Some labels stick when used by more and more people for more and more times. The term middle class is a classic example of a semantic conspiracy. It has been misused, twisted and straight-jacketed into something essentially evil. It has become fashionable to use the term middle class pejoratively. It is a legacy of the Victorian era that is long past us. Why we are still stuck with this linguistic monstrosity? The rich are busy counting their cash. They do not bother about what others say about them. The poor are the darling of the political class and social scientists, and the intelligentsia. They are always struggling to make both ends meet. Then we are left with the middle class, who have no patrons or godfathers because they mind their own business. They do not have political clout as they are suspected to abstain from voting during elections. No wonder the middle class has become the whipping boy of many politicians and commentators. In Nazi Germany, it was easy to kill a person by merely calling him a Jew. In India, it is easy to demonise a movement by labelling it a â€˜middle class' phenomenon. Some ruling party politicians tried to rubbish Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement as a middle class-sponsored agitation. So what? It is as if the middle classes have no right to protest. Is political legitimacy the birthright of the rich and the poor only? Who are these middle classes any way? There are still no universally accepted criteria for defining middle class. Simply put, they are neither rich nor poor. Even the income criterion has not been settled. According to the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), a family with an annual income between Rs. 3.4 lakh to Rs. 17 lakh (at 2009-10 price levels) falls in the middle class category. According to NCAER, by 2015-16, India will be a country of 53.3 million middle class households or about 267 million people. It has become fashionable to deride â€œmiddle class moralityâ€ and â€œmiddle class mentalityâ€ without even bothering to think what they really mean. Yes, the middle classes are conservative. They believe in incremental changes. But they are also progressive in many respects. They embrace change more easily than others. They hate violence and provide stability and order to society. Mahatma Gandhi was middle class. So were other stalwarts of the freedom movement. So were great social and religious reformers, scientists and poets. Selfishness is a charge that has been frequently levelled against the middle class. If being focussed on providing a decent standard of life to one's family through hard work is selfishness, then middle class-baiters will also face the same charge. If the middle classes aspire to get rich through honest means after paying taxes, what is wrong with it? Nobody wants to get poor, right? The middle classes may not be politically active, but many of them are RTI activists, members of public-spirited NGOs, and public interest litigants who have exposed corruption and defended the rights of the common man. Consumerism is another bogey raised against the middle class. There are over 800 million mobile phone subscribers in India. Are they all middle class? Everybody loves buying stuff, right? It is the middle class that is going to spur the rise of India and China as world powers. Should we have any other reason to stop maligning the middle class? The Hindu : Opinion / Open Page : Why make the middle class the whipping boy?