Dev Raj Dahal
Civil society groups represent an emblem of civilisation and animate the universal philosophy of humanity. They are evolved to resolve the state of nature in which individuals pursue their own choice, judgment and interest. The classical ideals of civil society are derived from the self-transformative potential of enlightenment - freedom, justice, solidarity and peace, now broadly encapsulated into the public good. Human craving for nirvana (freedom) defines the purpose of existence. The vision of justice for good life is alive in the spiritual and moral law of karamic philosophy of cause-effect. It finds its brow in the modern reformist social movements. Solidarity bears a normative potential to nurture internal cohesion of society for fair supply of means, mutual aid and ward off free riders and social ills.
In civil society, citizens associate with others, express karuna (kindness) to all, subject themselves to common code of conduct, develop civic maturation through a big state of mind and nurture sukha (bliss) as a form of peace across all spheres of life even vibrate to climate reawakening. New ideal of civil society is good governance defined as a multi-actor process of engagement to reach serbe bhabantu sukhina (wellbeing of all). Rishis and munis, as truth-seekers, sought a harmony between the freedom of individuals embedded in biological and social interest and cosmological order, morals and politics, and liberation and the need of social system governed by the principle of eternal laws.
Many Nepali scholars, fearful of the nation’s cultural erosion, are now rediscovering its intellectual heritage of cosmopolitanism and mores of duty as they are dear to transform people from avidaya (ignorance) to vidaya (knowledge). Knowing the nature of inner self is central to discern the world around and grasp insight to lift up self from nara (man) to narayan (divine soul). It demolishes the flawed preconceptions as a source of dukha (grief). Immanuel Kant is right when he says the "cosmic evolution of nature is continued in the historic development of humanity and completed in the moral perfection of the individual." It is close to what he presumes “like the Hindu, each earth is a place for expiation of old and forgotten sins."
Civil society’s respect for the intrinsic worth of human beings and love for liberty are positively taken to foster civility and democracy and purge the ancient curse of sati rooted in Nepali psyche. They are not a fad of democratic renaissance but inherently linked to the unceasing intellectual vitality of Nepali society since Vedic, Janak and Buddha’s time. Their gentle spell provided a logo of struggle for seeking sincerity and integrity of leaders. The suffocating faddism is seen in newly bubbled civil society. But they are split into pedantic elites, identity groups, party organs, drivers of social engineering, executors of aid politics and vulgar geopolitical tool for eternal stir in the nation. Many of them dither to carry the vision of national unity, social pedagogy for decent life and evolve civic culture in Nepal. As a result, they often clash with native civic traits and modern need for good governance rooted in civic loyalty that offset the torrent of tribal drift and de-culturisation.
The popular sovereignty granted in Nepal’s Constitution is set in janata janardan (citizens’ divine value) the centrality of citizen’s life which is seen as a device to the creation of an egalitarian society. The negative rights granted to Nepalis thus fit well with the state sovereignty. It is essential element to nudge its slow-speed sterile politics of transaction which is awaiting leadership maturity as a therapy. These rights provide them a basis to judge the government action, espouse right to oppose unjust policies, laws and behaviour and fertilise Nepalis’ resourcefulness and resilience.
In this context, Nepali civil society groups have to align with the state to spur positive rights on education, sociability, health, entrepreneurship and cross-cultural approach to life. They need to stir business innovation and ethics and spur social renewal and positive change. The sovereign as the product of general will is perceived by citizens legitimate where Nepali civil society have to educate how to exercise it and build solidarity in sharing the nation’s common wealth whether the nation is pastoral, farming, trade or service one. Their social vitality rests on doing advocacy for the start of a law-governed social, economic and political order. Many tasks are left for Nepali civil society.
The first task in Nepal since the ancient days is to posit a critique on the validity and relevance of the source of knowledge itself so that with pure knowledge citizens can free their mind from the determination of all kinds and dispel disbelief and dogmatism, set limits on the justification of power and stretch out their universal domain so that power does not ruin soul and spirit of prana (breath of life) common to all living species. The public is generated from the eternal nature of freedom itself in which, like sastrartha (rational discourse), among all those who know takes place for the elegance of knowledge, public opinion and mediation of policy.
The Hindu-Buddhist version of public sphere covers all concerned citizens rather than just the knowledge elite. Public surveillance and due diligence bear the potential to rationalise politics, improve the moral standards of society and check the abuse of authority, privilege and wealth. The Hindu-Buddhist view of cosmic web of life with the ability to acquire higher will for divinity has universal appeal for it sets debt and duty to the nature for their own survival. Keen regard of Nepali sages for the life of all species set high ethical ground for not rocking this Earth. Such a universal principle imposes a spirit of public-mindedness. Today the ferocity of materialism, dogmatism and irrationality is eroding this spirit requiring the aid of dharma (just conduct) for the hearth in right place and set lawful order.
The second task is to help citizens’ participation in knowledge and policy discourse empowering them to shape a rational worldview able to beat their ignorance, follies of biased theories and doctrines away from reason and reality. Nepal’s ancient wisdom and new Constitution have made citizens ultimate authority in legislation and judgment. The traits of civil society, like Gautam Buddha's precepts, seek a balance between a zeal for self-interest and collective selfishness, continuity and change and order and freedom. They set a moral check on the canon that governs civil society. The belief in sustainability has enabled them to become systemic and emancipatory, not linear or project-driven though relief, charity, mutual aid, awareness campaign and policy activism are critical for Nepal’s poor for the substantiality of life.
It is in this sphere humans become one of cosmopolitan citizens and communicate to others on what sage Astavakra calls “like oneself,” also serving kindly to those stupefied into woe and silence. To him, only emancipated citizen is capable of exercising the moral autonomy to do right action. Today, the principles of political rights of citizens are grounded in the constitution made through social contract, laws and interests while openness of Nepali identity to the cradle of Hindu-Buddhist roots framed national mind and a melody of the indivisibility of humanity, basudaiva kutumbakam.
Third task is to foster justice seeking to reconcile ethics and politics and synergise the imperatives of government and market. Nepalis' ability to use knowledge rests on their critical education about feeling, thinking, acting and adapting life as a basis of self-rule. Cultural industries transmit the residual orality of Nepali villages having a long tradition of deliberation, reflection, formation of assembly and problem resolution by the help of council of wise and elderly. This habit of thinking publicly is enshrined in building an idea of association for collective action and liberating oneself from control.
Fourth, civil society as the symbolic agent of a global citizenry chose their members more on the basis of public duty. Nepali civil society interact with the state, market and private sphere of family to energise all to rediscover a new mindset and repair the culture of compassion to those wounded by want and violence. The Hindu-Buddhist traditions developed certain social conditions where citizens live together, organise rituals and exchange, grow social bond and freely engage in commodity production to satisfy their basic needs and duties. Dignified membership of the public requires ownership of private property. Wealthy Nepalis prompted by scruples donated part of their wealth for social progress. Without this, the wretched ones cannot earn punya (worthy feat) and shape their own destiny as givers.
The march of history marks the progress of human efforts to boost the chance of justice. This fosters civility and peace. The legitimacy of legal order can be built on rights and duties of equal citizens united by the will of all. The moral fabric of Nepali civil society entails that the ends sought by one person should not be at the cost of the well-being of another. Buddha sought the compatibility of means and ends in human action, that is, peace can be achieved through only peaceful means. The best way to secure the ends Nepalis pursue should be in tune with the deeply ingrained and well refined native traits of civil society.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)
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