How ‘Middle Class’ Is The Indian Middle Class?

One hears Indians humbly claim that they’re just plain, ordinary ‘middle class’ folks all the time. By that, they seem to mean that they’re somehow struggling to eke out an existence, that they can afford no frills and that they deserve the hallowed ‘blue collar’ status. In what context do we hear this claim?

Well, suppose Mr. Desai next door has just bought himself a spanking new Toyota. He’s thrilled to bits. Mr. Narisetti from next door is not thrilled to bits. He wishes he could buy a car that outclasses Mr. Desai’s, but instead says something like this – “Well, you know, we’re just poor middle class folks. We don’t spend money on such frivolities”.

Mr. Prabhudevan receives a request from CRY. Could he sponsor a child’s education for a year? It would only take Rs. 1200 per annum. He sighs loudly and announces to his friends – “I wish someone would give ME 1200 bucks per year. These bleeding heart organizations have some nerve, trying to coerce money from poor middle class people like us, right?”

Mrs. Sanghvi and her husband are driving through Malabar Hill. They grunt disapprovingly at the opulent houses. “Criminals, all of them!” says Mrs. Sanghvi. “Honest middle class people like us cannot even DREAM of living in such palaces!”

So what is the Indian middle class? Does middle class simply mean that you cannot buy a new car or sponsor an underprivileged child? It would appear so, but there’s more. As you can see from the last example, ‘middle class’ is also a catchall term for ‘honest’, implying that anyone who is above the middle class line is somehow dishonest. Another class of people define themselves as ‘middle class’ in this way -  “We don’t know anything about social responsibility! Why do you want to burden a middle class family with such fundas? Please allow us to suffer in peace!”

I have no comment on that. What I do want to point out here is how economic surveys actually DO define the Indian middle class. Please read on, and figure out if you’re middle class or not. Your conclusion may change your bitter outlook on life and make you feel a little more blessed -

The median family income in India is approximately Rs.4500 a month. By its conventional definition, the middle class includes families whose incomes lie between 75% and 125% of the median. Families with monthly incomes over Rs.6000 are thus above the ‘middle class’ line, and families earning more than Rs.8000 or 9000 a month are certainly among the top fifth of the nation.

So, are you middle class? Or just another whining ‘nakhrebaaz’?