UPSC MAINS SOCIOLOGY SYLLABUS
Paper 2 – Indian Society: Structure and Change
A. Introducing Indian Society
(iv) Social Classes in India:
- Agrarian class structure.
- Industrial class structure.
- Middle classes in India.
The process of economic growth, experts argue, is fundamentally changing the social structure of India, from a society characterized by “a sharp contrast between a small elite and a large impoverished mass, to being one with substantial intermediate classes”. Though there was no sudden moment of this change, the middle classes in India have been growing in size over the last century, more particularly after its
independence from the colonial rule. However, the Indian middle class story witnessed a qualitative shift during the early 1990s with the introduction of economic reforms and an increasing integration of the Indian economy into the global markets. These economic reforms, coupled with the process of globalization, changed the orientation of the Indian economy quite fundamentally. From a land known for its
village-republics and agrarian communities, India began to be constructed around its cities and its vibrant and mobile middle classes.
RELEVANCE OF UNDERSTANDING THE MIDDLE CLASS
The social structure of Indian society has for long been viewed in the framework of caste system. However, the development of a new urban economy and the changes experienced in agrarian relations in the recent past have, in a sense, made the institution of caste less significant, if not redundant. Thus, in order to understand the nature of emerging power structure and the new system of social
stratification we need a different set of conceptual categories. Some sociologists working on the subject have suggested that we should move from the “caste” to framework of “class”. It is in this context of the changing structures of social stratification that the emergence of middle classes in India should be understood.
One in every three Indians is “middle class” in India with income between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 30 lakh per annum. This number of expected to double by 2047, placing two out of every three Indians in the category, a new survey quoted by the Times of India (TOI) showed. “By 2047, if political and economic reforms have their desired effect, the Indian income pyramid will have a smallish layer at the bottom, a huge bulge of the middle class and a big creamy ‘rich’ layer on top,” says Rajesh Shukla, MD and CEO of People Research on India’s Consumer Economy (PRICE), that released the “The Rise of India’s Middle Class” report.
MIDDLE CLASS IN COLONIAL ERA
The middle class in India grew at the intersection of colonialism, democratic state and (capitalist) economic development. The first moment of middle class development can be located in the colonial period. The impetus for this came from the British colonial rule. Over the two centuries of their rule, they introduced modern industrial economy, secular education and a new administrative framework. The British opened schools and colleges in different parts of India, particularly in the colonial cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Over the years, a new class emerged in India. Apart from those employed in the administrative jobs of the British government, they included professionals such as lawyers, doctors, teachers and journalists. They came from relative- ly privileged backgrounds, mostly upper-caste, and “from families which were financially comfortable, but not rich enough to not have to earn a living. This was one factor which distinguished them from the richest strata of Indian society, such as the large hereditary landlords or the remnants of an indigenous aristocracy. It also clearly put them well above the vast majority of India’s poor”.
The incipient middle class that had acquired modern education in India and abroad was influenced by the new ideas of liberalism and democracy, which had become popular in the West after the French Revolution. They initiated “social reform movements” in their own communities and mobiliized Indians for freedom from the colonial rule. However, though this class was “modern”, it also participated in identity movements and played an active role in strengthening boundaries across religions and communities.
POST-INDEPENDENCE MIDDLE CLASS
The nature of the middle class during the decades following independence was typically that of a salaried and professional class, without any direct creative involvement in trade, commerce and industry, “short
on money but long on institutional perks”. Its identity, its politics as well as its relationship with the state and economy was influenced by the particularistic characteristics derived from the ethnic and social locations of its members, such as caste, linguistic region, or religion. The internal diversity of the Indian middle class grew further during this phase. With the institutionalization of electoral democracy, economic development (industrial and rural) and, perhaps most importantly, affirmative action (reservations) policies for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the state-run educational institutions, jobs and legislative bodies, broadened the social base of the middle class. These emerging segments of the middle class provided leadership and voice to the historically marginalised categories of Indian people.
ECONOMIC ROLE OF MIDDLE CLASS
The middle-income groups are located in all sectors of the economy – primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary (intellectual activities) and the quinary (highest levels of decision making in a society or economy). Within these segments, they are overwhelmingly located in the private, unorganised sector, albeit significant proportions are also located in the formal public and private sector.
In terms of sectors of employment, middle-income groups are largely located in the service sector. The secondary sector draws its middle-income household largely from manufacturing, mining, electricity, basic goods, intermediate goods and consumer goods. The middle income households in the rural areas are thus constituted by large farmers and small entrepreneurs and salaried government employees.
Introduction of the new economic policy and increasing globalization of the Indian economy brought the Indian middle class into new prominence. The process of globalization has also generated a lot of debate about the actual size of middle classes in India, their consumption patterns, and the pace of their growth in the years to come. It has been claimed that the size of middle classes has grown to 20 percent
of the total population. Some others have put this figure at 30 percent. The middle classes have come to dominate the cultural and political life in India today.