AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 70

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Session 70: Re-imagining Civil Society in India and Pakistan: Developments and Actors

Organizer: Sana Shah, Independent Scholar, Austria

Chair: Basilio Monteiro, St. John's University, USA

The civil society sector in India and Pakistan has progressively become an important subject to academic research connecting social and cultural aspects with the politico-economic landscape. Its potential for social development within these countries is however contested and can be seen from different perspectives. Classical approaches concerning the concepts of civil society will be discussed by integrating cultural and economic developments in India and Pakistan. At the same time their political significance will be highlighted by positioning actors and their power relations concretely within the civil society sector and therefore depicting new developments and players within this field. Starting by a discussion of civil society on a historical agenda integrating socio-cultural specificities, we further focus on the economic empowerment of individuals in a post-catastrophe situation. A third paper will then give an empirical account on the political potential within a classical sector of this field, followed by another empirical account on governance issues concerning the NGO sector. Finally we will discuss the role of gender empowerment through civil society. Using different epistemological concepts to tackle the phenomenon of civil society in a critical multiplicity we are inviting interdisciplinary approaches to enable a fruitful discussion.

Non-Profit Work and its Others - Rethinking Civil Society from India
Gregor Jakob, University of Vienna, Austria

The political and historical Euro-American perspective of the citizen draws its significance on the opposition between a modern self (free, flexible social relations) vs. a traditional self (ethnic groups, kinship and caste). In my paper I argue against this approach from a postcolonial and post modern South Asian empirical perspective in which the reading and shaping of contested modernities takes different forms and offers alternative concepts and spaces for social action, participation and representation. As a starting point, following Layton, I define civil society as social organizations occupying the space between the household and the state who enable people to co-ordinate their management of resources and activities (Layton 2004). From this perspective I analyze organizational structures and practice in the field of social-and developmental work, by comparing examples of the NPO sector in relation to the rise of social entrepreneurs and private companies operating in this field. Different notions of civil society and the corporate sector are highlighted and transformed into a theory of practice. The main goal of the paper is to understand the empirical reality of ‘postcolonial developing countries’ better by comparing ethnographic accounts and my own fieldwork in India.

Story of two Women: Empowerment through Civil Society
Rao N. Alam, University of Vienna, Pakistan

Pakistan is a key ally to the USA in the ‘war against terrorism’. This was a state decision on political grounds for economic reasons. However, it affected the whole country and changed the notion of citizenship for majority. Citizen liberties were at stake, when civil society took over the responsible role and started playing a vital role in opinion making. Some of the victims and family members of the victims became active participants on the stage of the on-going ‘war on terrorism’ to become active within the civil society. There are other socially unjust practices in the society that made few victims of power to participate with civil society for highlighting the unjust practices and discrimination within the society. This paper aims at comparing the roles of these two different categories of members of civil society as activists. The examples are Mukhtaran Mai, who was a rape victim, and who is working as a social worker in her area now. The other example is Amina Masood Janjua, whose husband was kidnapped by the state agencies and is missing to date. Comparing these two cases will show how traditional female roles are broken to fight for justice. An anthropological and sociological analysis will help understand this development and also integrate the role of NGO’s working in this sector.

A Rising Civil Society : the Political Potential within Pakistani students in Lahore
Sana Shah, Independent Scholar, Austria

Student politics in Pakistan have for a very long time been an issue to several political parties in Pakistan. Since 2007 however student protests in Pakistan have seen a new face and developed new strategies of civil protest. A self-conducted study in 2007 shows the political attitudes and identities that lie within the student bodies of different universities with students from different social backgrounds. Revealing their attitudes towards identity, Pakistani government, army and citizenship as well as on perceived threats we learn more about the political potential that lies within this specific group. This study also places the political potential of these students in a broader context, the chief justice affair in 2007 as well as the imposition of a state of emergency in Pakistan in 2007 and analyzes the developments within student politics. The political potential located within this group finds its place within Pakistani civil society in the demand for a just Pakistan. A constellation analysis of the Pakistani political landscape, its major actors and its biggest problem fields, such as corruption, embed the student’s initiative in the current debate on Pakistan’s political development.

Economic empowerment in the Tsunami affected villages in the South Indian district Nagapattinam - Vocational training as a window of opportunity
Thomas Riedl, University of Vienna, Austria

In the aftermath of the tsunami 2006 emergency aid, reconstruction and the rehabilitation of fishing as a livelihood for the poorest population strata have been the highest priority in Nagapattinam, a coastal district of Tamil Nadu state. However, these measures alone are not enough to achieve a sustainable improvement in people’s living and working conditions. There is a great unmet need for vocational training programs which enable boys and girls to effectively and efficiently learn skills and abilities for their better prospects in life. This study focuses on the economic empowerment of the poorest population strata in Nagapattinam. In order to gain insight I accompanied and interviewed students, teachers and administrators of two private vocational training centers in Nagapattinam district. These centers started right after the Tsunami focusing on alternative income possibilities for the youth in Nagapattinam district. Focusing on these alternative income possibilities the primary target group were the male and female youth in Nagapattinam District focusing on backward communities and deprived families that were devastated by tsunami. Refer to economic empowerment I define this term as the empowering of previously disadvantaged sections of the population. It encourages people to gain the skills and knowledge that will allow them to overcome obstacles in life or work environment and ultimately, help them develop within themselves or in the society. This process can be difficult to start and to implement effectively, but there are examples of empowerment projects which have succeeded.

NGO governance in India
Doris Lehner, University of Vienna, Austria

Since the 1980ies a set of organizations in India called inter alia non-governmental organisations (NGOs), non-profit organisations (NPOs) or civil society organisations (CSOs) have been performing numerous roles of increasing importance in governance. The term governance indicates ‘a new mode of governing that is distinct from the hierarchical control model, a more cooperative mode where state and non-state actors participate in mixed public-private networks.’ As formally organised, autonomous and self-governed institutions which are commonly ascribed to the private realm NGOs differ from the state despite operating in the same public sphere. This paper aims to analyze governance in the context of Indian NGOs. It demonstrates not only the (state-controlled) regulatory framework(s) under which NGOs are incorporated but also their governing structures, strategies, fields of operation and stakeholder linkages. By reference to empirical findings collected during two field studies within exile Tibetan CSOs in India a multiplicity of strategies concerning social work and development cooperation are illuminated. These strategies focus inter alia on the set up of transnational networks, the advancement of grassroots-institutions as well as the reconfiguration of their own ‘governance systems and processes’. Through strategic capacity building these CSOs develop not only the ability to effectively take part in governance but also gain access to decision making avenues which in turn extend their creative leeway and room for (social) manoeuvre.