In Pursuit of Elusive Happiness

Published: 20th March 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th March 2016 08:18 AM   |  A+A-

As the world celbrates International Day of Happiness today, it is astonishing to observe that India is way behind countries like Somalia (76) and Pakistan (92) in the happiness quotient. The UN’s World Happiness Report 2016 reveals that India is among 10 countries which are witnessing the largest decline in happiness. Ranked 118th this year out of 156 countries, India has slipped further by a slot from last year and seven places from its 2013 position. One should, however, not lose sight of India’s Human Develop Index (HDI) and Corruption Perception Index (CPI) as well, where it is ranked 130th out of 188 countries and 76th out of 168 countries respectively. If your HDI and CPI are so low, how can you expect a nation to be higher in the Happiness Index?

The happiness report, published by Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative for the United Nations, takes into account GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support and freedom to make life choices as indicators to determine the happiness of a country. Among these, lack of ‘Social Support’ and ‘Freedom to Make a Life Choice’ in India are two significant indicators for its lacklustre performance. Sociologically, India is still a traditional country with approximately 70 per cent of its population still residing in rural areas and nearly 58 per cent households rely on agriculture (70th round, NSSSO, 2014). As the State started withdrawing, there has also been an upward trend of farmer suicides over the years, and the victims have largely been marginal and small farmers. The National Crime Records Bureau reported 5,650 farmer suicides in 2014. Increasing costs of cultivation, leading to higher indebtedness, crop failures and inability to face price rise with greater liberalisation of the agricultural sector have forced farmers to take this extreme step. Under these circumstances, how can people be happy?

Secondly, India is still a hierarchical society in nature, where there is utter lack of fraternity between Scheduled Castes and so-called upper castes. According NCRB, 47,064 cases of crime were committed against Scheduled Castes in 2014 compared to 39,408 cases reported in 2013. Communal violence in India registered a jump too, with incidents rising by 24 per cent and related deaths by 65 per cent in the first five months of 2015 compared to the corresponding period of the previous year. There are also 106 Left Wing Extremists-affected districts, better known as ‘Red Corridor’. One cannot rule out violence and lack of freedom for people living in these areas. A traditionally hierarchical society is patriarchal as well and denies gender equality to its women. Honour killing and love jihad are glaring examples, which prove the point of existence of patriarchy. 

Hence to conclude for happiness to usher in India, we need to deconstruct our traditional social structures like caste system, religious intolerance, patriarchy etc. On the other hand, we have to create modern structures which provide more social support and freedom of choice to the youth and elderly both. No law, no Parliament, no police and no judiciary can do it; this has to be done via morality and conscience of individual citizens. For one can legislate for equality and liberty, but not for fraternity.

Kumar is a professor of sociology at CSSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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