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 firstname.lastname@example.org