About a decade ago, in an undergraduate class on comparative politics at the University of Adelaide, my lecturer (a South Asia expert) solemnly declared that India has a historically strong civil society.

I was reminded of another thoughtful declaration, by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of the fledgling nation’s independence from British rule in 1947. His words, "while the world sleeps, India awakes to life and freedom" rang through my mind as I contemplated the meaning of "civil society".