A Class Profile of India

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In Mumbai: builders at work, slums below. [Sthitaprajna Jena / Flickr]

The bankers, software engineers and diamond traders targeted in last week’s Mumbai train bombings are the driving force behind India’s well-documented economic juggernaut, a phenomenon heralded at home by the country’s elites and abroad by the international press.

But the country that is home to the world’s fastest growing middle class is also home to the world’s largest underclass: 380 million people who live on less than a dollar a day.

India’s no wonderland…A quarter of its one billion people live below the poverty line, 40 percent are illiterate, and the child malnutrition rate exceeds that of sub-Saharan Africa. There’s a huge difference between the backwater state of Bihar and the boomtown of Bangalore.

Suketu Mehta, A Passage From India, The New York Times, July 12, 2005

Much of the talk around India’s new economy has ignored these facts. And much of the talk around the Mumbai story this week has focused on the “global war on terror,” possible Pakistani support for Kashmiri separatists, or connections to the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat.

We’d like to go back to India and broaden the lens. In the past our show has discussed the tremendous secondary social consequences of industrialization and economic development in China – for example, the migration of 120 million people from the countryside to work in cities. Now we’d like to conduct a similar exploration of the secondary effects of economic change (or lack thereof) in India, and do a kind of class profile of the country. We’re fascinated by the discrepancies between the haves and the have nots, by the real-estate boom in Mumbai and Delhi, by the fact that the Communist Party is stronger and more popular than ever, by the 100,000 farmers who have committed suicide in the last decade.

How is economic growth changing India socially, culturally, politically and physically? Is there tension between the million or so direct beneficiaries of the new economy and the rest of the country? Is there a connection between sectarian violence and the growth of the new economy? Is class replacing caste? Can India pass on to its masses the benefits of its economic growth, as it did democracy and political power?

Update, 7/19/06, 10:17am

This op-ed by Pankaj Mishra has informed a lot of our thinking about this show so far. (I found the last two paragraphs especially interesting, even though it was written before last week’s bombings.) His article, among others, is available for free (outside of times select) below.

Pankaj Mishra


Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond

Suketu Mehta

Author, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Thanks DevanJedi for recommending Mr. Mehta.

Atanu Dey

Chief Economist at Mumbai based technology company Netcore Solutions

Contributor to Indian Economy Blog

Guest’s Extra-Credit Reading List

The Hindu, India’s National Newspaper

Everybody Loves a Good Drought, book by P. Sainath (reporter, The Hindu)

Economic and Political Weekly

Extra Credit Reading

Pankaj Mishra, The Myth of the New India, International Herald Tribune (first published in the New York Times), July 6, 2006

Nitin Pai, Puncture Mishra, The Indian Economy Blog, July 8, 2006

Atanu Dey, The Better, Faster Road Development, The Indian Economy Blog, July 12, 2006

Suketu Mehta, A Passage from India, The New York Times, July 12, 2005

Dilip D’Souza, Just Another Suicide, Himal Southasian

Amardeep Singh, Thomas Sowell on Caste Reservations (affirmative action) in India, Amardeep Singh Blog, May 26, 2004

Naresh Fernandes, India’s Indestructible Heart, The New York Times, July 12, 2006

Somini Sengupta, Train Bombers Focused on Mumbai Business Class, The New York Times, July 13, 2006

Suketu Mehta, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Vintage Books USA, September 2005

Gurcharan Das, The India Model, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006

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