Ministry of happiness
By Shanta Gokhale

Did you notice a news item in an inside page of your newspaper which told you that the government of Maharashtra was in the process of starting a Happiness Department to ensure your happiness?

Last year around this time, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, had made a similar announcement, calling the proposed new department Anand Vibhag. Speaking to the press on the occasion he had said with a mournful expression, “What is the point of running a government if people keep shedding tears?” In response to a pesky journalist’s suggestion that ensuring basic needs might perhaps help wipe away many people’s tears, he had said with an airy gesture as of a light-weight road block being moved out of the way, “Roti, kapda, makan, shiksha, arogya — these basic needs must of course be met. But it is equally important to inculcate a drishtikon through school text books, a positive way of looking at life.” Armed with this drishtikon, he asserted, young people would stop committing suicide. There was grandeur, a certain sense of making history, in the way Chouhan spoke of the innovative step he was taking. “We are in search of happiness,” he said in the tone of a seeker. “Let other States, even nations, follow us.’’ Considering that 117 nations stood above us in the UN’s World Happiness report that year, only sub-Saharan Africa, which had fared worse than us, was likely to apply for Chouhan’s template.

But Maharashtra has now decided to follow him. We are in the midst of the worst agitation by farmers that we have seen in a long time. After high production caused a slump in prices, farmers have been up in arms demanding a loan waiver. Seeing no early end to the agitation, the government has agreed to cough up Rs 30,000 crore. Why then, when it must be weeping buckets into its already empty treasury, is it thinking of starting a brand new department? But the announcement has been made. Soon a committee of experts will be invited to advise the government on the objectives and methods of the Happiness Department and we shall wait with bated breath to be made happy.

Although happiness is an entirely subjective state, the United Nations has broken it down into six measurable parameters by which to gauge a country’s happiness. The first is income, then comes a healthy life expectancy followed by having someone to count on in times of trouble, which means social support; individual generosity which means donations to public welfare causes; freedom to make life choices, and trust, measured by the absence of corruption in business and government. Let us look at certain aspects of these six parameters in Maharashtra to see why India stands at a lowly 122 in this year’s world happiness rankings.

Income: 17.35 per cent of our population exists, rather than lives, below the poverty line and 21 of every 1000 employable persons are unemployed. Health: Infant and maternal mortality stand at 25 infants per 1000, and 85 mothers for every 1,00,000 live births. In Norway, this year’s happiest country, only 8.7 mothers die for every 1,00,000 births.

Social support: This is unquantifiable. But instances of people and police standing by while men are lynched on mere suspicion have grown to grisly proportions. Generosity: A great deal of individual generosity is directed towards the gods. Between 2009 and 2013 devotees enriched the Shirdi Sai Baba temple by Rs 1,009 crore in cash collections and Siddhivinayak temple by Rs 206 crore.
Freedom: Again unquantifiable. But we know that governments, aided by gaurakshaks, are doing everything in their power to prevent India’s beef-eating communities from exercising their freedom to follow their culinary culture while the freedom to stand up for one’s ideas and values invites harassment, even bullets.
Trust: Considering that bribe-takers held back files till bribe-givers, hamstrung by demonetisation, had legal cash in hand to bribe; considering that the BMC man who comes to unchoke choked drains extends his hand for chai-pani, and the policemen still collects his protection money from hawkers, there is a high trust deficit in public agencies.
Therefore, wisely, the Happiness Department intends focusing only on governance which, says the UN, most impacts two of the six happiness parameters–social support and trust.

So we can breathe easy. We aren’t going to start getting messages from the new department telling us to drink cow’s milk for health and happiness. Because, whatever cow-believers may think of me, I love buffalo milk. Period.