Globalization has been one of the most researched areas during the past one and a half decades. The initial studies of globalization were concerned with its meaning and definition. However, more recent work on globalization focuses on its implication on the lives of people at the local level. One of the consequences of globalization in the South Asian countries has been the rise of “New Middle Class”. Most analysts agree that the emergence of a new middle class in Asian countries was the inevitable result of economic reform. In India the New Middle class is seen as a departure in many ways from the old middle class of the pre-globalized India. In the context of economic liberalization the middle class has been reinvented as the ‘new middle class’ due to a discursive production of its new cultural image that rests on the socio-symbolic practices of consumption and new aspirations of education, employment and leisure. Along with the commodity consumption the urban middle class has also been studied as the recipient of material benefits of jobs in the new economy under globalization.
The new-middle class is ever expanding. It has continuous inflow of new groups entering this class as a result of reservations, subsidies and education. Along with them they carry their social consciousness to new locations. Habitus and economic rise throw-up loosely adhering class that is both internally differentiated and stratified. The social status and home from where this class is emerging continue to play role in keeping the class fractured.
This new middle class has captured the increasing service sector where women presences are increasing. Being the beneficiary of the employment opportunities in globalization, it is important to examine the urban women’s negotiations in the structure of freedoms, capacities, and compulsions of their class, which further has a bearing on the gendered relations in different locales. How does cultural constructs of gender melt, renegotiate, modify or confront in this melting pot of new middle class? Seminar also aims to explore gendered negotiations in the context of new desires of the new middle class in South Asia, and how these new characteristics are having a bearing on the gender relations and gendered experiences both in public and private spheres of everyday life?
Such a class also has other features that need scholarly attention. New middleclass in South Asia is still a minority but an influential one. In many ways it leads social practises that set norms of South Asian societies. In the neoliberal paradigm, it is capable of creating new public sphere. Is this public sphere concerned with gender questions? Is this discursive enough? Does the new middle class concerns itself with politics, exploitation and structural asymmetry of power?
The proposed seminar highlights that in the construction of the new middle class, the gendered experiences have not been explored adequately. Some of the areas that need attention are listed as subthemes. These are:
With new employment opportunities to young men and women, how the gender relations are changing at inter-generation and inter- generation levels inside the home.
What are the gendered relations in the new workplace settings including that of Multinational Companies, where the work of middle class youth is located?
How middle class morality and respectability are negotiated in new settings. Is morality being redefined?
Along with the face of the middle class, the urban landscape and spatial experiences are also changing. The increasing visibility of middle class women in public spaces calls for the examination of their spatial experiences in different locations.
The exposure and aspirations of new middle class may create new meanings of femininity and masculinity. In what ways are these new femininities and masculinities being constructed by media?
The negotiations of middle class with different forms of capital result into different forms of consumptions, investments and savings. It remains important to have gendered analysis of the same.
Is market based governance depoliticizing gender questions? Are the collective experience of power and exploitation disallowed in the neoliberal narratives? Is the new middle class concerned with the political?
What kind of decisions and strategies are followed by the middle class youth for the reproduction and its implication on gender relations.
With expanding opportunities in the big cities the migration of middle class women is on the rise. How these women bargain with their desire to migrate and work and how they negotiate with their everyday life experiences in the new city.
The seminar titled, locating gender in the new middle class in India, was held by Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) and Women’s Studies and Development Centre, (WSDC),University of Delhi at IIAS, Shimla from 11th- 13th March, 2014.
Prof. Chetan Singh, Director IIAS and Prof. Bharati Baveja, Director WSDC inaugurated the seminar and welcomed the participants. Convener of the seminar, Dr Manjeet Bhatia, Introduced the seminar. Out of 21 abstracts accepted for the seminar, 17 papers were presented around multiple aspects of gender and the new middle class. Through different sub-themes of the seminar various areas were discussed which included: Gender and migration; Consumption and desire; Making of media and gender, Social media and its role in mobilisation; Assisted reproductive technology and consumption; Gendered spaces and morality; Home as a site of gender relations; Work as a site of opportunities and gender relations; Politics and the new middle class; and literary representation of the Papers ranged from ethnographic case studies to data based analysis. Seminar was an intersection of scholars from different subject disciples and training. The seminar in its three days’ deliberations tried to understand the changing gender relations in the framework of the new middle class. Papers reinforced that middle class is not a homogenous category. On the one hand several new entrants are shaping this class in their own ways, while on the other; the privileged identity is guarded through several practices. Consumption stands out as an important practice of all the categories of this class.
There are several sites of change in gender relations which have emerged post 1991 economic liberalisation. Prof. Raka Ray discussed one such site at Mumbai. She referred to the entertainment industry which is growing at the pace of 10% and is a 3 billion US $ industry. It attracts migration of both young men and women to try their luck in this industry. Many new opportunities for fresh talent have emerged with opening of reality shows in the otherwise kinship oriented industry. She compared gender difference in this migrant group in terms of domestic background, struggle, and treatment by the industry. Even though women as compared to migrant men were brighter and had better background, stereotype cultural images of women did affect adversely their chances of success and fulfilment of their dreams. Yet they were happy having taken the plunge. In another context, Prof. Indu Agnihotri observed that young girls from small towns are lured to do such jobs in bigger cities that the city girl would not accept. Interjections further suggested that girls in small towns too are looking forward to such opportunities.
Middle class’s political engagement in movement against corruption, post Dec 16 agitation in Delhi and rise of Aam Adami Party (AAP) was the focus of papers under the sub theme – Neoliberal paradigm and changing political questions: gender, caste and politics. Papers focused on the safety of women in metro cities. Prof. Indu Agnihotri, Dr. kumool Abbi and Dr. Albeena Shakil welcomed the youth reaction to 16th December that shook the country. Social media played an important role in this up-rise. Dr. Shakil suggested that Capital has dominant culture of the adjoining villages around its borders. She argued that it is the intersection of very different cultures in close proximity that makes the capital city unsafe for women.
Prof. Agnihotri argued that questions of governance that AAP had been making central in Delhi State election, were the issues women of resettlement colonies been raising since many years in their interaction with women organisations. Middle class cannot overlook engaging with this underbelly while becoming politically active. She felt that questions of middle class have been made central to create acceptance for globalisation policies of the government. India is fast becoming hub of medical tourism. Assisted reproductive technology, on the one hand, are offering hope to childless couples, on the other, they are offering opportunity to earn for the poor women though, at the cost of making her body available in the absence of any government policy to protect her rights. Such a technology (egg freezing, for instance) is also offering possibility of earning a quick buck by home makers and young students for their special needs and style. Papers presented by Dr. Jyotsna A. Gupta and Dr. Sayeda Sakira Sahin showed that it is the middle man and clinics which are earning from use of these technologies. Most of the women are not aware of the medical risks involved. To this date there is no law, just guidelines to govern the use of ART. Media has played an important role in the making of the market oriented economy that needs to create consumption. Media itself had to undergo surgery with blurringof distinction between advertising and editorial content, infotainment getting intertwined with news and advertisers becoming the new target audience. Along with media makeover emerged new woman as the consumer. Papers by Ms Pamela Philipose, Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta and Dr. Haripriya Narasimhan using advertisements, case studies of those watching television serials showed that there is a paradigm shift from notion of satisfaction to notion of greed as value. Prof Dasgupta even used the expression- ‘I shop, therefore I am’ to describe the new consumer. Television serial are trying to retain the traditional family values and are missing the need to grapple with real change in gender relations.
Family, as established by feminist scholarship is the hub of patriarchal culture. It is not surprising that home has become the site of change in the changing economy. Ethnographic case studies of Prof. Alice Clark showed that daughters of different class and caste families are getting family support for gaining higher education, availing occupational opportunities and even for migration. Yet the larger picture built by the Indian human development survey based on the data from the 4000 house hold in the 33 Indian states did not corroborate the micro picture developed by the ethnographic study. Data shared by Prof. Sonal Desai showed limitations on decision making, mobility and work of women among the middle income quintiles.
It also showed that both qualitative and quantitative studies are required to ascertain the real change in gender relations in the new middle class. The notion of motherhood was explored by Dr. Shelly Pandey and Dr. Manjeet Bhatia in the context of globalizing India. Young mothers are not only taking the challenge of making global citizens they are also trying to balance it with their work and self-identity. A comparison between the senior mothers who facilitated their daughters to avail new opportunities and young mothers trying to face new challenges is an important area where gender relations are being carved out. Prof Sanjay Srivastava argued that contemporary consumerism is a tool to display morality of modern middle class. Such an analysis was more in the context of contemporary woman as she is traditionally seen as a non-consumer. Taking the example of upscale gated community living and women groups moving in Akshardham complex enjoying the freedom with the assurance of returning to the safe cocoon of traditional mannerism, is the woman as new consumer, who is not determined by modernity, but can take part in it and also return to traditionality. Whereas, the study by Smita Agarwal based on the interviews of students of a small town showed that middle class values such as, control on women and taboo on consumption of alcohol by women remain intact. Though, desires of young people are making some dent in the traditional thinking, yet the larger cultural picture remains patriarchal. It was pointed out that inclusion of caste as one of methodological factor in this ongoing study would further qualify it. Women and changing work opportunities, educational qualification and work environment came up for discussion in three papers. Education has direct link with the expansion of job opportunities for women. It is the graduate group of women who needs to be watched to understand work and women. Prof. Preet Rustagi argued that the overall employment opportunities have not expanded as much as the presence of women into the same. Though, the primary sector jobs are less available for women, and there is marginal gain in the manufacturing sector, in the service sector there is a substantial gain for women. Women have gained in some of the other sectors too, like, retail, education, health care, diagnostic services, communication, information technology etc. The analysis of employment status of women from different quintiles showed that the major change is visible for the women of those families who are entering the middle class that is either close to poor or middle income households.
An in-depth study by Prof. Sarawati Raju and Ms. Tanusree Paul, on the middle class white collared working women of Kolkata showed hindrances in decision making in the back drop of the nature of family (extended/nuclear), placement of women in work hierarchy, marital status and number of children she has. Gender relations at work place have come under scrutiny as more women are gaining education and are coming for work. Sexual harassment is one such aspect that was paid attention through interviews with corporate sector employees in the light of new law to address it. Mr. Vineet Pandey shared that the law is welcomed by the employees. It instils some sense of security in the women employees as under the new law employer is duty bound to make a complaint committee. The corporate sector also appears to have gained as it can get away with paltry sum as compensation to the victim as compared to huge sums earlier paid by some companies. The law came under criticism for having destroyed the democratic process set in by Vishaka guidelines which ensured inclusiveness and better structures of these committees.
Poetry offers ordering of one’s experiences through self reflection. Women had been groping with their life experiences of change. Literary representation of such struggles can be revealing. Dr. Sukrita P. Kumar chose to use this form of expression to share women’s experience of change. She read a few poems written by her and other poetesses. She presented on the subject- mother and the metaphor of old giving way to the new. Open discussion in the concluding session brought in some reflections on the important outcomes of the deliberations. Brief outcome of each session was presented by Dr. Manjeet Bhatia. Prof. U Kalpagam summarised these as two sets, one pertaining to the process of formation of gender and the other dealing with reconstitution of it. It was pointed out that there is a need to assimilate the changes at the structural levels based on the micro level studies and discussion. Given the diversity of the Indian context, contextual specificities should be explored further. The exploration of the middle class from the language’s perspective should also be analysed to understand how the middle class can be looked at in other languages. It is interesting to note that mostly, ‘new middle class’ is not expressed in any other language but in English.
Self-reflexivity of women came as an important area to be explored to understand everyday life experiences of women as well as men. More analyses of the changes occurring in masculinities and the lives of men in the middle class context came up as a very important area. How the issue of aging is handled and how the older people’s lives are affected in this period of change is also needed to be looked at. The seminar was interdisciplinary where economist, historians, political scientist, sociologists, journalist, demographer, researchers, geographer, academicians from literature and gender participated. International and national paper presenters represented 6 institutions and 8 universities.
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