Civil Society
Home » Civil Society
Civil society refers to the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women's organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups.

Perhaps the simplest way to see civil society is as a "third sector," distinct from government and business. In this view, civil society refers essentially to the so-called "intermediary institutions" such as professional associations, religious groups, and labor unions, citizen advocacy organizations that give voice to various sectors of society and enrich public participation in democracies.

In the contemporary world, most commonly, it is perceived that civil society is everything below the state. It includes such aspects of social life as the domestic world, the economic sphere, cultural activities, and political interaction, which are organized amid individuals and groups on the private or voluntary basis and out of the direct supervision of the state. The definition of civil society given by Bryant is more acceptable, he states that civil society is the space between the domestic world and the state, which includes social self-organization, social movements, and initiatives of citizens. Currently, this perception of civil society is wide-spread all over the world, especially in the developing countries.

Is there a civil society in India? My answer to this question is yes. When we talk of civil society, an impression comes that it is a gift of the west to the east. This impression is a created impression. In the west, mainly in European countries, it is considered as a newborn baby of modernization and industrial revolution. The Magna carta (1215 AD), the Westphalia Declaration, French Revolution and Freedom Movement in America are considered to be the pillars of freedom of speech and expression and all individual freedoms that ensure an ideal civil society. Once developed, it diffused everywhere in the world from there including India. India is a wonderful country where the people of thousands of castes, all major religions and more than 427 odd Tribal communities have been living maintaing an exemplary communal harmony. It is rooted in its traditions. The thousands of years of Indian history confirms that we had civil society right from the Vedic period. Vedic hymns describe about egalitarian and democratic norms of their society. In this context some people’s assemblies like vidath, sabha and samiti have been mentioned. Vidath was a general meeting of the jana [1] (whole community), which had redistributive functions. Vedic seers also described about kilvis samprat that means general consensus. In all the Vedic assemblies’ decisions were taken on the basis of consensus only.

India has a strong tradition of civil society mobilization for human development. In modern India, where the sheer scale and complexity of problems can devour the best intentioned and designed social programs, can civil society go beyond niche activity and help the state create systematic solutions to important health issues? It will be argued that civil society organizations have an ambiguous effect on India’s complex health issues, but their presence can lead to innovation and productive discourse.

Although civil society includes more than just NGOs, the biggest interface between the government and society when it comes to the delivery of public goods in India is with professional NGOs to the exclusion of other groups. In other words NGOs are the de facto manifestation of civil society when it comes to development issues and are accountable to the government or international donors and not to the people they serve.

Civil society is known to be an important part of modern democratic systems and to have a large role in stimulating and implementing solutions to vital development issues. Today, where the sheer scale and complexity of problems can devour the best intentioned and designed social programs, civil society may go beyond niche activity and help the state create systematic solutions to important humanitarian issues. In a globalizing world this question is further complicated with the emergence of influential international civil society organizations, powerful donors and more capable non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

 Software Developed by Tata Consultancy Services Limited. Copyright © 2009 SADKN, All Rights Reserved.