periodical highlighting of the performance (or non-performance) of elected representatives should be high priority items in civil society’s agenda.