A different perspective on the middle class
Our MotherLand has again been brought to a historical juncture by the
courageous military measures taken by our leaders wiping off 30 years of
the brutal terrorist conflict and taking over the total administrative
control of the entire land. Without any reservation we must honour our
leadership and armed forces for defeating the world's deadliest and most
brutal terrorist organization. Now it is the time for consolidation and
the commitment and sacrifices from all Sri Lankans is required.
Especially the commitment of the middle class is extremely vital in this
process. The middle class of Sri Lanka being identified as highly
educated and intelligent element of the society and most of them have
proved their capabilities in other parts of the world as well. Thus, it
is important to analyze the contributions made by the middle class on
our national issues and also their sensitivity towards our burning
The Sri Lanka middle class emerged from the Colebrooke reforms
introduced by the British; it abolished the main features of the Sinhala
Feudal system called Rajakariya and gave the people the right to choose
an occupation they like rather than one determined by their caste. The
Government's monopoly in trade was abolished and it was opened to
anybody who wanted to practise it.
The rapid expansion of school education also, created a middle class
white-collar workforce. White-collar employment opportunities were
created for locals in plantation, banking, schools, and government
departments (Paradise in Tears).
As per Maslow's Theory in Hierarchy of Needs Based on earnings the
middle class can be grouped as the income group layer in-between the
poor and the elite class, and they represent the majority of the
workforce. Abraham Maslow's "Theory in Hierarchy of Needs" grouped the
needs of different income levels according to following categories:
1. Physiological needs (basic needs): food, clothing, shelter, other
2. Safety/Security: job security, secure the income level
3. Belongingness: networking, belonging to a social group
4. Esteem: recognition from others
5. Self actualization: achieve the highest level of recognition
An individual can be positioned in the Maslow's hierarchy based on
his/ her level of income.
The poor is only concerned on basic needs and the elite are aiming at
self-actualization needs, but the middle class has much diversified
needs such as: security, social belongingness, and esteem needs compared
to others (Abraham Maslow, 1943).
The needs of the middle class are contradictory in nature and
therefore they have become the most ambitious segment in any society.
Middle Class behaviour in different political regimes
Until 1977, the Governments of Sri Lanka adopted close economic
policies and the middle class had a simple living style. Certain
professions such as teachers, bankers, and the Government clerical
service earned a reasonable income compared to their living expenses and
were treated respectably in the society.
After 1977 the economy was opened to the international market and a
free flow of imported goods came to the country and the consumption
pattern of the middle class changed. A new breed of entrepreneurs such
as importers, retailers, building contractors, and private transporters
Multinational companies, foreign investors, and foreign banks came to
the country and offered highly paid jobs to the local middle class.
These new opportunities created an income disparity within the middle
Further, a competition was created within the middle class to share
resources such as; primary and secondary education, university
education, employment, land and housing and as a result unrealistic
prices were created for most of these services. The middle class changed
its spending pattern and got adapted to indebted culture such as living
on consumption loans and credit cards. Most of the fixed income earners
and government servants were unable to maintain a competitive life in
society and lost recognition in the society. Some were determined to
migrate to a developed country or to seek overseas employment.
The low remunerations deteriorated the quality and productivity of
government service and also, the level of bribery and corruption
increased in private and public sectors.
The majority lost their values and ethics due to this fierce
Even in social life some thought of short-term partnerships for
"win-win" situations for both parties. Their social belonging and self
esteem needs are focused with selfish motives such as personal image
building and not merely for the benefit of the general public.
Achieving security needs appears to be the main concern of Sri
Lanka's middle class, i.e., excessive spending on children's education,
building a luxury house, and dreaming about expensive motor vehicles.
Middle Class attitudes at workplace
Forming power groups at a workplace or in society has become a very
common attribute of the middle class. In certain instances these power
groups behave as vicious office mafias and obstruct the formal
organization structure and their decisions.
Certain employees' loyalty towards a mafia is much greater than their
loyalty towards the company. Some are prepared to do damage to his
institution with the intention of getting a short-term benefits for such
The emergence of informal leaders from power groups is a common
phenomenon in most of such organizations.
The majority slavishly follow these informal heroes with the
intention of boosting their career path in a given company.
In most organizations informal communication (Grape Vine) has become
more powerful and effective than the formal communication channels.
A considerable part of office time is spent on discussing salary
anomalies and what others have got from the company. Some affiliated to
trade unions or political parties get pay rises or explore fast tracks
to rise in the corporate ladder.
Can the middle class be excluded from country's responsibilities?
The majority of political leadership and regulators represent the
middle class. The middle class is directly or indirectly involved in
most of the decisions taken during different regimes. The so-called
middle class has adequately benefited from the system.
The saddest part is that our middle class tries to camouflage
themselves as a neutral innocent group and points a finger at the
political leaders and regulators as the culprits for all today's
These self-centered and introvert middle class attitudes are unique
to Sri Lanka; in contrast the middle class of our neighbouring countries
and most of other countries are highly organized and actively involved
in forming genuine opinions on their national issues. Before
independence the country's decision-making was restricted to the Sri
Lanka aristocracy, but after independence the middle class got actively
involved in the national development process. S W R D Bandaranaike, J R
Jayewardene, and R Premadasa encouraged and brought the middle class
into active politics. Most senior Government and private sector
officials and bureaucrat positions were manned by the middle class. Now
we have come to a most crucial time and the active involvement of the
middle class has become paramount factor in national development.
E. Jayewardene: "The Last kingdom of Sinhalay" R. Hoole, D.
Somasundaram, K. Sritharan, R. Thiranagama; "The Broken Palmyra"
M. R. N. Swamy, "Tigers of Sri Lanka"
V. Ivan, "Paradise in Tears"
R. Gunaratne; "Sri Lanka, a Lost Revolution" U.B. Ramanayake;
"Organizational Behaviour" K Jayawardana; "Nobodies to Somebodies"