Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Invest in Social Capital

In these days of fiscal projections and factionalised politics, it would be wise to perhaps discuss Social Capital, that wealth counted in the richness of one’s relationship with others in a community and that which is considered of good value when citizens have a tendency to engage in civic affairs, band together in voluntary groups, come together for collective action. This Social Capital, once it has matured into an instinctive collectif of ‘concerned citizens’, becomes what we know as a Civil Society. All are aware that in the present times of multiple sources of information it becomes difficult to sift the rumour from the news and it is expected of a Civil Society to become the conduit that filters this barrage of information and then also mould public opinion. This is definitely a tall ask and the responsibility is tremendous. What makes the challenge even more daunting is that one is never sure whether a society has fully awakened or is still in the process of doing so. A Civil Society after all is culled from the same faculties that make the people and its leaders and has no one above it to judge maturity or wisdom [of the civil society]. This irony apart, it is still a state worth aspiring to.
Where does Sikkim figure on this ladder? Community participation is the first investment into building a healthy reserve of Social Capital. Sikkim is yet to witness spontaneous public participation [and one is not speaking of political meetings here]. It has however seen some instances of voluntary community participation, but it is unfortunate that this participation has not cut across caste and community divides. In that sense, the Sikkimese society is yet to find its collective voice. Politics forms a very small part of this cohesiveness which is more about people-sponsored initiatives for universally felt social concerns. It is also about more than neighbourhood cleanliness drives because social capital is expected to be invested in issues of even larger concern. Community mobilization has been too sectional in most instances and has not grown from there. Such initiatives provide the experience necessary for wider nets to be cast and a more resolute civil society to be formed. The problem of sectional groupings is also that it limits itself to raising issues, and finds its relevance tied to such issues – resolve the issue and they lose relevance, or so they believe. A civil society begins where such grouping end because it is more concerned with resolutions, consensus, participation and compassion where factions and sectional groups are about paranoia and suspicion. There is nothing new being shared here, but why has Sikkim which clearly knows better, still denied itself a Civil Society? It is perhaps because civil societies do not happen by accident and do not always grow organically [at least not quickly enough], they have to be nurtured and groomed until they become instinctive responses. The American democracy, despite all reservations one might have about the government there, is vibrant not because it is a super power or even because of economics or literacy; it is so because the Americans, through centuries of grooming, come together in groups and share opinion as a reflex action. The Alcoholics Anonymous, by far the most effective forum for recovering alcoholics has its genesis in America, as do the more socially active organisations like Rotary and Lion’s Club. While few might agree that Woodstock is representative of a Civil Society, it does stand out as an example of a sea of humanity coming together to find its high-water mark of a shared experience. People need to replicate these experiences in Sikkim if they want a Civil Society without having to go through the strain of suffering radical voices before better sense prevails. This can be achieved by inculcating a sense of community participation among the students. The first step would be to get them comfortable in a group. Just the classroom will not do. Something more focussed like book clubs, art groups, even a more effective Scouts and NCC culture. Once their comfort level increases, they should be inducted into more serious issueslike those relating to children and environment. Issues that are more immediate for them. Of late we have seen massive student involvement in AIDS awareness drives, but such initiatives have mostly been only cosmetic. If the people pace the grooming well, a Civil Society will be at hand within a generation.

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