Silence of the middle class

It did not raise its voice in protest against the midday meal deaths in Bihar

In Bihar, more than 20 children died after consuming a midday meal. One would have expected largescale protests, anger, demands. But the incident has been greeted by an eerie silence.

Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, India — these are some of the countries where mass protests, largely by the middle classes, have brought issues to the streets and, in some cases, changed governments. The middle classes, of late, have been more than visible through their anger at poor governance and the lack of accountability among elected representatives. Corruption and women's safety brought protesters to the streets in India, while corruption and religious assertion shook democratically elected governments in Brazil and Egypt. The middle classes are not merely angry, they are powerful as well. How else would they be able to move, or better still, change governments? Why else would the media give so much space to their protests and negligible space to those positioned elsewhere in the societal hierarchy?

Not surprisingly, there is a growing interest in the middle classes. They are viewed as the catalyst to a change in the world order, to greater accountability, greater equity and greater efficiency.

Yet, a look at the issues on which the middle classes have raised their voice reveals, not surprisingly, that these issues are of direct concern to them. The anti-corruption "movement" in India saw a tide of protest because corruption is a problem that this section of the population faces regularly. The December gangrape in Delhi brought to the surface an anger rarely seen before. Suddenly, the realisation of "this could happen to us" stared everyone in the face. These were not the realities of some invisible other, they could be the realities of anyone in the vast middle class. How much of the protest was about the specific issue and how much of it about a broader angst is also up for debate. The writings on the gangrape noted how the rape seemed to be more a tipping point for pent-up rage against a system that was not seen to be delivering on any front, and less a source for rage on gender related injustices.

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