India has changed so much since I was a child here in the 50s and 60s. The skies are polluted with the millions of cheap cars and scooters now accessible by vast numbers of Indian citizens. Many have cell phones and use them regularly, including the poor farmer in the village. Women are charging around in cars and on scooters. I still remember my first view of this in 2012 when I returned after a 32 year absence: a Muslim woman in full purdah on a scooter carrying a male passenger on the back. I almost dropped my jaw. Now I’m used to seeing these new consumer goods and these new freedoms. Yet…. India is still starkly poor, with millions of rural landless laborers and urban slum dwellers, with poor women and men carrying loads of stone and cement on their head on rickety ladders as they help to build the tall buildings of modern India. And in spite of the recent efforts to build toilets, a large majority of rural Indians still defecate in the open. It’s a mind-blowing mix of comfort, modernity and extreme powerlessness, poor health and limited opportunity.
Very interesting interview of an Indian sociologist here, who argues that the so called Indian “middle class” are really part of India’s elite, still separated from the masses by both economic position and social hierarchy. He emphasizes the almost feudal relationships that continue between this professional, educated class with their servants and servers. He argues that the middle class consumer life (cars/TVs/big houses/appliances etc.) in India, which is certainly a change from the 50s when I was growing up here, is really window dressing. The basic social relations between the masses of rural and poor people in India and the “middle class” are still, he argues, one of severe inequality.
Read the article: Dipankar Gupta sounds like a very smart guy!