The ongoing lockdown, which has crippled the economy for more than a month and sparked unprecedented distress, has turned the so-called lower middle class into the new poor identities of the society.
Teachers in unaided private schools, office assistants, data entry operators, salespersons, receptionists, beauticians, those who run small mobile phone service and repair shops and other service providers who fall in Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000 monthly income group, are the badly hit.
Most of them have not received the salaries for two months and they hardly have any savings to fall upon. Many of them fear job loss post-lockdown.
It is not just the socially poor and the migrant workers who are facing the brunt of coronavirus induced lockdown. Activists say lower middle class families with meager income are badly hit but the problem is not getting due attention because of lopsided priorities.
While those categorized below the poverty line are getting some sort of assistance in the form of cooked food, ration or financial aid from the central and state governments or NGOs and philanthropists; an overwhelming majority of the lower middle class are left high and dry.
A BPL family with a white ration card, for instance, can get Rs 1,500 financial aid and 12 kg rice announced by the Telangana government and is also entitled for assistance from the Centre as relief during the lockdown period. Even those who have no ration cards can get cooked food being supplied by the government agencies or numerous NGOs and philanthropists. They are also seen standing in queues to receive food rations being distributed by various socio-religious organizations.
The lower middle class is caught in a dilemma as their dignity holds them back from extending their hands to seek aid while the NGOs and philanthropists will be reluctant to give any assistance lest they feel bad about it, activists say.
They also said the focus of all aid programmes of both the government and NGOs is people who are traditionally perceived poor and who are indeed poor but the lower middle class, who are also in dire need of assistance have been left out.
“Such people are there in every family. We can find them among our own relatives,” Mazher Hussain, Executive Director of Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA) told IANS.
“These people don’t seek help from anybody. They don’t stand in queues for aid. They have been working hard and carrying on with their life but the crisis has suddenly made them vulnerable.
Many have not received salary for March and may not get for a couple of months more,” he said.
Many categories of mid-level jobs were created thanks to the booming services sector over the last couple of decades. They are mostly employed in the retail sector, healthcare, teaching, hospitality, travel and tourism.
Aid workers point out that most of those who fall into this category are sole bread earners for their families and even if their spouses work they also do similar jobs like that of receptionists, office assistants and teachers.
“The general perception is that someone like an autorickshaw driver is poorer than others but when you look closely many of them have additional sources of
Their wives work as maids or as some daily wagers and at least one of their children work as a mechanic. Thus the total income of such a family may go up to Rs 25,000 which is higher than the average income of Rs 15,000 of people treated as lower middle class,” said Mazher.
COVA, which works among economically weaker sections, women, refugees and migrant workers in Hyderabad, felt the need to focus on the people who are not covered by any government programme or the activity of most of the NGOs.
It has drawn a programme to provide financial aid to teachers of small unaided schools. “We have so far helped 50 teachers from three schools and want to cover 50-60 schools,” said Mazher.
Realising that reaching out to this section with either cash or relief material is not the proper way, the NGO gathered details of the teachers and transferred the money into their bank accounts.
He pointed out that most of the teachers in unaided schools draw monthly salaries between Rs 4,000 to Rs 10,000. Only those who teach mathematics get Rs 12,000 to 15,000.
“We are telling people that if they don’t want to give donations for such work, there is no problem. They should at least help the needy among their own relatives,” said COVA director.
Ibrahim Sayeed, Telangana state secretary of Students’ Islamic Organisation (SIO), which is also active in providing relief to the needy, feels that there is a need to identify the needy from lower middle class and help them without hurting their self-respect.
“We have to identify them. They don’t approach somebody for help but they may be facing more serious problems than the other groups,” said Ibrahim.
Such people struggle in their lives every day but they somehow manage without seeking help from others. However, the lockdown has made it a hand to mouth existence for this class.