Freedom to be Happy

Freedom to be Happy

Aheli Moitra

“Clap along if you know what happiness is to you!”

In the first half of 2014, Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ was already played 571,000 times on the United States’ terrestrial radio stations. It reached a total audience of about 3.3 billion. ‘Happy’ went on to become the most successful song of 2014 and continues to induce that skip, or even a twirl, in a happy step.

Williams followed up his act by releasing – actually, screaming out loud – ‘Freedom!’ in 2015. Because, what’s happiness without freedom, right?

At Dr. Kanhaiya Kumar’s election rallies for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections from Bihar’s Begusarai, people are in a state of frenzied happiness as they end his verses with the slogan, ‘Azaadi!’ Most of those attending his rallies are the poor and offer voluntary support (as opposed to the forcible ones garnered by the Very Important Persons of the country) even as Kumar plays a Tambourine with poetic jingles that attracted a sedition charge from the Union government in 2016 (a slogan which major national political parties eventually co-opted!).

The slogan that Kumar uses today, producing great hope for happiness in the people, was re-invented in independent India by feminist Kamla Bhasin in 1991 (inspired, in turn, from Pakistani feminists and pre-independence South Asia). “From patriarchy: Azaadi! From all hierarchy: Azaadi! From endless violence: Azaadi! From helpless silence: Azaadi!” are some of the freedoms that the women’s movement in South Asia aspired for.

Yet, India ranks 140th out of 156 countries in the World Happiness Report 2019 released last month. The World Happiness Report is a survey of the state of global happiness that ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be; it is conducted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. In 2019, Finland is the happiest country in the world.

This year’s ranking saw India slip seven spots deeper into unhappiness since 2018! In the six key variables that support wellbeing – income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity – India was beaten only by Liberia, Comoros, Madagascar, Lesotho, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Botswana and seven others including the conflict-torn South Sudan at 156. Richest country in the world, the United States of America, ranked 19 hinting that mister moneybags may not be the happiest person in the room.

Which brings us back to why Dr. Kanhaiya Kumar’s Azaadi! chant is catching up fast among supporters and detractors this election season. Freedom from hunger, poverty, corruption, hierarchies; freedom to access education without unreasonable questions from rich taxpayers, to walk at night without a threat to life, to participate in a democracy without the army watching over, to eat what we want without a noose round our necks. Freedom to be Happy, as individuals and a collective—when you go out to vote today, vote for this as your topmost priority.

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