Strengthening Civil Society

Author Title:   Prashanti

The emergence of civil society as a force to be reckoned with may be comprehended as a consequence of changes in the interrelation between society, politics and economy.

A Case Study on Strengthening Civil Society

The emergence of ‘civil society’ as a force to be reckoned with can be understood as a consequence of changes in the interrelation between society, politics and economy. With the increase of the market economy, the expectation of continued reduction of interference in the State emerged. No matter how the inherent constraints of the current market, such as asymmetry of data and gap in bargaining power, coupled with the inability of the State to effectively regulate the market without limiting its advantages has created the demand for alternate solutions to look after the interests of members of society. The need and competency amongst groups of ordinary individuals to act collectively to get the greater good has caused the growth of ‘civil society’ in providing alternative solutions where the sector and the State have failed to provide.

Noting the emergence of such ‘civil society’ necessitates an inquiry into what the word itself suggests. Academia, policy makers, international aid organisations, social activists and NGOs use the term ‘civil society’ in a lot of ways thereby producing the notion complex and ambiguous. For instance, the revolutionary imagery of civil society reflects it as a site for contestation, where people counter present themselves against state power and in the procedure either reform or replace it. A somewhat ambiguous conception was proposed by Sunil Khilnani who expounded that ‘civil society’ could be usefully thought of as identifying a set of human abilities, both political and ethical. Since a potential elaboration of the notion of human abilities, we can turn to the figure of a social entrepreneur, defined by David Bornstein within a obsessive person who sees a problem and envisions a new solution, who takes motivation to act on such a vision, who collects resources and builds organisations to protect and promote that vision, who provides the energy and continuing focus to conquer any inevitable immunity and who keeps advancing, strengthening and broadening the vision before it becomes transformed by a novel concept to a standard. Another stream, motivated by de Tocqueville, links civil society with the country where civil institutions perform the part of watchdogs in a democracy. According to the Walezerian conceptualisation, ‘civil society’ is a uncoerced kingdom where social events are ran with no interference by the state or market, which civil society actually forms the “third world”, state and market being the first.

A broad definition of civil society, giving it space to be a watchdog when that’s sufficient and a counterforce when that’s demanded, is used by the writer in the next paper thus taking the de Tocqueville definition and moving beyond it to include the Walezerian conceptualisation of another world. We have to accept it is not sufficient that there be a civil society independent of this state. Civil society is not an association; it is rather a procedure whereby the people of the world continuously monitor both the nation and the monopoly of power within itself. It’s not something which once constructed might fend for itself. It must continuously reinvent itself, discover new endeavors, identify new enemies and make new friends. As one scholar put it “the daily construction and reconstruction of civil society is civil society” As a result, while conceptualising civil society as the third world after the state and the current market, the writer believes that the selection of functions which may be performed via this world can be captured by the ‘construction-reconstruction’ notion wherein civil society can play the part of a watchdog at times and become a counter to the nation when necessary, and sometimes even associate with the state to regulate the market if so required and so forth.

Given that the demand for civil society projects and the existence of the right environment conducive to its functioning, the timing is ripe for measures to strengthen civil society in order to improve governance. The Consumer Forum at Basrur is a organisation that seeks to build capacities amongst citizens so allowing them to find greater responsibility in the country as well as the market. The major instrument of the Consumer Forum at Basrur is that the use of letter-writing to maintain private as well as public sector suppliers responsible for their activities. An analysis of the Forum is taken up in the next paper to be able to draw lessons from its own methodology and function and to analyse if this model can be replicated.

I. Development of Civil Society in India

You will find a diverse group of reasons for the increase of civil society organisations. Some of the most crucial reasons include the growing disenchantment of ordinary individuals with the associations of government; the diminishing capacity of those institutions to respond to the varied interests and expectations of both inhabitants; the increasing gap between policies and practical elaborations; the continued persistence of these problems of poverty, social exclusion and marginalization; along with the expanding importance of national and transnational private sector interests. These reasons among others have contributed to some normative shift in the idea of governance to now incorporate a standard regarding good governance. Considering that the marginalised and the weak don’t fall into a homogenous category and you will find further stratifications one of them resulting in competition for rare resources, decent governance would thus not only mean reforming the nation ; reformation of society also has to be simultaneously taken up. In the majority of countries, including India, civil society was freed from its earlier restrictions such as obstacles by authorities, as well as insufficient access to capital, education and communication have all diminished, and individuals who have entered this industry with new thoughts. The unique and highly effective aspect of the emerging citizen zeal is the fact that it seeks to embrace globally recognized and advocated standards to local difficulties and hence invent solutions which provide real and immediate benefits to the target category of persons. In addition, civil society organisations are now moving past stop-gap solutions to address the problems in the system and are seeking cooperation from business, academia and the government. Strong social campaigns emerging from taxpayer groups won’t just lead to faster implementation, but direct to decentralised thinking along with a strengthening of democracy.

Back in India, the existence of voluntary civil society groups at the grassroots level in remote places, their close interaction with the individuals and their flexible work culture are some of the positive characteristics which were highlighted. In Andhra Pradesh the Foundation for Democratic Reforms, a civil society organisation, encouraged the drafting of Citizen Charters regarding the public sector services that resulted in greater interest obtained by the regional municipalities in ensuring that the availability of services to the citizens.

It’d put up an initiative called Election Watch which enabled people to express their views concerning the political strategy and expose those candidates with criminal records or corruption fees. Another instance is that the initiative performed by Jeroo Billimoria of Mumbai, who founded Childline, a twenty five hour helpline and crisis response program for children in misery. The organisation runs mostly with the help of student volunteers, and has been recommended from the revisions of the Juvenile Justice Act as the top child protection service.

As stated by Ellora Puri, the presence of successful democratic governmental institutions is essential for the successful functioning of civil society. Another important aspect, particularly in India, is that the nation is not a single homogenous entity and hence civil society cannot rule out the option of cooperation with the nation, as there are sure to be people within the nation mechanism who are willing to provide support to civil society. The notion that civil society constitutes a different world of existence may distort our understanding because though we split spheres of human interaction into segments and take that human beings act in different ways in different segments, we need to keep in mind these spheres are mutually constitutive of each other.

Sharma and Dwivedi point out that ‘voluntary development companies’ undergo five distinct phases: conceptualisation, ice-breaking, formalisation, withdrawal and expansion. According to them, the point of conceptualisation involves dialogue and discussion between the founding members. The point of ice-breaking begins the interaction with all individuals that shapes the character of future involvement in the activities of their organisation. A hierarchical and hierarchical arrangement of the organisation with project supervisors and grass-roots workers is exactly what characterises the point of formalisation. In this point and of growth, the research done by Sharma and Dwivedi led them to conclude the duties of the workers become more mechanical and involves additional paperwork thus diminishing the value of their ‘spirit of voluntarism’ that originally drew volunteers to the area. At exactly the exact same time the folks start to connect the organisation with particular results arising out of particular projects rather than the bigger goal of empowerment. The inference drawn from this, along with the observation that often these organisations move to new areas alongside the resources of the help, is the original vision and mission of the organisation gives way to the aims of particular projects as well as the sustenance of their organisation per se. They suggest that the involving of individuals directly from the beginning stages of prioritisation of programs and decision-making would ensure better capacity building of the community and sustainability of voluntarism.

The Consumer Forum at Basrur that has been taken up as a case study, has been sought to keep its target as the empowerment of those members of their community and therefore is not connected with any particular job but instead with a methodology which may be embraced across a selection of problems faced by the citizens.

II. Consumer Forum at Basrur: A Case Study

This section analyses the version of empowerment created by a civil society initiative in Karnataka’s Udupi District. From the 1980s, new after the excesses of the Emergency, a bunch of youth in Basrur gathered to deliberate on potential strategies to solve the problems which were plaguing the people of the area. They identified that the main problems faced by the individuals of Basrur: intermittent or inefficient distribution of essential commodities, lack of information on facilities extended by the authorities, lack of proper service from public service departments and harassment from officers at the reduced level. Their discussions culminated in the choice to start with the simplest issues and gradually proceed to the more complicated ones. Taking pointers from a Consumer Forum at Udupi, the Consumer’s Forum at Basrur (hereinafter ‘CFB’) was set up in 1981 by the youth category and was headed by Dr Ravindranath Shanbagh.

A. Ideology of the CFB

The fundamental objectives of the CFB are:
(1) to educate the customers about the need for protecting their interests and rights;
(2) to nurture an awareness of obligation among customers and suppliers; and
(3) to encourage and guide the customers in any disputes. The CFB’s strategy overall may be characterised as “nonviolent, issue centered, apolitical, result oriented, unrelenting and inexpensive.”
The CFB is financially self-supporting and hasn’t obtained or accepted help from the authorities or overseas donors and thus does not have to deal with external stresses. The work is carried out with the ‘no strings attached’ donations (usually comprising small quantities) created by men and women who believe in the Forum and its own cause. The CFB is emphatic that there ought to be no ostentatious ceremonies and the job should proceed with minimal cost. Financial independence coupled with nominal expenses ensures the CFB is absolutely free from outside influences which often plague other voluntary organisations which tend to be heavily financed by donors.

Further, even the CFB has steered clear from engaging in any personal vendetta, politics, elections, and has never connected with any political group or party. The CFB has additionally been contrary to accepting any form of recognition or awards since they feel that those involved in the movement should work without asserting personal creditawards and awards would probably induce personal ambition thereby quenching the actual function. The CFB strongly advocates the focus of all activities ought to be on issues and not on persons, and those working in the organisation ought to be disciplined and responsible since they should practice what they preach.

B. Methodology of the CFB

The processes adopted consist of advice, letter-writing, publishing of articles in the newspapers, holding conventions and contact meetings for consumers and activists as well as public officials of different departments and police officers.

The coverage of the CFB is that using given appropriate guidance after carefully assessing the problem, the forum should leave the remainder to the consumer so long as he or she is instilled with sufficient assurance to be capable of solving the problem or fighting the injustice. When a taxpayer first approaches that the CFB having a particular problem, he or she is advised to write a letter to the concerned official or supplier, stating the essence of the problem together with the actions expected from the jurisdiction. Along with this, the correspondence must imply a copy of the same was shipped to the CFB. If after a particular period, as mentioned in the correspondence, the individual does not get any response, subsequently (in cases involving government officials) a letter will be sent to the official next in the hierarchy and so forth, and when need be even to the concerned Minister. In certain circumstances, that the CFB writes the correspondence on behalf of their consumer but the citizens are encouraged and helped to do so independently. The CFB suggests that at the correspondence the issue ought to be separated by the individual, extremes such as obsequiousness or high-handedness and arrogance ought to be avoided; and exaggeration ought to be avoided as well while stating the truth as clearly as possible.

In many cases, it had been seen that customers tend to hide their faults in the difficulties or leave out aspects of how their behavior compounded the problem. This trend makes it crucial that the first correspondence to the provider or official be composed in thoughtful and very clear language in the manner of seeking an excuse. This strategy helps because when the customer was at the wrong, another party would have the ability to provide whole information to the exact same and justify their activities. It’s the policy of the CFB that in the event the consumer is unable or unwilling to respond to the information given by the opposing party, then the CFB falls the case. This way, the suppliers and officials also have faith in the impartiality of their CFB and in its own only facilitative character.

As a matter of policy, the CFB refrains from actively looking for disputes and carrying up cases suo motu. Instead, it only takes up problems after being approached by the consumer concerned and after it is happy that the consumer has taken steps to cure the problem. This strategy emphasises the favorable orientation of this CFB that is to act only as facilitator to the consumer and to inform and disseminate data to shape public opinion.

The CFB also conducts Consumers’ and Providers’ Contact Meetings with regard to the cases brought before it. In such cases where a particular official of the local governmental authority is proven to be totally restricted to the letters obtained from the consumer worried, the CFB, during its publication, encourages citizens to flood that official with letters repeating the problem and their concern over the lack of actions. This acts as a reminder for its officers, indicating the gravity of the problem and the seriousness of these people willing to voice their opinion and thus, these officials often relent and make efforts to take the required action. Back in 1987, the case of these Alevoor citizens became well known all over Karnataka. Sixty persons in the locale of Manipal applied to the allotment of 5 cents of land to construct houses. They never received the records of ownership. Fifty-five letters have been written to various authorities beginning out of the Tehsildar nearby the Deputy Commissioner and twenty two two appeals were filed with politicians such as the Chief Minister. After constant efforts that extended for five years, these people approached the CFB. In February 1992, the CFB composed an article demonstrating the case comprehensively prior to the public for their opinion. A few dailies in Karnataka printed the report. Individuals who read this informative post wrote back to the papers and wrote letters of protest to both politicians and officials included. Within weeks, the Dakshina Kannada District legislators arrived to take the case and give the owners their thanks.

The movement has received a great deal of aid, thanks in no small part to the weekly posts entitled Bahujana Hithaya Bahujana Suk haya (“in the benefit of all, lies the happiness of all”) printed in the Kannada newspaper Udayavani, that highlights that the continuing cases and problems involved. The publication Balakedarara Shikshana (“Consumer’s Instruction”) on consumer education helps raise the foundation of citizens catered to and spreads the awareness on the methodology that may be embraced by citizens anywhere. The main aims of the publication are:
1) To educate the customers about public service departments, government schemes etc;
two) to explain the terms of typically encountered Acts in easy language;
3) to print consumer grievances;
4) to provide details about other consumer initiatives throughout the country; along with
5) to release editorial posts about relevant problems in the field. Many of the books are not written and there are no copyright restrictions on the material since the CFB considers that it is the problem and not the organisation that has to be highlighted.

When and if all of the abovementioned methods fail in a particular circumstance, then the CFB guides the customer to a lawyer in the area who will subsequently take the case up in court. The data supplied by the CFB show that only approximately 1 percent of these cases fall into the category. There are now a handful of lawyers in Udupi as well as in Bangalore who have connected themselves with the CFB and take the cases pro bono. As per the booklet published by the CFB, an option is to take up calm Satyagraha protests in the event the situation is acceptable for the exact same. However, there are no known cases where the demand for this extreme measure was called for.

C. Impact of the CFB

Consumer-supplier relations being the oldest and simplest of trades, the CFB started as a movement to enable citizens to struggle for their rights in case of any unjust trade. The Forum began by publishing handouts providing information on customers’ rights and privileges each month. Initially, public meetings have been conducted at which government officers provided information regarding schemes and facilities of the authorities. In the very first year following its creation, the CFB obtained only 8 cases since the men and women in the field weren’t yet prepared to trust a brand new firm with their complaints and weren’t sure how their problems would be managed. This was likely because the CFB did not introduce itself as a legal support firm, but instead a forum for all of their citizens via dissemination of data and spreading of awareness about the types of problems confronted, along with the capacity to handle them. The reputation and efficacy of the CFB climbed gradually and over a decade that the number climbed to 412 and by the end of 1997, the total number of cases solved since beginning was over 7000.

The range of the job of their CFB, along with the meaning of the term ‘consumer’, has also gradually enlarged. From a mere client who purchased goods, the record of ‘consumables’ was enlarged to include government services provided by various departments of government such as revenue, education, and transport for which the citizens pay indirectly through taxation. Further, arguing that every citizen has a right to clean water, refreshing air, unpolluted rivers and lands, environmental problems were brought under the purview of their customers’ movement. Therefore, as stated by the CFB, a consumer is “anyone with a right to a service or product. These rights could be purchased by direct or indirect payment”

Two years later, the success of the organisation saw the development of an offshoot known as the Human Rights Protection Foundation which concerned with human rights problems. This forum sought to enable the weaker sections of society, namely women, children and the backward classes in order they can stand to struggle for themselves. This movement necessitated improvisation of those plans which were created and learned in the two years of experience managing customers, suppliers, employers and government officials.

The initiators of the CFB did not plan the Forum to be a permanent business since its intent was to enable the citizens to take control and maintain the state and the market answerable. At present the Forum has nearly wrapped up its job, though the newsletters dealing with current problems in the area and improvements in the legislation continue to get published. The mindset of the Forum can be summed up by aptly speaking about the words of its convener, “If we are convinced that customers can take care of themselves and solve problems on their own without the help of our forum, then we will end up the forum”

Among the most efficient techniques of transmitting knowledge is ‘pattern copying’, which is, when an available detailed blueprint is replicated or modified. Because of this, it is crucial to identify and record models or processes which can be widely copied or adapted as required. The matter to be considered is if there’s a pattern at the Consumer Forum’s methodology and if so, whether it is replicable in similar situations elsewhere. The leaflet, ‘Public Interest Movement’ printed by the CFB, lays out the guidelines for the setting up of a Consumer Forum along the lines of CFB. Back in Margao, Goa, a radiologist motivated by the success of the Basrur Forum began a similar organisation to the empowerment of those people in that area. On the other hand, the CFB does not possess any formal links with national level voluntary associations.

The writer considers that if the methods of the forum are well recorded, then there’s a solid case to say it is a replicable routine since the problems sought to be addressed along with the resources used to do so are so common to many Indian citizens. There are two attributes of the CFB which are helpful pointers for many civil society projects. First, there are higher odds of success and sustainability of a routine which favors a version that mobilises ordinary citizens rather than determined by the few trained professionals available. To make a tangible difference, finally, the hedging plan has to be put right into the hands of their households and community members. Secondly, it is also crucial that such private organisations eliminate the cubes of formalistic institutionalization and instead try to improve their professionalism by learning from past mistakes. For instance, the CFB has used its monetary liberty to remain unbiased towards persons or parties in power and places emphasis on resolving cases by simply focusing on the problems rather than thepersonsinvolved. However,1 aspect that has to be factored in is the simple fact that the CFB and the social entrepreneur behind it, Dr. Ravindranath Shanbag, have developed such a reputation which in some cases that spring up in and about the area, officials and suppliers alike react favorably with just 1 letter in the CFB.

The writer feels that coping with problems such as the ones involving customer disputes and interactions with all the authorities will give individuals a sense of being able to achieve something. Individuals who are certain of handling those in power with transparency and stability will be more inclined to find information from officials on many different issues affecting them personally and as a community, and therefore, are going to have the ability to sustain the function of civil society. In the hands of citizens that are empowered, there would be immense possibility of using instruments such as the Right to Information Act to strengthen decent governance, and consequently democracy in the country.

[1] Rajesh Tandon & Ranjita Mohanty, Intro: Issues and Problematics, at DOES CIVIL SOCIETY MATTER? GOVERNANCE IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA 9 (Rajesh Tandon & Ranjita Mohanty eds., 2003).
[two] Sunil Khilnani, The Development of Civil Society, at CIVIL SOCIETY: HISTORY AND POSSIBILITIES 25 (Sudipta Kaviraj & Sunil Khilnani eds., 2001).
[4] In India, the enactment of the Right to Information Act, 2005 was brought about by civil society institutions which have then gone on to spread knowledge about the Act and the possibilities of enhancing good governance by seeking information from officials of their authorities at different levels.
[5] At the worldwide level, the processes used by civil society groups include campaigning for domestic and international human rights standard-setting, fact finding and report submission that could serve the dual purpose of naming and shaming as well as showing the way forward for government actions, encouraging the use of tools to deal with past abuses and create awareness of duties later on, giving a forum for discussion of groups and people who have similar issues in order to foster an awareness of identity, thereby increasing lobbying ability, and giving of recognition through grants and awards to groups who are making continuing or radical attempts.
[7] Arun Kumar Sharma & Shailendra Kumar Dwivedi, V oluntary Development Organisations: Mission, V ision and Reality, 25(1) GANDHI MARG 5 (2003).
[8] I. Ramabrahmam, Enhancing Effectiveness of Governance Reforms: Civil Society Initiative, 40(1) INDIAN J. OF PUB. ADMIN. 247, 248 (2004). Throughout the publication of a newspaper entitled, ‘Lok Satta: Harnessing
[9] The organisation was also included in the building of an alternate invoice for women’s booking that was circulated among parliamentarians and the press.
[10] nother example is that of Javed Abidi who fought for many years to get the authorities to recognise the rights of the disabled in India. Throughout his perseverant activism, Abidi facilitated progress on several fronts as a consequence of that in the private industry, particularly in the tech industry, more companies are making attempts to recruit disabled employees. The higher-level civil service places now are open to the particular section of their society.
[11] Ellora Puri, Civil and Political Society: A Contested Relationship, 39(32) ECON. & POL. WKLY. 3592, 3594 (2004).
[12] Neera Chandhoke, A Critique of the Notion of Civil Society as the ‘Third Sphere’, at DOES CIVIL SOCIETY MATTER? GOVERNANCE IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA, supra note 1, at 57.
[13] The writer spent three months at the Forum celebrating the procedure as well as collecting data as part of a team in order to rate the types of cases and the processes employed to solve them. The description of these approaches adopted and the reasoning behind them are presented in this chapter on the grounds of the writer’s interaction with the Convenor of the Forum, Dr. Ravindranath Shanbag, the case files, newsletters and articles printed and conventions conducted by the Forum.
[15] A place equivalent to 2,180 square feet.
[16] A place equivalent to 2,180 square feet.
[17] With regard the total number of cases ever taken up along with the number of those that were successfully and completely resolved there are no figures available with the Forum. This is due to one hand, even when a case is completely resolved through their methodology, i.e. without having to approach the courtroom, the file is closed saying “Samasya Pariharavagide” or “Problem Solved”. On the other hand, files of cases that are still pending or that have been sent to lawyers linked to the Forum don’t possess this phrase and it is not clear if the Forum follows the advancement of those situations. Because of this, it becomes hard to say how many cases were resolved with no need for approaching the courtroom.
[18] In this paper, the writer has chosen not to deal with the different methods adopted by the Human Rights Protection Forum, that is still in its infancy, and instead has concentrated to the Consumer’s Forum and its own processes.
[19] BORNSTEIN, supra note 14 at 259.

Author Bio:   Miss.. Prashanti Upadhyay ,LL.M, Student, Law College Dehradun, Arcadia Grant P.O. Chandanwari, Premnagar, Dehradun, Uttarakhand- 248007

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