Although globalization in India has many positive effects such as greater flows of information and communications across the globe, and huge amounts of foreign investment, it does come with its own set of woes. Ever since India first opened its doors to liberalization in the 1990, increased competition between foreign and Indian companies – especially in pharmaceuticals, BPOs, and in the manufacturing and chemical sectors – has significantly cut the profits made by Indian companies. Increased marginalization of the majority of the population has led to a widening of the gap between the rural and urban population and the rich and poor.
The Role of Civil Society in India
Civil society in India has always played a significant role and from the very beginning has been at the forefront of people’s struggles for rights and justice in a wide variety of ways – from coming together for social change through research, or advocacy for different causes such as fighting corruption, conservation of the environment, culture and heritage, to financial issues, bonded labour, human trafficking, gender issues, basic human rights, or supporting stigmatized, discriminated and marginalized communities. Corporate social responsibility is also popular in India as major corporations are now including social development and responsibility as part of their agenda. The focus is usually on education, health, environment conservation, women and child welfare.
Sustainable development and vulnerable communities
Pragya is one such non-governmental development organization based in Gurgaon in the northern state of Haryana that works for the ecologically friendly development of vulnerable communities and sensitive ecosystems across the world. The organization undertakes a wide array of work through its programmes, research, advocacy, capacity building and other services.
Pragya is working to educate communities in India and Nepal on the nature of climate change and the need for adaptation to ecological change by introducing suitable changes in the use of agriculture and other resources. One innovative example is the construction of a snow reservoir for the Demul village of the Lahaul and Spiti district in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. This is located atop a ridge with an undulating topography and inhospitable climate of 5 months of winter per year where temperatures go down to -30. Pragya has helped the community to harvest the abundant winter snowfall and harness it for irrigation during summers. This has resulted in a 70% increase in the amount of water available for irrigation.
Pragya also helps indigenous communities preserve and revitalize their cultural heritage and set up heritage-based enterprise and cultural centres. One of its noteworthy interventions has been the setting up a network of rural museums in the cold Himalayan desert region of Dhankar (Lahaul and Spiti districts). One of these museums, located at the entrance of a 1000 year old Dhankar monastery, houses over 150 historical artefacts of cultural interest and value, and gives local community artisans an opportunity to showcase and sell their cultural products, thus helping in the development of niche enterprises.
Activists fighting for a cause
Sunitha Krishnan is a striking example of an anti human trafficking activist. I had the opportunity to meet her and hear her speak on panels on several occasions. A woman of great grit and determination, she could easily pass off as the girl next door. Sunitha is the founder of Prajwala, a non-governmental organization located in Hyderabad in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh that rescues women and children from prostitution, educates their children and fights second generation trafficking enabling women’s psychological recovery and their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Sunitha is not just fighting sex slavery in India alone but is taking on a multi million dollar global market. All this is done voluntarily. She has received numerous accolades and awards for her outstanding work. Undaunted by challenges, despite having been attacked numerous times by traffickers and under constant threat of her life, she continues her work. Her own journey to work with these children and women started at a very young age. The work of Prajwala and Sunitha is an example of full conviction and faith in people’s participation in the process of change.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Many corporations in India such as the Hindustan Unilever Group, Reliance Group, and Aditya Birla Group, to name but a few, have made CSR an important part of their agenda. The community development endeavours of the Tata Group cover many areas such as health, education, livelihood, women’s and child welfare as part of its corporate social responsibility agenda. The company supports free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of fourteen and supports initiatives to improve literacy among adults. Jagriti Yatra is an annual train journey by Jagriti Sewa Sansthan (an NGO based in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) and the Tata Group. It was started in 2008 and targets youth between 18 to 25 from all over the world who live on Rs 40 to 120 per day. It is an enterprise lead development where participants meet social entrepreneurs and visit enterprises in rural and small towns initiated to improve the community’s quality of life.
The way forward
Since civil society is one of the main components of any solid social structure, the role of civil society in ensuring good governance and contributing to a greater WE is as significant in India as it is in any other country in the world.
More women like Sunitha Krishnan, either individually or through civil society, need to participate in governmental legislative and policy-making processes which without their engagement would just end up being reactionary processes with no long term impact. People need to take responsibility and be accountable too. Effective monitoring and implementation of existing rules and regulations are also needed and civil society needs to be included in many decision making processes. Many say that CSR should be taken seriously and should be pursued relentlessly and sincerel and not just be symbolic. Preserving local culture and local heritage by placing a focus on local products, thus generating income and employment as well as helping to build identity is another way for sustainable development. They say, “go global buy local”. Working towards this with perseverance, sincerity, creativity and a visionary view would certainly help in making India a global citizen. Is it possible?