be decisive and been promised protection as it moves boldly forward. This should not be seen as an opportunity to steamroll inconvenient civil society associations that nevertheless command a legitimate space in our democracy and will populate the “inclusive” in the inclusive development promised. Suppression of legitimate voices and activities creates the space for underground and violent actors when this is the last thing a “civil” society wants or identifies with. To hold that a cry for justice is anti-development or anti-national is an affront to the mass of people who only want to be part of the benefits and not lose out into destitution.
India’s role in international forums as the leading voice demanding an end to Apartheid is written in golden letters across history. Today, India is lauded as a living example of a diverse, noisy, flourishing democracy even as it struggles to overcome poverty. This is a singular signifier of its legitimacy and leadership and what sets it apart from China in the finest possible way. Much of this is attributable to the presence of a vibrant civil society.
True democracies celebrate the involvement of citizens, deepen it at every level and make consultation a habit. Bureaucrats, law-makers and institutions alike should be working hard to include and protect civil society and NGOs rather than trying to bully and frighten people whose only weapon is words and the ability to openly organise while submitting to the regulatory regime imposed on them. As it seeks its rightful role in international affairs, India, as one of the leading democracies of the world will be judged, in part, by the way it treats its civil society.
The writers work at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Delhi