The role of Nepali civil society: ensuring State accountability

Civil society has remained one of the hottest concepts across the world in modern political life and been given a big space with importance. Aristotle believed that citizens of the middle class and larger form the best community and stronger the middle class better is the state of governance. He defined civil society as “an association of associations” that enables citizens to share in the virtuous task of ruling and being ruled. There has been a significant agreement that civil societies are important for strengthening democracy and enabling conflict resolution. In the context of Nepal, civil society has comparatively short history compared to other South Asian countries. However, it has played an important role and made an impact on Nepal’s development sector as well as been the toughest critic of the government at times.

The relationship between Government of Nepal and civil society has not been easy due to decades of political instability along with lack of trust and a clear understanding of each other’s roles in various government programs and schemes. Time and again various head representatives of various international agencies including the United Nations and European Union have been pulled over their remarks and speeches in Nepal’s internal politics. This has resulted in many donor countries to scale down it’s development funds in Nepal as it has been difficult for donors to make structural adjustment with government’s self interest and their political agendas. However, civil Society in Nepal has much more to do if their roles can be clearly identified and being sustainable if there would be greater democracy and transparency. For example: trade unions in Nepal have been struggling for eternities to have their social rights secured, expanding of employment opportunities, maintaining dignity at work, implementation of the ILO labour act and introducing the amount of minimum age. This is one of the place where civil society can get involve in training the leaders on leadership, organisation management, membership drives and train them for free collective bargaining. The international agencies working in Nepal have continuously involved themselves in research, publication, lobbying and organizing activities against the wanton of human rights by the political parties and the state machinery.

Civil Society has a capacity to build a movement by organising people in the communities to create an utmost change. For this, there is a need of vision and process, which then continues, for magic to happen especially when people get conscious of their role as well as have their freedom to be creative and build a better and sustainable peace. By not letting new problems turn into an old problems and making it go older, there is a need to spark movements. That is when movements happen to create a positive change. And yet, we continue to witness war, poverty, individual acts of violence, massive social injustice and a record pace of environmental degradation. But then, if we look back and turn the pages, world have experienced numerous social changes and it is civil society and movements that made most of the efforts successful.

Looking at the tools and techniques adopted by civil society for social change and advocacy seem to differ according to the type of organisation functioning in Nepal. More confrontational tools are used where huge number of people are involved and more the organisation is governed by marginalised section of society. Civil society in Nepal has that power to influence public negotiation on public issues like education, health and security. Contesting the frameworks of development programs, criticising the long-term effect of a large displacement of people are examples of this vision of civil society as a contestation movement. Nepalese civil society has an important role to play to enable to voiceless and marginalised people to speak out their words and for their interests to be represented.

There are couple of examples across the globe to look at from the past couple of years on the popular efforts. Be it, falling of Egypt, overthrown of a powerful leader in Libya, abolishment of Monarchy in Nepal, massive movement in Syria and even the never-ending protests in India on the government corruption that even leaded to change in the government. This is basically the power of civil society and movements, which started with group of individuals or people who have strong belief over something and as a result end up changing the society to create a change. This way in recent years, civil society has also been about mobilising people to achieve a shared purpose. Providing a current on-going movement – Black Lives Matter in the United States has been a solid movement against extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and Vigilantes on not to stay silent about civil mistreatment or unjust abuse. This movement has spread across the US enabling people from various backgrounds to raise their voice over dissatisfaction and impatience of young people with an insider political game that was not working for communities. It could be a game changer and yet to see the success, this movement continue to have in the future.

Getting back to Nepal, there is an urgent need to re-organize civil society and its engagements to promote a collaborated involvement of all democratic institutions of country like the executive, legislative and judiciary at all possible levels from grassroots to the centre. The activism of civil society in Nepal brought its capital to a standstill with non-profit organisations, activists, students and many other civil society organisations protesting against the lax government machinery.

Writer: Ankit Khanal

Ankit Khanal is the Programme Manager at Community Solutions Initiative-Nepal