There seem to be a general acceptance of the fact that most of the rioters, while not exactly starving, form what is being called 'the underclass' of British society. Inhabitants of areas plagued by unemployment, these men (in many cases boys and girls) seem to view looting as a psychological vent and a call for recognition too. As a rioter is quoted as saying to a media-person:
"You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"
There is also agreement (from right-wing papers to liberal ones and leftist bloggers) on the issue of the massive inequality in British society being a major factor in these riots. A small section continues to grow wealthier while the middle class suffers and 'underclass' 'disappears' from the radar. Meanwhile, the government continues to cut expenditure in the name of austerity. Over the past one year, especially in December and March, various organised movements have struggled against such policies and the rising inequality. These incidents too, are yet another sign.
At the same time, it is crucial that we distinguish between the earlier movements which were organised and had progressive aims and this round of violence which has now become an excuse to loot and steal. Any possibility of romanticising these incidents, even if they involved youths breaking open the showrooms of major brands, must be resisted.
That said, economic and social inequality happens to be a burning issue in India too. Once again, we see a minuscule class cornering all the benefits of the India's 'growth' and huge sections of the population 'disappearing'. Struggles have already broken out in many parts of India, some with the aim of preserving our democratic structure, some with the aim of destroying it. To those who seek the former, what Britain teaches us at this moment is the dire need for building solidarity (yes, that much abused word) between classes to resist the dominance of this small group of people. To be honest, it doesn't seem like there is much time.
As an aside, this article eloquently points to how consumerism so forms part of parcel of these riots; something that is fascinating and tragic at the same time. We've seen this before, in Gujarat in 2002 especially - how amidst chaos and violence, humans still seem to have an unerring eye for the best brands. Call it the ultimate victory of marketing or what you choose but it brings me to the second point, the failure of any major political stream in India, including (unfortunately) the left, to combat the culture of consumerism. Of course, we are all guilty and of course, it's no easy task but some sort of moral politics which confronts consumerism is sorely, sorely needed.
Here' s an awesome collection of articles on the issue from the amazing zunguzungu.
Ps. Apparently, the Prime Minister of Britain, The Chancellor of Exchequer and the Mayor of London were on holiday abroad. One thing to be said for Dr. Manmohan Singh is that he doesn't take many vacations. But then again, he doesn't do much else either