Of Happiness & Hunger
By Dhurjati Mukherjee
It was more than surprising to hear Anurag Thakur, the dynamic Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, stating a few days back that “we are on a par with any developed nation”. He further observed that “India has everything that any developed nation in the world has”. Perhaps this is the best comfort he can provide to the poor and the impoverished, the unemployed and the unhappy millions, who have to struggle for an existence. Not just Thakur but even Prime Minister Modi has been lauding the country’s achievements by failing to accept the ground reality of not just poverty but social discord, violence and hatred that has permeated the country in recent times.
Very close to Thakur’s statement was the release (on March 20) of the World Happiness Report which ranked India at a low of 126 out of 137 countries. As per the report, a publication of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, based on global survey data from people in over 150 countries, India is far unhappy than terribly strife-ridden or nearly bankrupt countries such as Ukraine, Iraq, Palestine, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.In fact, in Asia, India is only better off than Afghanistan that was placed at 137th position. It may be mentioned here that last year a Global Hunger Index ranked India at 107 out of 121 countries behind North Korea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Congo. These are no indicators of a developed State, and that development has reached to the lowest tiers of society.
Some experts in the country questioned the measurement of happiness by the Network. It is understood per capita income, charity, corruption, social welfare benefits, and independent decision-making capability are the indexes on how happiness is measured. There is no reason as to why these parameters can be questioned, as economic and social factors play an important role in making people happy. But there is no way that the low level of happiness in the country can be defended. There is no doubt that apart from inequality, widening disparity in incomes, wanton corruption, and social hatred and violence are manifest in society, thereby destabilising social relations.
Another very startling finding that goes counter to Thakur’s observation is that nearly two among 10 infants or toddlers in India face the risk of not receiving any food whatsoever for a full day, according to a study that also revealed virtually no change in this measure of food deprivation. It found that the proportion of children between six months and 23 months who hadn’t eaten any food with substantial calorific content increased from 17.2 percent in 2016 to 17.8 percent in 2021. This data ‘contained something unusual and unexpected,’ said S.V. Subramanian, Professor of population health at Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study.
Researchers, who extracted data from the government’s own family health surveys, stated that they generated the country’s first estimates for the prevalence of ‘zero food’ children that underline the need to redesign food practices to reach some of the most vulnerable households. The ‘zero food’ prevalence have fallen in most States but increased in others, including sharp rises of 10 percentage points in Uttar Pradesh and 12.8 percentage points in Chhattisgarh have offset those gains. It may be mentioned here that U.P had the highest prevalence (27.4 percent) of ‘zero food’ children followed by Chhattisgarh (24.6 percent), Jharkhand (21 percent), Rajasthan (19.8 percent) and Assam (19.4 percent).
These have not come to light as health experts have conveniently measured malnutrition only through reductions in stunting and wasting levels among children. “The data contained something unusual and unexpected — we don’t expect young children between six months and 23 months to go entirely unfed for a whole 24 hours,” said S.V. Subramanian, a professor of population health at Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study.
Added to all this, one cannot brush aside the recent tweet of the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi that “income of the poor is down by 50 percent, middle class down by 10 percent and rich increased by 10 percent”. Reports have suggested that over 80 percent of Indians suffered a loss of income since Covid-19 stuck. Rahul said the poor are becoming poorer and the rich richer in Modi’s dispensation, a claim corroborated in the Oxfam report.
The above-mentioned examples are not an end in itself and there are umpteen cases which reflect the sufferings of the poor and the impoverished. As I have mentioned in several of my articles, the understanding of development by the planners is flawed as, in any particular case, the number of beneficiaries of a project are rarely taken into consideration. The much-hyped rural employment programme is not being expanded on the one hand, and on the other the Union Budget has been curtailed and it is not possible to provide employment for more than 35 days a year.
It may be pertinent here to refer to the well-known economist, Meghnad Desai’s recent book titled ‘The Politics of Political Economy: How Economics Abandoned the Poor’, wherein he concludes the need for promoting a more humane economy. He talks about the provision of a basic income for all and provides some ideas on how to make it feasible. The now well-known universal basic income is opposed on two grounds – fiscal difficulty in raising resources for distribution and the possibility of people losing the incentive to work. It needs to be mentioned here that capitalism may never be able to come up with full employment or zero poverty. Keeping this in view, there is need to evolve a strategy free from the clutches of vested interests who are keen to sustain poverty and inequality in society.
Big claims by political leaders may impact the illiterate or even the half-educated masses but they have little impact on the educated sections. Moreover, it sometimes appears amazing that political leaders sitting in plush offices in Delhi – or even in the State capitals – are either ignorant or appear to be ignorant of the ground reality. The rural mass continues to suffer in various ways due to lack of social infrastructure, proper and balanced diet for children and pregnant women, affordable healthcare for the elderly etc.
At such a juncture, the future looks grim and dark. Liberal democracy is completely paralysed as social structure is controlled by half educated sycophants and the economy controlled by a coterie of rich corporations, who are allegedly corrupt but loyal to the party in power. The socio-economic parameters are on the decline, while history is being rewritten by ignorant sycophants who know not, they know not. The prevailing system of garnering votes by hook or by crook without bothering to understand the real future of the country is a big mistake by whichever government is in power. The question arises where will this lead us to? — INFA