The class ceiling

A gulf still divides India’s wealthy gated communities and the slums that protect and serve them, writes Somini Sengupta.

Hamilton Court is a gated community for the moneyed middle classes. Within its stone walled boundary are a private school, health clinic and fitness club. A small army of security guards patrols its groomed lawns, ensuring the outside world does not intrude.

India has always had its upper classes, as well as legions of the world’s very poor. But today a landscape dotted with Hamilton Courts, pressed up against the slums that serve them, has underscored more than ever the stark gulf between those worlds, raising uncomfortable questions for a democratically elected government about whether India can enable all its citizens to scale the golden ladders of the new economy.

“Things have gotten better for the lucky class,” Dr Chand, 36, said as she made lunch in her apartment overlooking the shanty town.

India’s 17 years of economic change have widened the gap between rich and poor. More than a quarter of the population lives below the official poverty line, subsisting on roughly $US1 ($1.04) a day; one in four city dwellers lives on less than 50 cents a day; and nearly half of all children are malnourished.

At the same time, the ranks of dollar millionaires have swelled to 100,000, and the Indian middle class – though notoriously hard to define and still small – is expanding.

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