The Financial Express

Middle class lacking in initiatives

Representational image Representational image

Humayun Ahmed tried to paint a charming picture of the 'dominant' Bangladeshi culture in his popular drama serials in the 1980s and the 1990s, creating more of an aspiration to become 'ladies and gentlemen' in family and social affairs. Senior groups of these television viewers had already had silver screen stars Babita or Shabnam and Razzak or Rahman as their heroes in the previous two decades.

Education and sophistication were two major qualities that people recognised they should embrace, apart from making efforts to attain economic solvency.

If Bangladesh's independence was the outcome of certain cultural evolution of a whole generation, the movement for democracy in the 1980s and 1990 was a follow-up action of their younger brothers and sisters.

However, a vast class inclusive of old and emerging ones - commonly called middle class - remains largely unseen on Bangladesh's socio-political and cultural scene today.

Statistically, their number has surged since the 1990s but new criticisms have surfaced as well.

"Unless the size of the middle class widens, democratic system can't be strengthened." Economist Wahiduddin Mahmud referred to the theory speaking at a recent PPRC discussion on 'Where have the middle classes gone?' Blaming a decline in quality of education for 'disappearance' of the ideally motivated class people, he added, "A man of economically lower echelon today can become an upper class person, superseding the middle class, thanks to immoral distribution of benefits."

Adnan Morshed of BRAC University mirrored the appearance of the socio-economic class, sharing his experience of witnessing a scene in Chattogram city a few years back - a huge signboard inscribed with an ad of diamond sales overlooking a dustbin near which a man was urinating.

Outside the old paradigm, writer Faruk Wasif sees the rise of an emerging middle class in Bangladesh. He observed that the definitive attributes of the middle class such as values, leadership role, and intellectual exercise have been challenged by the new class of new generation. "They wanted quota reform, VAT withdrawal from higher education and safe road," he said of the class which is yet to take a clear political shape.

Rather the youngsters these days are getting lost in the illusion of social  media reality of life. Thus the pandemic has exposed the very economic vulnerability of at least one class, even though poverty is considered a static situation.

While visiting his friend in Uttara, an educated businessman found the elderly private service-holder and his two sons jobless. The family, he talked about, had sold most of their valuables and they were then facing food crisis. "A group of people were going to metamorphose into urban lower middle class from the less-fortunate class… They have already adopted the philosophy of the middle class - no matter whether you eat or starve, don't allow others to know your conditions," Sociology Professor of North-South University Helal Mohiuddin noted in a social media post.

Covid-19 has devastated the dreams of innumerable people. "With rising number of shy man and woman, Bangladesh has turned into a country of shy people… Earlier a section demonstrated for the shy people but all fronts are now quiet as there is none anywhere," he wrote allegorically.

The disengagement of greater population from socio-political activism has offered the evil elements some 'scope', for example, to attack the minority houses and temples, as reported. The majority may have expressed their abhorrence but, sorry, not so publicly.

Over the decades, the middle class status has been such a romantic idea that the rich and economically rising people, too, loved to hide the class they actually belonged to.

US presidential candidates were eloquent of the middle class for pursuing the American dream. But in 2016, a half-educated billionaire named Donald Trump had shattered the tradition, exploiting all weaknesses of society and politics. Now there are many like him, all of whom are confident that the old middle class ethos can be disregarded.

The recent developments in Bangladesh and elsewhere indicate that the old middle class is no longer fully relevant socially and politically, while the new one is awaiting an opportunity and occasion to assert its position.

Till date, social thinkers and commoners alike, apparently driven by nostalgia, are missing the new context and necessity of developing new narratives to capture the emerging picture and communicate with the upcoming generations.

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