The Indian Middle Class – Neither Middle Nor Class

Published April 27, 2014 by vishalvkale

The Great Indian Middle Class – the driver of India’s growth; the focus of business entities from across the world; the source of some of the most-qualified people both in India and in the migrant Indian Community abroad; the cynosure of all eyes in the media; the pride and joy of India; the drivers of India’s consumption, as well as one of the main of the national savings rate; the most educated and erudite people in India! All of these, and more, are used to refer to the Middle Class, which is also the biggest magnet for International Business. The size of this class has been one of the single most mentioned aspects of the Indian Consumerist Landscape. 

However, as all things in life, this too has another perspective, one that does not give such a rosy picture of the fabled middle class which is the cynosure of more than a few scholarly researches and erudite articles. To be blunt, the other side of this bright, resplendent and fast rising class gives a picture that challenges the very nomenclature “middle class”. From this POV, these people{who include yours truly as well, by the way} are neither middle, nor class! 

The term “Middle Class” itself has many definitions; it can be called the class of people between the upper and working classes; it can refer to individuals who fall between the working class and the upper class within a societal hierarchy. Persons in the middle class tend to have a higher proportion of college degrees than those in the working class, have more income available for consumption and may own property. Those in the middle class often are employed as professionals, managers and civil servants. 

However, let me take the liberty to shift my POV just a little- from the societal and/or financial definitions given above. The size of this much-vaunted driver of the Indian Economy is anywhere between 69 Million to 153 Million – or approximately 7% – 12% of our total population. That’s it. The middle classes do not represent and cannot be representative of India {not that anyone has claimed that it is representative}; what about the balance 85% {taking 3% arbitrarily for the top classes}? Neither can it be said that their problems are the most serious problems facing the nation… and yet, in all the talk of big industries, infrastructure, local transportation in cities, corruption, “Aam Aadmi”, Electricity and Water rates, GDP growth, FDI, Inflation etc it is the other 85% that gets left out. 

The problems of the balance population of India are far more serious than one can imagine; we have some 95 Million landholdings in India in Agriculture – 70-80% of these are small and marginal holdings. As per NSS 2005, all of the SM holdings are losing money every crop. We have some 300 – Million {4 per family – conservative and arbitrary estimate} dependent on these landholdings earnings. Then, look up farmer suicides. Look up malnutrition. Look up per capita income growth and consumption growth in the lower classes. Look up education and health facilities in the lower classes. Not one of these real problems find even a hint of a discussion in the mainstream or even financial media; while you can read pages upon pages for the problems that effect the middle / upper classes directly. From this admittedly one-sided POV of the seriousness of problems, the middle class comes across as being an outlier; certainly not middle in any sense of the term. 

Moving on, let us now analyse the term “class”, whose primary meaning is “a set or category of things having some property or attribute in common and differentiated from others by kind, type, or quality”. Permit me to now state the secondary meaning of the word class – “excellence, elegance, unequalled unparalleled”. Again, no one is claiming these things for the middle class {least of all me!}. I am just trying to drive home a point, so bear with me. 

Look at the secondary meaning – and no one who has stayed in India for any length of time will attribute the term “class” to the Indian “Middle Class”, not in this sense at any rate. By no stretch of imagination can we, the English speaking {or even vernacular speaking, for that matter} elite can be called class. Not if we take a gander at some of our more esoteric habits. And no, I am not talking about our lovely and very highly presentable and pride-inducing habits {shining India, indeed!} like spitting on the road, peeing anywhere we damn well please and / or throwing our garbage anywhere between  8°4′ and 37°6′ north latitude and 68°7′ and 97°25′ east longitude. {I am not a Wiki lover – quite the opposite, but for some things, you just cant beat wiki! I sincerely do hope they are right on those markers}

I am talking about the customs officers’ who took money for sweets for their children {yup – nice cheap things like Eclairs and Parle Toffees} from no less an august personality than the Mumbai Underworld’s D Company and Friends {Read S Hussain Zaidi}, leading to the 12th March 1993 incidents. These were middle class Indians. I am talking about those gently, nice, decent, honest people who forgot {hey, anyone can forget} about the SC directive on opaque windows in buses and cars. I am talking about those people-friendly geniuses who let a bus operate without proper documentation. {Remember 16 December… not the movie,btw} They were middle class Indians. 

I am talking about those oh-so-friendly people who demand a bribe for a marriage certificate {I have to pay a bribe to call my wife my wife? Wow, fantastic}. He or she is middle class. I am talking about those lovely people who demand a bribe for a driving licence. Yup. Middle Class Again! I am talking about those hotshots who coolly discuss how much bribe to pay for getting this or that done {since it would inconvenience I-Me-Myself}. Middle Class. I am talking about the ladies and gentlemen who studiously, regularly, unerringly turn the other way and ignore the real problems, issues as they crop up, crimes as they occur, stating it is not my problem – despite being in a position to do something about it. Middle Class. 

I am talking about the aces who put faulty bitumen in roads, leading to washouts in one rain. I am talking about those geniuses who make false bills to various government agencies, who prepare fake excel sheets of inventories, prices, stock-markets analyses. I am talking of those awesome people of integrity who can enlist poor, poor, poor, poor, poor Amitabh Bachchan as a beneficiary in MNREGA. I am talking of those lovely people who put in impurities in cement. I am talking about those corporate honchos who do fake billing, false claims, scams, bad products certain to fail, false documents for various and sundry services. All Middle Class. All Middle Class. 

I can state this for each and every sector of life – from Government Servants to Private Employees, from Driving Licence to Abiding Law. Jumping red lights is common {hey – that red light is a challenge that HAS to be taken up, you know}. Bribes are a part of the other parties take-home package. Shortcuts are where its at. What good is a project that gets executed smoothly? And woe betide the person who tries to play by the rules. This person is a failure in life, to use the common terms, a chutiya. Dont duck it – that is what all of us say. How absolutely wonderful; makes my chest swell up with pride when I hear “we cant do without taking shortcuts, or giving a bribe”. Truly, this is something that can be celebrated. And the person who tries to play it straight  – or, God Forbid,  change us {Chhi! How Aweful! Why should anyone want to change perfection?} – is a fool. How right. 

The Great Indian Middle Class. 

Neither Middle, Nor Class. 

Forgive my bluntness… but I am one of you. Just like you, or quite similar, at any rate… 

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