By Chanuka Wattegama
I assume the LBR club is predominantly bourgeoisie. Some of us might have made fortunes at the stock market and drive BMWs but wealth is not the only factor that differentiates us from the rich and poor. We are professionals; educated, we work hard for our bread and butter (using our brains, not muscles) and we like our offspring to be educated and cultured than rich and mighty. Our aspirations are different from those of the classes financially above and below us.
Middle class, no doubt, is better off than the poor. We don’t have to struggle to make ends meet on daily basis. We certainly enjoy better health facilities compared to rural and urban poor. Our livings standards are higher. This does not mean perfection as our expectations too, have augmented.
The bourgeoisie problems are unique. Let me cite just two: transport and education issues. Others too face the same, but the impact on us is critical. At least we feel so.
On a Sunday evening I drive to my office in 15-20 minutes. On the week day mornings I spend one to one and half hours on road covering the same distance. That is 2-3 hours productive time per day. Those who use Galle Road may waste more time. We arrive at our offices late and exhausted. Fortunately the private sector does not impose strict hours. Still, a rushed morning costs us. It certainly has a negative impact on our productivity.
If transport is the short time worry, education is the long time one. We don’t like to send our children to any school; we aim for particular ones. Not because they are popular, but because the rest don’t offer our choice.
I know a school at Borella that could not send a single student through G.C. E (O/L) in the past ten years. Those are not the ones we like to send our children. We spend money and time looking for better options. We change addresses or spend our hard earned leisure on old boys/girls activities, with no guarantee of success. Some of us may even consider bribing.
If primary education issues are a nuisance, with higher education it is a nightmare. The near state monopoly offers few acceptable choices. A student from Colombo or Kandy, unlike his/her rural counterparts, has to be extra smart to enter a university. Even a score as high as 60%-70% does not guarantee a entry while ‘rural students’ from ‘remote areas’ who interestingly attended the same tuition classes just walk in with much less marks. The system is harsher. The rejects by state universities have few options in higher education. The left and the so-called nationalists have so far been able to keep the doors of higher education closed even on fee levying basis. Free education? My foot!
None of these issues are new. They burdened the middle class for ages. Still little has been done to address them. Traffic now on the same road is heavier than what I encountered as a school boy. Education opportunities have effectively dwindled with rising population, despite the numerical growth. Why?
Successive governments have shown no interest in the middle class. Sad but true. Not without a reason. The rich financially support the political campaigns. The poor constitute vote banks. What do we offer? Nothing. Middle class is not rich or large enough to make an impact in a political change. So the issues felt by others are high on the priority list while our issues are neglected. One of the best examples was the recent Colombo Municipal Council elections. While the poor were promised houses, better sanitary facilities and play grounds, neither party promised a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system - a dire need in Colombo, which could have partially solved our transport issues.
I guess the only way the middle class can earn the attention of the policy makers is to act as a special interest group. Not the ideal way for policy intervention, but if these issues remain ignored there is no choice. The middle class in Sri Lanka, like in most emerging Asian nations is growing. Unless we find more room it will soon be inconvenient.