Thursday, August 18, 2011

Who were the rioters, what motivated them and can India teach us a lesson?

I could be psychic.

I wrote about the breakdown of the social fabric of British society in February 2009. That was before the current riots in England that have sent the media and government into a frenzy analysing the causes. See Back then whilst living in India, I compared Indian teenagers to those in the UK and quickly spotted that those in India had aspirations and values, were far better behaved than their counterparts in the UK and the anti-social behaviour and gangs that blighted Britain’s streets did not exist in India.  And bizarrely, in India there is barely a welfare state to speak of. Unlike in Britain.

I also wrote about the unhealthy dependency on the welfare state here in the UK. See Within days of moving back to England from India I was immediately stunned at how how much Britons get from the state for free, compared to say, Indians in India: free homes, unemployment benefit, child benefit, free schools and much more. No one in India got any of this and yet India’s country’s economy was soaring, jobs were increasing, their family unit was intact and their teenagers well-behaved and ambitious, unlike ours. In India everyone had a job, even if menial. Meanwhile in Britain, foreigners (mainly from mainland Europe) worked in the cafes and hotels while the Brits took Jobseekers Allowance. And whinged.

Now  we have just witnessed the England riots 2011, which were not dissimilar to the Paris Riots in 2005, 2007 and 2009. The core complaints of the rioters in both cases seemed to be that they were feeling left out, jobless, alienated and deprived. An “us “and “them” culture had emerged and a feeling the state had let them down.

Yet, why do Britons feel deprived and alienated when they live in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world? A country that millions of asylum seekers are still queuing up to enter…A country with a welfare state invented in 1911 and enhanced in the 1940s that other nations can only dream of?
Many British politicians deny poverty plays a role and are putting the riots down to a lack of discipline in schools and poor parenting, which has created a generation that would rather steal a plasma TV than save up for one. Given that the teachers who teach in British schools are highly trained, why are the schools in inner city areas so very bad? Why are they failing to instil any discipline in children?Many blame the laws in the UK which give too many rights to pupils and don’t allow teachers to punish them if they misbehave.  Teachers daren’t discipline pupils for fear of getting abused by the parents. Has the British state school system failed? If it hasn’t, how come we have ended up with a generation of delinquents happy to riot and loot with no respect for their neighbourhoods? How come drug dealers are allowed to stand at the school gates?   There is clearly a level of law-breaking in terms of gangs and drug dealing in and around inner city schools that society, schools, parents and the police have, till now, overlooked.

The national curriculum in British schools does not have enough relevance to modern Britain either. Employers say that when school-leavers apply for jobs they have no skills of use. Why don’t schools teach useful subjects such as how to do tax returns, how to be self-employed, how to make money from stocks and shares, how to write CVs and dress for interviews and so on?

The proliferation of gangs in inner city areas is also very much to blame. Mark Duggan, the black man whose death sparked the riots, was a member of one such gang. How did the British police let these gangs get so out of hand? Police have said that 25 per cent of those held after the disturbances are linked to gangs.

It is no coincidence Duggan came from Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, a council estate that was also the scene of violent riots in 1985 after a Caribbean woman was murdered there. That time the riots led to the death of a policeman, a death linked to the same gang Duggan was in. This time was it the rioters’ offspring rioting? The police had reason to believe Duggan, a crack cocaine dealer, was out to avenge a fellow gang member's murder on the night they had him under surveillance and shot him. London has seen 92 similar gang related murders in the last two years but none have made it to headline news.

High unemployment among black Afro Caribbean male youth is also clearly a factor in the riots. In an interview with the BBC back in January 2010, way before the current riots happened (see ) Jeremy Crook, director of the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), said part of the problem was there were very few black role models in Britain.
"Amongst black men, unemployment is about 20% - if a quarter of adult males don't work for 10-20 years, it doesn't give communities much aspiration, it demoralises and dissuades young people.
"They look to alternatives and get involved in gangs,” he said.
Almost half of black people aged between 16 and 24 were unemployed, at that time, compared with 20% of white people of the same age, the Institute for Public Policy Research then claimed. 

When asked why the they did it, the rioters said “Because the Government has cut my EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) or “I applied for a job at that electronics store and they didn’t reply to my email so now it’s payback time.” Hardly a justification.

Some politicians are blaming parents, not schools, but as one mother from a council estate told a TV channel last week:  “We have no control of our children. They don’t even do what we tell them. If we say they are grounded they barge past us and go out the door. If we try and smack them they say ‘You are not allowed to touch us; that is what we are told us at school.'"

Many parents handed their children into police when they saw their pictures released as suspects in the riots, so it does seem to me that most parents did not condone the rioting.
But it is true that many parents are so busy working to earn enough money to live in the UK, they have no time for family life. Their kids are being brought up by X boxes, not people. Or rap music. In India the cost of living is lower and pressures are less great on average household incomes, plus there is the option of maid.

Single mums have faced a lot of flak in recent weeks too, being blamed for the riots with claims that young men are being denied a male role model instead joining a gang and taking on a gang master as a father figure. I have friends who are single mums who have raised fabulous children. But then again they are a) educated and b) do not live on sink estates.  Those who tick both of the above boxes do appear to be producing badly-behaved children at an alarming rate, the girls of which are becoming teenage single mothers themselves. But is this to blame for the rioting?

I do not think we cannot blame women for being single as I’m sure many of them are single because their husband or boyfriend has got up and left them or died.
So in short, blame is being put on gang culture and rap music for glorifying violence, single mums for denying young men male role models, council estates, unemployed youth, poor discipline in schools, poor parenting, weak prison sentences that do not act as a deterrent, a lack of social mobility, the class system, public spending cuts, a lack of personal responsibility and lack of respect for the police, particularly following allegations of corruption in the phone hacking scandal.

Of all these youth unemployment, a lack of personal responsibility, gangs and the depressing life and culture of sink estates are to blame, in my view. These sink estates were originally built between the First and Second World Wars to rehouse people displaced in the slum clearance programmes. Many of these estates are now synonymous with violence, drunkenness, drug-dealing and gangs. The schools that serve them tend to have disruptive and underachieving pupils. There is a vicious spiral. No wonder this is the second riot at Broadwater Farm.

Prince Charles hit the nail on the head, when visiting riot-hit Hackney. He said national community service was the answer and pointed out extra-curricular activities were severely lacking at many secondary schools.  ''Half the problem is that people join gangs because it's a cry for help and they're looking for a sense of belonging. Schools don't have enough extra-curricular activities now. There are not enough organised games or other kinds of activities. Young people need self-confidence; we have to motivate and encourage them and give them responsibility. You need to be exhausted and have that energy channelled into useful activities," he said.

Interestingly the young people he spoke to said, what everyone has been thinking, that they were given far too much, had far too many rights and not enough discipline. They expected things to be given to them without working; they needed to be made to want to work. The issue was schools, families and the environment in which they lived, not race or class, they said.

So what is the solution? Well, firstly, we can look at India. The difference between India and the UK is that:-
1) In India people know they have to get a job and go out and earn a living to survive. There is no welfare system to depend on.
2) The family unit is still cherished and single mothers frowned upon meaning most children are brought up in two parent families.
3) The education system is authoritarian and pupils have to respect teachers. Authority, parents and older people are respected and people live in fear of the police and being sent to prison. (Not the case in the UK).

Apart from that I think encouraging  and allowing the police to use harsher tactics in dealing with riots (such as tear gas and plastic bullets) and making sentences for all crimes less lenient so that being put in the dock does act as a deterrent to youngsters, would help. Plus the prison experience should be made more uncomfortable and perhaps TVs and DVD players taken away. An Afro-Caribbean woman told a TV channel here: “In Africa the prisons are horrible and no one wants to go to prison. Here in Britain they are too nice and not a deterrent.”

 Police should be allowed to ban head and face coverings at any public gathering and force the wearer to remove it whenever there is suspicion of a crime being committed. It is ludicrous we have looters allowed to go out with scarves tied round their faces and commit crimes.

But the problems are clearly even more complex. David Cameron has made the right decision to bring in Bill Bratton to advise on the gang problem and yes, a compulsory youth national community service, as suggested by Prince Charles is a great idea. Free parenting classes should be on offer to anyone that wants them, more money needs to be spent on youth services, and stricter discipline and punishments in schools is required as well.

But there is still one massive problem remaining....

Youth unemployment.

How that will ever get solved in recession-hit Britain is anyone’s guess. Who is going to create the jobs?


Varahamihir said...

I am surprised to read that you find welfare system as an ill of the western society rather than as an institution that protects the right of any self respecting citizen of a country that calls itself developed and first world. Your arguments are exactly what I hear routinely from the right-wingers and conservatives, who think that poor, the needy and the helpless should not receive any support any benefit from the government, who pays them from the tax payers money. How a nation treats its poor, its disabled, its disadvantaged section of the society, defines its character, its identity and its overall general attitude. Would Britain want its poor to live like the poor people in India or Somalia, homeless, without proper food and clothing? Does it not, as a developed and an advanced country want its poor to have a life that is less miserable than the what is found around the third world nations. Welfare system, just like any other system, is vulnerable to abuse and wicked manipulations. It is up to the government to make sure that while the needy get the benefits they should get, those living off other people's money (tax payers money) should not be allowed to abuse the system. But putting forth examples of few parasites who live off the system and then arguing against a social scheme is a blatant misrepresentation of the entire picture. So, we do need a sound social welfare system that protects those who genuinely need help and should penalize those who do not work and abuse the system.

Now coming to the point of recent riots in Britain. While, the commentators are gasping for suitable answers, the incidents show the eruption of repressed anger among certain sections of the society, including the youth. While, I am not condoning the actions of those who indulged in looting, arson and killing of the innocents, yet one has to be more understanding of the situation of those who could not contain their anger. It is easier for those, who come from the advantaged sections of the society to put forth sermons such as welfare state has turned them into lazy, drug addicts and social degenerates. While we forget that those who are from the weaker sections, from different ethnicity the life is much harder and discrimination they have to face is much worse, be it in education, housing and getting employment etc. There is no social upward mobility for these people. I know these are things that every nation has to address and that they call for a much deeper and well thought-out scheme of things.

Lastly, I agree with you that younger generation has to be taught about being respectful, disciplined and while being aware of their rights. I am not sure, if anyone (teenagers, adults, old age people and people with unsound mind) in India paints the cars and vandalizes property just for fun, like these juveniles often indulge in. But then again, we have to see why the teenagers often turn to violence and anti-social behavior. The lack of parental care and supervision is one of the primary reasons and add to that the dehumanizing nature of individualism and capitalism that wrecks the society and leads to breakup of the family as a social unit. The Ayn Rand philosophy of self greed and self interest over everything else has wrecked the kind of social havoc, whose effects we are just starting to see. When parents part ways with each other just because one thinks their freedom and their self interest reigns over everything else including their own children's future, is a sure shot recipe for social disaster. I am not sure if the teens who grew up in the 50s, 60s were that kind of rowdy, uncouth and disrespectful as the teens of today. I do not know about West but I am vouch for the fact that teenagers who grew up in India till late 80s were much more well behaved than the teens growing up in India these days and showing the same signs as their western counterparts. if the West could re-discover their long lost strong family ties and community feeling, these problems will slowly but surely get away.

Proj Ghosh said...

A well written article. I like it how the issue has been dealt with from various angles, the lack of which I sometimes criticised in the past.

One of the reasons I seriously considered while taking my decision to settle down was the degrading family values in the US. The elders has absolutely no control over the kids because in school they are taught to call 911 and press child abuse charges if their parents disciplined them. Almost every educated Indian, even those living in India are well aware of this and we laugh at this all the time. Over the years, the western society has given away too many rights to every group from children to women, to the unemployed to single moms that they are totally oblivious of their responsibilities to the society. Payback time is near and hooliganism or being a cry baby won't help much.
While the riots were going on in the UK, there were discussion on various Indian TV channels the mind boggling amount of freebies single moms can get from the government in the UK. The clearly shows the government there indirectly encourages casual sex, many opined.

While these societies allow the enterprising to make a lot of money, the lack of family culture does not allow that the wealth be built upon by the next generation, therefore the wealth is either given away to some institution for a noble cause or is frittered away by the prodigal kids. It's time that westerners have a long hard look at their family culture and start working on it after weighing pros and cons realizing it is a zero sum game either way but a strong family is more emotionally rewarding, therefore it important that the scorecard is balanced not by merely looking at dollar figures but also taking into account the emotional rewards involved.

Proj Ghosh said...

I thought I'd try answer your question about job creation. I am not aware of Britain as much as I am aware of the US. If America's societal problems can be fixed, job creation will not be an issue. These countries have wonderful systems professionally but their family system is seriously deficient leading to a host of psychological problems that either vents out as some form of depression or outright violence.
Believe it or not, the age old Indian wisdom always believe it's the women who keep the society together although they rarely went out of the house and worked. Their contribution towards family is immense and that needs to be recognized and respected so that they don't feel a compulsory need of having to go out and work to prove their mettle. If the woman working makes more economic sense for the family, the guy should be able to pick up home and parenting skills and the women should not resent marrying such a guy neither should be guy resent doing household chores or whatever is it makes more economic sense for the family. I know this is not as much a white problem as it is an Indian problem because i have seen white women having no issues marrying someone with lesser professional status but better home skills. There is a misconception in the western world about family values and over reliance on the state to deliver everything. It is the balance of family and state which can make a vibrant successful society and a country at large. In India, the reverse has to happen, the state needs to get its act together and build better infrastructure for education to health to transport everything.

Proj Ghosh said...

Worst of British slump yet to come

Anonymous said...

Naomi, it was good to meet you today.

I think that much of what you say here is right on the money. In this political climate it takes guts to suggest that our welfare state has consequences, not all of which are good.

There's a difference, of course, between the welfare state itself - which as Varahamihir says is a good thing as an abstract principle, and a good thing in some at least of its implementation - and the *culture of dependency on* the welfare state, that sense of automatic entitlement which has allowed two and three generations of a family to remain unemployed, rather than to take whatever opportunities are at hand to pull themselves out. (There very often is an opportunity for those who choose to take it - but they need to make that choice. I touch on some of this stuff towards the end of this article.)

I simply don't believe the simplistic, polarised viewpoints of extreme right or left - feral underclass vs societal alienation. Neither argument stacks up, and if public policy were designed around either of these points of view it would necessarily fail. It is actually both more nuanced and more fundamental than that. Three significant factors are:

- Entitlement. I have a friend, a teacher in a comprehensive 6th form, who pointed out that the education system for at least the past 20 years has been pushing the idea of entitlement.
- Consumerism - the number of rioters (and some of their parents too), the same people being described as the have-nots, who were shown on camera dressed head-to-foot in designer gear, and who were crowing about looting yet more designer gear during the riots. The same goes, of course, for people like the millionaire's teenage daughter and the Olympic "ambassador" (sic) who cannot possibly claim to be excluded from society but who were still involved in the riots.
- Empowerment rather than entitlement. I talk about this here. I think you are suggesting that India offers another model of empowerment - and we cannot afford not to pay attention.

Going back to the nuance of language ('welfare state' vs 'culture of dependency on welfare state'), this linguistic simplification is itself a big part of the problem, particularly the problem of polarisation. Look at the Daily Mail headline at - "End the human rights culture" - and the outrage it produced from the person who posted it on Twitter. But what David Cameron actually said was that he wanted to end the culture of ABUSE of the human rights agenda. As so often, the headline sets out to polarise and ends up distorting the truth.

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In 2010, India was deemed a worldwide untouchable by British media due to some complaints with Commonwealth ames venues. What do you have to say about London now?

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