The Centrality of the Middle Class : Indian Sociology

Middle Class Phenomenon: Class stratification has once emerged as one of the bases of dividing the society. But it has undergone many changes regarding the population and prestige during the last decade. It was in the times of 1970 and 1980 where the concept of social sciences especially history revolved around the class system. There are many examples where world experienced division based on the class system. But as soon as the philosophy of Marx came into the picture, the class system started to lose its hold on the society.

middle class in india

Although the reasons are not paid any more attention there are almost said to be two reasons behind sharp declination of the class system. The first reason is that there are many other factors which eliminated the need for a class system by explaining better which system should be there for the division. The second reason is the self-deficiency of the class system which led to its decline. The deficiency could be seen in many ways, the society was stratified on the basis of race, caste, creed which was worsening the condition of society. The much opposition was felt by the movements against class system. Every movement was showing how deep roots of the class system were exploiting the society.


Although Marx is well known for its theoretical work it is evident that he had not completely explained every aspect of a class system. In fact, there is just one and a half page which has explained class system infamous book Capital, which indicates there are historical touches about class division. There are other famous books like Communist Manifesto, The Class Struggle in France which has written about class struggles but it fails at describing the theoretical aspects. It has been mentioned that class system is based on three different locations like an economy, society, and polity.

  1. Economic role or Position

It shapes the world into a pattern where people can be distinguished easily.

  1. Society

It shapes how the people living in the same climate behave socially.

  1. Politics

It urges the need for people behaving and acting wisely for choosing an elective body.

middle class phenomenon

These three sounds contrasting to each other while functioning, but they are interlinked in every manner. The relation between these three factors can be explained by how a human being has managed to remain at a certain economic level, which guarantees what you will experience in the society which in result will decide what you will be doing at a political level. History is changing and always taking changes according to the situations. Man irrespective of socio-economic position can always contribute to the changes which will be the reason behind a changed tomorrow. Thinking about the three distinct features, Marx gave a conclusion that when these factors are put on each other, they are well versed with each other. For example in daily life, each and every person functions in such a way that they are always in sync with each other.

Marx also divided society into two factors viz. Capitalist and Workers. Although he told the two basic divisions, it was somehow full of disadvantages. The first limitation it holds is that other factors regarding division are totally neglected. But as the time flies, it was needed to have more class classification based on socio-political norms.

So the term intermediate or middle class came into picture which has held an important position in both western and non-western countries. It has received much-awaited attention in the late 19th century by many scholars.


We will see how India has seen the importance of middle class. For a long period of time, it was believed that they have no importance of their own. Instead, they are designed to work for those who have created and successfully running the nation.

At that time there was a huge gap between the amount of research and the importance of middle class in the nation. There was only two scholars major research found via reflections ( D.P. Mukherjee) and B.B. Mishra Classic Survey. The major discussion regarding this topic was just one region oriented which is Calcutta. Marx has also turned deaf for the middle class as he felt and showed them as the embarrassment of the society. Also, the other group liberal mainstream ignored its presence thinking it was not affecting the society.


We have already discussed how Marxism ideologies had given little importance to the middle class. But the question arises, why the middle class has given such importance after a certain time period. The answer lies in its name; the middleness provides an excellent survey or statistics about any aspect. In simple words, the middle class acts as the average and average means a single entity which can stand for all. When we deal with mathematical approach there are three powerful terms related to average viz. mean, mode and median. A mode is the most stable form as it does not matter if the sequence is kept in any order the average will be the most repeated digit. The importance of the middle-class term is that it serves as the center or stable form of society.

The middle class is neither rich nor poor. It does not face any extreme conditions. R. K. Laxman, the famous cartoonist portrayed middle class as a common man which gives the idea that it is by far the most common entity in society. Ehrenreich, in 1989 defined middle class as the class which is present everywhere and represent everyone. But when tasked with reference to countries, this definition faces differences. For example in most of the western countries, after World War II, the middle class attained the maximum proportion and are at same economy level, thus making the other classes insignificant. But when we talk about poor countries like India, the middle class does not occupy the major proportion and that leads to a rise of different definitions.


The definition of any class depends on what we are trying to extract. Marx concept of three factors viz. economy, social and political differentiates in entirely three different formats. The economy level was seeing the group who shared same status i.e. wealth report. The social level was how many people reacted the same way in social gatherings, it was not necessary to have the same economy. Politics was hoping for same policies or same political agenda within a group. But definitions and real life do not get in sync altogether. For example, if we take an insight of the taxpayers of our country, most of the people’s income will be out of reach. Thus it becomes very difficult to indulge and have the right information about how many people are at same economy level. For example in poor people, many are at a condition to live low budget but many are there who are lost in the pool of debts. This again raises the fact that there are many situations which leads to a different result, thus it is suggested to take one factor which can yield the best output.


When we deal this term in economic context, the middle class has emerged as the most consuming class. During 1990, when there was liberalization was introduced in an economy, the market has seen 300 million potential customers belonging to middle class only. This contributed to an analogy that it is an over-hyped statistics. Thus it became important to have some tough and accountable factors for the middle class. It was necessary to know on what grounds apart from the economy the middle class should be decided. It was during the 1999-2000 NSSO came up with monthly expenditures so that it becomes easy to define. Also, the people who were below poverty line can’t be under middle class. But the people belonging above the poverty line are engaged in markets so it becomes vital to know how to include or exclude someone from middle class. But after noticing the tables, the middle class did not stand as a single entity. It faced two divisions, firstly the ones who were enjoying lavish lifestyle called as upper middle class and second were the people who were not in debts but had a simple lifestyle and demanded savings, they were called lower middle class. As the NSSO has presented the data via a table, there has been always complaining about how the expenses of poor people have been an underdog.

There is another observational table by Market Information of Survey Households which has worked thoroughly on the number of household expenditures by middle-class people. For example, less than 8% of the population owned a color television whereas 25% of the population had the pressure cooker. The variation in consumption of the products thus contradicts the definition of middle class as everyone present everywhere in India. This fact certainly hit many sociologists as the plurality of middle class took a steep turn and contributed to just 15% of the total population in India. But at the same time, it does not imply that numeric strength of class defines everything. For example, minorities are held important in our country and it also helps in learning some other factors regarding society.


By far there are three basic definitions of the middle class that may find convincing according to the situation. The definitions came into the picture for post-colonial societies.
The first definition is that the middle class works as a mutual hand which maintains a dominant relation with the upper class and it also comes as the biggest consumer of the marketplace.
The second definition is that the middle class is a function of cultural capital and it depends on the mechanism for the reproduction of such capital. Cultural capital is mainly certain kind of factors such as caste, region and community and competences which comprises of credentials, linguistics and other social skills are somehow connected with middle class. This capital transference can be done in three ways. Either they can be kept personal and often be being tangible they can be changed at any moment or they can be passed over generations. It itself comes with many merits and demerits. This transfer of cultural capital is mostly beliefs but it is taken as unique by every member. But the keen observation tells that generally beliefs as per the society are not taken as visible property. This raises many questions and doubts that whether this cultural capital should be treated as ascribed status or achieved status.

The third definition is that although there are many classes, the middle class comes with a great sense of ideologies and thus it invests in social behavior. Also, there are two kinds of middle classes which enable more ideas to root in the society.


middle class protection


Seeing this three hypothesis, in the Nehruvian era, the dominating aspect is in terms of patriotic production ( Deshpandey 1993). The middle class here works as a proxy for the development and technology of Indian history.

The prominence of the middle class in colonial context was raised due to many factors.

The industrial bourgeoisie was relatively a smaller class than the middle class which imparts a ray of importance on the middle class. Another factor is that the country has seen major development after the demise of colonization and the majority of people contributing to progress were under middle class. The last factor is middle classes has come into the political picture, has engaged themselves into anti-campaigns, thus they hold a political legitimacy increasing their value and they have tried hard to increase their value (Ahmed 1996).


Although middle class had captured their position they were under leaders who belonged to an elite class. It was after the independence when the middle class emerged on its own because they had a promising cultural and educational aspect. The massive increment in higher education and technology swelled up their pride and rank in the society, and this not only increased their position but helped in making a nation because they were in majority. By mid 1960, the Nehruvian era got ended and the nation again felt changes. The trajectory of the nation got changed in many ways. The middle class was now facing the inner turmoil of differentiation, thus the growth was declining overall.


India being once under colonial governance has seen the importance of middle class. It is well known that middle-class professionals dominated the upper-level leadership of the Indian National Congress. The time has seen the outrageous impact of ambitions which was not giving any heed to the upper class. Middle class helped in maintaining the environment necessary for riots and freedom, thus earning a position in the society. Even after the independence, middle class saw itself as the factor of progress on the behalf of a nation. Post-independence, clearly many middle-class people became a part of it and even though they were not holding any property, but they were a part of educational careers which embarked their presence for betterment.

Now when we talk about present times, it is clearly evident that the development idea now depends solely on the things which need to be done and we just have to accept that the failures were just a part of our own mistakes.

Caste has also played an important role in the class system. Majorly when we say middle class, it denotes the upper caste.

Now when we talk about globalization of middle class, by far the middle class now not only represent the people, instead, it has become a small nation which possesses the power to change the world.


Deshpande:S.,2003. Contemporary India: A Sociological view, New Delhi: Penguin Books, Pp 125-150

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