Sunday, November 08, 2009

India - The Middle Class

It is one of the most ubiquitous words used in common parlance in many Indian conversations today. The Indian ‘middle class’. That widely spread out group of people in every Indian town and city. I came from a middle class family, as did most of my relatives and friends. And all through childhood we heard mention of this group of people. The news media, films and television also apparently pandered to the tastes of this group. But who are these people who make up this middle class?
About 2 decades back India was still not liberalised. The market had not opened up. Ambassadors and Premier Padminis dominated the street. The tiny Maruti 800 was just making its presence felt. ‘IT’ did not exist as anything but a pronoun. People saved rather than spent. The working class in a city were broadly divided into those working in ‘private firms’ and ‘government servants’. Students studied aspiring to become either doctors or engineers. Arranged marriages were the norm. Doordarshan on the idiot box was the one and only form of visual stimulation. In the interim years some changes happened that turned that world on its head.
The Indian middle class is today stuck in one of the most difficult times a generation has to face. It is the classic devil and deep sea conundrum. The Information Technology and outsourcing boom has meant the middle class suddenly has a lot of expendable income. It also means that the spending power on luxuries has multiplied. The fact that most of the children have grown up in an increasingly cosmopolitan environment has meant a greater influx of Western culture in the household. Attire, appliances, language and media has changed to reflect this influx.
This influx has been accepted in varied levels by our families. But what is creating the biggest conflict is the influence of the so called western culture into the middle class lifestyle. Western culture cannot simply be explained away by any one particular factor. It is more of a lifestyle choice. A choice that more people are adopting every day. And while its very easy to start going with the flow, along the way one starts realising how far it takes one from the basic lifestyle of the earlier middle class. Some examples are as follows. Students today have the option of getting ready money by working at a call centre. This also means that they don’t need to study beyond their high school levels. And commercialism has reached stupefying levels where its money and only money that seems to make the mare and all her relatives go.
But hold on, is this not the lifestyle that we associate with a capitalistic society like say, the US of A. And the main reason they are facing a shortage of skilled and educated workers today is because they chose to make quick money at the cost of their education. By spending money and shunning savings. And today the US firms are facing some very hard times as they cannot afford to employ their own people and have to rely on foreigners or outsourcing. There are not enough qualified Americans to take the place of all the Asians in the US. And that is why they have to wait for another generation to grow up and study in the more classical sense of the word, before they can reclaim what’s their own. As a country, India has not reached the level of prosperity that the US had before the recession hit. And yet in blindly aping them we have already imbibed a lot of the traits that led to their current situation. I am not predicting that the same fate awaits India. But the trend seems to be there.
This brings me back to the Middle Class. Since these are the people who make up most of the educated and qualified workforce of India, they will make or break us. This is a huge force we have which needs to be channelled in the right direction if India is to reach the superpower levels we claim. And these are the very people who need to start thinking of the consequences of their actions on the country as a whole.

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Blogger 666 said...

Good article. I really want to know the official definition of 'middle class', if there exists one. Do we call people of live in chawls and earn just about to feed their families middle class, are people living in Bandra sea face also middle class. Is it income, is it socio-economic status? What are the parameters of defining that ubiquitous term 'middle class'

11/09/2009 3:12 am  
Blogger Vaibhav B Gogte said...

"What nourishes me also destroys me"- Nietzche.

Unfortunately, a system that can be more nourishing and less destroying can be coceptualized, but it can never be implemented on a mass scale.

Becoz that's just not the way a human society works.Its collapse,as its rise is inevitable.

9/13/2010 1:05 pm  

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