ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Civil Society


This is in response to Susanne Hoeboer Rudolph's article, 'Civil Society and the Realm of Freedom' (May 13). We wish to share some preliminary findings of our ongoing study of association at Chengam, a taluq headquarters (population 23,000), Thiruvannamalai district, Tamil Nadu.

Chengam, a small town situated on the Pondicherry-Bangalore highway, has 25 trade-related associations. These associations include: haulers (lorries/buses), bullock cart drivers, taxi drivers, autorickshaw drivers, van/mini lorry drivers, footpath traders, pushcart traders, general traders, STD booth owners, electric motor rewinders (licensed/non-licensed), tailors, flower traders, vegetable and fruit traders, jewellery traders and goldsmiths, sugarcane farmers, document writers, cycle shop owners, construction labourers, medical shop owners, civil supplies casual labourers, palmyrah tappers and barbers/washermen. Of these associations only the last two were caste-based, the rest being non-party non-competing exclusively occupation-based interest groups. It seems as a vibrant form of social organisation emerging in a period of rapid social change sweeping the countryside. The purpose of these associations can be summarised into three categories:
(a) Negotiating with the state, especially the local bureaucracy like the police and government officials. This may take a multiplicity of forms such as representation, petitions, symbolic protests, and participation in insurance schemes, etc.
(b) Negotiating or dictating terms of reference with the general public. This includes fixing prices for products or service and the manner in which a service will be executed.
(c) Ensuring internal cohesion and sustainability of a trade or occupation. This is expressed in the form of laying ground rules for participation like timing, shifts, dispute settlements, accidents and excluding new entrants from entering the trade to reduce competition and ensure sustainability of the trade.

V Arivudai Nambi
B Krishnamoorthy

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