Indian middle-class myths: Hypocrisies of the ‘middle-class’, and who are they anyway?

'I am just a middle class person. I drive a Maruti Swift.'
Indian middle-class myths: Hypocrisies of the ‘middle-class’, and who are they anyway?
Indian middle-class myths: Hypocrisies of the ‘middle-class’, and who are they anyway?
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Why do we need to bust the myths of the middle-class? And what are they? Read here.

We worry about where the country is headed. We lament over how uneducated politicians are ruining it. "We" here is the middle class or the salaried class.

Logically, we know that we are far wealthier than most people in the country. But the epithet "middle class" seems to describe us best. Perhaps it doesn't really matter. It is just a term we have used forever and are comfortable with.

But what if it runs deeper? What if deep down, in our subconscious, we believe that the only people worthy of consideration and respect is the segment within which we are actually "middle class"?

“600 million people are now part of India’s middle class—including your local carpenter”, sniggered a headline on Quartz. Some study had discovered that half of Indians considered themselves middle class. That included your carpenter, your dhobi, your house-help – pretty much anyone who could actually feed their families three meals a day.

Obviously, the study had a serious flaw. They had failed to clearly define what the term “Middle Class” meant. Anyone in one of India’s bigger cities could have told them that easily.

Middle class: [mid-l klas, mid-l klahs]. Collective noun. A social stratum sharing basic economic, political, or cultural characteristics, and having the same social position as people who fall in the 95th to 99th percentile of income and wealth levels. Example: I’m just a middle class person. I drive a Maruti Swift.

It is a useful definition. It is used to decide whether government policies are any good. It is used to decide whether the media is biased. It is used to decide if India is shining. Someone belonging to the middle class is obviously an average person, an aam aadmi.

What is good for this class should be good for India as a whole. Besides, as everyone knows, this is the class that carries the burden of the entire nation on its weary shoulders, with nary a complaint. Except on The Newshour, that is.

The rich class is corrupt, while the lazy lower class sells its votes for freebies.

Given how important this class is to the well-being of the nation, it is imperative that its purity be maintained. You can’t have the likes of carpenters being counted as part of it. Just imagine. These are guys that nice middle class families shouldn’t even be letting inside their kitchens. What next? Letting our daughters marry them? That’s why it is important that the narrative of the real middle class be shaped and maintained. 

Doing it explicitly would elicit cries of outrage from biased liberals. You can’t afford to be seen saying that a carpenter is a lowly person. But a snigger conveys everything perfectly. And it provides plausible deniability. You and your defenders can claim that there is nothing disparaging about carpenters in that statement. You can turn the tables on the other side by accusing them of being touchy. Or worse, guilty of perpetuating that very narrative by raking it up.

There is a misguided minority among the middle class that claims that the term is incorrect. “Elite” or “Rich” would be more appropriate terms for this class. But they just don’t see the big picture. It is important that the facade of “middle” class be held together. It is the keystone of the elaborate prism through which the story of India is projected. An India of skyscrapers and malls instead of roads for rural connectivity.

Stories of IITs, IIMs and rising pay packages instead of more primary schools and inquisitive kids. Globally competitive home-grown MNCs and venture capital fueled unicorns instead of prosperous small-town businesses. Double digit growth instead of reduction in infant mortality.

That’s necessary because we need to show the world that we are as good as China. It is about preserving our ghar ki izzat. That China first educated its people well and gave them good healthcare is a minor detail that can be ignored.

Haribabu Thilakar is a Chennai-based IT professional and has contributed to The News Minute earlier - How does India’s caste system work in the 21st century?

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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