There is an unofficial and observable class system (not to be confused with caste) here in India. This isn’t always talked about and can be quite baffling for new arrivals. There is the elite class, the middle class and then there is everyone else. Living elsewhere in the world, I have always thought of us as ‘middle class’ but when we got here, I realised we were ‘expat class’. More on what that means in a later post. Maybe.
But just how is middle class defined in this country?
It is incredibly difficult, and some would even go so far as to say impossible, to define. Even economic experts can’t seem to agree on how to define it. Some say the middle class consists of anyone earning an income above the universal poverty line of US$2 a day. Some say it’s made up of households spending US$10-100 PPP a day. A handful of researchers agree that the size of the current middle class is 5-10% (I personally think it’s more) and yet others project that it will grow to around 50% in 2025. This could be as many as 800 million people. It’s actually very challenging to get watertight economic statistics here in India. One of the reasons is that there is a massive informal economy that is undocumented.
This informal economy offers very little security and protection for all involved, but especially for the worker. There are no enforceable employment contracts, no social security, no healthcare plans. Yet this informal sector is the one that constructs cities, roads and buildings. It grows our food and powers our factories. It gets recyclable materials to the recycling plants. It transports people to places they need to get to. It’s also the sector that supplies armies of domestic help to ensure offices and homes are clean and maintained.
Almost every middle class household here has domestic help. Accounting for the local custom of living with extended family, each household is likely to have 2 or 3 staff on their payroll, sometimes even more. We have maids, cleaners, cooks, nannies, drivers, gardeners, groundsmen, security guards, [insert-job-here]. There is even a hierarchy system amongst the domestic help, which in theory offers some sort of job progression. Some domestic help even have help of their own. A cook I interviewed has two maids. In comparison, I have one.
This is her – Rita.
Rita is our ‘all-rounder’, which means she cleans, does the laundry, irons and cooks. She’s a godsend. Rita is one of the many people who makes our life here ‘liveable’. There are many of them but Rita is the one I see and speak to every day. She rides her scooter through scorching heat or torrential rain to come to our place five days a week. She not only irons our clothes but our bedsheets. She keeps our place spic and span, washing, dusting, mopping tirelessly – jobs that I don’t have the patience or grit to do. She is my foreperson when works need to be carried out, my translator when my Hindi fails me (often!) and my stock controller when supplies need to be replenished.
I was really not unsure the idea of having help when we first got here but more than two years later, I can’t imagine life here without her. Without her I couldn’t have gone into full-time work in India, spent mad hours writing uni assignments, or kept the house running. If we need army to run our domestic lives, Rita is my general.
This is Day 2 of my India Debunked series for August, a month long series of daily weekday posts, to debunk some of the things that I found perplexing when I first arrived here.