Preeti Sharma Menon
The urban middle class should stop calling itself the middle class – it is simply not in the middle. It is the elite, comprising the rich and the super rich. It outrages and claims to be representative of India, but it really doesn’t know much about the real middle India.
Its outrage is aggrandized by the media – a media which has exclusively become the voice of this milieu, a media which has shut its ears to real India. Once in a while, middle India surfaces in some story – but it is always an “Oh my God! See how some people live, or what some people are going through” kind of story.
The top 30% of India’s population own 90% of the country’s wealth. (The top 10% own 74% of the nation’s wealth. The next 10% own another 10% wealth. And the next 10% own 6%) The educated, car owning, house owning, employed, urban class is part of this top 30%. Leave the top 10% super rich and the remaining 20% are the bourgeois. In India, this bourgeois is an educated, propertied class, which has no relation to the middle class – it is a class whose vocal representatives smack of more smug snobbishness than any other present day society in the world.
The bottom 30% of India’s population is below the poverty line – and earns less than Rs.32 per person per day, while collectively owning about 1% of the country’s wealth.
And the 40% that comes in between, the real middle class, lives in rural areas, small towns, and in cities it lives in slums or other low cost houses in far flung suburbs, it barely make ends meet, and doesn’t own property and/or assets. This 40% middle class together owns 9% of the country’s wealth.
The poor and not so poor, 70% of them, have got where they are through a systematic exploitation in the name of caste & class over centuries. The exploitation has been so vast that the gulf today is almost impossible to bridge. The irony is that after taking pole position for centuries, the upright bourgeois now talks of fairness, level playing field, equal opportunities in a breath that turns the remaining 70% into rank criminals trying to usurp the legal rights of this virtuous bourgeois!
Ever so often, this righteous indignation slips, and one sees the real face of these blood-thirsty tyrants, who do not think twice about throwing the damned 70% to the wolves. It always surfaces in the case of demolitions and removals of slums or hawkers. “Its illegal” they shout in one voice, never mind that people are rendered homeless, that some poor man’s only source of livelihood is destroyed in seconds, that children will go hungry, that some may even lose their lives. “Its illegal”, they shout.
What is really illegal is what we have done to push this 70% into the hellhole that we call a slum. 60% of Mumbai’s 20.5 million live in slums. Slums occupy about 10% of the land in Mumbai.
21% of Delhi’s 25 million live in slums and they occupy less than 0.5% of the land. If the self appointed representatives of this bourgeois have their way they would just extirpate all slum dwellers.
But here’s a reality check – these slum dwellers provide the construction workers that build our homes and offices; they clean our homes, offices, schools, public spaces; they provide electricity and water; they drive our cars, taxis, buses, trains; they supply our milk, groceries; they run our markets, malls, theatres, restaurants; they guard our houses and police our streets. These are the people who run the city.
And we, the elite don’t even give them toilets. We don’t give them homes. We pay meager salaries that don’t allow them a chance to climb out of the hell holes they are stuck in.
A study shows that India needs 19 million housing units right now. At the same time 11 million housing units lie vacant. The poor cannot afford what is vacant, and what they can afford, we want to demolish, that too with such sanctimonious legal gobbledygook that it puts humanity to shame again and again.
However, all is not lost. Even though these self appointed representatives of the bourgeois have created a class divide, most people still put humanity first. It is these people who led the anti corruption movement that broke the political barrier when India out-voted corruption and then out-voted intolerance. It is these people who now need to take charge of finding humane solutions to the deeply entrenched class divide, and it has to be done now – India’s slum dwelling population is said to rise by 100 million in 2017.
We can not let the Marie Antoinnetes from our class and from the media speak for us. Let us speak for ourselves, let us find solutions to our problems and let us always put humanity first.
Mumbai-based Preeti Sharma Menon is an Aam Aadmi Party leader. Views expressed here are author’s own