Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Macaulay's lesson no.. XMXXL??

As part of the world-wide chorus on the incidents and violence in London, let me add my two shillings worth, especially with regards to what I see as its resonance (yes, I' ve thought about that word) in India.

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.

Some more reading from Al-Jazeera, here and here. Here's quite a different take on the issue

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


an idiot without ideals said...

Consumerism? Aah, you remind me of Swami Vivekanand. His failure to fathom why Americans then consumed so much and his ambition to save Indians from going on that path. But what is this cry of consumerism is this where it's difficult to save anything for most people after they have had their food and sex. I can understand when this case against consumerism comes from someone who needs it but am horrified when it comes from one who has made a choice against it, especially if that choice is a privilege for her.

Prasanth said...

Vivekanand?? yikes! :)
When i said moral politics, I did not really mean a politics of morality.

Secondly, irrespective of its practical applications, I fail to see how aiming for one is that horrifying. Environmental movements have been seeking such politics for ages.

My contention was only that a leftist movement, especially one that seeks a specific kind of solidarity that was mentioned in the post, should have a politics of anti-consumerism inherent to it.
There are contradictions in this position no doubt. Still..

Pramod Mathew said...

Good read this was. Sensible. Like you said, it would be insane to romanticise this 'insurrection' (sic). But what I really found amusing about the mayhem in London was
1) The call to curtail BlackBerry Messenger services ( Remember all the hue and cry the Britons made when Iran sought to do the same with Twitter following the anti-Ahmedinijad protests)
2) Coming when the London Olympics are just round the corner one is reminded of the threats made by West prior to the Beijing Olympics that warned of boycott unless China sets straight human rights records. History has a way of mocking at us. We got to see London's own version of human rights abuses
3) The mocking of the looters saying; while Egyptians and Tunisians were rioting for Freedom , the London rioters were looting for branded apparels and kindles. One wonders, how different is this from looting for oil.