Monday, April 16, 2012

Of Pressure groups and NGOs

A senior citizen of Jowai town once told me of an incident when an old tailor in Iewduh regretfully said to him, “If only I were a young man now.” When the gentleman asked him what made him say that? The tailor said if he only had the magic to make himself young again, he would join some NGOs. The tailor continued and said “Can’t you see the kind of life style all that the NGOs leaders live? All they have to do is to put on a nice piece of suit and roam around doing nothing”. Well, the tailor in Iewduh raised a pertinent question. What exactly do the different NGOs do and where do they get all the money to run their organization? And most importantly do the NGOs have any objectives?
Before we continue with the deliberations, we must remember that the acronym NGO which stands for Non Governmental Organization has also been used to refer to many organizations like developmental organizations, those which work on socio-economic issues to uplift the poor and the down trodden, to help people with AIDS, drugs problems, welfare of women and children and other issues. In most cases these organizations are registered with the government as per registration of societies act. But the abbreviation NGO is also being used to refer to the various pressure groups, the students’ bodies, youth groups and even womens’ groups which have not necessarily registered themselves with any government institution. One has nothing to say about the former category because the groups always go by the book, but the problem is of Pressure groups and NGOs
The registered NGOs have to fulfill all the necessary criteria like having clear and precise objectives and also to mention specific areas of operation of the organization to get the registration. It is also mandatory that the organization submits its constitution for registration, but the Pressure Groups do not even have to register themselves. Hence we have all this confusion with the Pressure Groups. We have groups which call themselves a Student’s Union but take on all kinds of issues except those for the welfare of the students. It looks like the pressure group does not even have objectives to guide the group’s function and neither has the name of the group any connection with what it is doing. The recent fiasco where two women groups were involved in legitimizing the rape of a minor has not only shocked many people but also raised an important question on the objectives of the establishing these organizations. No one in their wildest dreams would ever expect a women’s organization or a Seng Kynthei to support an alleged rapist of a minor and demand that the accused be granted bail. Obviously these so called women organizations have no objectives of their own; neither do they understand what is expected of a women’s organization or Seng Kynthei.
The question is not only what kind of issues the pressure group can take but there is also a question of area of operation of the group. Here again one can cite the example of the same case. How can, or what business does a Seng Kynthei (of all places) of Mynso village have to do with an alleged rape which occurred in a locality in Jowai? Did the Seng Kynthei Mynso think that the dorbar shnong Tympang Iawmusiang does not have a Sengkynthei of its own? Maybe the Seng Kynthei Mynso think that all the Seng Kynthei in Jowai are dead? Hence a Seng Kynthei (all the way from) Mynso has to come and intervene in the matter!
No doubt, everybody knows that the country’s Constitution gives its citizens freedom to form groups and organizations, but can we allow these organizations or unions to use public space at their whims and fancies and take the public for a ride? It is the citizen’s right to form an organization and the government has no control of who forms an organization and what kind of organization was formed. But the government or if not the public can at least monitor these organizations which have come into the public domain. The government or the public can ask the organizations to come up publicly with the objectives of the group and the area of operation under which the group intends to operate. The newspapers have to annually publish a declaration of the details of the paper for public information, why can’t the same rule apply to the pressure group too. Many a times the public were also made to suffer by the pressure group which does not even have standing in the community. We have instances of pressure groups with not even 20 active members calling hartal or bandh and the public have to comply with the call, even if they don’t have the faintest idea why the bandh was called. Hence it is important that the various groups organize regular shows of strength to prove that they have the number of active members. Perhaps they can organize conferences and conventions to enable the public to see if the group really has the mandate of those they claim to represent. The state cannot be dictated and held hostage by a few people; the public have the right to know the kind of organization we have in the state. Show of strength will also help clear people’s doubt that a non-student can be a member of the student’s body and the allegation that students’ union leaders were not even registered students of any institution or university.
Media is often blamed for making a mockery of the country’s judicial system by giving undue importance to the case it covers. The media hype created was to the extent that it reaches its zenith that it so much so it looks like the media is conducting a trial of the case. But in the recent fiasco in the state, the pressure groups went a step ahead. They not only claim to have conducted their own investigation, but they have even had a public trial of the case and gave a clean chit to the accused. Are pressure groups free to do whatever they like? Isn’t there a line that divides things that the pressure can do and those which have to be taken by institutions sanctioned by the law? In this particular case the pressure groups have taken on the role of the police and the court in one go. Isn’t this a case of interfering with the investigation and trying to influence the court? As educated citizens of a democratic country, pressure groups should know where to draw the line and more importantly not to cross the line.
There are also other questions that people raise. One such question is where from did the pressure group or in some case even students’ organization get the money to donate blankets and other gifts to the people? If the students raise fund by sacrificing the pocket money that their parents provide them, then that is a gesture that needs to be appreciated and encouraged, but if that is not the case then where does the money come from? Where do the pressure groups get the money to run their organizations and have well furnished offices which sometimes make even public representatives green with envy? How can pressure group leaders afford the kind of lifestyle they have now? These questions may not be music to the ears of the pressure groups, but they need to be asked anyway. One hopes that it will help pressure groups do some introspection, or take the mirror and look at the image the mirror reflects.

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