May 022011

When i was in school, in Mumbai, all those years ago – ‘good work’ was done by three powerful men in Mumbai. The first was Varadarajan Mudaliar – immortalised by Mani Ratnam and Kamalahasan in Nayakan – the second was Haji Mastan – given a rakish edge by Ajay Devgan in Once upon a Time in Mumbai – and the third is Kareem Lala – if you remember Zanzeer, Pran’s character was supposedly based on him. They three ran ambulances, support for the locals, handled disputes, dealt with corrupt government officials, helped the unlettered get ration cards and so on. They were civil society. They were also gangsters.

As i had said in an earlier piece in the Pragati,

India has a large number of NGOs. Around 3.3 million of them. That works out to one NGO for every 400 people. That is better than the ratio of doctors (about 1 for every 2000 people); teachers (1 per five hundred people); or the police (0.9 per 1000 people).

So, given all this civil society, who monitors them…… or as was asked in the Watchmen ..Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

That is essentially the theme for my column in today’s DNA

But what is civil society? While the term suggests a homogenous group of people with similar interests, the reality is different. Civil society is a number of individuals and groups with their own varied agenda, often in competition with each other, at other times at odds with each other. It tends to mean one of two things – the first is high-profile celebrities who take a stand on a variety of issues, if not all of them. The second is NGOs, or non-governmental agencies.

The former allow for the ‘glam’ factor for a drab event but often end up contradicting themselves. As an exercise, you may want to look at all the celebrities who supported Anna Hazare and map them against those who opposed government action on Lavasa (catalysed by Anna Hazare’s protest against the construction). The latter are organisations that undertake work in various areas — from poverty alleviation to illiteracy, from gender issues to environmental concerns. They have different views on the causes and solutions of the socio-economic problems that face a region or even the country. This diverse group of people, with differing ideologies, are collectively called civil society.

The rest of the piece is here .

My earlier piece on What is Civil Society for the Pragati can be found here.