Un-middle Classing India

Born in socialist times, a generation of Indians lived the ideas and values of middle class for a lifetime. Middle class was an aspirational place to be for this generation, they saw that a large majority of people still struggling to have a permanent roof over their heads and jobs that could assure them of some level of security. Many Indians took pride in belonging to this group and class. It provided stability, basic means of life and living and guaranteed return on hard work. Education as in, a doctor’s, lawyer’s or an engineer’s degree or a government job were passports to entering this class and finding respect amongst the tribe here. Wealth was almost scorned in India. Looked at with suspicion, it was often assumed that it was gained through incorrect means or at the cost of the masses.

The middle class in India represented not just a socio- economic group, but it represented a mindset. A much celebrated mindset, where the present was lived in the memories of the past and with efforts to conserve for the future. Celebrating constraints and restraining aspirations marked the middle class of India. Hence consumption was largely centered on festivities and life stage occasions such as childbirth, marriage etc. Indian society celebrated this mindset; predictability and stability was rewarded. The middle class of India was an aspirational place to be both in mindset and as an economic force.

But gradually India changed. Liberalization opened the country and brought in a degree of ease and comfort in accessing goods and services. Economic policies, the opening up of the private sector provided better prospects to Indians. Mobiles revolutionized the country and its penetration perhaps can be understood as the beginning of un-middle classing in India. The nation got connected in an uninhibited way; the individual began to develop an identity Un-middle Classing India being known as the slum-dog millionaire nation, India has seen it all. However India’s at the point of inflection today, leaping ahead towards a new future as it embraces an un-middle class mindset! today is a valuable currency. Convenience and access are essential pillars of these times. Owning white goods, cars and homes on EMI, the mushrooming of beauty parlours and gyms in big and large towns, the dependence on household help in urban centers, the emergence of new categories – from diapers for the infants, to jeans for the women, from packaged rice to men’s grooming – today guilt for consumption is replaced by aspirations. Overall attitudes towards saving and spending have much to suggest. The rate of savings in India today is below 30%, well below its peak of 38%. The middle class of India has a new view of itself. We no longer struggle with life stages and roles, but we embrace it and shape it. Everyday lives are not engulfed in the chores of living, but life is imagined as a spectacle. With Indians taking selfies at every chance possible, pouting and posing at the camera, life is lived in the now. Adoption of new festivals and amplification of the existing makes life light and fun. Celebrating the small joys of life from birthdays to job anniversaries are creating a new rhythm of life for Indians. Shifts are visible, suggesting an un-middle class India. Inter-caste marriages are more acceptable today; wearing high heels is an aspiration for women across socio-economic classes. We no longer scorn the wealthy, the Hindi speakers or business owners. English speaking, education or wealth is not seen as the only marker of success. Enough role models have proven that despite all odds success can be conquered. A country as old as India, would surely adopt the new but not at the cost of the old or the existing. The rise and fall of empires, Independence and partition, the many ups and downs in leadership have all made India what it is today. From once being the trade center and being known as the Sone ki Chidiya to outside of the family and community. The idea of private space emerged! A democratic force, owning a mobile phone was aspirational, irrespective of class.

Modern retail created new consumption festivals, unveiled many new categories and created aspirations. Air travel became the new norm with multiple new airlines wooing travellers with fares often cheaper than the railway. Smaller towns and cities emerged and India demographically became the youngest nations in the world. This young India possessed confidence and a fresh perspective to conquer the world. The romance of constraints no longer appealed to this generation.

An un-middle classing mindset is at the forefront of India today. Our aspirations have grown. Time today is a valuable currency. Convenience and access are essential pillars of these times. Owning white goods, cars and homes on EMI, the mushrooming of beauty parlours and gyms in big and large towns, the dependence on household help in urban centers, the emergence of new categories – from diapers for the infants, to jeans for the women, from packaged rice to men’s grooming – today guilt for consumption is replaced by aspirations. Overall attitudes towards saving and spending have much to suggest. The rate of savings in India today is below 30%, well below its peak of 38%.

The middle class of India has a new view of itself. We no longer struggle with life stages and roles, but we embrace it and shape it. Everyday lives are not engulfed in the chores of living, but life is imagined as a spectacle. With Indians taking selfies at every chance possible, pouting and posing at the camera, life is lived in the now. Adoption of new festivals and amplification of the existing makes life light and fun. Celebrating the small joys of life from birthdays to job anniversaries are creating a new rhythm of life for Indians.

Shifts are visible, suggesting an un-middle class India. Inter-caste marriages are more acceptable today; wearing high heels is an aspiration for women across socio-economic classes. We no longer scorn the wealthy, the Hindi speakers or business owners. English speaking, education or wealth is not seen as the only marker of success. Enough role models have proven that despite all odds success can be conquered.

A country as old as India, would surely adopt the new but not at the cost of the old or the existing. The rise and fall of empires, Independence and partition, the many ups and downs in leadership have all made India what it is today. From once being the trade center and being known as the Sone ki Chidiya to being known as the slum-dog millionaire nation, India has seen it all. However India’s at the point of inflection today, leaping ahead towards a new future as it embraces an un-middle class mindset!

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