12-18 February 2016 #795

Out with the old

Nepal’s civil society is now more of a hurdle than a contributor to creating an accountable and just society
Bidushi Dhungel

We are witnessing the death throes of civil society in Nepal. The days of the old wardens of democracy have now come to an end. The numerous groups and individuals who rallied in favour of democracy, freedom, progress and an open society over the past decades are now either too old or have been tainted.

In their heyday, these stalwarts spearheaded movements against oppression and tyranny, took unimaginable risks, and sided with revolutionaries of the time. For this, they will forever be remembered and appreciated as change-makers during a time when change seemed impossible. But over the years those very ‘revolutionaries’ have morphed into the tyrants they once fought against, and with them, civil society is no more ‘civil’.

The political neo-elite are embedded in a web of corruption, deceit, crime and injustice that is far more complex than it has ever been. The connections run deep and no one is untouched — not even civil society. Civil society, almost entirely comprised of the donor-driven NGO sector, has taken sides, sworn political allegiance and become trapped within the confines of the ‘paid activist’ role. It has dug a ditch for itself so deep that the leaders have become compelled to turn to their ‘activism’ for their daily dal bhat and the luxuries of modern day life. As a result, civil society is now more of a hurdle than a contribution to creating an accountable and just society.

Even ‘new’ civil society, if not already enmeshed with the politics of the post-2006 mandate, has turned the country’s sorrows into a profitable enterprise — whether they are selling poor governance, lack of accountability, inclusion or rape. All groups are in competition with each other for a limited pool of resources, scrambling for a piece of the civil society pie.

What this means is that the idea of coming together to push a common cause, a political or social goal, becomes impossible. With both party allegiance and resource competition to factor in, no civil society leader could possibly work towards a common goal with his or her peers on the same platform. Instead, there is tussle and wrangling and one ‘side’ is never seen where the other ‘side’ is.

In the past months we have seen multiple attempts on part of various youth groups and loose alliances to make something happen, to create a spark and try to change the status quo. They have rallied on the issues of the protests in the Madhes, the blockade, the corrupt state’s antics, or the human rights violations. Even political groups have been formed to change the way politics and society function. Yet, we have not seen a sustained and united front to champion any one of these causes, and little to no impact. With no guidance or support from the older generation of so-called activists, it has been an uphill struggle.

There is an infuriating silence on the part of the old bastions of rights and democracy. Among them, those who speak now do so on very selective issues. They were silent some years ago and those speaking up recently have now turned silent. But whether in 2006 or today, the issues remain unchanged and there is much work to be done.

It’s high time both sides got off their high horses, pushed their egos aside, and supported the younger generation that must take over the reins. They must prove they can rise above the politicians at the helm who are dictating who speaks and when.

But instead of support and encouragement, what we see is that the youth have often been used by civil society towards political and financial ends — when their favoured parties have not been in power, when their political agendas have taken a dip, when they have wanted to pose a threat to the opposition or when they have seen a ‘project’ that could be developed through the hard work of the youngsters on the ground.

Read also:

The stifling burden of hierarchy, Foreign Hand

“Civil society has become passive”

Peace by proxy, CK Lal

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