Civil Society: Meaning, Features and Role of Civil Society


Civil Society: Meaning, Features and Role of Civil Society!

The need to build and strengthen the Civil Society has come to be common theme with all contemporary thinkers, reformers and commentators. Each democratic state fully accepts the need and necessity of Civil Society for a successful working of its democratic government. It can compel the government to continuously work as a representative, responsible, transparent and accountable government of the people.

What Is Civil Society?

Initially, Civil Society used to be defined as a political community i.e. a society governed by the government, law and authority. In contemporary times, however, Civil Society is distinguished from the state and political community. It means non­governmental, private, voluntarily organized associations or institutions of the people, through which they try to secure their needs, desires and objectives.


Such associations and organisations work independently of the government. Civil Society even opposes the wrong politics, decisions and projects of the government. In doing so the civil society depends upon constitutional, peaceful and legal method of action.

Meaning and Definition:

The term Civil Society is used to collectively refer to the voluntary organizations corporate bodies, socially active groups, and firms working in each society.

“Civil Society is the set of intermediate associations which is neither the state nor the family, but which plays an active and positive role in social, economic, and cultural activities.”

According to Andrew Heywood, “Civil society refers to “a realm of associations, business, interest groups, classes’ families and so on.”


Civil Society includes all private organizations of the people. Press, professional associations of the people, Human Right groups and organizations, voluntary social service organizations, and in fact, all NGOs working in society.

In other words, Civil Society refers to the effective presence of non- governmental autonomous groups and associations, business groups, interest groups, trade unions, voluntary social service organizations, in fact, all non-governmental organizations, and groups working for securing public interests and welfare by their self efforts.

Features of Civil Society:

1. Civil Society consists of non-governmental, voluntarily organized associations, organizations and institutions of the people.

2. Civil Society is different from both the State and Society.


3. Civil Society is, however, neither opposed to state nor to society. On the contrary it works as a supplementary to each of the two. It, however, works in an organized and autonomous way.

4. A healthy and efficient democratic system needs and integrates civil society, society and state.

5. Civil Society is constituted by the well-organised and active presence of a number of social, economic and cultural associations and groups of the people.

6. Both Liberalism and Marxism accept and advocate the role of Civil Society but each conceptualizes it in a different way.


Role of Civil Society:

1. Civil Society as an instrument for securing rights and interests of the people:

Civil Society works for discharging several economic, social, cultural, moral and other responsibilities which fall in the domain of private activities. It is not a part of government and yet it serves the purpose of securing the rights, general welfare and development of all the people of the state.


2. Growing strength and Role of Civil Society in our Country:

In our country the Civil Society has been becoming more and more aware, alert and active. The continuous presence and successful working of Indian liberal democratic political system, the spread of literacy, the freedom of mass media, the existence of a very broad based decentralized local self-government system, the presence of a direct, homogeneous and democratic process of Political Socialization and people’s full commitment to liberal democracy have been together helping the Civil Society to become increasingly active and strong.

The Right to Information and the implementation of the Right to Information Act has given an additional strength to the Civil Society. It now uses this Act for securing its objectives; It has now come to be a powerful actor in the process of Indian democratic polity, economy and society. Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement and the movement for the creation of a strong Lokpal as the watchdog against corruption has shown the increasing strength and role Civil society in our country.

3. Need of Civil Society in undemocratic states:

Civil Society is needed even in an authoritarian system because it can help the process of overthrow of the authoritarian regime and replace it with a democratic system. The Civil Society, particularly the Bar Association of Pakistan, played a key role in 2008 to compel General Parvez Musharraf to accept the demand for holding democratic and free elections for constituting a democratic government capable of developing Pakistan as a democratic state and society.

Since March 2008, Pakistan has been living with a democratic government and this development has been helping the Civil Society in Pakistan to become better organized and more active and efficient in playing its role in Pakistani society, economy and polity. It alone can help the Pakistani government in controlling the menace of terrorism.

Presently, (February 2011) several states of Africa, particularly Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and some others have been experiencing the increasing strengths of their civil societies. Strong opposition to authoritarian and dictatorial regimes is being demonstrated by the civil society in Egypt.

The civil society of Tunisia successfully secured its objective of overthrowing the forces of authoritarianism in their country and on 11th February 2011, the Egyptian Civil Society also successfully secured its objective of eliminating the authoritarian regime of Hosne Mubarak in their country. It is expected that it will now ensure the installation of a democratic regime in the country.

In fact, the civil society of each state has been trying to become more active and assertive in its society, polity and economy. It is indeed a very healthy development which is destined to give more strength to the movements for the restoration of democratic regimes in all authoritarian states of the world.

The current drive for the protection of Human Rights of all the people living in all parts of the globe and the environment protection movements will get more and more support and efforts from the CIVIL SOCIETY of each member of the international community.

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