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In the World Happiness Report released on March 20, on the occasion of the International Day of Happiness, India slid to 122, four positions below from last year’s ranking. Among the 155 ranked countries, Norway was rated the happiest and Central African Republic the least happy. Since the world happiness ranking began in 2012, the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland and the Netherlands have always found themselves at the top. India’s decline in ranking has been quite visible: from 111st (2013), 117th (2015), 118th (2016) and now 122nd in 2017. It has also always stood lower than Pakistan, China and Bangladesh. Meanwhile, the per capita GDP has only increased progressively over these years, but that hasn’t been enough.
The trendline is disappointing to say the least, but perhaps not wholly surprising. The World Happiness ranking takes into account factors like GDP per capita, social support of having someone to count on in times of trouble, freedom to make life choices, healthy life expectancy, generosity and perceptions of corruption. The 2017 report also included a chapter on ‘Happiness at Work’ as the number of hours spent at work are usually a big part of people’s lifetimes. According to Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and a senior UN advisor, countries that rank better on happiness are the ones that have “a healthy balance of prosperity, as conventionally measured, and social capital, meaning a high degree of trust in a society, low inequality and confidence in government”. With grave socioeconomic inequality in the society and perception of deep corruption in political and administrative ranks, we in India clearly miss to hit those crucial notes.
Here are five plausible reasons how happiness eludes India:
People living in more equal societies are happier: Glaring disparity in the purchasing power of the population has long haunted India, where still nearly one-fourth of the population is lives below the poverty line. According to a 2016 World Bank report titled ‘Taking on inequality’, India has the most number of people – about 224 million – in the world living below the international poverty line of $1.90. While economics are not the only indicator of happiness – it is almost a necessary factor and it demands greater equity in India. Not to mention that along with poverty, comes malnutrition and abysmal public health for a huge section of the population.
Shortfall in public infrastructure for education: Opportunities for development and acquiring knowledge and skills for gainful employment is at the heart of happiness. According to a 2013 report authored by development economist, Abusaleh Shariff of Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy and Amit Sharma, research analyst with the National Council of Applied Economic Research, access to education beyond higher secondary schooling is a restricted to a mere 10 per cent among the university-age population in India. The disparity exists across genders, socio-economic religious groups and geographical regions. Furthermore, public Indian institutions providing quality higher education are even fewer and necessitate fierce competition among scores of contenders, inducing undue amounts of stress on young students. This, combined with social perception of success and pressure to be a certain way, keeps a majority of young individuals from reaching a place of satisfaction and stability.
Safety and security of women’s bodies: who literally forming almost 50 per cent of society — is still an unyielding major issue, in direct contradiction of social trust – a key factor to societal happiness. Just weeks ago, a Gurmehar Kaur and a Zaira Wasim were targeted with rape and murder threats by the chauvinist fringe elements displeased with their work or independent stand on issues. Mob molestation of several women on New Year’s eve in Bengaluru is less than three months old. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, crime against women grew by 34 per cent between 2012-15. All of this generates a public perception that women’s safety has not improved since the outrage following the Nirbhaya case in 2012.
Perception of personal liberties: Substituting peaceful discourse of ideas with violence is bound to have poor ramifications of societal peace and inclusivity in a diverse society with several fault lines. Events causing distress and unrest among swathes of people have been cropping up frequently: whether it be a series of violent bullying incidents in the wake of Supreme Court’s interim order about National anthem in cinemas, the politicisation of universities as in the Ramjas Row or violence or threat of violence against creative expression (like cinema). Personal liberties of various kinds have literally received blows without resulting in punity.
Mental Health: Mental health care continues to be grossly underfunded. While India has made significant strides in the health sector (such as controlling infant mortality, greater longevity, small pox and polio elimination) since independence, mental health is not a part of it. The government spends 0.06 per cent of its total health spending on mental care, according to the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Atlas of 2011. By comparison, the U.S. spends 6.2 per cent on mental health and England, 10.82 per cent. Even Bangladesh spends more, at 0.44 per cent. According to conservative estimates of the Indian health ministry, about 6-7 per cent of Indians (more than 70 million) suffer from mental health problems. Yet, the psychiatrist to population ratio currently remains a grossly inadequate one of 1 psychiatrist per 2-3 Lakh people. The current shortage of mental health care professionals combined with the invariable stigma attached to mental health issues is a quietly brewing crisis.