If anyone thought all this talk of some global, anti-India conspiracy was just propaganda by the ruling BJP’s IT cell, here is clinching proof: India has now been placed fourth from the bottom in the 2020 World Happiness Ranking, brought out in the United Nation’s World Happiness Report 2021. How can this be, except as the result of a conspiracy to denigrate India?
How can Indians be unhappy, after having joyously overcome COVID-19, driven out corruption and black money, after receiving bounteous gifts of cooking gas connections, toilets, direct benefit transfer of cash to the indigent, free homes for the homeless, free rations and free advice directly from the leader of the land in a monthly radio address?
India used to be sone ki chidia (the golden bird), so goes the legend. Things are different now. On the plus side, we are no longer bird-brained. But money, if not quite gold, does shower on people, thanks to politics. A lucky few get crores, in exchange for switching loyalties after elections. The masses get smaller sums before polling day. Politicians are prepared to shower voters with TVs, tablets, loans and other forms of largesse. How can Indians rank below Pakistan and Bangladesh in happiness?
Perception of corruption is a major obstacle to happiness. But we drew a curtain on corruption by throwing out the UPA, with its telecom scam and coal scam. That the courts do not seem to find any telecom scam, regardless of all the brouhaha over it, and have acquitted everyone accused in the case is a minor inconvenience, true. But we overlooked this niggle in our joy over demonetisation of large currency notes, which, we have been assured, has killed the monster of black money.
The Economic Survey estimates that the economic impact of demonetisation was loss of output to the tune of ₹1 lakh crore, the average of the lower and upper ends of the possible range of loss. That is a lot of money and associated production, jobs and taxes. But then, if money can’t buy you happiness, loss of money can’t cause you to shed tears either, can it?
And by cancelling all captive coal mining contracts, to undo the coal scam of the previous government, we have succeeded in keeping Australian and Indonesian mines humming, since we have to import coal to make up for lost production from cancelled captive mines. Giving joy to others gives you an inner glow of fulfilment. How can this lead to erosion of happiness, unless there is a conspiracy to beat us down in perceptions?
The Goods and Services Tax was another blessing. India introduced the world’s first online tax: you file your returns, make tax payments and claim input tax credit all online. That internet connectivity across the country remains patchy is a bit of a problem, true, for filing returns. Many people have to work hard to comply with the tax paperwork, to extend this old-world term to the virtual craft of filling spreadsheets and uploading them, purely for logistical hurdles. But then, the harder the labour, the sweeter its fruit.
The number of GST tax slabs, at eight, can daunt some. But the pain of complying with so many rates is offset by the pleasure of leading the world in the number of tax slabs for a value-added tax. It is also true that of India’s 6.3 crore enterprises, less than 1.3 crore have registered under GST. Most of the missing are tiny units. And small is beautiful, especially in those moments when they are not struggling to get credit, to be paid for their supplies or to keep grasping officials at bay.
India is a land of festivals. Festivals keep people happy. Especially, as in recent times, when you have official patronage for taking your religious processions very close to the settlement or place of worship of those who do not celebrate your festival. What fun, getting people to shout what were previously mere religious chants as slogans of triumph/submission! How can India be unhappy?
India is a country of young people. Young people tend to be happy, with or without good reason. That is to say, with or without jobs. Of course, youth unemployment numbers are upward of 20 per cent by some estimates. But these are only statistics. And everyone knows how statistics are worse than lies and damned lies, and grounds for anti-India conspiracies.
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive / But to be young was very heaven! That was a British poet describing what he felt about the French Revolution. We are Bharatiya, not English or French. But, at this moment of revolution, we feel the same exhilaration that the poet described. “A moment comes, which comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” Even if it was Nehru, sworn enemy of Hindutva, who said this, how better to describe the heralding of the Hindu nation? He was Pandit Nehru, after all.
When Parliament is controlled by the champions of Hindutva, the executive is led by the heartthrob of the Hindus and the judiciary has willingly given over the land where a medieval mosque once stood, before it was demolished, for constructing a temple to Ram, can we deny we are on the threshold of a new age? When we can wilfully charge comedians and nuns on trains with causing hurt to Hindu sentiments or conversion and create problems for them, with much help from the police, sections of the judiciary and the administration, how can the majority of this great country, long suppressed by foreigners and secularists, not be ecstatic? How can India possibly be unhappy at this blissful juncture?
Being Hindu in the modern era of democracy, with all its talk of liberty, equality and fraternity, is a little complex, admittedly. We have the caste system, in which castes are placed in a hierarchy, not in a lateral array of shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity. How do we reconcile the contradiction between caste hierarchy and democratic equality?
A radical way might be to place faith in the essential humanity of all people, or, if you will, in the essential brahman in all individuals: after all, our Upanishads hold everything in the universe to be brahman, the metaphysical entity that manifests as many things, only maya preventing us from appreciating this essential unity in difference. Upanishads explain brahman through aphorisms such as Tattvamasi (that thou art) and Aham Brahmaasmi (I am Brahman), to underline the point that brahman exists and operates in everyone and everything.
We could hark back to the famous encounter between the foremost exponent of advaita, Sankara, with a Chandala, lowest of the low, who shamed the philosopher into admitting that his sudden revulsion at the sight of the Chandala was at odds with the principle of advaita, and seek to build a casteless society. But there is a snag with that scheme of things. We might like to revere Sankara but if we accept his principle of all humans being essentially the same, we cannot hate some groups whom we love to hate, apart from not being able to carry on with the caste system.
So, what do we do? Celebrate unity in diversity, of course. Let every diverse caste be united in itself, be happy at being given an MLA or an MP, and vote for us in unison. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Lokah samastah sukhinorbhavantu. What have you. When we can find such happy solutions to complex problems, how can Indians be unhappy?
Of course, we are Bharatiya. The young should find their own Bharatiya ways of celebrating youth. Not for them the ripped jeans, the hot pants, the Valentine’s Days, the stuffed teddy bears, the chocolates, the flowers and other fripperies that animate western youth. Love marriage is, of course, a short, dangerous step away from love jihad, or a dishonourable alliance with a member of another caste, the only remedy for which is to reclaim honour by force, at whatever bloody cost.
In our tradition, girls can, of course, conduct swayamvar, choose their spouse on their own, but from among candidates carefully selected and invited by the parents. These days, it would be difficult to find young men who are willing to face rejection, a necessary quality to be part of the multiple-choice problem presented to the girl doing the swayamvar. So, that leaves the girl without the tension of having to find a partner: just leave it to the parents and whatever little trousseau they are able to muster for her. How can India be unhappy?
Women are under attack, raped and killed? They face sexual harassment at the workplace and have to cry “me too”? They drop out of the labour force altogether? We must admit certain western influences are creeping into our Bharatiya culture. If women were prepared to stay in the protection of the father in their early and late childhood, in the protection of the husband in their youth and in the protection of the son in their old age, as Manu has deemed fit, and stay away from all that gibberish about liberation, emancipation and patriarchy, they could avoid all this misery.
Look, we hold women in exalted esteem. Learning for us is a goddess, so is wealth and prosperity. We venerate demon-slaying woman power. Our puranas tell us how women acquire amazing powers simply by being loyal to their spouse, treating him as their god, even if he errs like a human and strays. How can women be unhappy in India, especially if they show enough sense to stay away from places like Hathras?
Some people say the pandemic pushed many millions into poverty. Millions, nay, billions were actually made on the stock market. The wealth of our billionaires soared, so much faster than the per capita income of Bangladesh so many so-called economists make a fuss about. How can India be unhappy?
We have cricket and cricket stars with happy lives to salivate over. We have Bollywood. We have an endless number of television serials for sentimental catharsis. For serious entertainment involving political fiction and all the nine emotions of classical aesthetics, we have news channels. How can Indians be unhappy?
You complain about petrol at ₹100 a litre? Without that, would we have Shyam Rangeela’s rip-roaring mimicry?
Indians have the most diverse array of desserts from across the far corners of this fair land, to make our mouths water in sweet anticipation: payasam, manoharam, mysore pak, srikhand, barfi, gulab jamun, rosso gola, sandesh, ₹15 lakh in our bank account, $5 trillion economy, kaju katli, imarti, kulfi, jalebi and sevian. How can Indians be unhappy?
So many UNESCO reports have found India to be the greatest nation on WhatsApp, but this UN report on happiness truly lets us down. Only a conspiracy can explain this unhappy paradox.