I have immense privilege as a straight, white, male American from a middle class family and that is even more extremely apparent after spending time in India. The class divide is more apparent in Indian cities than anywhere else I have ever experienced.
With a huge supply of labor that the market cannot properly handle and no consistent minimum wage the working class has little to no bargaining power and can be easily replaced by their employers. One politician (Vijender Gupta) claimed that only %10 of employees actually make the minimum wage in Delhi, a city of about 27 million people. 30% of Indians live below the India Planning Commission’s poverty line of 32 rupees (.5 USD) in rural areas and 47 (.75 USD) rupees in urban areas (spending ability). 90% of Indians do not earn $10,000 USD (640,000 rupees) and are considered the lower class. To be clear, I am talking about those who have more spending power than Indians below the poverty line, but not those who make closer to the $10,000 US dollars per year range. It is those who work in the service sector and laborers who I am discussing. They are often berated and treated unfairly (like the attendants at my gym) or given little training and no protective equipment (the construction workers who work barefoot without hardhats). This class of Indian city dwellers is willing to work hard for a better life and opportunities, but from my perception, is being taken advantage of. In most countries around the world, there are enforceable measures that protect these types of employees, whether the policies are a minimum wage, worker’s rights based, or more. There are massive amounts of money flowing through the Indian economy, but almost none of it trickles down to the bottom of the pyramid.
It is not just the market that has abandoned the lower class, but much of the government. With public schools understaffed and the high cost of tutoring and private schools (the average cost of a tutor/coaching is 60,000 (rupees per student and private schools costing from 25,000 rupees to 100,000 rupees) students from the lower class do not have the same opportunities as their peers from the higher classes. They do not have the luxury of attending private grade schools and secondary schools, and then attending the prestigious I.I.T.s (three are in the QS World’s Top 200 Universities) for 90,000 Rupees (about $1,400) per year. Instead they attend understaffed public schools with tens of thousands of vacant teaching positions and %30 of schools not meeting expected student to teacher rations. Or drop out to work, whether it is selling trinkets on the street, or something else. India has a literacy rate of %72 (UNESCO) while only about 60% of men and about %40 of women have studied up to graduation (Indian Express). For a country with the type of growing economy (GDP growth is expected to be 6.5% to 7% this fiscal year) and , that is far too low.
However, this is not the only problem. In many areas, those of low SES aren’t always recognized by their governments. “Slums” throughout Delhi have been emptied and paved over for new government offices and malls. The residents are forced to search the city for their new homes or have been dumped outside the city by the government and told to live in a place with no infrastructure or resources. The poor in India are not just marginalized for economic gain, but for the gains of their own government.
The lower class, not just the service class and laborers, in India and Indian cities are being marginalized, as they are in other places around the world. What has impacted my identity is how overt and acceptable this is. Those with the ability to help the lower class in India have turned away and walked their air-conditioned mall or sedan. These acts have reaffirmed my decision to us my privilege and positions to break down these inequities, both in India and around the world.