Into The Theory Of The Great Indian Civil Society

Posted on October 30, 2011 in Society

By Dhruva Mathur:

There has been a debate raging on the Lokpal issue for few months now and every time that the Jan Lokpal is questioned, its supporters start talking about what the civil society is doing against corruption and question the people who have taken a position against theirs. This statement of civil society et al has continued to amaze me for years. Who does the civil society comprise of? Who is allowed in it? What’s the definition of it? Are there societies that are uncivil? If there exist such societies, then how are they surviving when their very existence is frowned upon by the remainder of the people? These are the many questions that have always found an adobe in my mind and however much I try to do, I am unable to shoo them away or to find an answer to them.

Thus some time ago, when I questioned a tweet that asked, what the civil society should do now that the government had sent the Lokpal that it had formulated to the Parliament, I was taken back into that part of my brain which had held this question for years and continues to hold. How is one to come up with an exact definition of the civil society? A fellow twitter user tried to answer that question of mine by tweeting to me that ‘Everybody who works for public interest objectives, not national, not profit, academic, etc’ forms that civil society. I was quite amazed by this answer. For many new questions had arisen in my mind by just looking at that one statement for under a minute and the questions were some that I had never thought needed answers.

One question was, Isn’t public interest also a part of national interest? Another question that surprised me was that then are all the educated businessmen who work for profits and in turn provide employment to people and manufacture goods and services which are provided to millions at affordable rates, generally, part of the uncivil society? And what about the politicians who despite having vested interests at times work for the national well-being? Do they get an entry into this narrow definition of civil society? And what about the people who lack even a very basic education? Are they allowed to be included in this sphere of Civil Society that we have created for ourselves?

What about the people in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and others which have been marked as the world terror hubs? Will they count as being civil? I don’t know for the definition that my friend gave is extremely inadequate to smuggle these people into the boundaries of civil society. What about Anders Breivik, who despite being a product of an advanced and developed society went on to kill over a hundred people in cold blood in Norway a couple of months ago? Will he find a place into civil society? When questioned about this, people tend to label those engaging in activities like Terrorism or killing others as uncivil and criminal. My question to them is, what about the CIA, RAW and other such agencies that at times have to kill people for the greater good? Will one label them as agencies of the Civil Society? Wouldn’t that be hypocrisy?

These questions are difficult to answer but some people define Civil Society as any society that follows a set of rules and regulations. A few questions that I would like to ask are, who makes these laws? And since there are different societies practising their own norms, rules and regulations as such, would one classify a society say for example, a society that is involved in stoning people for say adultery, would one classify them as uncivil? Who gives people the right to make this distinction between societies. Every society has its own culture which allows different practices to be followed. Thus it is not up to an individual to label societies as civil or uncivil.

And even as we talk about culture, I can’t help but mention the culture of cannibalism which as gruesome and as cruel as it may be, it is still practised in some remote regions of the world and quite recently a few serial killers were also caught – who practised it. Thus we may label these individuals as insane but the groups who practised it have been practicing it for generations because that is what their culture is like. Hence would it be right of us to categorise them into a small category?

I personally am of the belief that there are only societies which cannot be further classified into smaller groups for the definition of these smaller groups would need to be absolutely accurate without any room for error for the subject political science of which this is a theory is not an exact science and thus any classification which is exact in nature would oppose the very basic theory of why political science is not regarded as an exact science.

The societies in turn may vary due to the various rules and regulations followed in each of them. However, there is a common link in all of them, for the people in them and not societies themselves can be divided on the basis of different values, fields and areas like professions, religion, level of development etc. Thus, these societies have a certain limit beyond which dividing them would only alter the definition of these various concepts.

Another noteworthy thing while the topic of civil society is being discussed is that though these groups which the people are divided into may be many but they are all inter-linked and at times even overlapping for example a working parent would not only be classified into a category which denotes his/her profession but also in a category which denotes parenthood. Furthermore, the category of parenthood can be further classified into that of mother/father, single parent and even the category of single parent can be further divided into single parent (mothers)/ single parent (fathers). Hence, as stated before, these categories are not absolute in nature and can be divided into as many as possible but within a definition that has some legal acceptance behind it. For example the definition of civil society is not clear like many other concepts in political science but the one issue that differentiates the concept of civil society from all the other concepts is the grey area. This grey area is very big and thus the legality of the definition comes into question. Thus it is no surprise that many political thinkers have refused to accept the concept of civil society.

Thus, the various definitions that are given to each concept in political science needs to have some level of similarity in them and must also discuss a topic that is of common interest. For no concept in political science has only one definition. And if there exists a definition which is absolute in nature then it challenges one of the very basic rules of political science i.e that political science is not an exact science. Hence as for me, I refuse to accept and recognise the concept of civil society due to its vagueness and big pockets of grey areas.

The author is a 17 year old blogger who blogs at An Indian Youngster with a keen interest in politics, economics and Foreign Affairs.

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