Social class system dissected

  • What matters more to whom…

A theory presented by Thomas Malthus predicts that if a population keeps growing at an exponential rate then eventually a time will come when the population would outgrow its resources. Before the 18th century, the world GDP remained fairly constant as increase in population coincided with decrease in output per worker which, in turn, caused a decline in population. The world, however, is known to have escaped from this “Malthusian Trap” in the 18th century on the onset of the Industrial Revolution. At this point, the population, real GDP, and resources all increased simultaneously, consequently boosting the world GDP. The distinction between rich and poor has always existed in every society, but the Industrial Revolution and increase in population have created many social classes because of more unbalanced division of resources between people. Pakistan is one of the most populous countries in the world, and naturally, its population is divided in a range of social classes.

Amir, a thirteen year old boy, works in a small restaurant in Lahore for 10-12 hours a day with a monthly wage of Rs15,000. When inquired about his childhood experiences, he said that he enjoyed playing with his friends back in the village but had to move to the city due to his parents’ job who currently worked in a nearby house. Having studied up till seventh grade, he confessed that he was not particularly interested in studies probably because of him starting to labour since the age of 11. His future plans seemed no different than his present and past as he liked working in that restaurant and intended to continue with it for many years to come.

Kausar Bibi, who was not aware of her age and works in different houses as a maid, earns approximately Rs17,000 per month and lives in a small house with her husband and three sons in a village close to the houses she works in. One of her sons is currently enrolled in a school and the other two work at a petrol station with their father. She told that she was kept deprived of education because of her parents’ aim to marry her off at an early age. When asked about what she wanted to achieve, she expressed her desire to have studied at least for a few classes if not many but had to give in to financial problems and societal norms. She added that she is also a victim of domestic abuse and cannot stop her husband from beating her because of the barrier of being uneducated and, therefore, not empowered. When questioned about her future plans, she replied that all she cares about now is a decent meal for the day, and her sons to settle down as quickly as possible so they can marry and run the household.

Both the stories imply that social class has a major impact on our day-to-day lives. All of us associate ourselves to a certain class and then act according to what is expected of the respective class. Kausar Bibi classifies herself in the lower class. She wanted to study but could not achieve this goal because people from her social class wanted her to marry. Priorities regarding a woman’s education change as we move up the social hierarchal levels. I consider myself to be in the middle class, and my parents understand that education is important, but had made it very clear since the very start that marriage should be my ultimate goal. People who belong to the upper class are much more liberal in this regard and some families usually allow girls to establish their careers and be independent.

Another factor which highly correlates to social classes is socioeconomic status. Poor financial conditions for the lower class make clean food and respectable housing their utmost priority. That is why children like Amir receive little or no education at all and start working at a small age. For lower and middle classes, a family’s honour or “izzat” lies in a woman’s entity. Women like Kausar Bibi face domestic violence because they are dependent on their husbands and therefore cannot leave them. Families are also concerned with what other people will think or say after separation or divorce, hence letting women face hardships just to save a mere paper contract and their family’s honour.

People do realise what their basic rights and liberties are, but inequality has always existed, and will continue to exist

Another lens through which our social class system could be looked at is that people are automatically blessed or rewarded with opportunities according to the social class they belong to. Parents hailing from middle class background generally have the capacity to provide their children with education in respectable and prestigious institutions, with some managing to go abroad as well. Families like that of Kausar’s or Amir’s cannot think of such future. They are habitual of such a lifestyle since forever. They have this ideology instilled in their minds that they are the ones to serve and rich are the ones to be served. People usually think that social classes above theirs will provide them with more opportunities and better lifestyle. Hence, people thrive to make their lives better so they keep on moving to the next best class. They can achieve this through fair methods such as hard work and determination or can choose the unethical path and indulge in crime. It will not be wrong to say that social class hierarchy promotes crime because most of the power rests with the upper classes and even if someone from the lower class tries to gain a dignified position in the society, he will be judged upon his past status.

The definition of oppression and privilege cannot be confined to classes. It will be misleading to say that the upper class enjoys privilege and the lower class faces oppression. These definitions can be similar or different for people from each class.

Domestic violence or early child marriages are not only limited to the lower class; such instances can be found in upper classes as well. Women face oppression due to the patriarchal structure of Pakistan. In the lower classes, it is in the form of honour killings and in lower and middle classes, it takes forms of domestic violence or sexual harassment. Children in the lower class are deprived of proper educational facilities but children who are blessed with such opportunities sometimes lack the freedom to choose a career path for themselves. Such children are mentally oppressed.

As far as privilege is concerned, poor say without a doubt that they are unprivileged because they do not have a certain economic standing in the society and, therefore, have to put in extra effort for work which can be performed by the upper classes in a very short time, like getting a decent meal for the day. Servants also complain that their employers behave rudely with them so as to establish power over them. On the other hand, people from upper and middle classes do agree that they enjoy certain privileges but its due to their commitment, hard work and luck.

Ideologies such as Marxism, Socialism and Communism try to tackle and remove the Capitalist mindset from the world. However, this mindset has ingrained an obligation in us to assign ourselves to a certain social class, and therefore, act according to it. This is one of the reasons why inequality is still common. People do realise what their basic rights and liberties are, but inequality has always existed, and will continue to exist. Conservatives try to counter this argument by saying that a certain level of imbalance prevails in the society and one cannot eradicate it completely. But one should definitely try to reduce it. Nonetheless, it is increasing. Another reason can be that overpopulation has caused greediness among people regarding the possession of resources. This also causes injustice and frustration among the society. The only way to improve this situation is that each individual must realise what their contributions to the society are and whether they are a part of any action which promotes discrimination.