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Government, NGOs, CSOs and CSWs:
Understanding Who is Who and what is happening around you!

Miguel Braganza

In the type of democracy that exists in a state like Goa, the term 
"Government" is like a "default" in the "Operating System". If there is no 
specific command to any specific person or organisation to do a thing, the 
Government is supposed to do it. That is it! If the citizen is smart and a 
little "social action" savvy, she or he will check the menu for any NGO like 
a computer buff would look for a Desktop "shortcut" to get things done 
faster. It is all a familiar system of NGOs being mistaken as a surrogate 
for GOs or Government Organisations!

There is, however, a confusion of sorts in that everything that is not 
Government run is termed as an NGO. Even the organisers of an impromptu 
"rasta rokho" are termed as an NGO. The sub-editors just love the acronym 
"NGO" because it fits snugly in the single column headlines on page 5.

Everyone in Goa is familiar with the acronym CSW after Baina demolitions in 
2004 about the same time as the multiplex was erected in Panaji. My father 
used to say that prostitution, like the famous monkey trio, is of three 
types ..thought, word and deed. It was his considered opinion that the 
prostitution in deed was the least dangerous. HIV-AIDS was not discovered in 
his lifetime.  Even today, the Commercial Social Workers [CSWs] in our major 
towns are more dangerous than the CSWs, Gharwalis and pimps of Baina put 
together. They take the entire constituency for a ride, election after 
election. Each transaction is in crores of rupees, a figure that even Mata 
Hari could not command at her peak.

Goa has seen a few successful "movements" that have shaken up its very 
bowels and purged it of the worms that would destroy it or make it a ghost 
of its former self like some addict. One such movement was the "Opinion 
 Poll" of 16 January, 1967. The issue was sorted out once and for all, 
though not to everyone's complete satisfaction. The second purge two decades 
later was quite ineffective. Like amoebic dysentery, the "bug" is still 
there and threatens a relapse that may be worse than the original disease. 
Another two decades later, we were able to purge the Regional Plan but the 
bacteria are still alive and kicking in various sections of the society. 
Thankfully, UGP, KPA and GBA are each of three alphabets or they would be 
termed as NGOs for the purpose of headlines on page 5 and, occasionally, on 
the front page.

The Goa Bachao Abhiyan [GBA], like the Konkani Porjecho Avaz [KPA] before 
it, is not a registered "Society" or "Trust". It is a "movement" and not an 
"organisation". There is absolutely no basis to call it a "Non Government 
Organisation" that the acronym NGO stands for! It is correctly called as a 
"Civil Society Organisation" or CSO.

The term CSO is much broader and inclusive than the term NGO, which is 
commonly and often, wrongly, used in Goa. The term often refers to the 
development of a "commercial state" as a way to change the corrupt feudal 
order and strengthen the liberty of the individual. In capitalist societies, 
CSOs include all non-state aspects of society, expanding out of the economic 
rigidity of Communism, into culture, society and politics.

Civil society refers to the arena of unforced collective action around 
shared interests or objectives, purposes and values. The GBA focusses on 
appropriately planned land use to preserve Goa's identity while the KPA 
focussed on the recognition of the language, Konkani. The SVM spearheads the 
anti-SEZ movement to achieve the same by restricting inmigration of labour, 
while JGF tried the same by its focus on tourism. One thing that is common 
among successful CSOs is that their name is of three words and their acronym 
has three alphabets. Even successful political parties in Goa are with three 
letter acronyms like MGP, UGP, BJP or INC. The BBGP, UGDP and other four 
letter combinations have not been as successful.

Civil society commonly includes a diversity of spaces, persons and 
institutions, varying in their degree of autonomy and power. CSOs often 
include registered charities, community groups, women's organisations, 
faith-based organisations, professional associations, self-help groups 
[SHGs], business associations, trade unions, social movements, coalitions, 
development non-governmental organisations [NGOs] and advocacy groups. The 
statutes of these organizations have often been considered 
micro-constitutions because they accustom participants to the formalities of 
democratic decision making.

It has been stated by social scientists that even non-political 
organisations in civil society are vital for democracy. This is because they 
build, trust, shared values and social capital, which are transferred into 
the political sphere and help to hold society together. Others have noted 
that the CSOs have now obtained a remarkable amount of political power, 
without anyone directly electing or appointing them.

The term civil society is currently often used by activists as a reference 
to the domain of social life which needs to be protected against 
globalisation as in the case of SEZ and IT Parks. However, as CSOs can be 
funded and directed by those businesses and institutions (especially 
Multi-national and European donors) who support globalisation, this usage 
can contested.

One may like to think of the SEZ Virodhi Manch [SVM] as an "Advocacy Group" 
like the Goa Foundation, but it lacks the structure and the permanence of 
the latter. Whether the limited objective of preventing the establishment of 
SEZs in Goa will be a short term programme or a self-perpetuating struggle 
will depend as much on the Goa Government as on the Civil Society and CSOs. 

Miguel Braganza's column at:


The above article appeared in the November 30, 2007 edition of Gomantak 
Times, Goa

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