In the Middle or in a Muddle: Socio-Cultural Politics and the Indian Middle Classes

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Tim SCRASE , Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia

The state of middle class culture and politics in India is complex and often contradictory. While many among the estimated 200 million middle class have experienced upward economic and social mobility over the past 20 years, large numbers of salaried professionals in government service and small companies have seen their status and incomes decline relatively over the same period of time. As such, we see notable schisms within the middle class: the new rich and the entrepreneurs as compared to traditional salaried workers; the middle classes in India’s many regional towns, as opposed to those residing in vast urban metropolises; and differing cultural outlooks from generation to generation, region to region. Interesting political differences are also evident with many of the “traditional” middle classes, for instance, exhibiting a cultural conservativeness while holding politically progressive views. Based on extensive research among the Indian middle classes over the past 15 years, I contend in this paper that the middle classes are not homogenous, are deeply divided politically and culturally but nevertheless they remain significant as brokers of political and cultural change within India. Examples drawn from Kolkata and Darjeeling in West Bengal will be the basis for the discussions in this paper.