A country’s biggest strength is its youth and socially active citizens. We are talking about people like you, who are keen to get involved and who provide constructive inputs and support to their governments.
Here are a few organisations and ways that we, as citizens, can engage with to quite simply — be the change we want to see in society.
The Indian Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) is a collective of citizens, lawyers, students and activists from across the country. They primarily assist in providing legal aid and legal awareness to the masses through a collective effort, both in online and physical spaces. The ICLU focuses specifically on the poor, marginalised and migrant labourers for their outreach effort. They came to light during the NRC process in Assam and the anti-CAA (anti-Citizenship Amendment Act) protests in 2019.
ICLU has been at the forefront of providing legal aid to students and protestors who were harassed, detained and arrested during the anti-CAA protests across India. This organisation can be contacted through their social media platforms. Invitations are sent to volunteers to engage with them.
Reap Benefit is a citizen-oriented, problem-solving organisation. They focus on “solving everyday issues using local data, local solutions and local campaigns”. Apart from taking direct action, like creating a DIY air quality monitor and dustbins, they use the internet to organise various important forums for discussions on matters of common concern. Reap Benefit runs a platform called Solve Ninja to allow citizens to get in touch with them and contribute to hyper-local projects they are working on. This includes helping physically on a project-by-project basis, online through their web app, and through a network of volunteers aimed at inducting more and more young people in their effort.
YUVA has interventions in housing, education, health, livelihoods and governance. They work on a community based approach. YUVA helps local communities solve challenges and obstacles in their own local areas, by providing awareness, gathering feedback on local issues (which forms a part of their Government advocacy efforts) and running campaigns that build a spirit of community. From empowering young girls through sports, to ensuring that water is made available to residents in one of Mumbai’s bastis — YUVA has a large ambit of work which they undertake. They can be contacted through their website, as well as their various social media channels.
India is the world’s largest democracy. The essence of democracy is the ability of a person to participate in the decision-making of one’s country. This ability has now been codified through the pre-legislative consultation policy (PLCP).
Formally introduced in 2014, the pre-legislative consultation policy (PLCP) requires that each Department/Ministry should proactively publish their proposed legislations for public feedback. The rationale behind this policy is that it seeks to involve the citizens and get their feedback on various policies. Participation in this process provides citizens a chance to participate in law-making that has a direct impact on their own well-being.
The importance of the policy came to the forefront when the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) draft, 2020 was released. Participating in this process is one of the most direct ways we can become active citizens. Civis is an organisation that makes participation in PLCP easier. It provides an active platform that simplifies the policies put up by the various Ministries for consultation by providing a short summary. It has a user-friendly interface which collects your feedback on the policies and submits them to the concerned Ministry directly. Participate in open consultations through Civis’ website.
The cornerstone of democracy is the ability to approach your leaders to ensure that your demands are heard. It is an important way through which we hold our elected leaders accountable. Jhatkaa’s work embodies this important aspect. The organisation identifies the issues which require active action by the leaders and mobilises citizens to take effective measures. These concerns are then raised with the respective leaders. They achieve this through petitions, public engagement, building volunteer movements, media engagement, mass phone calls and emails to public representatives, member-generated research and reportage of issues. Jhatkaa’s vision is to create a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable India.
In this manner, citizens can engage with the leaders and directly motivate action. Participation in public mobilisation is a powerful way of becoming an active citizen.
Janaagraha is an organisation that actively works towards improving the quality of life in Indian cities and towns. Their work focuses on actively collaborating with citizens. Its philosophy for achieving its goals focuses on engaging students, employees and the broader citizenry by delivering learning modules. It also aims to create various platforms to provide data to engage stakeholders in urban matters. One such platform where you can engage is called IChangeMyCity. The site uses the power of the internet to connect people locally, and helps them discuss and act on their civic issues. On IChangeMyCity you can post complaints on potholes, unattended garbage, bad roads and other civic issues in your neighbourhood and get these complaints resolved.
SATARK NAGARIK SANGATHAN (SNS)
Democracy entails the right for citizens to hold its democratically elected leaders accountable. There are various tools through which we can hold various government departments and political parties accountable and ensure transparency. One of these is the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act, 2005). SNS focuses on citizens’ participation in governance by using the RTI law to obtain information about the various activities of the government. This information is crucial in securing information and holding groups accountable to ensure that rights are not infringed. It also helps achieve financial accountability and transparency to ensure that public funds are used to meet the needs of the public. They have focused their work in the slums of Delhi.
Through the information gathered from the RTI Act, they hold the government accountable for delivery of ration, pensions, health, sanitation and education. Using official information, complaints and petitions are filed and public hearings are organised to demand action against corruption and wrongdoing. The Sangathan has also been using the RTI Act to make elected representatives more responsive and accountable.
Bhumi is a youth volunteer organisation having its presence in many states. It provides young people with a platform to serve society and bridge the gap between the educated and the uneducated. Its work is mainly focused on two areas — education and civic projects. Bhumi’s volunteers educate and mentor children from villages, slums and orphanages and teach them subjects like English, Maths, Science, Arts, etc. Their civic participation program, Catalyst, involves engaging volunteers in causes like animal welfare, community welfare, disability, environment, health, etc.
Avaaz has a mission to organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people want. It encourages and empowers people to take action on pressing issues of global, national or regional significance like corruption, poverty, climate change, etc. Avaaz is involved in community campaigns like signing petitions, funding media campaigns, contacting governments and organising offline events for the inclusion of views and values of different people in the decision making.
The Avaaz community campaigns in 17 different languages and has a growing online community which provides a rapid collective force to give reasonable input in political decision making.
Change.org is a large social change platform spread over several countries. It provides people with relevant information on issues of public importance and also provides them the tools to start a campaign and gather support from thousands of other people by signing it. Change.org’s mission is to empower people everywhere by creating the change they want to see. Popular topics of Change.org petitions are economic and criminal justice, human rights, environmental issues, education, etc.
(Written by Ayan Gupta, Kopal Mital, Rajvi Sanghavi and Vaibhav Yadav who are Research Fellows at Civis. Civis is a non-profit organisation that makes it easy for you to find out about the upcoming laws and policies, understand them and share your feedback on these draft laws and policies with the government.)