India’s Middle Class in Tragic Flexibility – Corona and No-Corona

Bhaskar Majumder

Those who have travelled by train medium to long distance in India in three-tier compartment know the pain of the middle berth. Excepting some children in pure innocence, hardly anybody will be interested to occupy the middle berth – it is not only self-disturbing but also disturbing others. And imagine the condition of the berth itself – likes to reach the upper berth but once unlocked, it falls down to the lower birth. So is the middle class in India. Let me explain.

Based on my being in the class – hopefully not for the class only – and based on my association-cum-conversations with the conscious beings in the same class since past many decades, I understand the tragedy of this class. First, this class did not evolve on its own – it was manufactured to facilitate the loot by the British in a ‘’British’’ way. Second, this manufactured class was given pen with less autonomy to use it – pen was shackled. Third, delinked from owning land, post-partition (1947) or otherwise, education in European tradition became the only weapon to survive legitimized as ‘’pen is mightier than the sword’’. Fourth, lives in expectations – one house, one child, one Maruti. Fifth, same job in inter-generational frame in myopic self-glorification by honesty delinked from money earned through speculation. Sixth, fails in adequate saving for demonstrative expenditure for marriage and continental tour (pre-Corona). Seventh, does not like to land on bottom berth but feels compelled for the class has to be ‘’down to earth’’. Eighth, it pledges to support the bottommost berth – social commitment.

Now, where is the tragedy latent in the above frame? First, because of being pen-user for prolonged period, it cannot do any manual job. Second, because of education, it has left village-natural living. Third, because of dependency, it cannot take any decision – right or wrong, or, remains confused. Fourth, uses pen for the authority – frames laws for the ruling class; the laws thought as ‘’of the people, for the people’’. Fifth, it glories dispossession of many by appreciating wealth possessed by a few. Sixth, it hardly allows next generation to be enterprising to come out from local-low level living, though it came out from rural living for land-delinked white-collar jobs. Seventh, it suffers from the fear of slipping post-superannuation to the bottom berth that it maintained socially distanced. Eighth, it is in fear and spread fear.

Based on my own experience and communications with the members in the middle class, I extracted the following:

1. In salary-cut post-Corona 2019/2020, it got dissatisfied but projected it as service for the nation.
2. In contributing one-day’s salary to PM Relief/Care Fund, it got dissatisfied but did not dare to say, ‘’No’’.
3. In paying higher prices of vegetables at door-step (for home-locked), it had a mixed reaction – some opined to support the vendors and some pointed at reducing power of the purse.
4. Some juxtaposed sky-high prices of onion a few months back to proxy-criticise vegflation.
5. Most of the class kept silence on the road-walkers – migrant workers.
6. Most of the class maintained silence on death of children of migrant families while walking on road in summer foodless-waterless-chappalless (indigenous shoe) to reach home, delinked from Corona disease.
7. Some took it as festival – enjoying food of different types at doorstep.
8. Some started calculating the Budget of Durga Puja.
9. Some became creative – started writing poetry on Corona.
10. Some became more addicted to mobile phone and TV.
11. Some got involved in gossip – circulating stories and videos – without understanding the implications.
12. Some enjoying leisure – taking rest after sleeping.
13. Some in a mood of self-glorification that may come out as self-defeating.
14. Some men waiting for office to re-open to write extra notes and keeping Files for household works seem heavy for them.
15. Many of them are preaching too much ethics post-Corona.
16. Some are echoing ‘’his Master’s voice’’ to prove deshbhakti (patriotism).
17. Some have started glorifying being home-locked as self-decision.
18. Some are in self-service mood, as if self-reliance has emerged.
19. Most of them understand right to food-job, not right to dignity or dignified life.
20. Most of them think the Government as the Guardian.    
Some understood the long-term impact of lockdown or a forced condition of home-locked city-living by promotion of social indifference. My point is not that. For, social distancing was there in India since time immemorial like caste-distancing or gender-distancing etc. Also, urban bias was nothing new post-British. What the middle class may suffer from includes the following post-Corona:

1. Going back to village living may not be possible.
2. Getting the salary non-deducted may be difficult.
3. Finance management may lead to the interest-cut to make post-superannuation life difficult.
4. Safe job for the next generation may be uncertain.
5. Social distancing may lead to social separation.
6. The class also may need to learn multi-tasking.

Now that Corona is set in motion, middle class understood its home-confinement and inability to decide on its own, other than purchase of fish-vegetables at door-step. All the fiscal measures are forced on the class – the class finds no way to oppose for they are out of job (home-locked) and hence did not render services, other than a few ‘’working from home’’. So, their salary-cut is inevitable. It may extend to job-loss and job-less syndrome. So the class is on the verge of margin, it seems, post-Corona. The class is also going to be tested if it can stand on the same pedestal as do the manual workers post-Corona.  

In my understanding, middle class lost its vibrancy long back. Because of its self-living as ‘’safe living’’ (Corona delinked), it forgot its past taught by Subhas Bose, Vidyasagar, Vivekananda, Ravindranath Tagore, Gokhle, Mahatma Gandhi and all. Of course, there are spatial variations – some regions did not take off in terms of vibrancy of middle class for perpetuating the caste-trajectory and promoting gender-insensitivity. My analysis encompassed essentially those whose predecessors took off to show emancipation of mankind through the door of education.

End Notes
Methodology: Collected data through participatory observations, distant/disguised observations, group discussions, case studies.
Sample Size: Unnumbered. It included adult male and female formally educated persons engaged in the tertiary sector.
Study Zone: All-India, but mostly from the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi. Persons living in the urban and sub-urban areas were covered.
Apology: To visionaries-thinkers-writers-statesmen and those concerned.      

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Apr 29, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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