Giving Compass' Take:

• Arun Maira encourages a re-evaluation of the power dynamics between civil society and politics in India.

• How do the two entities interact? How might a re-evaluation benefit non-profits who need a way around the roadblocks of governmental power?

• Learn more about certain struggles NGOs face in navigating their worlds.

We often equate the words ‘civil society’ with NGOs (an abbreviation for ‘non-governmental organisations’). But businesses, for example, are non-governmental organisations as well; we don’t, however, consider them as a part of civil society, and rightly so.

I see three forms of power: position, people, and money. The government gets power from its position. It either grabs this position in non-democratic nations, or is given this position through elections. The world of business gets its power from money. The third kind of power is people’s power, which we might equate with civil society.

Real people’s power comes from the respect they are given and their dignity. It comes with a sense of agency and from participation in decisions—when people remain engaged, and actually exercise their power, rather than giving it away to governments through elections or to businesses through market forces. This is where civil society enters, and it isn’t restricted to just nonprofits, which is all that we traditionally think of.

Civil society and politics both comprise a range of things, including people’s power. Which brings me to the larger point: if we are unhappy with India’s situation today, about things that are going awry, what should civil society’s response be?

We need to create people’s organisations, where power is dispersed, and every participant has a sense of ownership. The essence of every organisation, every society, should be that people have a voice, because when there are hierarchies, you stop listening to the people below. And the larger you become as an organisation, and the more centralised decision-making is in large societies, the less the people at the bottom or on the periphery are free.

Read the full article about civil society and politics by Arun Maira at India Development Review.