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World Happiness Index: Why India ranks lowest among South Asian peers?

World Happiness Index: On March 20, 2023, the 10th World Happiness Report was released by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. This year, the rankings were allotted on basis of cumulative scores of the past three years. To much surprise of many, India secured 126th position, out of a total of 137 countries considered in the report.

Not just that, the second-largest country in the world in terms of population, India, also lagged behind in the happiness index, in comparison to its South Asian neighbours. Bangladesh ranked 118, Myanmar 117, Sri Lanka 112 and Pakistan 108. The Maldives, which outrated all of its closest neighbours, ranked 87 on the list. Bhutan, which is considered one of the happiest countries in the world was not included in the list this year, as the survey could not be conducted there.

What could have gone wrong for India to have a lower ranking than most of its neighbours and what are the considerations to formulate these rankings? Why Finland has ranked the world’s happiest country, for the sixth year in a row?

Contributors to India’s “unhappiness”

Some of the highlighted indices taken into consideration for the report include the country’s GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support, freedom and level of corruption. In this regard, the findings of the journal article, Analysing Happiness Index as a Measure along with its Parameters and Strategies for Improving India’s Rank in World Happiness Report, published in 2020, provide a better understanding of India’s situation. According to the paper, India, despite fast growth, remains a non-egalitarian nation with high levels of economic inequalities. The richest 1% in India owns almost 73% of the total wealth created in the economy.

Public health spending in India is lower than the global average (SDP’s 1.4%), depriving millions of necessary health facilities and infrastructure. The average life expectancy in India is 69 years, much lower than the world life expectancy average of 74 years. India has failed to build a trustworthy social support system, leaving people in need without adequate assistance. Managing large cash flows sustainably and transparently is difficult in India, leading to corruption and scams at higher levels. This is why India’s rank has dropped in the latest global corruption perception index. India’s lagging response to unresolved cases such as addressing the issues related to refugees and the Rohingya crisis, which are issues for international debate, is also a reason for its declining rank at the global level.

Poverty not just impacts the happiness index

According to an article published in the Asian Journal of Multidisciplinary Research & Review (AJMRR), in March 2021, the happiness index for India is impacted by several social and political factors. The authors position poverty at the apex of the list of factors impacting the country’s happiness score. This is because poverty further leads to poor hygiene conditions, and severely impacts living conditions, basic amenities and overall infrastructure. The authors categorically mention the role of corruption in amalgamation with prevalent poverty to contribute to the low happiness score for India. The paper also mentions the misuse of Government funds, which are allocated for a particular activity that would address the plight of the people, but end up in “wrong pockets”.

With a population close to 1.5 billion, India has a major stake and impact in the South-Asian region in particular and the world in general. Addressing the issues that contribute to the happiness of the general populace is not only crucial for the country but essential for the idea of co-existence.

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