The Indian Middle Class — Shouldering Social Obligations

With the Industrial Revolution emerged a society divided on class lines. A significant contribution of this order was the creation of a class that was positioned as an intermediary to the upper and lower classes, the bourgeoisie (or the Middle Class). Essentially a product of the Industrial society, the growth of this class wasn’t organic in India. Rather, it was ushered in by Imperial domination.

The Middle Class that emerged in India was essentially a Hindu, upper-caste, urban, English-speaking elite minority. Before the arrival of the British, Indian society was based on absolute compliance to the Varna system of caste hierarchy. Community norms were dominated by the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas, who were exclusively at the receiving end of all privileges, and were considered the preservers of caste sanctity. However, when the British colonialists offered English education and access to certain low-ranking positions in the administration, these were exactly the people who pounced on the opportunities ( they were the only ones who possessed the resources to avail such benefits). A great many of them even went abroad to pursue their advanced education, and on returning, were furnished with the western concepts like equality and freedom. These new ideals that they came equipped with, led them to initiate political activities in India, and these were the first steps in the long history of Indian National movement. Owing to their western orientation, a lot of these leaders had an underlying allegiance to the colonial masters, and thus adopted a moderate stand on India’s demands in the early phase. However, this homogeneous elite adopted more all-inclusive manners with the Extremists taking charge later, and India gained independence in the year 1947.

However, with the introduction of the reservation policy in the two decades immediately following independence, this rigid compositional framework underwent a change. As positive discrimination made education and jobs more accessible to the disadvantaged, several new generation hitherto rural and underprivileged masses began migrating to urban centers. An efficient utilization of available opportunities on the part of numerous people belonging to the SC and ST category, now made them a part of the middle class. Another wave that diversified the middle class in India was the rapid increase in IT sector enterprises in the country. India developed a Silicon Valley for itself, and the fanatic expansion in the engineering and software sectors that this brought along, made India a significant outsourcing hub for technological MNCs. New employment possibilities were created, and this was actually accessible to all, without any caste or religious approvals. A New India was born with the advancement in the IT sector, as new growth prospects came up.

The term middle-class is extremely ambiguous and vague, as there exists no sharp income/wealth brackets that define it. Rather, the characteristic features are based on more abstract notions, such as a distinct value base and greater solidarity in the class community. The middle class is the one that is most usually burdened with the constant pressure of making a decent appearance in the society with its limited resources, and balancing this with the more important appropriations. The monotony is barely ever broken day after day, as something unconventional or adventurous might be too risky for the much sought after stability. Sandwiched between the affluent, who have more than enough to put up a good show, and the have-nots, who have more immediate sustenance needs to cater to; the middle class bears the brunt of social obligations.

It is often believed to be intrinsic in the middle class way to “live” for others, and not prioritise oneself. This domain usually takes upon itself to nourish the traditions and norms in the society, and while there is surely nothing objectionable at that, this brings unnecessary hindrances for one’s own freedom. These traits, however, have seen some dynamism with the newly growing heterogeneity in the middle classes, although much remains to be changed.

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