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Bridging the gap between law and society: Role of NGOs

The law and the society are being in a unique relationship since the formation of the two. Both act as in a symbiotic relationship, acting as the cause and effect of changes in one another. But with changing times and needs, both undergo changes. Though the changes in both are made with a common object, the peculiarities of both the Law and the Society make them divergent to each other.

NGOs which find their own existence through Societies Registration Act, 1860 (hereinafter the Act), however can solve the problem of convergence of the Law and Society. NGOs tend to function mainly at grass-root level of any social or economical cause which is directly or indirectly impacting the society.

NGOs not only work for spreading awareness but also for the benign motive of changing the society. For that purpose the NGOs may start various initiatives and campaigns, therefore acting as a social catalyst. These activities though have a major impact on the lives of the people and the society, the role of NGOs as have been described under the Act has ignored a crucial responsibility to be performed by the NGOs which is to bridge the gap between the Law and the Society.

In this article, it is argued that although the expectations from the NGOs has been limited only to social work and social reforms, the big picture comprises of the greater responsibility on the shoulders of the NGOs to make laws and society compatible.

Need for Converging Law and Society

Law, if seen from a sociological approach, is the general conditions of human activity prescribed by the State. The law is majorly influenced by the values prevalent in a society and therefore is governed by the social values and norms. The law when seen from a sociological perspective is itself a part of the society and the social values which the society has evolved within themselves to control and coordinate their efforts and desires. However, with large differences within the society itself, the process of law-making became a difficult task which was surrendered to the State for maintaining society's well being.

With State having the law-making powers, there arose the difference between the social norms and law which is strictly enforced by the state. But with this difference there arose distinct peculiarities of both law and society due to which the sacred relationship between the law and the society suffered a serious blow which made the law and the society divergent to each other.

Law, on one hand is much more codified and complex which is binding upon the people by the state, social norms became an informal set of rules which are implied in everyday life. However, law requires much more deliberation and consideration to be formed and enacted. This cumbersome process makes law incapable of serving to the needs of the society at the right time leading to incompatibility between law and society.

The incompatibility may have severe repercussions on the society which may rather increase the crime rates in the society and lose the control over the people. Also incompatibility can also lead to difficulty in enacting and enforcing law in the society which is not ready for the changes brought by the law.

However, the belief that the enactment of the law should wait for the society's approval is completely a wrong notion. The relationship between the law and the society is not only influenced by the society alone but also the law is seen many times influencing the society. Law though is a state instrument, yet it is capable to bring social reforms and changes to positively impact the society. This point was also furthered by the Supreme Court in Joseph Shine v. Union of India where it cleared its intentions as a judicial body and through its powers granted under Article 142 of the Constitution.

The tension created due to incompatibility between the behavior desired by the law and the behavior approved by the society will not only harm the structure of the society but also make the enforcement of the law difficult. Therefore, the need for compatibility between the law and the society seems to be obvious in this situation. The need of the converging law and society was also highlighted in the judgment of Justice Bhagwati where he furthered the point of law moving not backward but with the society which will make the society controllable and coordinated with better measures.

Role of NGOs in linking Law and Society

At present, the NGOs are commonly recognized as the agencies of social work which instead of having profitable motives, initiates to work for the betterment of the society. However, an NGO is much more than that. NGO which stands for Non-Government Organization itself clarifies its roles and responsibilities. They can be called as the non-state actors who have the same object as of the state towards the betterment of the society but aim to provide better services than provided by the state. NGOs mostly function at the grass-root level, directly providing services to the needy and unprivileged under its programs and social initiatives.

With their mass campaigns, social drives and programs, the NGOs are capable of leave a deep imprint in the minds of the people thus changing their behavior and mindset. The NGOs can contribute in many social issues which need to get more attention than it is currently getting like Education, Environment, Health, Human Rights, etc. Moreover, the NGOs act as social mobilizers which also help in spreading awareness in people and mobilize them towards a social cause.

The quality of the NGOs to act as social mobilizers is often helpful for the government through which policy awareness and uniting people for a cause is much easily done by the NGOs than by the state. In the relationship between the law and the society, NGOs can therefore act as a connection between them, thereby linking them. NGOs which remain in constant attachment with the society will be much helpful by making society cognizant about the laws enacted.

With this, the society would be more easily compatible to the laws formed and will have a better understanding of the law, thus strengthening the law-society relationship. Also NGOs can inform the society about the disadvantages of the law for the society, thereby further catalyzing legal reforms and amendments in the law to make it synchronized to the needs of the society.

The Way Forward
Though it is so far impossible to make law and society perfectly compatible to each other, still NGOs shall play a major role in making them compatible. The changes in the law and the society would have to be parallel to each other to enforce laws in the society in a more efficient manner. With NGOs playing their part by taking initiatives to aware people about the legal developments in the country and the pros and cons of various laws with their direct and indirect effects on the society, the law and society can be converged back as they previously were.

Many NGOs like Brahmo Samaj have previously achieved this great feat of convincing society change its norms and have worked towards building a better society with effectively helping the state in enforcing the sustainable laws to catalyze long-lasting social changes. NGOs may be called the social catalysts and social mobilizers but as pointed out earlier in this article, in the bigger context NGOs share a much bigger responsibility intrinsically to act as a bridge between the law and the society.
  • Societies Registration Act, 1860 -
  • social catalyst -
  • sociological perspective -
  • divergent - https://doi/10.1177/000276427001300406
  •  incompatibility -
  • Brahmo Samaj -
  • social mobilizers -
  • policy awareness -
  • legal reforms -
  • Supreme Court in Joseph Shine v. Union of India -
  • judgment of Justice Bhagwati -
  • non-state actors -

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