Abstract: The middle class in India is on the rise. With rapid urbanization, the social mobility of the people has been significantly enhanced, putting forth a rising middle class at the heart of the city, and similar trends have been observed in their own settlement within the area. Even though social mobility and migration in India are highest from rural to rural, with widespread internet, enhancements in technology, the establishment of industries, and better opportunities, the trend to move to urban spaces, especially for the educated group of people seeking jobs, is becoming key.
Middle Class: A rising populace
A study conducted by the Columbia Business School (2008) analysed how by the year 2025 there will be 583 million and almost 41 percent of the projected Indian population will come under the category of the middle class. While this does indeed bring forth an increasing demographic dividend in a developing nation it must be noted that not simply population but their conditions of living which they are ensured needs to be looked into. India is still developing as a nation which means that the idea of healthy living and security is still a matter of privilege for people residing within the nation. As a country, we still struggle with basic amenities like electricity, clean drinking water and sanitation facilities and even though we have made several strides in the areas we still fall back when compared to several other western nations. The housing shortage is one such aspect that needs to be focused on.
Distinctions of class and privileges
While the middle class is a term that tends to club individuals belonging to strata of similar economic disposition it is never true in reality, especially in the case of India. Marx had argued about the middle class in his Theory of social class and structure where he brands the group of people as ‘petite bourgeois’ or the ‘middle class’. This class is typically characterised by the fact that this particular class does have ownership over some property but not enough to employ workers to work within their privately owned property. While Marx did mention the emergence of a middle class it was largely within the economic context. Later Pierre Bordieu mentions in his theory of ‘cultural capital’ and that too for the middle class is highly influenced by the bourgeoise and has manifested itself in their concept of ‘lifestyle’. A study was carried out by Maryam Aslanay (2019) where she analyses the middle class through a different lens. In light of this, she tracks down that 28% of India’s populace is working class – of which 14% is lower working class and about 3% is upper working class. She finds that while there is critical variety in the sort of occupations among the working class, an enormous extent of the working class is salaried representatives. What’s more, above all, as opposed to the basic presumption that the working class is an urban marvel, a significant fragment of the Indian working-class lives in rural zones. Over 32% of the agreeable working class and over 23% of the upper working class are situated in rural India.
Urban Spaces, lifestyles and gated communities
According to Max Weber, an urban area is namely characterized by three elements- have dense living conditions, rapidity in change and a sense of impersonal interaction. The spatial changes within the country especially post the technology boom since the 2000s and have especially given rise to ‘gated communities’ within metro cities and capitals of the state. Gated communities can be defined as a residential area with more or less similar building patterns and regulated entry and exit of pedestrians and vehicles and physically cordoned off from the area by high-rise walls. They have become typically characteristic of having high security and surveillance system in place and reduced contact with the outside world by ensuring a system of checks at the entry point which is not present in stand-alone houses or unplanned residences. They also have rent regulation which is priced at a certain level that can be afforded if the per capita income of the people residing there is high.
Now middle classes can also be divided into the upper and lower-middle class. The former consisting of people who took advantage of the rise in demand in the technological field and have moved to the cities and ensured a better lifestyle for themselves and can hence afford a lifestyle within the gated communities. The other side of the spectrum consists of individuals who have moved to the city for menial jobs and have set up communities within particular regions of the city itself. Mumbai’s chawls are a prime example of such communities (Karandikar, 2010) which has accommodated the lower end of the middle-class spectrum. This differential approach to the aspect of lifestyle has created a further divide among the people who move to the urban spaces hoping for a better lifestyle.
Upon evaluation of the term ‘middle class,’ a lot of disparities can be found. We cannot determine the society as simply ‘Bourgeoise’ or ‘proletariat’ as termed by Marx in his works but instead acknowledge the growing spectrum of the middle class which is emerging in contemporary times. Gated communities have become a reflection of the lifestyle choice among people who have a stable income and wish for a sense of security within their life. The sense of voluntary exclusion from the rest of the society is a driving desire and need for the people to settle down in the urban space. On the other hand, we observed chawls and smalled communities which have emerged not on a contractual basis with any building agency but simply because a large number of people came and settled there. Their living conditions have also been deteriorating due to the lack of formal management and government intervention. Housing brings out the standard of living within the country and India’s living conditions speak for a fact that it still has a long way to go for development and ensure better conditions for all people.
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Karandikar, P. N. (n.d.). Chawls: Analysis of a middle-class housing type in Mumbai, India. doi:10.31274/etd-180810-1039
Kwatra, N. (2019, April 24). The anatomy of India’s middle class. Retrieved from https://www.livemint.com/news/india/the-anatomy-of-india-s-middle-class-1556088919798.html
Online, F. (2021, March 30). The rising importance of the middle class in India. Retrieved from https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/the-rising-importance-of-the-middle-class-in-india/2223544/