The guards at the gate are instructed not to let nannies take children outside, and men delivering pizza or okra are allowed in only with permission. Once, Mr. Bhalla recalled proudly, a servant caught spitting on the lawn was beaten up by the building staff.Recently, Mr. Bhalla’s association cut a path from the main gate to the private club next door, so residents no longer have to share the public sidewalk with servants and the occasional cow.
You know something’s been going on in India for many years now when the New York Times finally gets to it! But it is an important story to keep in mind. India was always a country of great economic contrasts. But in the last few years, the inequality has exploded. I don’t know if Gini coefficients (a measure of income inequality) provide a true enough picture. India’s 2004 Gini (god knows how much it has changed in 4 years!) of 36.8 puts it as a country less inequal than the United States (40.8) or China (46.9). But as this Economist article points out, if you look at actual outcomes such as availability of water or child health statistics, India’s poor are in very bad shape. As always, a warning not to rely on economists for any mathematical estimates! Look towards public health people to provide the best information.
Add this growing inequality to India’s traditional class/caste based treatment of the not so elite by the elite, the treatment of the not at all elite by the not so elite, the treatment of the poor by the not at all elite, the treatment of the very poor by the poor and the treatment of everyone on the lower rungs of this crazy ladder by the ones higher up on the ladder, you have an inequality problem that no number can quantify and no one can fix in the short term. I do think that regionally, especially around the major metros, class/income based inequality and resentment are taking over from the traditional caste based issues. The rural areas are a completely different story altogether.
What is a blogger to do when faced with such an insurmountable problem? Why, recommend a work of fiction that talks about this issue in a refreshingly unsubtle fashion, I give you The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Of all the recent Indian lit I’ve read, this one comes closest to capturing Indian class dynamics and providing a good read in less than 300 pages. The novel most definitely aroused my inner class warrior! Of course, some of its characters are a little one dimensional, but most of their thought processes and attitudes are spot on. at the least, it will give you an easier to grasp picture of India’s inequalities than any World Bank report.