The emergence of the Middle class

Unlike Western societies, the Middle class did not emerge with Industrialisation in India. Still, it is a product of Colonization, emerged out of Britain’s demand for a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, morals and intellect to act as interpreters between British rulers and Indian subjects. Thus, English education secured entry into the middle class. But the middle class was more or less homogeneous since only upper castes with traditional access to education could exploit the opportunities and become middle class.

Expansion of the middle class

After Independence, the relatively homogenous character of the middle class began to change with its expansion and addition of lower castes into the middle class. This was largely possible due to the following factors:

  • Affirmative action of government
  • Industrialization
  • Urbanisation
  • Expansion of modern education
  • Universal adult franchise and 73rd & 74th Amendment act
  • Economic reforms (LPG reforms)

The emergence of the rural middle class

Today, the middle class is no more an urban phenomenon alone. A considerable population of the middle-class lives in rural areas as well. The middle class expanded to rural areas over the decades largely due to the following factors:

  • Land reforms resulted in the transfer of land ownership to lower castes.
  • The green revolution helped the emergence of a new class of farmers.
  • With increased prosperity, rich farmers invested in the education of their children in Urban areas.
  • Remittances of Migrants.
  • Transport and communication revolution.

Who Makes up the Middle Class in India

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middle class
  • India’s genuine middle class is much smaller than most popular estimates. It sits in the richest 10 to 20 per cent of Indian households and not in the middle of the income spectrum.
  • D10 and D9, the richest top two deciles of households, qualify on income criteria. However, their occupation profile is worrisome. Only 60% of D10 and less than half of D9 have regular salaries.
  • In D9, a large portion of these are privately employed and, given the known fact of minuscule formal employment, are most likely to be informally employed.
  • Income dependence on small agricultural land and informal non-agricultural occupations is 42% for D9 and about a quarter of D10, making them inherently unstable.
  • Chief Wage Earners’ education demographics are not conducive to upward mobility into value-added high-skilled jobs — just 20% of D9 and 40% of D10 have college degrees or technical diplomas.
  • Realistically this reduces the size of the genuine, fully formed middle class even further to 40 to 50 million households.

Characteristics of the Middle Class in India

  • Culture: lifestyle and consumerism determine status in the middle-class population. They are relatively rational in outlook.
  • Family & Marriage: Family structure tends to be Predominantly Nuclear and Inter-caste marriages are not uncommon.
  • Economic: Mostly belong to the service sector in urban areas. The structural change in the economy changed the labour market and there is a shift from manual labour to intellectual labour and the middle class rightly fit in this category.
  • Multinational companies have been flocking to India with rising consumer demand due to the burgeoning middle-class population. The foreign investments created more employment opportunities and further facilitated the growth of Middle class

Thus, the middle class in India is both the cause and effect of the boom in the Indian economy

  • A Growing tendency of Middle-class youngsters to embrace start-up culture and entrepreneurship is witnessed, which was hitherto a domain of rich capitalistic classes.
  • Globalised Middle class: Middle class developed a wide network of Diaspora and actively benefited from the remittances of NRIs. Hence, they are most vociferous in supporting globalisation.
  • Political: Middle class mostly supports Moderate political ideologies and prefers stable democracies. They do not subscribe to the extremist ideologies

Institutions like Bureaucracy, Judiciary and media are broadly represented by the middle class and their grievances are redressed easily. This often leads to less interaction with the political class. This is one of the reasons for lower voter turnout in Urban areas.

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