Thursday, March 7, 2013

Increasing distance between the rich and the poor in India

We read about the increase in crime in India these days ...being due to the rich growing richer and the poor growing poorer.

I was trying to actually see this difference...check if this 'increase in disparity' was visible to my eyes.
I am in the article below, comparing and contrasting my family with the family of the maid-servant  who worked in my home.

Residences: In the 70s, I was a child growing in a  middle-class family; I remember staying in a small rented one bedroom house with parents, siblings and a grandmother. Now(2013) my family owns & lives in a four bedroom house. The servant who worked in our tiny house of the 70s continues to live in the same type of tiny house, But  in 2013, the families of maid servants  are worse off than they were in the 70s. Now they seem to stay in filthier areas where girls & women are unsafe, the rents are higher, the area is much more crowded and the house they live in is far from the place where they work.This is because the rents are astronomical in good/safe areas.
 Transport to and from work: The maid servants were walking to work before but  now they have to spend money on buses and more time to get to work. When we lived in Rajajinagar, in a 'then' new extension i.e. west of chord road, the servants working in the middle-class homes came from the houses which were in the villages nearby.( As you know, Bangalore is made up of hundreds of villages. And as it grew, the villages were swallowed by the city and agriculture land became sites for houses and buildings).
 Houses in Malleshwaram & Gandhi Bazar in the 60s and 70s had outhouses for servants and their families. Now the outhouses are gone or they are being rented out to middle-class people who want to live within the city than on the outer areas. So the servants who work in these areas of expensive real estate, have to live, far from the houses they work in and travel long distances, spending precious time and money.

Comforts in the houses: We used a kerosene stove for cooking and wood for hot water in the bathroom. Later the electric coil stove came into the kitchen but the kerosene stove continued to have a place in the kitchen and was not thrown out for several years. This was because the electricity was cut off regularly and one had to go back to the kerosene stove to cook! The people working as servants still continue to use wood or kerosene to cook while a few have electric stoves. Maybe a few of the servant families have gas stoves but it is rare.

I am not sure how many servant families today use hot water for bathing or how they boil the water for they heat on the stove and carry it out to the bathroom, or have a boiler in the bathroom or use coal or wood for hot water for bath. But I know hot water for bath is still a luxury for most of them. Taking a bath daily too is a luxury, given the shortage of water in Bangalore. The shortage of water in Bangalore, makes even life for the middle class hell!

My dad had a cycle when he started working, then a scooter and he replaced aging scooters with new ones, once a decade or so. I walked or used the bus both as a child and as a young adult. I never owned a two wheeler (more because I could not ride one than because I could not afford one!)My sister has a car which she bought recently but hardly ever uses, considering the terrible traffic mess in Bangalore and the cost of petrol. The servants were walking to wrok when I was a kid and now they bus to work if they stay far away. Very few or hardly anyone of the servants, own two wheelers even today. It is difficult to pay for the petrol and almost impossible to keep the two wheeler safe in the areas they live in. Also they live in areas, where a woman(most servants who work in houses are women) riding a two wheeler will invite catcalls from the lousy men who live there.

As a child and young adult we did not have a everyone of the middleclass has a fridge. We did not have a gas stove, now everyone of the middle class does. Television came late to Bangalore and now it's not just the middle & upper class who have televisions but even the lower-income classes. In fact, television sets and cell phones are two things which the servant classes own all over Bangalore. This shows how important entertainment & communication is to people! All servants in Bangalore own cell phones today...the cell phones are affordable and more importantly, it helps them stay in touch...staying in touch helps them to get more job opportunities...more jobs means more money! The tragedy in India is that the lower classes do not have enough drinking water, do not have decent toilets, do not have decent schools to educate their kids, do not have decent nutrition but they have affordable(or stolen) cable connections & televisions with non-stop entertainment and affordable cells phones!

When I think of our house, when I was about 10 years old, there was hardly anything in it besides a table, a few chairs, a cot, a sofa, some clothes. We ate on the floor. Now we have dining table and chairs. Servants continue to eat on the floor. Maybe because they cannot have houses large enough to have dining furniture in it or they cannot afford dining furniture or because they don’t feel the need for it.

If we had a lot of guests, like on festival days when we invited the neighbouring women to come home and "Take the Harshna-Kumkuma", we spread the mats on the floor or the jamkhana, a large, colourfully striped thick cloth mat. Now we have loads of chairs for the guests to sit on and people are hardly ever asked to sit on the floor. And as I mentioned before, the servants simply cannot afford to have furniture at their homes even today as they live in cramped, over-crowded places.

Care of appearences: Use of makeup by women of my mother’s generation was limited to the talcum powder ("Ponds"), the turmeric and Kumkum. All used hair oil on their heads and some used 'snow' on their faces before putting on the talcum powder. Now, women of my mother’s generation can afford make-up but decline to use due to embarrassment! They worry that people will tease them for trying to 'appear young'. But one major change in the last 5 years is that the women of my mother’s generation or at least some of them have started dyeing their greying hair! Use of makeup by the servant class is one of the few changes I see. While they never ever used makeup when I was a child, the servants today, especially the young ones, tweeze their eyebrows, go to parlours for various reasons and invest a huge chunk of their earnings on makeup! My aunt was complaining the other day, how they charge extra to work on days prior to a festival and then run to the beauty parlour with the money to tweeze their eyebrows. I know how discriminatory my aunt sounds! Appearances are perceived as very important by all classes of people today and the economically backward is no exception. They may not have money to buy good food but they use the money for looking good.

Children of lower class and middle class families in the 70s and now:As a child I had few toys, most of which were  were broken and I definitely did not get "age-appropriate toys' as I grew up. I had a few story books, which my dad bought second hand on the pavements of Malleshwaram, or I got for birthdays from cousins or a few inexpensive Russian story books(The USSR publications were incredibly cheap....maybe that is why my dad bought them at the Nava Karnataka publications when he went to buy his Kannada books.) Today's middle-class children have countless sources of entertainment & education, depending on their parent’s attitude towards children's books and toys. Children of parents, who believe that toys and books are good, buy them, while children of parents who believe that kids with toys and books don’t study end up being a bit deprived...even if the family can afford toys and books.

There was not much of a difference with regard to access to information between the servant classes and middle classes in the 70s.  Both had access to radio, movies in theatres and libraries, though the lower classes seldom used libraries. The only thing the middle-class had which the lower classes did not use was the newspapers and magazines. But today there is an explosion of information, accessible to the middle classes and literates but not to the servant classes and illiterates and English illiterates…This is the information accessible through the internet.

I feel terribly sorry for children born into the servants’ families today. In the past, there was not much difference between the games played by the  middle-class and the servant class kids. Both had limited toys and next to nothing story books. Both played on the streets, games like running and catching, cricket (with any piece of wood for a bat, any ball for a ball), marbles, lagori, kho-kho, etc. Often, in the 70s,  the servants brought their kids to work and their kids played with the kids of middle-class families.Now, the streets are off limits for both the middle-class and the poor for play, due to the terrible traffic and lack of safety.

Today, the middle-class children, play with video games, computer games, card and board games or watch tv and a few lucky ones, who live near playgrounds play there. The kids of lower classes today, do not have these indoor games which are simply out of reach. Also they cannot play in the streets like the previous generation did....the streets are full of traffic today, unlike in the 70s.
 I know that the servant, working in my mother's house these days, steals toys belonging to my nephew! I only hope she gives to her kids and not sell them for money. This stealing drives me insane! I feel sorry for them but I also hate my family being robbed like this!

Therefore, one can conclude that  the kids of the servants may get some toys, depending on factors such as whether the middle-class families where their mothers work, give the old toys to their mother to take home for them; their mothers steal toys where they work; or if their mothers buy them toys, from possibly someone who has stolen it from somewhere else!

Education: In the 70s, I know of many lower middle and middle class families, who put their children in government schools and Kannada medium schools. The children of servant families too went to the same government schools. there was only a slight discrepency between teh education available to middle class kids and lower class kids, as far as schools were concerned. However, the discrepency was more at home as the middle class kids had educated parents who helped them at home. Once again the discrepency was not much. My mother's generation of middle class women of bangalore,  were mostly educated till high school and not more. They did not do much to help their kids with studies in the 70s. Even the fathers did not get involved much with the children's least not as much as today's middle-class  parents in Bangalore. The children of servants,  got even lesser help from their parents in the 70s as they were mostly illiterate.

Today, the middleclass put their children in private, English medium schools. The children of middle classes of Bangalore, at least 95% of them have educated parents for whom education of children is a priority. The homes of these kids too are condusive to studying.
However the same is not true for the children of servants. Many girls of servant class families drop out when they reach puberty as their parents don’t consider it safe for these girls to be going to school, unescorted or studying with boys in classrooms, etc. Some girls start working in homes, like their mothers. Boys may study, but the atmosphere at home is not really condusive to studies. Parents have difficulties paying for fees and buying books, etc. Many fathers are alcoholics and abusive at home. Most parents cannot help their children with homework and studies as they are of low literacy themselves. Many cannot afford tutors if their children are not doing well at school. The schools they can afford to send them to are often not good, teachers in these schools are harsh and punitive and damage the kids greatly. The children of lower classes in addition to all this grow with poor nutrition in environments unfit for children.
 The middle-class kids, have access to infinite knowledge through the internet, through older cousins and relatives with specialized education and skills, through travel and books, etc. This is simply not there for lower class kids and rural kids. This makes the gap between the privileged middle class and the rural class (rural have no or limited access to internet and computer) and the lower classes. The difference in access to knowledge for the privileged and under privileged kids is thus becoming bigger day by day and has reached a stage where the gap cannot be bridged between a middle class kid and a lower class kid of third standard!

Let me give an example:  If my niece does not understand anything in physics, she has an aunt who is a physics lecturer; my nephew does not understand Hindi and his grandfather can teach him Hindi; my sister can get them stuff from her lab to help them in science projects. But what about the servant's sons and daughters? There is no computer or internet at the home or school they attend as these schools are poorly funded ; they have teachers who are so punitive that  they are too scared to ask when they don’t understand; their parents are illiterate; there is no educated adult in their family or friend circle who can help. They are totally lost. And as they go from one class to the next, without understanding fully, their bundle of ignorance increases until they are clueless about what is being taught to them in higher classes.

I am feeling so depressed writing this, I am taking a break. Maybe I will continue to write this later or not.

Going over all the factors I know, I think the two weightiest factors driving the difference between the middle and lower classes in Bangalore is the knowledge of English and access to the internet which the middle and upper classes have and the lower classes do not. Unless this changes, the lower classes will sink lower and reach a stage when they cannot survive in today’s world.(Unless the society in India changes in such a way that one can earn a decent living even if one does not know English or use the computer and internet...if other professions could be paid well enough to earn a decent living)


Youth of lower classes and middle classes in the 70s & now: Now, let us see, what happens when the servant’s children reach 16-18 years. Many of them do poorly in school and many do not pass the 10th standard exams. As they fail or ‘just pass’, they are unable to get into college. If they do get into college, the parents have a hard time paying the fees. Girls in these families are expected to be married by the time they are 16 for various reasons, which I will not go into now. The boys are expected to support the families by getting a job. Another reason the parents want their sons to get a job is because they will be idle if they dont have a job and get into  ‘bad company’. The jobs one can get after 10standard are usually low paying and they get stuck in this cycle of low income and poverty forever.  The ‘ forever’ indicates that the next generation too get trapped in this cycle.

What about the middle-class family’s children when they finish high school? The offspring of the middle and upper classes are treated as ‘dependent children’ for the next 5-10 years of their life when they get into college, then, maybe university and then career and marriage. The greater levels of education enable them to get higher paying jobs than the servant’s children. The biggest tragedy one can see in India is a poor bright kid who cannot study further because he has no money to pay fees and as his family demands that he work and support the family. Another not so tragic comedy one sees is the middle or upper class family’s children who don’t do well in studies but their parents send them to endless ‘tutions’, give huge donations and get their undeserving kids into technical courses such as engineering or medicine, give bribes to see that they ‘pass’ in the exams and have a degree at the end!

I have seen lower middle and middle class families economically improve over generations or even within one generation. Among my relatives, most grandfathers were farmers; the next generation who came to the city in the 50s are all professionals such as doctors, engineers, professors, lawyers, etc. Their children are at that level or higher in terms of education and money and jobs. But among, the lower classes of today, the upward mobility is painfully slow or the mobility is downward than upwards.

Today’s society is also pretty consumerist compared to the society four decades ago. Therefore there are a lot more things which people have at home, which they did not in the past.The number of things which the rich and the middle class own is getting more and this too is adding to the widening gap between the classes.
The lower classes continue to have few things....even if they can afford to have more things, they do not have the space in their homes...they live in small cramped houses as rents are skyrocketting in Bangalore.
They do not have the ability to keep the things safely... for example if they owned a two wheeler and parked outside, the wheels will be missing as they live in high crime slums; things inside the home too may not be safe...I have seen alcoholic fathers, sell their children's books, bought by their wives, who got the money by working hard as servants in houses.
They do not have the knowledge to use the things...for example, if they were presented with a computer or some such thing, they would not know what to do with it.
they may not have the knowledge to appreciate the beauty of things.....if they happened to own something such as an old etched brass plate, they may dislike it and prefer shiny plastic set of plates which are made in China which are easy to wash and colourful to look at.

Easier to bridge the English-Kannada Bridge in the past than now:  In the past, i.e. my father’s generation, the change from Kannada medium of instruction in school/college to English medium was something which most kids seemed to handle well. Everyone of my dad’s generation I know, managed when they changed from studying in Kannada medium (till 10 standard or 12th) to English medium (intermediate or bachelor’s degree). Today, if a child who studies in Kannada medium changes to English medium, he will face tremendous difficulty in coping with the change. He may fail in his exams and lose a year or more. This may be because of two reasons: (1) either,  the sea of knowledge has expanded so much that change in language is difficult for the child to cope or (2)the teachers of today are so poor that it is tremendously difficult for the children of today to switch from Kannada medium to English.

Therefore, today, it is  hard for the students of rural backgrounds when they switch to English medium, when they enter college. The same hold true for  the urban kids who went to Kannada medium schools i.e the lower class kids whose parents could not afford to put them in English medium schools.. Majority of those who switched from Kannada to English medium schools seem to fail these days…and these kids are all from the lower strata of society.

 If they had  had the opportunity to have studied in a decent English medium school, they may have had a decent chance to succeed in college and get a decent job and get out of their parents’ current impoverished condition.

There are no easy solutions to help the youth coming from the lower classes in India.
Some suggestions I have are:

Each middle-class and rich family should adopt one child or one family of the lower classes and help them with their time and money, without expecting anything in return. They should help by teaching, paying for their classes, tutions, give nutritious food, give toys, books, whatever possible.

All jobs should have decent salaries with health benefits, retirement pensions, etc. The lower classes are teh ones who do nto have these and have to work till they die or depend on thier children, who are themselves earning meagre salaries.

The shameless government of Inda should do something about the poor and also about population control through education than force. (The shameless doctors in government hospitals who ask bribes when the poor go there for sterilization should be kicked out of their jobs for a start)



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