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The middle order matters

india Updated: Jan 29, 2007 03:12 IST
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We, The middle class Indians, have this self-image. We are somewhere in the middle of the society, above the starving millions but below the rich and the powerful rulers of this country.

This class includes anyone and everyone in this country; caste does not matter here. We have out “middle class values”. We are more rooted, more restrained, more responsible — the class that runs this country.

If you shared these beliefs and wondered if these were true, the HT-CNN-IBN State of the Nation Survey is a mirror that you can use to check some of these self-images.

Lesson 1: This is a thin upper crust, yet very large in number.
“Who doesn’t have a colour TV, a two wheeler and a phone these days? Even my maid has all these.” You must have heard it before. And agreed. But look at these figures and think again.

About a third of our country’s families have each of these goodies, but if you insist on all of them, that leaves you with only 18 per cent of the families. Add to these some special cases, those who have other valuables, but who don’t for some reason keep these three “musts”, and the proportion goes up to 20 per cent.

In its broadest possible sense, the Indian middle class is this creamy one-fifth, a tiny part of the country, but nearly as large as the American middle class.

That is not quite what we have in mind when we “middle class Indians” define ourselves in cocktails parties. We identify with the class that has a car, perhaps an air conditioner and “air travel experience”.

Let us call it the “higher middle” class. You know how big that class is? Just about 4 per cent of the country’s population, but as big as the population of UK. But there is nothing “middle” about this class. We, middle class Indians, are very much the ruling class we crib about.

Lesson 2: Middle class includes every community, but proportion differs.
In a sense it is true that middle class has no social barriers: people from all caste and communities get into this class. If you live in a metro, your chances of entering the middle class is six times more than if you live in a village.

Upper caste Hindus, Christians and Sikhs have brighter chances than the rest of the population. The Scheduled Castes/Tribes and Other Backward Classes, who constitute two-thirds of our population, do not even account for one-third of the middle class.

Lesson 3: This class is consumerist, but in a modest sort of a way
If you compare the consumer profile of this class with the rest of the society, this is a consumerist class. But if you look at the figures, these are modest. The only thing that almost every middle class family has now is a mobile phone.

Less than half of them possess a car; an AC, computer or credit card is still a smaller segment. The urban middle class loves to travel, but eating out is yet to catch on. The consumer goods market has a long way to go before it reaches saturation point.

What constrains it is the modest purse that middle class families have and can expect. No fancy dreams of six figure salary for this class. Only 4 per cent of the top most class (upper middle class) cite a monthly figure of more than Rs 50,000 as their dream income.

A majority of the upper middle class will be content with less than Rs 20,000 per month. And if you look at the entire class, a majority will be happy with less than Rs 10,000 a month.

Lesson 4: Middle class is torn between two value systems.
We can’t talk about middle class value system, simply because there isn’t any one system. This class is torn between two extremes. They believe in action, rather than fate.

At the same time they want to take everybody along. They are divided between pragmatism and honesty or between good lifestyle and simplicity. They may detest the government, but they want their children to work for it. Here is a class disconnected, but keen to exist.

The writers are social scientist with CSDS, Delhi

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