Monday, 7 January 2013

Why the middle class is at the barricades

Corruption yesterday, sexual violence today, the middle class is protesting because its real income has been eroded


The agitation in Delhi and many other parts of the country over the recent gangrape of a young woman (the victim unfortunately died), reminds me of the Anna Hazare-led agitation against corruption. Just as the latter fizzled out in a few weeks’ time, I predict that this agitation too will soon fizzle out. And just as the Hazare mobilisation has not led to the reduction of corruption in the country by even 0.1 per cent, so also the present agitation will not lead to anything.
Of course, I would like to see the culprits severely punished under the law. What I have to say, however, is this. First, serious problems are not solved by emotional outbursts such as we are seeing (hyped, no doubt, by many of our TV channels), or even by amendment of the law (as some are advocating), but by great social change. Second, gangrape is not the only serious issue before the nation, as some people seem to be contending. There are several equally, if not more, serious issues facing the nation. For example, massive poverty, high rates of child malnutrition and farmer suicide, abysmal healthcare and education for our masses, massive unemployment, skyrocketing prices, etc. Our TRP-led media does not hype these equally, if not more, serious issues and we seldom see huge crowds of middle-class people at Jantar Mantar or on Ramlila Grounds or at India Gate agitating against these issues.
In my opinion, however, the Hazare agitation and the present agitation against the gangrape are symptomatic of a deeper malady in the country, and it is this: there is great discontent in our middle classes, which is making them go to the streets. What the cause of this deep discontent is, is what has to be examined.
India has a population of about 1.2 billion, of which 80 per cent or so are poor. However, there is also a middle class of about 15-20 per cent of the population, which emerged after Independence (due to a certain degree of industrialisation) and which enjoys a higher standard of living and higher incomes than the 80 per cent poor in our country. It is this middle class that is responsible for the relative stability of India after Independence (there was no civil war in India, for example). This middle class provided a market for our industries, which in turn provided employment to many of our youth.
However, over the last few years, real income and consequently the standard of living of the middle class has rapidly eroded due to steep price rise, worldwide recession (which has impacted India too, resulting in rise in unemployment), etc. Suppose someone was earning Rs 20,000 per month. If prices double, his real income becomes Rs 10,000, though ostensibly he appears to be still earning Rs 20,000 (because income is relative to the level of prices).
This is the real cause of the discontent in the middle class in India and it is the real factor driving them to the streets. Hence, if the apparent issue behind the recent agitations had not been corruption or gangrape (and I agree these are serious issues), there would have been some other serious issue (and there are dozens of other serious issues in our country) on which some of our middle classes would have taken to the streets.
It is this deep discontent in our middle classes (for the reasons I have mentioned) that is converting the period of stability India has enjoyed since Independence to a period of instability. 
If the people at the helm of affairs do not understand and seriously address this malady, I am afraid India is entering a prolonged period of chaos and anarchy.
 ( The writer, a former judge of the Supreme Court, is chairman of the Press Council of India. )
Published in The Indian EXPRESS on 07/01/2013.

24 comments:

  1. Markandey: In this and your earlier post about lawyers refusing to defend the alleged rapists, you make a great deal of sense. Really. You'd be a good columnist.

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  2. Agree.
    But is India ripe for a revolution. Well no , because the middle class has a threshold limit when they decide that their precarious lives are at stake when they spend much time agitating against rape or corruption. This mentality may have also resulted in the British entrenching here for over two hundred years. The preference of the comparative safety of their cocooned living to a mass protests that may go on.

    We are again ready to be subjugated not by external forces but commercial and corporate interests from within and in cahoots with the politically powerful.
    The eighty percent of le miserables will not matter as they will sigh it away as their fate , while the middle class who raise occasional protest will cool down to take care of their living.
    The country will go under.
    Cannot help not being cynical.

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    Replies
    1. True........Always corruption and other ugly things even worse will line-up to submerge things that are hot today, unless salvation comes from within this middle class group!!!!

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  3. Interesting Observation!

    I on the other hand would like to think that these protest is a sign of middle class engaging system/politicians on issues of importance to them. It is a sign that middle class has awakened. But may be you are right, they might have been awakened because of erosion in their incomes and found these confronting issues.

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  4. The real cause of discontent is that Indians have been successfully brainwashed into aping the great american consumerist lifestyle.
    This is the only way to drive the economy "western-style", isnt it?
    Unfortunately, the entire world follows this same model as defined by the US around the second world war. Maybe Bhutan might escape the noose, but we will only know after some years.

    What does this achieve - becoming a world super-power at the cost of rotten air, chemical food & zero work-life balance?
    Do you really think science and technology has a solution other than genetic re-engineering?

    I am sorry to see that you have no clue about the direction of Indian philosophies as opposed to the western ones that you have been shouting down from the rooftops.

    This is the deepest malaise than the so-called deeper reasons that you proclaim in each of your blog posts.

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  5. Firstly, protests fall on deaf years in Delhi, and a saying in Hindi which goes like "bhains ke aage been nahi bajai jaati" would let one knows that why protests subside merely after some days. Every one cannot be like Irom Sharmila or Suu Kyi. Even if one tries to become like Irom sharmila, no one gives a damn, especially the governing elites, including judiciary. And it goes without saying that 2 degrees temperature is a bit too harsh for we the Indians. Just listen to some frets from the ruling elites that how they braved chill while shopping for a heater in their favourite khan market. U still expect the protests to continue!

    Also, the only concern of discontent is not fall in the "real income," of the middle class, but a lot of factors are responsible. We, the middle class, want a say in democracy and are protesting also because a mere thought that if something as brutal as happened in Delhi gangrape is committed on one of our known ones freaks one out completely.

    Another thing Hon'ble Mr. Katju is that by merely reiterating your objections relating to the media that it does not cover each and every important story and concentrate only on trps (undoubtedly, a serious issue) again and again, nothing fruitful can come out. And by covering those other stories, can the present problem be solved?

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  6. There always had been protests and there always will be......atleast my brothers and sisters are ready to engage in any protest against inhuman activities so that it will tranquilize the filthy animal inside themselves.....we're all set for a change of phase(hopefully good),the day not not so long in the future......

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  7. Perhaps I can humbly posit another theory. Maybe it is because people are more likely to protest about things that they have experienced or endured than something that affects another. I'm absolutely not a fan of Anna Hazare, but his campaign allowed the middle classes to vent their frustration, albeit in a misguided way, about the everyday reality of corruption. As for the protests over the Delhi incident, I would challenge you to find a single woman in the protests who has not been molested with impunity in public or in private, or a single man who has not heard of his wife, sister, daughter, friend, or girlfriend enduring a sexually motivated attack (yes, I prefer to call it that, rather than the euphemistic 'eveteasing'). This is women's everyday reality and the state systems (and even our friends and families) are largely unsympathetic. So please don't belittle their show of anger by linking it to reduced spending power. Most of those women on the street, and many of us unable to be there, have not gone to sleep without the horror of the incident coursing through our minds. The dead woman is a reflection of ourselves - bettering our life-chances through education, striving for economic freedom, and, yes, pushing the boundaries of how we use public space. Until men try to grapple with the enormity of the impact of sexually motivated (or manifested) violence for every woman, they are unfit to comment. Your argument, sir, is reminiscent of another farfetched connection recently made, which blamed sexual violence on chowmein.

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  8. We can't be more wrong to suggest that economic pressure has manifested the gang rape outburst. I see near zero economic stress among our youngsters.

    These are the two forces that were behind he middle class taking to the streets:

    1. SOCIAL MEDIA has, for the first time, provided a platform for the ever-fragmented middle class to unite. This force will grow stronger with time.

    2. India is the YOUNGEST COUNTRY ruled by OLDEST POLITICIANS (http://www.economist.com/node/21559515?fsrc=scn/fb/wl/bl/dc/oldgovernments). Something has got to give.

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  9. A Social change started during the pre-independence period but its incomplete e1 today....as it has not reached all nooks and corners of the country. Mahatma Phule, Swami Vivekananda, Vinobha Bhave, Lokmanya Tilak, Bhagat Singh, Subhashchandra Bose, Raja Ram Mohun Roy etc. this wer real revolutionaries/evolutionaries. We need to cherish(move forward) their ideas. No wonder, whom people call the father of india. But i certainly call 'Bhagat Singh', The Son of 'Modern' India.

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