More often than not, here in India, we talk about the bigger picture. Terms like ‘macro’, ‘long term’, ‘future’, ‘inclusion’ are thrown in as jargon in pretty much every conversation that focuses on economic, social or socio-economic development. While policy makers and the government use these terms because it becomes their job, regular folk also use them while speaking and pontificating about expenditure, income and existence in general.
Having become a mom, I have realized that the ‘macro’ picture and its consequences rarely come up in my everyday life. What pops up and ends up influencing every little aspect of my life is that I haven’t had time to think about and gather knowledge in an organized fashion, but something baffles me. Prices of pretty much everything that I need for my child and myself are going up steadily, even as incomes plateau or after lockdown, actually drop.
GST was brought in mid-term during the first reign of the Modi led BJP government (I deliberately call it reign for it feels monarchical rather than cantankerously democratic). In countries like Singapore, introduction of GST led to an almost immediate diminishing of income tax, a logical reduction of cost burden on those that earn and pay for the rest. Here in India, no such move with effective results happened; we paid both in full and with almost no concessions.
Once this tax came in, going to the beauty parlour for a vigorous head massage or a foot rub after long, tough, mothering and working days, became dearer. One had to think before getting a massage. That some beauty parlours, run by hard working women but without deep pockets or mortgage capacities, shut down within 3-6 months of these taxes coming in, was not really noticed by mainstream media, or those focused on ‘long term nation building’.
Within a month, diapers for the baby became dearer, as did baby wipes. Keeping him poop free had to be considered thoroughly – how much is too much; for GST on diapers came to 12%. To this noble, high-minded government, I suppose clean baby bottoms are a ‘luxury’. I also had to think hard and budget a little before my period; sanitary pads have the same GST of 12%. So I would opt for a cheaper one to combine with the best quality pad. Budgeting becomes essential to survival after one has a child in India. As for these spiralling costs of personal hygiene products, so much for Swachh Bharat!
Then came small but significant stuff for children. Toys are taxed at 12%; electronic ones at 18%. Toys aren’t always a luxury. In most cases, for working women like me, toys are a way to keep a child engaged and away for damaging screen time. Essentially, taxing such items at high slabs reflects a certain parochial and patriarchal mind-set – whereby women tend to home and child, while swinging between pickles and papad and the men go to work and buy toys and stuff. It’s limited to this worldview of the ‘good Indian family’.Women that want to work, make a living and bring up a child be damned.
Slowly but certainly, GST crept into our lives, spreading its tentacles like a hydra headed parasite, sucking off tiny pleasures and small joys that make urban living in India bearable. From eating out, to ordering food in, to dessert, to drinks, to even sunscreen (yes you better be a little sunburnt if you want to save on your sunscreen costs), GST raised prices for everything.
At food prices inflation floating at 5% to 6%, pressures of managing household expenses are adding up, multiplying with each passing month of financial plateau and in many cases, job losses.
Some might consider this post as first world or irrelevant to the ‘bigger picture’ of this ‘wondrous Bharat’ that we are allegedly building. But to me, and to many moms, these are real problems. Rising prices mean lesser and lesser indulgences, sometimes veering down to food and basic essentials in tough months. Taxing every little thing that makes life easier for the middle classes is not ideal. They bear the burden of paying for the upkeep of our grand nation building and sizable parliament, among others. When you squeeze them from every side, and make them hurt, it won’t inspire them to innovate, think, or even at their optimum. Going to the beauty parlour might be a rare moment of relief for a busy urban mother. Buying a decent toy might be her reward for a child that she is currently training, or even educating thanks to undiscounted, expensive online school. If you make her pinch paisa, and cut down on her pleasures on a permanent slide, she might not be a happy voter either!
Of course, the final note that I would like to end on is the ultimate question- where is all this GST going? How is it being used? Can someone please stand up and share a break-up, update or detailed explanation in common person language?
I attempt to start a conversation with these articles on parenting. If anyone would like to share their experiences and thoughts, you are welcome to write in and leave a comment or share this ahead.