Nepali nagrik samaj or civil society is getting high up in the last two decades or so in many aspects like raising awareness of the people, supporting democratic movement/s, and working as development partners in community development etc.
Although it is not easy to ‘characterize’ (post)modern civil society that encompasses unrestrained scopes and roles, in general sense, civil society is the entirety of many deliberate social relationships, civic and social organization, and institutions that lay the foundation of a functioning society. Its main character is its distinct position from the force-backed structures of the state and the commercial institutions of the market.
So, making it simple, a society can be seen as the combination of state, market and civil society. Then, what are some of the examples of the civil society in our context? Well, they range from sports club of a tole or a village to political parties that hope to form the government. Community organizations, upabhokta manch (consumers society), abhibhavak sangh (parents federation), sahakari santha (cooperative institution), natya samuha (theatre group), nongovernment organization, aama samuha (mothers groups), policy institution and trade unions are some the categories of civil society in the Nepali context. These societies have been functioning on their respective field like promoting social cohesion, alerting the government or market, raising the awareness in the people’s level etc.
On the other hand, Nepali civil society is not without criticism and controversies due to its nature of self declared ‘model’ in some cases. Our media often tag individual/s as the member/s of the civil society without any reference to any category which s/he may belong to; and such self ascribed membership of the civil society makes Nepali civil society quite illusive.
Next scary scene in Nepali civil society, if not alerted in time, is faint differentiation of civil society from unlawful establishment and vigilante groups. Organized crime, corruption and vigilantism can never be the purpose of civil society.
It is very important to note that the role of civil society becomes not less prominent in democratic societies as democracies may not be completely free from evil. Democracy is simply a system where evils can be challenged within the system by the people and constant improvement is possible. That’s all.
Too often we talk about the foreign interest and intervention in our politics, development, education and organizations. Civil society has very important role to play in resisting unnecessary foreign interest and intervention. However, it is difficult to resist if the civil society itself “closes eyes” and becomes instrumental to promote these matters. When political parties and its wings tend to receive donation and run “projects” in favor of different agencies, embassies and donors’ it is hard to stand firm on our principle. And, our interest, values and principle become nothing mocre than a mock of hypocrisy. Most important today for the civil society is to remain distance away from insincerity, double standard and two-facedness. It has been observed time and again that civil society closes eyes to show any reaction at the time of human rights violation due to its ambiguity and biasness. The recent examples could be the Chitwan jail murderous assault and tightlipped human rights activists. Another example could be bandh troubles to public and the indifference of the civil society to resist the bandh despite public seek utmost support from the civil society to defy bandh. More ridiculous the situation becomes when the Kathmandu centered civil society remains totally indifferent to react when other parts of Nepal are enduring bandh trouble and not only economy is troubled but the daily livelihood of the common people is panicked.
Despite these misleading paths that the civil society is strolling in some cases, our civil society has shown commendable efforts in democratizing the society. Especially after 1990, general people are well aware about democracy and rights due the efforts of the civil society. This is no doubt an excellent outcome.
Among many, one of the important parts of civil society is non government organizations or what we popularly call NGOs. Now, along with many others, the roles of NGOs are more crucial in contributing on transforming the socio-economic condition of the people, specially, where market and the state has no access or less presence. How can NGOs do it? NGOs can facilitate cooperative institution on this regard. Cooperatives can be appropriate means of reducing rural poverty and transforming the socio-economic condition of the people. We can see that a few cooperatives have already been veteran development institution in bringing changes in socio-economic lives in south Asia. Grameen and similar organization BRAC in Bangladesh have demonstrated it. What BRAC and Grameen are doing for the ultra poor and poor there, we can certainly do through cooperative movement for our rural people, youths and women at the time when rural folks have undergone experiencing frustration and they have been flooding abroad.
It might sound emotional but I would like to retell here one of my experiences. A couple of years ago, a Karnali drama “Karnali dakhin bagdo chha”, was shown in Gurukul Theatre in Kathmandu. The drama revealed one of the Karnali truths that thousands of people are leaving the land to go to India only to find any work just to survive! And, the tradition has been continuing. This is neither solution nor positive indicator to our economy and democracy.
Yes, thousands of youths from all over Nepal have been risking quite a big amount of wealth to go to the Middle East, Malaysia and similar international labour markets to earn nominal wages. The sweat of our people has been enriching foreign soil. I estimate that the brain, the muscle and the money can be rightly channelized for their better income and sustainable development through cooperatives.
It should not be understood that cooperative alone can be a leading economic model to flourish national economy. Cooperative can improve the livelihood of the poor people and help climb on the first step of the ladder. Once the people are on the first step of the economic ladder there are more possibilities of opening more doors! The market giant and the state force alone may not serve the bottom section of the society.
Let me estimate with a proposal: Usually, an individual who leaves Nepal for the Middle East, Malaysia and similar countries invests one hundred thousand rupees though out the whole procedure. Let the money be put together of hundred people. It makes one crore rupees. The money, through proper financial model, can be enough to create jobs to at least hundred people directly in own land on own ownership of the project. Further, it contributes to the national development more effectively and efficiently with an ever increasing greater scope. In addition, there can be multiple chain effects of it to create further employment opportunities.
It is time to act also for the economic prosperity of the country by the civil society. Democracy opens doors to economic development but it is also true that only strong economy sustains democracy.
Dikedra Dhakal (Author)