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Dr Sri Ram Khanna (India)

1 The present state of civil society
in Pakistan & India

Dr S V Raju | Dr. Manzoor Ahmad | Dr. Sri Ram Khanna | Mr. Abdullah J. Memon | Dr. Hamza Alvi | DISCUSSION | SESSION CONTENTS | HOME


We will not allow our leaders to become despots.

If you define civil society as people in the quest of change in their community without having to get involved in the race for power – political power or any other kind of power – then I would I would define myself as a member of the Indian civil society trying to bring about change in what we see is wrong in our society.

India was among the top ten corrupt countries of the world in the survey conducted by Transparency International – and it was a pleasant surprise for me to find out that India and Pakistan were competing.

The NGOs working in the civil society of India have created a social space for themselves: they are heard.

When the Babri Masijid was demolished the entire civil society spoke out in one voice against that demolition. Last week the leaders of that incident have been charge-sheeted. Because there exists a feeling of not allowing the religious fundamentalism to take over and demolish the fabric of Indian society – which today includes ten crore Muslims.

Sri Ram Khanna from Delhi University described the evils of the Indian society very succinctly through the following indicators:

  1. corruption related to power quest,
  2. the extreme difference between the life styles of those who live in poverty and those who live in luxury: while some have noting to eat except wild flowers, others have enough to spend on dinners in five star hotels,
  3. the common person has no recourse: if you are not well-connected you can’t get justice;
  4. fanning of religious differences by political parties to increase their vote-banks: they work up negative emotions in two months which are difficult to quench in years and decades.

Dr. Khanna described the more than 80,000 NGOs working in India (at least twice as many good ones as the bad ones) as the only factor contributing towards development of egalitarian values. Among the examples of the NGOs’ contribution in this direction he mentioned their role in:

  1. ensuring justice for the common person
  2. increasing options for women
  3. environmental protection
  4. health care initiatives
  5. civil rights litigation – even against persons from the armed forces
  6. slum development
  7. mass education – even in domains that are generally considered to be the domains of the universities, such as science education.
  8. While describing the overall situation of the Indian civil society as hopeful, Dr. Khanna also pointed out that the South is generally stronger in this regards than the North, where a common youth would be more concerned with the immediate personal benefits rather than the long term collective gains before undertaking any kind of social service.

A special dimension of Dr. Khanna’s speech was his emotional emphasis on the human similarities between the Hindus and Muslims living in India, and between the people of India and Pakistan on the international map.

Dr. Khanna suggested that the poverty line does not divide the Muslims and the Hindus in India: the Hindus who are poor live in as much destitution as the poor Muslims. The human problems are the same.

On the international plane the newer generation, born after 1947, does not know so much about the differences that caused the partition nor do they have memories of bitterness like their elders who had witnessed the divide.

Himself born of a Hindu migrant from Rawalpindi, Dr. Khanna spoke of the days of the United India as an era that had lasted for thousands of years – and whose impact in terms of common legacies will hopefully contribute in lessening the tensions created during the last fifty years by the political leaders alone.


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