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Apathy of Middle Class

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
18 Jul 2022
The dual educational system that caters to aspirations of the rich and the middle class could be another factor for the middle class becoming indifferent to the socio-political issues.

In a write-up titled, “How much does people care?” in the Indian Express on Sunday 10th July, 2022, P Chidambaram highlighted the apathy of the Middle Class in India towards the disturbing socio-political developments in the country. In the first part of the write-up, he pointed out the positive and active role played in the freedom struggle by the middle class, especially the intelligentsia, consisting of teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges, government servants, military officers, journalists and writers.

With regard to the indifference of the middle class, he wrote that the middle class is conspicuously absent today. “Nothing seems to stir the middle classes out of their self-imposed isolation. The relentless price rise, the crushing tax burden, the massive unemployment, the tragic internal migration of 2020, the uncounted millions of Covid-related deaths, the excesses of the police and investigating agencies, the flagrant denial of human rights, the hate speeches, the fake news, the systemic exclusion of Muslims and Christians, the egregious Constitutional violations, the oppressive laws, the subversion of institutions, the overturning of electoral mandates, the unspoken border conflict with China -- nothing seems to disturb the middle classes''.  

It appears that the bulk of the middle class, except a small number of journalists, lawyers and activists, has become introverted and mainly concerned about its interests. Any concerned citizen should be disturbed about the dangerous developments taking place in India.

Some political observers say that India is moving towards a kind of fascism and the signs are obvious:

1) Parliament becoming a rubber stamp, as many bills are passed without much discussion and study.

2) Passing laws that violate the fundamentals of the Indian Constitution and the judiciary sleeping over it.

3) Stifling criticism, protest and dissent using violent means, including bulldozing the houses of those who participate in protests.

4) Rampant violation of Human Rights by the state and the non-state actors

5) Failure of the judiciary to be the guardian of the Constitution and the Fundamental Rights of citizens.

6) Media becoming a propaganda machine of government instead of playing its critical role as the ‘fourth estate’.

7) An emaciated and disunited opposition. But the majority of the middle class in India appears to be not at all concerned about these frightening developments.

Chidambaram has not explained the reasons for the apathy or indifference of the middle class.  Some social researchers have made efforts to find out the reason for the apathy of the urban middle class. The neo-liberal economic reform of 1990’s, consisting of privatization, liberalization and globalization, created a new societal class, which is often referred to as the ‘new urban middle class’. This class of people comprises the English-speaking, conventionally skilled, upper caste section of the population. This class of people seized the opportunity to increase their disposable income and accumulate sufficient savings and it helped them to move upward on the socio-economic ladder. Self-mobility became the priority of this class.

Simultaneously capitalism thrived on creating luxury goods and promoting consumerism among the rich and the middle class. The tendencies of self-mobility and consumerism together created in them apathy towards the ever-widening chasm of inequality that continues to ravage India. The middle class that used to be liberal in their approach to religion and culture underwent a phenomenal change. They find that their interests are better protected by the policies of the BJP under the leadership of Modi. As a result, a large chunk of them seems to have accepted the ideology of the BJP.  The Pew Research survey among the Hindus found that 64% of Hindus hold the view that in order to be “truly Indian” one has to be a Hindu.

The dual educational system that caters to aspirations of the rich and the middle class could be another factor for the middle class becoming indifferent to the socio-political issues. The rich and the middle class have the resources to access good quality education provided by the private educational institutions whereas the poor people, who do not have the resources, have to be satisfied with the poor quality education provided by the government and the low quality private schools and colleges. The private educational institutions generally focus on the academic performance of the students along with some attention to skill development. It appears that the educational institutions have failed to instill in the students the core values of Indian constitution and their responsibility to pay back to the society. They mainly cater to the aspirations of the rich and the middle class to move on the socio-economic ladder.  

Result-based management of projects focuses on three levels of results: Output, Outcome and Impact. Output refers to the immediate results, outcome refers to medium term results and impact is concerned about the long-term results. If one applies this approach to education, the Output of education apostolate is the performance of the students in the board/university exams and co-curricular activities, whereas outcome is the overall development of the students, especially their character formation.

Impact is the changes the alumni bring about in the society when they enter into different professions. It is obvious that more than 90% of the attention of those who are involved in education is focused on the academic performance of the students while character formation is not given sufficient attention. In many educational institutions there is no system to track the contribution the alumni make to the society and the changes they bring about in the society. In fact, if education has to become a mission, a lot of attention is to be paid to the Outcome and the Impact.

Against this backdrop, the Catholic Church in India has to make introspection with regard to its education mission. Although the Church has contributed to the enhancement of education of the poor, the main beneficiaries of the English Medium Schools and the high-profile higher education institutions are the middle class. In spite of the stiff competition from others, many Church-run institutions/colleges are among the top 100 in India in terms of their academic performance.

For example, out of the 35 private Social Work Colleges/Departments/Institutions, 17 (48.5%) are under the Church management, according to an assessment made by Outlook in its issue of July 11, 2022.

27 (27.5%) out of 105 colleges/departments of SCIENCE, 34 (29.5%) out of 115 top colleges of ARTS and 30 (20.6%) out of top 145 COMMERCE colleges/departments in India are Church-run institutions.

Out of 35 institutions of MASS COMMUNICATION, 7 (20%) are under the Church management. It is to be remembered that the Catholics constituted only 1.55% of the total population of India in 2011.  

According to the website of the CBCI Commission for Education and Culture, there are 54,937 Catholic educational institutions in India. If the average number of students in each institution is 1000, the total number of students attending the Catholic educational institutions would be approximately 5.5 crore.

The actual number could be more than that. How many crores of Indians got educated through Church-run educational institutions since independence? Why do the alumni of the Church-run institutions keep mum when the Indian constitutional values are trampled upon?  Why are they indifferent when the Church institutions and personnel are attacked?  

If the middle class has become indifferent to the terrible developments in India, especially the blatant violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution by the state and non-state actors and rampant human rights violations, is not the Church also responsible? Has not the Church failed to inculcate in the students the core values of the Indian Constitution?

The core values of the Constitution like justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and respect for individual dignity are nothing but the values of the Kingdom/Reign of God. To what extent has the Church succeeded in its mission of sharing the values of Jesus through its educational apostolate? If the students of the Catholic educational institutions have imbibed the values of the Reign of God, will they be indifferent when injustice is being done to a large number of people?  

It is very unfortunate that a good number of the Church personnel involved in the educational apostolate are not aware of the dangerous socio-political changes taking place in India. There are many Church personnel who do not know what is meant by the term “Sangh Parivar” and its influence and control over the present BJP government.

Some of them even do not know the full form of RSS, an organization whose ideology of Hindutva is being implemented by the BJP governments at the Centre and in many states.  Hindutva is an exclusive, divisive and polarizing ideology that is diametrically opposed to the core principles and values of the Indian Constitution.   

During discussion with many groups of consecrated persons it was revealed that they did not have any session on the Indian Constitution during their whole formation period whereas they were asked to read the constitution of their respective congregations at least once a week. If the Church personnel are not taught about the Indian Constitution and if they are not aware of the phenomenal socio-political changes taking place in India, will they be able to inculcate the core principles and values of the Indian Constitution in their students and teachers? Will they have the courage to uphold the constitutional values and principles? 

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