Civil Society may not be confused conceptually with civil rights. There was civil rights movement during Pakistan period, even during the colonial period. Democratic aspirations have been traditionally expressed and organised on the bedrock of civil rights. As a concept, civil society was first visualized by W. Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) who gave a new thought to civil right what he termed as 'civil society' and by which he meant a socialist society which was to replace the state bourgeoisie through the dialectic processes of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. After the Second World War, the term 'civil society' obtained a new meaning. It was then aspired to be a society self governed and least interfered by government. The civil society does not have any universally accepted definition except a universal consensus that it is a voluntary association free from state control. It is believed that autonomously run associations of people can achieve greater good than by state centralism.
In Bangladesh the civil society movement got momentum from 1975 when government allowed many foreign NGOs to operate in Bangladesh. The foreign NGOs led to the rise of a number of local NGOs which got organisationally involved with the national NGOs, and in turn formed a central association called Association of Development Agencies of Bangladesh (ADAB).
Civil society claims to play principal role in contributing to the creation of a healthy public life free from unwarranted government control. Bangladesh civil society activists are trying to make a network of autonomous associations of rights-bearing and responsibility-laden citizens created voluntarily to address common problems, advance shared interests, and promote collective aspirations. Civil society claims to participate alongside state and market institutions in the shaping and implementing public policies designed to resolve collective problems and promote public good.
NGOs are perfect examples of civil society associations in Bangladesh. The ideal of civil society is to participate in the development and sustainance of public welfare either independently or in collaboration with the government. Seeking government cooperation is a local reality. In Bangladesh, external and local resources are directly or indirectly controlled by government, and hence official cooperation is looked at by civil society in Bangladesh as a basic necessity, a feature that goes counter to the spirit of world civil society movement.
Thanks to the new world order and communication revolution, the civil society is now a globalised movement. It is a world movement for people to people contact and cooperation. Its networking now runs from the local association to the global ones. Political scientists believe that Bangladesh civil society does not share much of the spirit of the global civil society in the sense that many civil society associations in Bangladesh are seen to have been playing political role in collaboration with one or another national political parties. In spite of this weakness, Bangladesh civil society is playing important role in promoting the rights and welfare of the people. [Sirajul Islam]