I suppose they were framing it within the contexts of Sengottai and Pattamadai and Neyveli, while my yardstick was, well, my classmates and schoolmates, some of whom had cars and scooters and bikes and, yes, refrigerators. "Rich" is a relative concept.
Poor and poverty is easy to define, but once past the abject poverty, are we poor or rich? I, therefore, settled on identifying my family as "middle class." Sometimes I said "upper-middle class." Of course, now I know better, but wisdom is always a day late!
Who might be the middle-class in India now? A fairly straightforward question to ask, right? The older I get, even simple questions become difficult, it feels like.
The rapid growth of the Indian economy over the past three decades has led to a substantial expansion of India’s “middle class”. This has triggered a robust debate over who in India actually belongs to the “middle class,” its size, composition, and political and social behaviour.A "robust debate" means that this is no simple question.
But even if acceptable measures and hard data could be marshalled, they would still be ill-equipped to nail down a rather elusive concept: whether Indians actually believe and behave as if they are part of the middle class. Self-identification of class status is important because it suggests the possibility that Indians may behave in ways that are actually at odds with material realities."the possibility that Indians may behave in ways that are actually at odds with material realities" is an interesting phrasing that immediately signals that there is something exciting coming. So, what is that?
To investigate this, the latest Lok survey asked respondents from across the country whether they considered their family to be a “middle class” family.
To our surprise, nearly half (49 per cent) of all survey respondents believed their family is a middle class family. There was, as one would expect, great variation in responses across states. For instance, while 68 per cent of respondents in Karnataka believed their family belonged to the middle class, just 29 per cent of respondents in Madhya Pradesh felt the same. Self-identification as middle class is expectedly more prevalent among urban respondents (56 per cent) but the share of rural individuals claiming to be middle class is also remarkably high (46 per cent).It is a surprise because:
But the extent of “middle class” identification is striking, not simply because of its size or the fact that it seems to run counter to households’ own economic realities, but also because it appears to have powerful experiential effects on respondents’ social attitudes.If only somebody would say all these in easy to understand words, right? Here it is:
The results show an extraordinary tendency for people to consider themselves middle class even if they are in fact very poor. The study defined the "lower" annual income bracket as those earning RS 36,000 per year or less, which works out to approximately $1.50 per day. And yet 46 percent of urban residents in that income bracket reported that their families were "middle class," as did 44 percent of those in rural areas.That's right, folks--even those earning a buck-and-a-half a day identify themselves as middle class.
The economic well-being is a state of mind, once past that horrible, abject poverty. You are as rich or as poor as you think you are.
Which is why we folks who are rich--yes, you and I are part of the global rich, despite what my "poor" socialist colleagues claim--feel like we are sliding down from the middle class. After all, our frames of reference are, well, those Facebook and Wall Street people we read about, who earn gazillions. The football coach at the university in the town where I live earns in a year twice the total amount that I hope I will be able to earn before I die! Won't I feel poor then? Am I not justified in thinking, believing, that I am slipping down to the category of low-income, after having lived a life of "upper-middle class?" Woe is me!
I am one heck of a rich man. My parents were right (dammit!)--my people were rich. To think otherwise is the grossest of insults to the happy "middle class" that earns even as low as $1.50 a day.