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How is the civil society significant for the empowerment of the marginalized?

 Civil Society: Meanings and Dimensions: Civil society refers to the arena of uncovered collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state, and market, though in practice, the boundaries between state, civil society, and market are often complex, blurred and negotiated. Civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power.

Civil society is an unusual concept in that it always seems to require being defined before it is applied or discussed. In part, this is because the concept was rarely used in American discourse before the late eighties and many people are therefore unfamiliar with it. In part, it is a result of an inherent ambiguity or elasticity in the concept.

Perhaps the simplest way to see civil society is as a “third sector,” distinct from government and business. In this view, civil society refers essentially to the so-called “intermediary institutions” such as professional associations, religious groups, and labour unions, citizen advocacy organizations that give voice to various sectors of society and enrich public participation in democracies.

Civil society cuts across disciplinary boundaries and brings into focus some of the longstanding and nagging questions about the relationship between economy, polity and society. Indeed, civil society may well emerge as the most significant conceptual innovation of the social sciences at the turn of the century. The concept signals the beginning of an intellectual shift away from disciplinary specialization on ‘the’ state and ‘the’ market to more general debate about key aspects of the human condition. This shift and the growing importance of the term civil society in virtually all social sciences may well be indicative of a potential paradigmatic change among the major social sciences more generally.

Civil Society and Empowerment of The Marginalized

Empowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. Central to this process are actions which both build individual and collective assets, and improve the efficiency and fairness of the organizational and institutional context which govern the use of these assets. Now it is important to learn about the various dimensions of this process.

Dimensions of Legitimacy of Power: The core idea of empowerment lies in the dynamics of sharing, distribution and redistribution of power.

Context of Use: It effectively pushes these groups of people to the margin of society economically, politically, culturally and socially following the policy of exclusion. It denies a section of the society equal access to productive resources and avenues for the realization of their productive human potential and opportunities for their full capacity utilization.

Dynamics of Power Relations: The logic of empowerment essentially involves the dynamics of authority. Powerlessness has been legitimized within the given social order. In human society everybody has no equal authority as people have unequal access to the resources that determine power.

Principle of Change and Transformation: Politically this process of relegation denies people equal access to the formal power structure and participation in the decision making processes leading to their subordination to and dependence on the economically and politically dominant groups of society. As a consequence of the economic, political and cultural deprivation a vast chunk of the population has emerged to be socially ignorant, illiterate, uneducated and dependent. Devoid of the basic necessities of life they are relegated to live on the margins of society.

In developing countries like India, civil societies have assumed much significant role for the social development of the marginalized people. The marginalized community looks upon the civil society with expectation as state’s development initiatives have failed to percolate to the bottom strata of the society. In the contemporary development scenario, the concept of empowerment of the marginalized has got a special focus and civil society initiatives have been given special emphasis. As the role of civil society has acquired a role for the social development, it has developed relationship with marginalized community.

The contemporary world has been widely characterized by the restructuring of the economic order, ever increasing interactivity between the local and global communities through the information and communication technologies and mass media and explicit reformulation of the discourses of social development. Within these emerging processes however, vast sections of the society especially the ethnic minorities, women and children, the migrants and slum dwellers, peasants and workers, tribes and indigenous people, the low and the backward castes, the socio-historically vulnerable sections, the aged and such other groups of the society have remained socially, economically and politically marginalized. The existing strategies for social development by the state, and the increasing activism by the civil society to espouse the cause of marginalized, often fall short of their goal. They are unable to prevent the livelihood insecurity, ill health, political disempowerment, regular drudgery, physical displacement and migration, social segregation and alienation and loss of cultural identity of these groups. In the wake of globalization a vast section of these people have further become de-contextualized and paradoxically posited in relation to their interface with the dominant processes of development. 

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