India is unhappier than ever before. The United Nation's World Happiness report 2019 has ranked India at the 140th position from the previous 133 in 2018, dropping seven spots in just a year and 23 positions since 2015.
Out of the total 156 countries that were covered, India's happiness index has been steadily declining but remains ahead of Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. 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), 122nd (2017), 133rd (2018) and 140 in 2019.
Source: UN World Happiness Report
Finland topped the list as the world’s happiest country for the second consecutive year, followed by Denmark and Norway. South Sudan was at the lowest rank. The World Happiness ranking takes into account factors like GDP per capita, income, freedom, healthy life expectancy, social support, generosity and absence of corruption.
The report said government institutions and policies set the stages on which lives are lived. “These stages differ largely from country to country, and are among primary factors influencing how highly people rate the quality of their lives,” it added.
Basic needs = happiness?
For India, while the per capita GDP has only increased progressively over these years, but that hasn’t been enough. Public services, health, education, inequality, employment are some of the factors India has been struggling with.
A report released by Oxfam earlier this year revealed that inequality has been on the rise. The rich got richer by 39 percent while the poor only climbed the ladder by 3 percent while the poorest 10 percent of the country still remain in debt.
Contribution towards public services has not been upto the mark either, the total amount contributed to public health, sanitation, and water supply by the state and central government combined stood at Rs 2,08,166 crore in 2018.
India's healthcare has, for long, been under major scrutiny. According to the United Nations, India has one of the highest under-five child mortality rates in South Asia (behind Afghanistan at 91 and Pakistan at 81). In terms of numbers, India has the largest share of global under-five deaths at 1.3 million annually. About five percent of the Indian government's annual expenditure goes towards healthcare. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most of the healthcare expenditure in India - which averages $75 per capita – comes primarily from the private spending of households.
Source: World Health Organisation
Education in India, although is heading in the upward direction has been slow. According to a 2013 report by Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, access to education beyond higher secondary schooling is a limited to a meager 10 percent among the university-age population in India. The discrepancy occurs across genders, socio-economic religious groups and geographical regions. Furthermore, public Indian institutions providing quality higher education are even fewer and require brutal competition among scores of candidates, affecting mental health. The situation in rural India is worse. The proportion of children (age 6-14) who are not enrolled in school fell below 3 percent for the first time and stands at 2.8 percent in 2018.
Suffice to say that these criterias alone do not define a state/country's happiness. These are basic human needs. You could compare a state like UP where healthcare is still in its early stages to a state like Kerala where healthcare and quality of life is comparatively better but it is one of the top states with highest suicide rates - How do we know if people are happy?
India is still struggling to fight poverty, corruption, human rights, and basic needs. Focusing on "happiness" as an end goal or formulating policies around it could be questionable. It’s important to give prominence to human development – which will ultimately create road for happiness.
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