The dilemma of India’s ignored middle class

The public space inside the society is for everyone to use. You are excited, but your spouse is more prudent and asks for specifics.
For representational purposes (Photo | Illustrations By Durgadatt Pandey)
For representational purposes (Photo | Illustrations By Durgadatt Pandey)

A real estate agent comes to you with an offer. There is a house in a housing society that has a grand charter for its residents. One of the rights you get as a resident is the vote to select the residents’ association executive committee and its officials.

The public space inside the society is for everyone to use. You are excited, but your spouse is more prudent and asks for specifics.

Reluctantly, the agent starts spelling it out. Most of the residents in the colony are not as well off as you. So the committee gives them free electricity and water to assist them.

The fund comes from the society’s budget. A few of the residents are much richer than you, but they need to be motivated to supply electricity and water connections for the poorer majority for free.

These individuals are exempted from paying the maintenance fee as an incentive for their risk. If these risk-loving people’s service goes kaput or they go bankrupt due to their exorbitant lifestyle and run away with the common money, as it often happens, each resident will share the loss equally. But the majority are poor, so the burden of sharing this loss is all yours.

But if you want to start a small venture from your home, the society rules do not allow that easily nor would you get any financial assistance guaranteed by the committee.

If you default in any of your loans, the resident council will confiscate your property. Since there are too many residents, the housing committee cannot guarantee uninterrupted power supply for all, so you must have your own generators.

Of course, you have to pay a fee to the society for using your generators as you are polluting the environment. Crime is rampant and society has no fund for security, so you are encouraged to have your own security guards.

The roads inside the colony have many potholes, because the society perpetually lacks funds. So the society has asked a few of its affluent members to build new roads. These entrepreneurs must be motivated, so you must pay an additional toll to use the society’s roads.

Since committee members need to be elected, riots may break out once in a while between neighbours so that the best goon can win the election. You are also warned to keep the women of your family safe inside your home after dark as there are many perverts in the society who could harm them. Many essential things must come from outside, and you must pay three times its cost to the council as society development fees, though you cannot see any visible development.

The society will put flex boards urging you to keep the premises clean, but you will waddle through filth and shit on the roads and drainages often overflow into your kitchen. The air is foul and water is polluted. Of course, there are some advantages in living in this awesome colony. You can feel proud about your society as it is an ancient one.

You have the right to abuse or even act violently against anyone daring to criticise it. Would you want to live in such a place? Indian middle class has already bought this dream house in the dysfunctional housing society. Majority of Indians are poor, but they have some voice compared to the middle class. No one can grudge India’s poor.

They live a tough life. Most of those who escaped from the grinding poverty of the previous generation did it by being hard-working, honest, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. And find that they are being shortchanged. All the struggles are not worth it.  We pay tax through our nose for fuel, shell out 15 years advance tax for our vehicles taken on loan and still are forced to pay tolls to private parties to use our roads. We pay income tax and then GST for anything we buy using the income on which we had already paid tax. The rich grabs land through political and money power, the smart poor squat in the slums that get regularised.

We, as the middle class, slog for decades to pay up our home loans and educational loans. Farmers get free electricity, fertiliser subsidy and loan waiver melas, and the big business gets tax cuts, massive NPA write-off, and subsidised bank loans. Middle class gets patriotism lessons and WhatsApp forwards for hating some group or another. Government cannot provide us with proper hospitals, so we are forced to pay a ransom to the private ones. Same is the case with education. One needs to only watch humans packed like sardines in the Mumbai locals to see the enormity of the grind that the middle class suffers for a little dignity and livelihood.

The public transport in most Indian cities lies in a shambles, and law and order is an elaborate joke. There is no social security in old age after paying a lifetime of tax. No safety net is available. Whatever little was there is also being snatched away. The retirees are now encouraged to gamble in the stock market-linked schemes run by speculators. Unless the middle class form a vote bank, the situation is sure to get worse. We don’t matter now. Isn’t it time for us, the middle class, to ask not what we can do for the country—we are doing more and enough—but what the country can do for us too? 

Anand Neelakantan
Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy

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