Metrics of world happiness and the Muslims of India

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat has again reiterated his oft-repeated statement that the happiest Muslims in the world are in India. But for the Muslims of India, a comparison to Islamic countries is of no relevance at all. In any case, India should compare itself with the Scandinavian countries rather than some of the regressive Muslim regimes. Indian Muslims will be more concerned about the health of Indian democracy and how far the country is upholding or violating the high values enshrined in the Constitution.

Importantly, Mr. Bhagwat. in a clear departure from the Hindutva stand, has asserted that the Constitution nowhere says only Hindus can live in India, or that to live in India one has to accept the supremacy of Hindus. He has also tried to demolish the Hindutva theory of Muslim rule being exclusively Muslim rule by citing the battle of Haldighati (1576) between the Mughals and Rajputs when, he said, many Muslims were on the side of Maharana Pratap Singh and fought against the Mughal army led by another Rajput, Raja Man Singh.

Mr. Bhagwat has repeatedly said that Muslims are equal citizens of this country while Hindutva has been historically making a distinction between indigenous religions and Abrahamic religions. His statement of Hindus not having any superior status in the Constitution is not only consistent with the vision of the Constitution but also signifies abandoning the idea of declaring India as a Hindu Rashtra. Though a welcome departure from the stated position, one should not overnight expect a break from the past on every issue. Any change in the long-held position of the organisation can only be gradual.

How do we assess happiness? In the eighth World Happiness Report of 2020 released in March, India is ranked 144 out of 153 countries. The first five ranks go to Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway, respectively. Even India’s neighbours are ahead — Bangladesh (107), Sri Lanka (130), Nepal (92) and Pakistan (66). The unhappiest people are in Afghanistan (153), South Sudan (152), Zimbabwe (151), Rwanda (150) and the Central African Republic (149).

Key concerns in the country

The variables taken into account include general well-being; positive emotions; supplemental life; circumstances and social environment; inequalities; unemployment; low incomes; discrimination; GDP per capita; life expectancy; freedom; generosity and absence of corruption. In India, with 45-year high unemployment rates (prior to COVID-19) and over 12.2 crore people losing jobs during the lockdown phase, more Indians (not just Muslims) are today worried and unhappy than ever before. Dalits face rising atrocities against them, farmers are unhappy about the enactment of new farm laws, labour unions are disappointed with the new Labour Code and civil society activists are frustrated over the denial of civil liberties, latest FCRA Amendment and the judiciary’s reluctance to even promptly hear habeas corpus petitions.

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Coming back to the Report, most Muslims elsewhere seem happier than Indian Muslims — the United Arab Emirates (21); Saudi Arabia (27); Bahrain (40); Kuwait (48); Libya (80) and Malaysia (82). True, Indian Muslims are certainly better off than Muslims in several Muslim countries due to India’s liberal, egalitarian and secular Constitution and Hinduism’s tolerance. Most Muslim countries are not really democratic and therefore should not be compared with India.

In the recently released World Hunger Index-2020, India ranks 94 out of 107 countries; Pakistan (88) and Bangladesh (75) are ahead. Both Kuwait and Turkey are in the top 17. Other rankings are Tunisia (23); Saudi Arabia (35); Iran (39) and Jordan (43).

On civil liberties

Civil liberties are an important component too in ensuring contentment. India’s rankings should worry the RSS chief. In the World Freedom of Press Index-2020, India was ranked 142 out of 180 countries. Several Muslim countries are ahead — Bosnia-Herzegovina (58); Kosovo (70); Tunisia (72) and Malaysia (101).

In the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, it is a grim situation for India (a global rank of 69 out of 128 countries). Factors such as constraints on governmental power; open government; fundamental rights; order and security, absence of corruption; regulatory enforcement; civil justice system and criminal justice system matter. With verdicts such as the acquittal of all the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, India’s rank is unlikely to improve in 2021. Once again, several Muslim countries are ahead even in the rule of law — the UAE (30); Malaysia (47); Jordon (50); Tunisia (56); Indonesia (59) and Kazakhstan (62). Happiness is also closely related to the state of rule of law. Increasingly, faith in the rule of law is diminishing with some courts becoming more executive minded than the executive itself.

Also read | Decide on plea on Rule of Law Index in 6 months, Supreme Court tells government

Religious freedom

Finally, on freedom of religion, the Indian Constitution grants this freedom to everyone including Muslims, yet its definition of the term Hindu is problematic and is criticised by Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. A denial of Scheduled Caste status to Muslims and Dalit Christians by Presidential order is seen to be discriminatory. Anti-conversion laws of many States require the prior permission of district officials for conversion. Religion being a purely private matter, the state should have no concern with it. Charging protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens with offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and alleging so-called ‘UPSC jihad’ do have a deleterious effect on the emotional health of Muslims, with a predominant feeling of being unwanted and alienation.

Even on religious freedom, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has downgraded India’s ranking in its 2020 report. It is scathing when it says, “India took a sharp downward turn in 2019. The national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims.” Strangely, Afghanistan, Sudan, Indonesia and Egypt have better rankings, while India has been clubbed with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea, Syria, Burma and China (‘Countries of Particular Concern’). The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) defines CPCs as “countries where the government engages in or tolerates ‘particularly severe’ violations of religious freedom.” Under U.S. law, these include violations such as ‘torture, degrading treatment, prolonged detention without charges and other fragrant denial of right to life, liberty or the security of persons’.

The RSS chief is also not right in saying that in no other society does an alien religion still survive. Europe, the Americas, Australia and Africa have Christianity that originated in Jerusalem. Buddhism, from India, is present in a number of countries. Islam, from Saudi Arabia, is strong in several European, African and Asian states, and Australia.

The RSS chief’s statement that Indian Muslims are the happiest lot of Muslims may not be completely true but it would certainly have the much-needed calming effect in assuring Muslims of their rightful and equal claim to India as their country. In an age of majoritarianism, Mr. Bhagwat can certainly help restore sanity, tolerance and accommodation which were essential attributes of classical Hinduism. He should rein in aggressive Hindutva forces and convince them about the values of diversity and the remarkable contribution that Muslims have made to Indian civilisation.

Faizan Mustafa is Vice-Chancellor, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. The views expressed are personal

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 5:29:39 PM |

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