The Dawn: Oct 3, 2014

Punjab’s middle class: hokey self-righteousness!

Mushtaq Soofi 

Description: The rural segment of Punjab’s ever expanding middle class includes in it medium sized landlords, upper crust of peasant proprietors, agro-business men. - Illustration by Abro

The rural segment of Punjab’s ever expanding middle class includes in it medium sized landlords, upper crust of peasant proprietors, agro-business men. - Illustration by Abro

The term ‘middle class’ since long has been a part of socio-economic and political discourse and hence an important element in the analyses aimed at understanding the hierarchical composition of modern society. The term may have several meanings but there is agreement to a large extent as to which group of people constitutes middle class.

Middle class falls in the middle of societal hierarchy; an intermediate class between upper class and working class. If you are in the middle, the perception is that you are somehow a reflection though hazy of the whole social spectrum.

Thus middle class appears to have two contradictory features; it betrays veiled but plausibly deniable legacy of working class and at the same time flaunts not easily realisable aspirations it harbors to be on the fringes of upper class.

The Punjab’s ever expanding middle class, urban and rural, is no exception.

The urban segment of this class largely comprises doctors, engineers, lawyers, academics, middle level business men, well to do shopkeepers, civil servants, media-persons and other professionals from the lower ranks of corporate sector.

The rural segment includes in it medium sized landlords, upper crust of peasant proprietors, agro-business men, grain traders and the government officials posted in the country side.

In the traditional language the members of this class refer to themselves as ‘Safaid posh’ (clad in white/white-collar) which sets them apart from the workers and peasants.

The main asset of this class is the possession of human capital that distinguishes it from other social classes. In its ranks education and spirit of enterprise are what is prized most in its unending efforts to secure for itself upward social mobility.

Being educated, notwithstanding the quality of their education, they are ambitious and have contempt for all other sections of society; masses are ignorant and work shy, and elites are over-bearing and indifferent.

They conceive themselves as a vanguard of sanitized social progress besieged by masses and the elites which stall their march towards creating an earthly paradise. They are socially mobile and politically conservative.

They educate their girls, allow them to be a part of work force and can tolerate the exogamous marriages if they benefit from them materially. They are happy to be consumers of what is marked by multi-nationals if and when they can afford.

But when it comes to politics, they are full of venom; they hate politicians, political parties and any kind of democratic dispensation. Democratic politics apparently monopolized by people representing traditional power structure is considered deleterious.

Politics is a dirty game, they unambiguously declare. Consequently the way out for some seemingly highly qualified members like doctors, engineers and IT professionals is religion.

They join the missionary organizations which present a hidden agenda of political change through preaching. The more radical elements reject the very idea of modern polity.

They abandon the normal middle class life and add to the number of militants with millenarian dreams who would be content with nothing less than demolishing the existing society and building it from the scratch on the principles of Puritanism whatever the cost.

Punjab’s rural middle class while generally sharing the ethos of its urban counterparts is slightly different in its socio-psychic make-up because of the deep roots it has with the old agrarian structure. Despite all its stress on education and upward mobility it has not rid itself of lingering patriarchal norms.

In the matters of marriages and social net-working it still relies on the age old connections of clan and caste when it has to show its political muscle. Endogamous marriage is the norm.

Despite their apparently visceral disdain for politics the members of this class harbor political dreams, the dreams made of the stuff called authoritarianism. Whenever an authoritarian regime is installed through coup or political manipulation in the country the middle class dances in joy and supports it to the hilt.

The large number of bureaucrats, from military and civil service, who sustain the authoritarian regime, come from the middle class.

Khakis and civvies in the service of the state obliquely represent the political teeth the middle class has acquired through its gradual penetration in the state apparatus.

Middle class obsessive love with authoritarianism is best expressed in the newly emerging political parties in Punjab with no holds barred policy to grab the bigger share of the pie through means fair and foul. Karachi city is another example to study where the urban middle class is the mainstay of an entrenched political party with an authoritarian streak.

Hypocrisy is the hall-mark of our middle class. It cries for fair-play, merit and justice but is not shy of supporting non democratic power structure that breeds social fascism which can be witnessed in public spaces where women are reprimanded for wearing what supposedly violates the middle class dress code.

The most conspicuous expression of its fascistic tendencies is found in the cultural vandalism when not infrequently theatre halls, cinema houses, art galleries, open-air music concerts are attacked with impunity for being dens of perceived obscenity.

This class is a funny group of self-righteous people; it hates what is below and relishes what is above, Working class is a nightmare and upper class a distant planet. It curses the both as if they have cast a hex on it preventing the realization of its utopian daydream. —

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