Are NGO's helpers of the people or agents of the state?

Gopal Guru argues that NGOs are created by capitalism to reduce the growing opposition of the proletariat.

Credit : Indie Journal

-Pralay Nagrale 

Patrick Kilby in his book NGO’s in India says that For develo[ment NGOs the broader community aspirations they promote include alleviating poverty addressing marginalization, achieving social justice and promoting respect for human rights. On 19 March 2020 Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the first nationwide lockdown to prevent Covid-19. Due to the sudden lockdown many people especially labourers who had been working away from their home in different states and districts unable to go back to their home. 

The sudden lockdown affected labourers in many ways. During the time of the Global Pandemics when the Government failed to perform its duties, many NGOs had been seen effortlessly working in distributing food and helping migrant labourers to reach their home states. Many NGOs who work for the empowerment of women are also working in addressing the domestic violence cases and many mental health organizations are working in counselling the people.

At the same time in India, the three BJP ruled states Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have made the amendments in their labour laws. Though there are no specific labour laws in India, but it falls in different categories like Industrial dispute act, Factories Act etc. Amongst these states, Uttar Pradesh suspended almost all labour laws for the next three years. 

This change also includes the extension of working hours. Other states in India are also planning to do these changes including some congress ruled states. Dr Ambedkar, the founder of Indian Labour Party (1936) and the labour member of viceroy's executive council in 1942 has changed the working hours time from 14 to 8 hours. Though in India there are still many bonded labour stuck in the organized and unorganized sectors where most of them are from the lower castes and lower classes. But this change in the labour laws is the one step towards legalising the bonded labour. 

Indian NGOs who had a lot of funding from International Labour Organization (ILO) and many national international organizations are as always conveniently doing the charity based work instead of fighting with the state against the changes in labour law. Though in such times when the poor are dying from hunger, distributing food is a needed act especially at a time when the Government is not acting to its responsibility when migrant labourers have stuck away from their home without the employment and the basic food necessity. 

But even within the NGOs the distribution of the food is done by the local Karyakartas (workers) of the NGOs who had also been risking their life with the limited precautions they got. Most of these workers working in NGOs in India come mostly from lower castes and lower class who will be mostly the locals from the nearby villages. To make it sound fancy academicians call them “Grassroot Workers”. 

They will be effortlessly working for lower salaries with full dedication towards the issue. The data and case studies brought by them will be mostly articulated by the students who come from the renowned Social Work institutions who will have the twenty-first-century skills of articulating the data and case studies in the elite English having salaries almost double and triple than the workers effortlessly working on the ground. Which shows the class caste divide in NGO sectors. 

NGOs in India have also been conveniently ignoring the caste in different issues. For example, if the NGO is working on the violence against women it will conveniently ignore talking about the caste base sexual violence against the women. If the NGO is working on the bonded labour it will conveniently ignore the caste of the bonded labourers. Instead of addressing the caste and class, they will address them as people. Gopal Guru calls NGOs language as Non-Cognitive language which is in Gandhian language which will not make the oppressed revolt. 

Whereas, he further says that the language of politics is cognitive which makes the workers revolt. For Example, in recent times when the death happens of manual scavengers in septic tanks. NGOs will go to the family and help them for gaining the compensation of ten lakh rupees as per the MS Act 2013. And maximum they will help the family to file an FIR. This stops the workers from agitating against the Capitalist - Bureaucrats- Government nexus. 



Marx and Engles in the Communist Manifesto observed that “In times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the progress of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. Just as, therefore, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole.” 

That's why Gopal Guru further argues that NGOs are created by capitalism to reduce the growing opposition of the proletariat. During the lockdown, many incidents had been witnessed where the workers had come on the road to revolt against the Government and local administration when the Government was not allowing them to home and neither giving proper hygienic conditions to live. 

A prominent Nobel laureate and a child right activist Kailash Satyarthi who has been also seen delivering a speech from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Stage suggested the proposal for an amnesty on child labour prosecutions for the next three months. Even in the time of the pandemics we cannot forget and play with the dignity of humans. The demand from Kailash Satyarthi will be an injustice to millions of those kids who had been kept as a slave in the factories. 

There have been many small protests from the migrant workers seen in various parts of India against Government policies, But these small protests couldn't be converted into larger movements. NGOs have more reach and access to the ground which they should use as communicating labourers about their rights. It's the time for NGOs in India also now to help labour and labour unions along with the left and Ambedkarites Parties organizing mass social movements against the new labour policies of Government which have been conveniently changed to attract the market during the global crisis and another step of further pushing the RSS agenda. If NGOs fail to do so the state will keep exploiting the workers and NGOs will keep balancing the exploitation by the state. 


Kilby, Patrick. (2011). NGOs in India." The Challenges of Women’s Empowerment and Accountability. 10.4324/9780203842720. 

The Wire

Marx, Karl, 1818-1883. The Communist Manifesto. London; Chicago, Ill. : Pluto Press, 1996.  


Pralay Nagrale is a Mumbai based research scholar.

Opinions expressed by the author are personal. Indie Journal does not necessarily agree to them.