Essay On Civil Society And Parliamentary Democracy The Handicapped Randolph Bourne Essay

The second half of the article focuses on India, attempting to show, through one particular case study, the prospects and problems for democracy.

The term ‘civil society’ has been defined in several ways : the most common understanding is of civil society as an intermediate sphere between indiv-idual/family and state, though the exact ingredients of this sphere vary (see Kumar 1993 ; Calhoun 1993 ; Chandoke 1995).

Some of these organisations are in fact so powerful that they constitute almost parallel states in their areas of influence (like the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the Maoists in Nepal, before the peace accord) (Gellner 2007 ; Trawick 2007).

Adherence to law per se cannot be the hallmark of whether any group is legitimately part of civil society or not, or even tell us anything about whether such a group or movement stands for democratic change.

Take, for example, the demand for reservations or quotas in government jobs in India by various castes and tribes, or the Bhumiputra category generated by the Malaysian state (see Nesiah 1997).

Many of the practices we think of today as customary, and which would therefore belong to the civil society side of the divide between state and society, such as customary law in India or adat in Indonesia, were framed by colonial policies of indirect rule (see Sundar, 2009 ; Peluso and Vandergeest 2001).

Civil society is not always civil (see debate between Alexander 2008 and Turner 2008).

For instance, the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) while standing for the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils against the indifference of the Sri Lankan state, also had fascist characteristics, and snuffed out opposition.

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In any case, it is not clear that civil society as an autonomous sphere of rational debate existed even in bourgeoise Europe (see Eley 1992 ; Fraser 1992) ; and much of the current debate in Europe and America over the burqa and veiling, though couched in terms of separation of church and state or individual choice, simultaneously betrays primordial anxieties about immigration, and is deeply informed by Christian discourses (see for instance Asad 2003 ; Hirschkind and Mahmood 2002).

The level of freedoms that define democracy – for instance, the separation of powers, freedom of press, the nature of fundamental rights – also vary widely within the continent.

Many of the states have been victims of colonial rule, though how this has impacted their polity and civil society varies widely.

The state is not a neutral actor, standing high above these contending agencies, but actively intervenes in the very constitution of these agencies as well as in social movements.

We must keep in mind too, that sometimes progressive states may falter before regressive societies, ie the locus of democratic change must be looked for not only in civil society but also in the state.

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