The Growing Bhutanese Middle Class

I’m reading “The Great Indian Middle Class” a bestseller written by Pavan Varma, a prominent Indian, and India’s next ambassador to Bhutan. The book traces the emergence and evolution of the Indian middle class, and examines its influence on the development of India’s society, politics and economy.

The publisher calls Mr Varma’s work a “powerful and insightful critique” that shows us “how the middle class, guided by self-interest, is becoming increasingly insensitive to the plight of the underprivileged, and how economic liberalization has only heightened its tendency to withdraw from anything that does not relate directly to its material well-being.”

I wonder what Mr Varma will make of our own growing middle class. Will he see us as a powerful force determined to eradicate poverty? Will he identify us as champions of democracy? And will he conclude that we are true defenders of GNH?

Or will he discover that our middle class is also a “consumerist predator” that is motivated by self-interest and greed? That breeds corruption? And that is insensitive to the plight of our poor?


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  1. soulasylum says

    your excellency,

    i have another hypothesis worth pondering over. the plight and concerns of the middle class is to be taken into consideration because of the sheer number.yet the more pricking question is the gowing income disparity between the bhutanese elite and the rag tag farmers toiling the hardships of the rugged farms. the everincreasing gap will someday put this country into a big turmoil. tracing back the worlds major events in the 20th century, most undesired events occured because of this enormous income gap between the rich and the poor.the middle class will have impact on the course of the country’s progression and/or regression but not as much as the impact of the two extremes.the middle class will always be a neutral ladder from both sides. unless the government devises strategies to reduce this income gap….hostility is brewing in…it is becoming more apparent now….how could some one afford vechicles worth millions ( worth more than a poor farmers life time savings.) the question is even more of a concern when there is no evident source of income to buy such flashy cars.
    something must be wrong somewhere….please enlighten me..i guess mr Varma would have the same thing to say….if he is is not in his diplomatic coat.

  2. I think we middle class are more worried about ourselves. I do not, however, say this is wrong. We do ‘sympathize’ with the underprivileged, but rather leave it to the government to do something about it. We might like to help, but we’ve got to first help ourselves.

    Why should we not be worried about ourselves first? We have a tradition of not only providing for the immediate family but also for our dependants (sisters, brothers, cousins, etc). Our income gets distributed among many members – more outside of the immediate family. This is a social tradition we accept and live with.

    Corruption then in many ways arises from the reality of not being able to provide well for the family. This turns to ‘greed’ when we desire for the kind of life upper class people around us live. (flashy cars, trendy clothes, servants, etc) Their life appears comfortable, painless and effortless. We are embarrassed to be walking to office and wearing the same set of clothes day after day. We are fed up of washing our own dishes and clothes. We are sick of finishing our earned income on monthly bills. We are embarrassed to be buying grocery on credit by the middle of every month. The only thing that is perhaps a consolation (with due respect to farmers) to us middle class (if white collar workers, by definition) is that we don’t have to toil on the farms. However, our life is akin to theirs in respect of subsistence living. And, the irony – farmers look up to the middle class as people who can afford anything. The reality – we ourselves, the supposedly middle class, are living in poverty. No assets. Only a meagre monthly salary to help us survive through the month with very basic needs … and loans to clear.

    How can we then pay heed to the plight of our poor? How can we not be concerned about our material well-being?

    Who do we really consider the middle class, anyway? How much money does it take to be in the middle class? Is it to do with money (and its utility, our affordability) or happiness (based on our choices)? Questions galore …

    “What constitutes the middle class is relative, subjective, and not easily defined. Most people likely have decided views as to whether they are middle class. At the same time, those who refer to the middle class have a rough idea whom they have in mind. How closely these two definitions correspond is another matter.” (from ‘Who Are the “Middle Class”?’ by Brian W. Cashell, 2007)

  3. Anonymous says

    I present below some quotes of middle class people in America.

    “I am a divorced female, 48 years old. I have no savings, no retirement, so I’m living paycheck to paycheck.”

    “A lot of my bills are on hold. Somebody gets paid this month and next month, they don’t get paid and somebody else gets paid.”

    “We owe lots of money to lots of people. It’s probably close to $35,000. We have no money because we have these bills.”

    “I’ve been the sole source of income for my family. I don’t have health insurance, so then that means if anything should happen to any of us, that’s… when my son’s playing football, my mind is always thinking, “Oh my God, please don’t get hurt.”

    “There’s no breathing space. There is absolutely no breathing space…”

    “I feel like middle class is you have housing, you have shelter, you have clothes on your back and you have food in your stomach. We have all three of those things and pretty much nothing more! We never can’t make the rent, we never can’t eat, but at the end of every month, it’s sort of down to the last penny on those things.”

    “I’m getting’ by, but I’m not getting ahead. At some point, I’m gonna have to make the decision to either take out another loan or get on a very strict budget and I think I need to do that sooner rather than later. I don’t know how anybody can ever afford to have kids. I don’t know how anybody can afford to buy a house. I honestly don’t know how people get by and, I figure that it must be what I’ve experienced so far is that, you end up getting in debt.”

    Is this the middle class we’re talking about?

  4. Bhutanese Blogger says

    What do you think?

  5. She Yo En says

    I can very well identify with what Dorji has described. I haven’t, however read Pavan Varma’s book so I don’t know who he considers the middle class. I cannot see myself progressing in life without self- interest, but I do not wish to go to the extent of exploiting the underprivileged for my own gains. Neither do I wish to allow myself to be deprived of opportunities to do better. So, there must be a middle path.

  6. what are u all talking about….do something then…in ur own small way..

  7. Anonymous says

    Mr Varma’s find on the indian middle class also resonates in Bhutan.

    Hon’ble MP in Bhutan‘s endorsement of formal University degree as a prerequisite eligibility for the elective office is if anything but selfish, conceited and undemocratic attitude.

  8. By the way the newly formed democratic Government is functioning, it looks to me that many things are unclear at the top. But, was this unexpected? NO! We have a bunch of old ex-bureaucrats, who are perhaps trying to be democratic but finding it extremely hard to let go the dictatorial power they enjoyed for so long. I can only pity them, for at some point they would have to give up against the majority, mena? How sad, indeed, that we’re almost breaking what the Monarchy made for us in the past century! My confidence in the new government is almost shaken, not judging the results that are yet to come, but the process in decision making. What our fourth King envisioned for us is perhaps not understood by the new political leaders, who are busy being political (power hungry) and hardly leaders (democratic). What a sad aftermath of the happy centenary celebrations!

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