As far as the existence of vibrant Civil Society and sustained functioning of a democratic system in the territories comprising Bangladesh are concerned, one is confronted with a paradoxical situation. Bangladesh was born in 1971 as the outcome of prolonged mass movements which culminated into an armed resistance. The people of this deltaic land have been historically very agile, resilient and politically conscious. They have to their credit the record of several mass movements’ uprisings which, on the one land, gave rise to sophisticated political consciousness and brought in major political changes, on the other. On a softer side, the “Bengalis were a unique, distinctive, passionate and deeply romantic people. Poor in material possessions, they were among the richest in cultural expression of all the people of Southern Asia. Their literature, poetry, music received wide acclaim abroad as well as at home. Bengali pride was pronounced and easily identifiable. And pride translated into cultural nationalism.” From these premises, a logical expectation would have been that Bangladesh was endowed with a strong civil society and a functioning democracy.
In recent years, the issue of the relationship between Civil Society and Democracy has been gaining importance among various stakeholders. It is believed that a strong, vibrant civil society is essential for democracy. Participation in civil society helps prepare citizens to fulfill their civic rights. It also facilitates two-way communication between the state and the people. In Bangladesh civil society role preceded the formation of the state and government and emerged while functioning under the internal colonial setting of Pakistan (1947-1971).
This paper examines the –
- Interrelation between civil society and democratic development in Bangladesh;
- General status of civil society in the political ground of Bangladesh;
- Role of civil society to resolving the political inconsistence in Bangladesh;
- Civil society’s struggle against autocracy and strive for democracy &
- Civil society’s strength and weakness – in the process of restoring democracy in Bangladesh.
Which limitations are faced to execute the research work is given below:
- Lacking of sufficient information to this regards.
- Instead of mitigating the political violence, the role of civil society is mostly on the Democratic Development. Moreover, both are very adjacent notions also. So, here we can consider the democratic development as the synonym of mitigating political violence in Bangladesh.
- There is so much poor contribution conducted by Civil Society in Bangladesh.
- Facing Interview problem due to short time for this research task.
Methodology is the systematic and logical study of the principles guiding scientific investigation. A method involves a process or technique in which various stages or steps of collecting data / information are explained and the analytical techniques are defined. A dictionary of Social Science observes, “Methodology is the systematic and logical study of the principles guiding scientific investigation”. So this study has also maintained a well-defined methodology due to complete this research.
In order to carry out the study efficiently according to its objectives, the methodology was as underneath:
At first it was necessary to grow up a wide concept on the different issues of the research by communicating with the resource persons and studying different newspapers, journals, books, seminar papers, reports, and magazines review papers, which focus on the issue, related to the research topic, the concept of different aspects of the research are developed.
Field work has been conducted to collect necessary information required for the fulfillment of the research paper. Necessary data has collected both from primary and secondary sources for completing study.
1) Primary data collection
Primary data has collected mainly based on Interview method. In this method, questions were asked to the person of the relevant various stakeholders including government officials, academics and legal experts, political and media icons and research think tanks.
2) Secondary data collection
Secondary data has been collected from reports of very organizations, seminar papers, various books, journals, newspapers etc. from different libraries and organizations to extract relevant data.
Flow Chart of the Methodology
The paper broadly addresses the theme “Civil Society and their role to Democratic Development in Bangladesh.” The task mainly described in threefold:-
- To define the Civil Society and Democracy;
- Explain their interrelationship &
- To explore the relevance of this interrelationship on the context of political ground in Bangladesh.
Meaning Of Civil Society
Civil society is a concept located strategically at the cross-section of important strands of intellectual developments in the social sciences. Meanings of Civil Society have varied enormously across time and palace. In sixteenth century English political thought the term referred to the state, whereas contemporary usage tends to contrast civil society and the state. Hegel’s nineteenth-century notion of civil society included the market, whereas contemporary concepts tend to regard civil society as a non profit sector. Seventy years ago Gramsci regarded civil society as an arena where class hegemony forges consent, whereas much contemporary discussion treats civil society as a site of disruption and dissent.
The early modern theorists like Hobbes and Locke (social contract school) in their writings on the origin of the state, treated civil and political society interchangeably and as a direct contrast to the state of nature which was their imaginary construct to describe absolute lawlessness and chaos. But Hegel, writing in a different tradition from the liberals, first clearly distinguished civil society as an intermediate stage between family and the state. Marx and Engles give an independent identity to civil society. They looked at civil society itself to find a force from within, to replace the existing framework. Gramsci, the most important thinker on this topic in the present century, described civil society as the sphere which battles capitalist logic. For Tocqueville and more recently for Putnam, civil society is a network of associations and applications which safeguard democratic space between the state and the family.
Civil Society, according to Harry Blair, comprises the collective of those social organizations that enjoy autonomy from the state, and have as one important goal, among others, to influence the state on behalf of their members.
Canadian Development Report 1999 denotes civil society as of non-profit agencies, service clubs, religious organizations, unions, professional associations and other community groups. These organizations and the networks they term, offer people a voice to express their opinions and ideas.
The London School of Economics Centre for civil society working definition is illustrative:
“Civil Society refers to the arena of collective action around shared interest, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, family and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, family and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organizations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organizations, community groups, women’s organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, trade unions, self-help groups, social movements, business association, coalitions and advocacy groups.”
Civil society is composed of the totality of voluntary civic and social organizations and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society as opposed to the force-backed structures of a state (regardless of that state's political system) and commercial institutions.
Viewing different approaches and definitions more specifically we can delineate the characteristics, ‘Civil Society’ as organizations including interest groups, trade unions, cooperatives, NGOs, women rights and legal and human right organizations.
The following chart that containing the examples of civil society organizations will be help to clear the concept:
|academia||consumers/consumer organizations||non-profit organizations (NPOs)|
|activist groups||cooperatives||policy institutions|
|charities||cultural groups||support groups|
|citizens' militia||environmental groups||professional associations|
|Clubs (sports, social)||intermediary organizations for the voluntary and non-profit sector||private voluntary organizations (PVOs)|
|community organizations||men's groups||trade unions|
|community foundations||non-governmental organizations (NGOs)||women's groups|
Meaning Of Democracy
Democracy is one of the most durable ideas in politics and it has become in the twentieth centaury, one of the most central points. Like civil society, ‘Democracy’ has known many meanings and instruments in different times and places. Ancient Athenian democracy was one thing, while modern liberal democracy is quite another. Representative democracy is one approach, while deliberative democracy is quite another. National democracy is one construction, while cosmopolitan democracy is quite another.
Yet a common thread runs through all conceptions of democracy; it is a condition where a community of people exercises collective self-determination. Through democracy, members of a given public-demos-take decisions that shape their destiny jointly, with equal rights and opportunities of participation and without arbitrarily imposed constraints on debate. Therefore in its true senses, democracy implies that the people as a whole have to right to rule, not sections of the community, certain groups or a particular individual. In one-way or another, democratic government is participatory, consultative, transparent and public accountable.
Interrelationship Between Civil Society And Democracy
The literature on links between civil society and democracy has their root in early liberal writings like those of Alexis de Tocqueville. However they were developed in significant ways by 20th century theorists like Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, who identified the role of civil society in a democratic order as vital.
They argued that the political element of many civil society organizations facilitates better awareness and a more informed citizenry, who make better voting choices, participate in politics, and hold government more accountable as a result. The statutes of these organizations have often been considered micro-constitutions because they accustom participants to the formalities of democratic decision making. More recently, Robert D. Putnam has argued that even non-political organizations in civil society are vital for democracy. This is because they build social capital, trust and shared values, which are transferred into the political sphere and help to hold society together, facilitating an understanding of the interconnectedness of society and interests within it.
Where civil society and democracy come together is that the former supports and strengthens the latter through increasing accountability by widening participation. Ideally, to build civil society in a democratic context is to build pluralism, a polity in which many interest groups compete to influence public policy, assuring in the process that no particular group is dominant and that most groups of any significant size gave some (though not necessarily an equal) voice.
A strong civil society helps to ensure that no one is left without a voice at the decision making table because of lack of resources. Civil society is thus logically prior to democracy while there can be civil society with no democracy; there can be no democracy without civil society.
The independent, voluntary, law-abiding, tolerant and pluralistic civil society helps to ensure democracy in the following ways:
The first and most basic role of civil society is to limit and control the power of the state by watching how state officials use their powers; raising public concern about any abuse of power; lobbing for access to information, including freedom of information laws, and rules and institutions to control corruption.
The second important function of civil society is to expose the corrupt conduct of public officials and lobby for good governance reforms.
A third function of civil society is to promote political participation by educating people about their rights and obligations as citizens, and encouraging them to listen to election campaigns and vote in elections.
Fourth, civil society organizations can help to develop the other values of democratic life: tolerance, moderation, compromise, and respect for opposing points of view. Without this deeper culture of accommodation, democracy can't be stable.
Fifth, as an arena for the expression of diverse interests, one role for civil society organizations is to lobby for the need and concerns of their members, as women, students, farmers, environmentalists, trade unionists, lawyers, doctors and so on.
Sixth, civil society can provide a training ground for future political leaders.
Seventh, civil society organizations can play an important role on mediation and helping to resolve political and ethnic conflict.
Eighth, civil society organizations have a vital role to play in monitoring the conduct of elections.
Finally, civil society is not simply in tension with the state. Because civil society is independent of the state doesn’t mean that it must always criticize and oppose the state.
In fact by making the state at all levels more accountable, responsive, inclusive, and effective – and hence more legitimate, a vigorous civil society strengthens citizens’ respect for the state and promotes their positive engagement with it.
Democratic Civil Society actors have now obtained a remarkable amount of political power without anyone directly electing or appointing them.
Since the concept of civil society is closely related to democracy and representation, it should in turn be linked with ideas of nationality and nationalism.
Operational Link Between Civil Society And Democracy
Deferent perceptions, meaning and manifestations are thus associated with the term ‘Civil Society’ and ‘Democracy’ in the contemporary context.
Here, the definition of civil society includes the private sector, voluntary organizations (NGOs), social welfare organizations, professional bodies, trade unions, community based organizations, special interest groups, research organizations, advocacy groups, various cultural bodies and media.
Civil Society covers multifarious activities from provision of limited public goods to advocacy for social reform, which in one or another way helps to ensure popular sovereignty, political equality, and political liberty. The operational relationship between civil society and democracy has been shown in the following figure.
CIVIL SOCIETY DEMOCRACY
Media (press, radio, TV )
Public opinion forming, information dissemination, etc
Popular Sovereignty –
Makes the state accountable to its citizens, both regularly (through elections) and continually (through the rights of advocacy and petition).
Collective bargaining, awareness building among members about their rights and public policies relating to them.
Maintaining high standard of the profession, protecting the rights of the members, promotion of interests.
Private Voluntary Organizations
Advocacy of social change in particular areas, protection of the rights of disadvantaged groups (e.g. minorities, tribal people, destitute women, street children, etc).
Political Equality –
All enjoy the full range of human rights and are permitted to participate on an equal basis in attaining access.
Sports and Cultural Bodies
Promotion of sports and culture through the activities of their members.
Social Welfare Organizations
Promotion of social welfare of members or limited clientele on particular areas through voluntary services of various types.
Political Liberty –
Ensures freedom of speech and assembly.
Figure : Relationship between Civil Society and Democracy
Conceptualization Of Civil Society In Bangladesh
There are several different conceptualization of the Civil Society in Bangladesh.
According to Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir-
‘Civil Society is to be understood in opposition to the military society, which they create after having seized the state power and established themselves in it.’
Muntassir Mamoon and Jayanta Kumar Ray have expressed the same view that Civil Society is synonymous with civilian society. In their words-
‘…… for most of the time in the brief history of Bangladesh, the dominant experience of its people has been that of oppression, physical and mental, by military rulers, or the military society. Members of the military society have often captured power in Bangladesh by sheer force of arms, and tried to reshape everything in the state and the society in conformity with the military model. At the other pole is the civil society, the society of men without arms.’
The meaning of Civil Society to justice Sobhan, becomes the first issue in any discussion of civil society in the socio-political context of Bangladesh. He recommends-
‘…… from the standpoints of a social scientist, the most meaningful Bengali Translation of Civil Society should equate it with Democratic Society. After all, only a democratic system or a democratic society can ensure the predominance of the unarmed people.’
Former President Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed gives another idea about civil society. He includes in the definition both the unorganized masses as well as the professional groups as members of civil society. Mahmud Hasan also expresses a somewhat similar view. But his conceptualization is more elaborate and insightful. He discounts the military, the police, the prison, the bureaucracy, the political parties and the market from the concept of civil society.
From the above discussion it can be said that in Bangladesh civil society is viewed as a non-party political sphere where individuals come together and form associations voluntarily. And in Bangladesh definition of civil society includes not only formal organizations but informal organizations as well.
General Status Of Civil Society In Bangladesh
Despite pre-independence origin civil society as understood in contemporary parlance is a recent phenomenon in Bangladesh. Three factors may be identified as explanatory for the recent proliferation of civil society; inputs from the changed world order following the ending of the Cold War, Policy prescriptions by the donor community and consciousness of citizens. Any discussion on civil society in Bangladesh is likely to produce at least two disquieting features; disorganized or questionable existence of civil society associations and problematic civil society-state interrelationship.
The disorganized state or questionable existence of some major civil society groups, if not of all, is because of their toeing the political line of either of the two major political parties (AL and BNP). They are highly polarized and intolerant like the political parties. The civil society relationship with the state occasionally hits snags with negative spill-over impact on the organization of the former; and this is a phenomenon created out of obvious political orientation of some of the groups. Contrary to functional civil society and the state partnership as is found in developed democracies including U.S.A what is mostly obvious in Bangladesh is a political partnership. Consequently, a change of political hands in power means a change in the set of civil society groups supporting or opposing government.
Civil society organizations in Bangladesh have increasingly taken the form of NGOs. It is estimated that there are probably more NGOs in Bangladesh, covering over 78% of the villagers and 24 million people in the country, which is about one-fifth of the population. There are probably more NGOs in Bangladesh than in any other country of the same size in the world. Despite the large numbers, the NGOs landscape is dominated by a few very large organizations.
NGO involvement in politics is problematic because close affiliation with a party also undercuts their autonomy. Involvement in partisan struggles requires sacrificing the latitude necessary to be an effective advocate in the future. This leads us to the question the role of NGOs in Bangladesh’s civil society as well as in democratic development. Babar Sobhan’s study of NGO financing in Bangladesh raised this issue and concluded that a strong NGO sector is not necessarily synonymous with a strong civil society. Most of Bangladesh’s higher-profile NGOs have not in fact been a part of what we are here labeling civil society; indeed they have largely eschewed a civil society role, although this may be changing somewhat in the current environment.
Now-a-days various business associations are playing noteworthy role in policy-making process. Such as Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce Industry (FBCCI), Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association(BGMEA), American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, France-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dutch-Bangla Chamber of Commerce and Industry etc. They are primarily concerned with the economic well-being of their community.
Besides Business associations there are a number of professional associations in the country. In 1997 the number was 185 of which 137 were registered with the Department of Social Welfare, Government of Bangladesh. Some prominent professional associations are: Bangladesh Bar Council, Bangladesh Medical Association and the Institute of Engineers. The role of these associations is mainly to promote, regulate and protect professional interests.
Although freedom of the media is essential to sustain democracy, but it must be recognized that the media dose not always act responsibly. Moreover, taking the overall socio-economic and political circumstances into consideration, the level and quality of news reporting is still weak and inadequate. The intellectual approach to news gathering and reporting is far below the standard required to sustain a healthy democratic growth.
Most of the trade unions and employees unions are not effective in achieving the objectives for which they have been constituted. They are highly politicized and this creates such insurmountable obstacles as ideological conflicts among the members with divergent interests, multiplicity of trade unions, inter and intra union rivalries, financial weakness, outside leadership and absence of functional unity among the workers. Political differences and regionalism have divided the workers into heterogeneous groups.
The Political Context: Regime Types Over Time
The 36 years history of Bangladesh can distinctly be divided into two periods; authoritarian rule (some military rule) from 1972 to 1990. And the other is democratic rule from 1991. The principle regime during 1972 to 1990 was those headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from 1972 to 1975, General Ziaur Rahman from 1976 to 1981 and L. General Hossain Mohammad Ershad from 1982 to 1990. As in the Pakistan period, so too in independent Bangladesh succession had never been a smooth process; Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman both assassinated, while Ershad was precipitously forced to resign and was placed in prison.
The authoritarian regime of Ershad came to an end in December 1990. Since then three free and fair and as well as highly competitive elections 1991, 1996 and 2001 were held under caretaker governments. The elections have permitted the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to be elected to office in 1991 and for the Awami League (AL) to succeed the BNP in office in 1996. In the parliamentary elections of October 2001 the AL government was defeated by a 4-party alliance led by the BNP.
Role Of Civil Society In Mitigating The Political Violence Or Democratic Development In Bangladesh
Presence of political violence is the indicator of Democratic deteriorates in any country. From that point of view, when anyhow the political violence will mitigate, we can say there would be some kind of political development. Obviously just not only this kind of diminish is Democratic Development, at all. However, here we will draw the map of the role of civil society in mitigating the political violence or democratic development in Bangladesh according to political regime.
During 1950s To 1970s
Although the idea and use of the term civil society is relatively new in Bangladesh its root can be traced back in the nineteenth century Bengal, under British rule, witnessed the rise of a society which, in its composition and character could well be called civil society. The nineteenth century Calcutta civil society was elitist in composition. It made its voice heard on major social issues.
Historically, there has been a marked tension between the state and civil society in Bangladesh because of the oppositional role of the latter. There were numerous instances when disappointment with state policies spurred civil society on to action, both at the level of popular agitation and at the constructive debate. In the 50s and 60s, the trend was agitated. Field Martial Mohammad Ayub Khan’s authoritarian rule in the grab of Basic Democracy galvanized the opposition into a pro-democracy movement spearheaded by students, which led to his registration in 1969. Away from the agitation, groups of intellectuals articulated their vision of a just, egalitarian and liberal society. And the Bangladesh Liberation War was fought and won not with professional soldiers, but with overwhelming civilian forces. However, the role of civil society, in the pre-independence period could not establish them in a distinctive position. The great flow of independence movement by the dominant leadership and the party engulfed them. In the post independence Bangladesh, due to the authoritarian rule, civil society was in an initial stupor.
Anti-Ershad Movement (1982-1990)
The downfall of the Ershad government in December 1990 is worth remarking from two points of view. First, it signaled the end of an era, and beginning of a new era characterized by some known features of democracy: an elected government and an elected parliament. Election itself largely regained its lost essence, held as it was under a caretaker non-political government. The whole concept of a caretaker government, composed fully of non-political personages and set up with the sole purpose of holding a national election to form a parliament for five years, was innovative. And this innovative idea was very largely the end-product of the relentless efforts of civil society. Second, it brought a head the agitate politics of the 1980s in Bangladesh and in several ways also set a tone for politics in the ensuing decade.
On 24 march, 1982 the armed forces under the leadership of Ershad overthrew the Government of Abdus Sattar in a bloodless coup – within less than five months of an expensive presidential election in which Sattar was over-whelming mandated by the people. While Ershad managed to secure the support of the armed forces he failed to establish his hegemony and domination over the civil society of Bangladesh. From the very begging, the Ershad regime was unacceptable to the most people because it toppled an elected government. As a matter of fact the nearly nine year’s regime of Ershad can be described as Ershad’s attempt to conquer the civil society which ultimately ended in the destruction of his authoritarian regime.
In view of rigorous application of Martial Law the agitation against Ershad did not being till sometime after he seized power and declared himself as the chief Martial Law Administrator. Ershad government came into sharp conflict with the university students over a new education policy announced by the government, in which higher education had been restricted only for talented students. The students refused the policy and violently agitated for the withdrawal of the new education policy. This incident was followed by severe repression, death of a number of students and the shutdown of educational institutions. But the student opposition to Ershad’s rule continued unabated. At last Ershad suspended the implementation of the education policy.
Ershad’s government came into sharp collision with another politically critical sector of the civil society – the lawyers of Dhaka’s Supreme Court. On 8 June 1982, Ershad as chief martial law administrator, established permanent benches for the High Court Division of the Supreme Court at another six cities outside Dhaka. The purpose, as stated by Ershad, was to bring justice closer to the home of every citizen. The lawyers could easily see that the move was an attempt to disperse the lawyers all over the country and so reduce their political influence. The lawyers protested by boycotting the sessions of the Supreme Court for some time. Besides this the Bar Council of the Supreme Court continued to demand the resignation of Ershad through seminars, conferences and meetings.
Ershad government also alienated the major federation of trade unions, “Sramik Karmachari Oikkay Porishad” (United Front of Workers and Employees), an organization of sixteen workers federations composed of two factions that represented almost the entire labor front. In May 1984, the government avoided a major confrontation by agreeing to several points set forth by the council, including a call for no further privatization of industry or banks, freedom of labor union activities, and a 30-percent raise in the minimum wage. When the government later reneged on some of these points, a council-led general strike occurred in November 1984, which led to government repression. Further strikes in 1987 were coordinated with anti-Ershad opposition parties.
In the cultural arena Ershad government adopted a three-fold strategy to exercise control over cultural workers, and restrain cultural workers from leading the civil society’s onslaught upon military rulers. These strategies were threatened to cultural workers, cultural activities and the authentic cultural tradition of the people of Bangladesh. But most of the cultural workers in Bangladesh were not to be hoodwinked by such man oeuvres of military rulers. In 1983, cultural workers were forging solidarity among themselves to fight battles on behalf of the civil society. On 20 January 1983, seventeen eminent citizens urged unity in the observance of 21st February. A committee to celebrate 21st February was set up by number of cultural organizations in 1983. In 1984, as many as 43 organizations formed this committee, which issued a statement articulating the demands of the civil society. A combined cultural front (Sammilita Sangskaritik Jote) was launched on 6 March 1984. This pro-democratic cultural front was strengthened by the emergence of other organizations. In addition to cultural organizations, many poets, artists and other cultural workers protested individually against the militarization of culture. News of this protest, broadcast by foreign media agencies, kept alive the hope of the civil society that the anti-autocracy movement was still continuing.
On 30 March 1987, civil society took an initiative to remove military domination. 31 prominent intellectuals issued a statement to plead for the establishment of a non party interim government. That statement had a favorable impact upon the civil society.
An important characteristic of the 1990 mass upsurge was the abstention of organized laborers in the tertiary sector of the civil society. The combined efforts of primary political actors (Politicians, bureaucrats, businessman and landowners) and secondary political actors (members of learned professions, e.g. lawyers, doctors, artists, journalists, teachers, etc.) brought about the collapse of autocracy in Bangladesh in 1990 and ensured the triumph of the civil society.
From 1990s To Present
In the 1990s, the civil society organizations in Bangladesh quite visibly proliferated and expanded their role in a wide range of activities. In this time individuals and collectives of various forms including lawyers’ associations, women’s groups, academics and NGOs acted separately and collectively to foster democratic ethos, encourage the establishment of an accountable and transparent government in order to prevent the possibility of military re-entry into politics. A number of initiatives were taken by such groups and forums to create a climate of debate and dialogue, essential to a democracy. Thus the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) organized several discussions on secularism. The power and Participation research Centre regularly published findings of public opinion surveys to demonstrate to politicians whether their policies were attuned to the demands of their constituencies. The Gonotantrik Udyog conducted research on MP- candidates on 1991 to ascertain their election promises so that they could in future be held accountable if they reneged on these. Teams of independent election observers were formed both in 1991 and 1996 to monitor elections alongside invited foreign observers. These examples show how measures of accountability for politicians were being introduced by civil society.
A major problem in 1990 was to get the AL and the BNP with their alliances to the negotiation table to present a joint program of action. Subsequently, the problem was to keep the doors of democratic dialogue open between them, the failure of which led to a political impasse that lasted two years from March 1994 to 1996, driving the country to the brink of economic ruin and political anarchy. As daily life became increasingly intolerable with university closure, strikes, blockades, gang fights and shoot-outs between rival factions of party cadres, civil society was compelled to step in and play the delicate role of peacemaker and moderator.
Centre For Analysis and Choice (CAC) organized many dialogues and round table discussion with Members of Parliament and politicians as part of their parliamentary advocacy for making Parliament effective from 1991 to 1996.
Initially on an experimental basis in 1991 by Association for Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB), Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), PROSHIKA, International Voluntary Services (IVS), Centre for Development Services (CDS), Bangladesh Nari Progoti Sangha (BNPS), Ain O Shalish Kendra (ASK) and Nagorik Uddayyag, took up voter education program.
The practice of citizen group or body monitoring election is a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. It has contributed to not only awareness and participation of citizens at large in the election process, but to some extent to attempts of accountability by the officials and candidates concerned. The knowledge that organizations like FEMA, ODHIKAR, CCHRB and CAC were monitoring the election led to a degree of cautiousness in the behavior and conduct of individuals concerned.
Democracy Watch is facilitating the process of developing the common mass into a civil society. It has initiated programs whereby student and housewives are learning about democracy and democratic institutions and practice. They had a specific project for developing civil society and mobilizing them.
Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) generated a “Taskforce” with some national issues as the pre-grounding chore for National Parliamentary Election 2001. On this report, CPD also arranged a national round-table discussion with the representative of Civil Societies at 20-22 August, 2001. For many aspects, this report was too significant.
On 20 March 2006, CPD also arranged a national public dialogue. In this dialogue, under the title “National Election 2007: Attempt of Civil Society to promote the Accountability”, formed a committee named “Nagorik Committee 2006” with the decisive persons of the country. The obligation of this committee had to make a Vision for Bangladesh. And with the assist of various stakeholders, national and local individuals and the specialists, that committee published a paper named “Vision Bangladesh 2021” (Bangladesh Rupkalpa 2021).
- Policy Options
- There should be linkage, contacts and collaboration at different levels of civil society activities. At the same time there should be documentation of any support to local initiatives.
- Developing a form of linkage between local bodies and the civil society for need assessment, project formulation, design, managing and monitoring is required. Such formal and structured linkage with the civil societies maybe used as vehicle for capacity building, getting administrative and political support, resolving local level violence and monitoring and evaluating projects.
- Civil Society must be nonaligned. There should not have any direct or indirect political affiliation.
- Whereas civil society organization makes the bridge between government and society and represents the common people, so a strong social communication with the grass root people should be ensured.
- For the specific social issue, the relevant specialist from the civil society organizations should lead the awareness. The similar appearance for any issue makes moot the organization’s role. This regard, civil society should be more conscious.
- Instead of placing indoor programs (like Seminar, Symposium, Roundtable discussion, opinion exchange etc.),civil society organizations should take the outer awareness program, meet together with marginal people and using print and electronic media for this purpose is strongly recommended.
- Establishing the trust to the mass-people by being a non-polarized organization.
- The new informal group emerged in the sector of Civil Society as NGOs. Basically these organizations concentrated within the grass roots marginalized population of the country. They region goes through periodical, political, social and national turbulence. It is only the civil society which responds to resolve the crisis. It has a ‘snow ball’ effect in the rural society today. NGOs as part of Civil Society have managed themselves to mobilize for development. So, the co-operative or supporting activities between NGOs and Civil Society must need.
Apparently, there is a lot of activism in the civil society-both at the grass roots among unorganized masses and more active sections of the civil society, that is, at the level of the innumerable associations, forums and NGOs. The history of Bangladesh has shown that when they are combined, a transformation takes place. Yet, the conclusion has to reach is that civil society in Bangladesh is weak, less effective and less assertive. We would argue that lack of interaction, not to speak of collaboration, among various elements- both horizontally and vertically stands in the way. The elements of civil society are segregated. Their activities are overlapping, often competitive.
In Bangladesh, ‘Civil Society’ is large, vibrant and interesting. These (civil societies) are active in the political pasture as a “WATCH-DOG”. They (civil societies) are highly praised by International Communities for the effective contribution on public awareness. Most of the activities of civil society are very valuable in improving the lives of the poor and improving the quality of life generally. But the woeful truth is, for the development of Democracy, which can play the main role as mediator, motivator, and moderator and as a prime mover for Bangladesh, there no contribution of Civil Society. It is the reality that, the every sphere of state functions is closely related with the ruling system of any country. In Bangladesh regard, democratic development that the higher achieving point of mitigating political violence is the main aspect. So, if the civil society can ensure his accountability to the state and society, only then it could be fulfill its demands.
In the context of civil society-democracy nexus in Bangladesh, a broad spectrum political solidarity across denominations against a common threat leaves room for right type of civil society role and input. But civil society groups lose vibrancy and cohesion when their mentor political parties get arranged into government and opposition parties following a democratic election. And, opposition linked civil society groups, under such circumstances, are to bear the brunt of governmental high-handedness. It is apparent that such kind of civil society-state relationship is not democracy-friendly. However, both seem to be gaining in strength and momentum, not only because of the military withdrawal from politics but also because of other internal and external dynamics relating to good governance, state role in development and mitigating the political violence in Bangladesh.
Appendix – 01
List of Interviewed Persons
|No.||Name||Details||Date & time|
|01.||Md. Muhammad Nurul Huda||Former Secretary to the Government of Bangladesh and former Inspector General of police.||31 August, Sunday, 2008, 03.00pm|
|02.||Brig-Gen (Retd.) Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc||Editor, Defence & Strategic Affairs
The Daily Star
|30 August, Saturday, 2008, 05.00pm|
|03.||Maj. Gen. Z A Khan||Advisor to BNP Chairperson
Chairman, Europa Group
|30 August, Saturday, 2008, 02.00pm|
|04.||Major Md. Abdul Kadir, EB||Deputy Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS)||01 September, Monday, 2008, 02.00pm|
|05.||Mr. Humayun Kabir||Research Director,
Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS)
|02 September, Tuesday, 2008, 01.30pm|
|06.||Dr. M. Jasim Uddin||Research Fellow,
Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS)
|01 September, Monday, 2008, 02.30pm|
|07.||Mr. Ashfaq Wares Khan||Diplomatic Correspondent,
The Daily Star
|30 August, Saturday, 2008, 04.00pm|
|08.||Mr. Salauddin Mahmud||Senior Reporter,
News & Current Affairs,
|31 August, Sunday, 2008, 01.00pm|
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Kamruzzaman, Sheikh Lovelu, 2007, “Democracy in Bangladesh: A Different View”, Published by: Bibawckkha Prokashoni.
Parvez, Azharul Haque, 2005, “Role of Civil Society in Democratic Development: Bangladesh Experiences” in Social Science Journal, Vol.10, January,2005.
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