Uncivilized Practices of the Civil Society

By Gladson Dungdung

19 December, 2009

The term ‘Civil Society’ is mostly used for voluntary organizations, non-governmental organizations and non-profit institutions. These are also called as civil society organizations. Interestingly, most of these organizations are always busy in criticizing the state (which is of course not wrong as the state is a failure), but they themselves behave like the state when it comes to the issues of Adivasis, Dalits and Women of D-section (deprived sections), even though they have also failed in delivering justice to marginalized peoples. Most of these organizations are led by elites even after 62 years of Indian independence. They enjoy corporate rate salaries, luxurious accommodations and air travel in the name of Adivasis, Dalits and women of D-section. The misappropriation of funds in the name of marginalized groups remains uncounted, despite that they are masters in lecturing on the issues of responsibility, transparency and accountability. 

There are very interesting kinds of so-called civil society organizations – 1) based in the small cities or villages and getting less funds, 2) headquartered in Delhi and other big cities and bagging huge funds, and 3) NGO federations called people’s organizations. Perhaps, the secretary, director and chief functionaries of these organizations are never replaced against their will, though they talk much about democracy. These civil society organizations also bring the mass organizations, social movements and displacement movements into their clutches and cash these in dollars, euros and pounds. Don’t be surprised if some organizations based in Delhi show you a beautiful power point presentation about the Adivasi movements against displacement in Jharkhand, Orissa or Chhatishgarh. 

There are also the holy cows called ‘funding agencies’ (national and international), who love to be called civil society organizations, whose prime job is to collect the money, enjoy most of it and give the rest to other organizations. Ironically, these organizations fund those NGOs headed by non-Adivasis for the revival of Adivasi tradition, culture and ethos, but at the same time they avoid joining hands with Adivasi-headed organizations for the same purposes. The sad part is, the Adivasis are still unqualified for the funding organizations; therefore, a few Adivasis can be seen in the lowest strata of these organizations, despite their professional qualities, commitment and dedication. There are also some organizations who advocate for the Adivasi Chief Minister for the state of Jharkhand, but when it comes to the matter of their organizations, they cannot bear to see an Adivasi in the driving seat. They also advocate for promotion and protection of Adivasi languages, but their doors are always closed for the non-English  speaking, marginalized people. 

These organizations tirelessly use the connotation ‘empowering the marginalized’, ‘voice to the voiceless’ and ‘women empowerment,’ but when it comes to the question of leadership, they just escape in one way or the other. Why did the civil society organizations fail in bringing up the Adivasi leadership was the most important question repeatedly asked in the National Consultation on Adivasis of India organized by the National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS) in Delhi on December 15-16, 2009. A noted Gandhian and founder of the Ekta Parishad, P.V. Rajgopal, accepts in denial mode that the civil society organizations have failed in bringing up the Adivasi leadership but he also advocates for a united fight by saying, “The issue like displacement is not just limited to the Adivasis but it is also hitting the farmers, vendors and fishermen.” But does it mean that the question of Adivasis get less priority? 

Ironically, the non-Adivasi leaders of the civil society organizations not only respond diplomatically but also justify their leadership of the Adivasis. While responding to the questions of Adivasis leadership, a prominent social activist from Jharkhand, Sanjay Bosu Mullick, says, “Since the Adivasis do not know about the exploitative system and structure of our (non-adivasis) society, therefore we are fighting with our people on behalf of them.” One can only appreciate this diplomatic response and thank the God who has given wits, wisdom and knowledge only to the non-Adivasis for not only understanding their society but also the Adivasis, and shame on those Adivasis (like me) who do not even possess the wisdom to understand their own society. 

The reality is that the Adivasis are racially discriminated, exploited economically and denied their rights in the civil society organizations. Similarly, the Dalits are treated like untouchables, uneducated and inhuman, and the women of D-section are not only exploited socially, economically and mentally but they are also exploited sexually by the Big-bosses of the civil society organizations. The irony is, our participation is for them is to listen to our sorrows patiently through their tongues in a conference hall, give our consent to their words and always make sure that they are our messiahs. How would you explain it when your wisdom, commitment, dedication, capacity and efficiency do not matter for them but your race, caste, class, colour and relationship possesses multiple values for them instead? 

When the Adivasis enter into these organizations, especially in the funding ones, their years of work experience are counted as one or two years (so that they can be kept in the lowest strata), they are compared with their counterpart (always a non-adivasi is used as a parameter for them) for further promotion and their ten achievements are not enough to beat the couple of achievements of a non-Adivasi. When one raises these issues in the organizations, they would manipulate, manufacture consent with their colleagues and dilute the whole debate to ensure that the Adivasis lose the game. Finally, if the Adivasis leave these organizations, they would frame them as opportunists, non-committed to the Adivasi cause and counted as one more enemy of the Adivasis. 

One can question that why are the marginalized people of these organizations keeping quiet in these circumstances? The instant answer is, a wage labourer bears all kinds of discrimination, exploitation and torture only because he/she knows that the day a question is raised, he/she would be thrown out of the job. Similar theory is applied to the marginalized people, who are ensuring their daily bread from these civil society organizations. How can one dare to question the big-boss, when he/she is just struggling for survival? Can you imagine how the marginalized people are being exploited, denied and discriminated against in those organizations, who tirelessly talk about participation, empowerment, rights, equality and justice? 

The fact of the matter is the perception, attitude and behaviour of the elite heads of civil society organizations towards Adivasis, Dalits and women of D-section are no different from the common people of the so-called civilized society. They talk much about participation, empowerment, rights, equality and justice merely to ensure themselves a  luxurious life, bag awards and become a role model in the name of Adivasis, Dalits and Women of D-section; therefore, they also play the game of words just like the politicians do. Can anyone remind me about how many Adivasis, Dalits and women of D-section were awarded (megasese) for their extraordinary work and became a role model for all Indians? 

Interestingly, the vision of these organizations is more or less the same – formation of an equitable and just society, but the pertinent question is how the utopian vision can be achieved through discriminatory, inequitable and unjust practices? In fact, the elite heads of the civil society organizations should stop their uncivilized practices, which they are carrying out for decades. It is the right time to let the marginalized people play their own game, become umpires and take over as the match referee. And the elites should only become the fourth umpires rather than playing match for the marginalized people. Then only their talks about the empowerment, equality and justice can be fulfilled. 

Before civil society organizations organize the next consultation, convention or conference on Adivasi, Dalit or Women’s Rights, all marginalized people should stand up and say strongly that enough is enough, let the Adivasis, Dalits and women of D-section speak for themselves. The time has come to tell them (non-Adivasis heads) that we are grateful to you for advocating on behalf of us for the last six decades, but no more manipulation please. We are tired of hearing about our grievances through your holy tongues; therefore, we want the world to listen to our grievances through our mouths. We want to speak for ourselves and we are capable enough to save our culture. But the question that may remain unanswered is, will you, the Messiahs of the Adivasis, Dalits and women listen us? 

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and Writer from the Adivasi (Indigenous) Community of Jharkhand. He can be reached at

12 thoughts on “Uncivilized Practices of the Civil Society”

  1. Dear Gladson,

    The article on “Uncivil Society” Civil Society was long over due. I agree with you completely on all the points that you have raised there.
    Yes, we from communities other that the dalit and tribal always run into the danger – quite willingly – into the same pitfalls that we accuse the government of.


    Thomas Pallithanam

  2. Great work Gladson. You put your invitation to the meet to good use! But I would like to know what another great adivasi leader and invitee Kantilal Bhuria had to say about the non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act.

    Rahul Banerjee

  3. Very nice, your concern is appericiatable.The recent happening of Dantewada
    testifies your article, when one so – called messiha of Adivasis was shouted
    and his house was surrounded by local adivasis branding him as exploiter. He
    and his elite friends based in Delhi claim that he is fighting for the
    “Rights of Tribals” but reality is that the tribals are demanding his
    expulsion from the area.

  4. Dear Gladson,

    One of my friends (Ramesh, CLAP, Orissa)forwarded your mail that contains your article “Uncivilised Practices in Civil Society’ and I’m glad I did not miss it. here is my response:

    1st let me thank u sincerely for the excellent peice of writting touching the core of the real issue concerning marginalisation and hypocracy. I strongly agree with your concerns and respect your thought without any hesitation. You unearthed a very practical and shameful practices within the CSOs.

    But my friends what I know from the history is that no one can fight for your right and get it for you. you have to fight your own battle. What I mean here is that all the Adivasis and other marginalised sections of the society should realise this and raise their voices against it and act accordingly, like you are trying. we can not say that they do not revolt because of their financial insecurity. That is the reason for which they are being exploited. we have to sacrifice a lot of things for such kind of struggle against the elite and the powers that be.

    However My friends, we can not alien ourselves from our own society and people deny them to fight alongwith us. there are so many examples where non-adivas fight for advasis and advasis fight for non-adivasis successful.

    we can not say that women can’t fight for men and vice versa, advasis for non-adivasis and vice versa, etc.

    Expresing solidarity to your thought,

  5. Hi Gladson,
    Good work and need of the hour. In other term for “Civil Society” can be coined as “Money Laundering Agency”. As you rightly pointed out, Civil Society is not only involved in depriving and excluding Marginalized section including Adivasis in their development. But also stripping wealth and looting economic opportunity from marginalized.
    Thank you for article.

    With regards
    Kadey Soren

  6. Dear Gladson,

    I would like to have a discussion with you on this subject when you have sufficient time since I sincerely wish to understand the adivasi society through you and thus complete my learning in the process. This will also clear my own thinking on the subject and what I should do and not do in Jharkhand.

    With warfm regards

    Prem P. Verma


  8. Thanks Gladson.Every word of your statement is true to the core and has always been so.This applies not only to the civil societies but also to all other agencies including governments,educational and other institutions.Nothing has changed in 63 years of Independence and has gone worse in Jharkhand since its creation 9 years ago and our so called tribal leaders have been party to it.

    But why have we depended on others so long. Is it because, we have become used to hand outs? Or may be the centuries of exploitation and sub jugation has left us helpless, voiceless and ruderless and struggling for two meals in a day and roof over our heads. What ever is the reason,its about time we should wake up and stand up and fight for our share of benifits in emerging India.We the educated Adivasi people should spare some time for the benifit of the rest of the community because we have depended on others too long.Its about time we form our own NGOs and work for our own people. But it takes time to know the ropes and need financial support and training in the beginning.Similarly our tribal leaders need to know how to govern and do useful work for all the people.
    You have a good start and we support your efforts but we have to involve others as well.

    Dr. Dhuni soren

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s