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Madhya Pradesh wants unpaid, untrained volunteers to do bizarre tasks to spread happiness

india Updated: Sep 22, 2017 10:14 IST
Neeraj Santoshi
Neeraj Santoshi
Hindustan Times, Bhopal
Happiness volunteer,Madhya Pradesh,Mandsaur

Mandsaur witnessed violent farmers’ protests over falling prices for their produce in the recent past, resulting in several deaths in police firing. (PTI Photo)

The mandate for Ishwar Patidar is onerous. He is expected to spread happiness in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur though the marginal farmer, who is forced to supplement his meagre income by giving tuitions to children of his neighbourhood, is himself in despair.

Mandsaur witnessed violent farmers’ protests over falling prices for their produce in the recent past, resulting in several deaths in police firing. The immediate future does not look good either. Rainfall in recent days is threatening standing crops, raising the prospect of further penury for farmers such as Patidar.

But irrespective of his dire situation, Patidar is expected by the Madhya Pradesh government to make people happy. More than a year after chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan formed the Rajya Ananda Sansthan – the country’s first happiness department - the job of realising the largely elusive state of mind has fallen on the more than 33,000 unpaid volunteers such as Patidar.

“The task at hand is impossible,” admitted an exasperated Patidar. Called anandak or happiness volunteer by the government, he and others like him are supposed to spread joy among the locals by extending small gestures of kindness such as hugging people or letting others sit on a crowded bus by giving up his own seat. Government officials say the idea is to infuse positivity among the people.

But Madhya Pradesh’s army of happiness volunteers has a lot to be unhappy about. “I am a poor farmer cum teacher. But I want to work for making people happy also, despite my own struggles and unhappiness. I don’t know how to do it amid all these uncertainties. We are not getting due price for our produce, electricity is inadequate for irrigation, not many employment avenues and benefits of most government schemes are non-existant,” lamented Patidar.

That the government has not imparted any training on how to spread happiness is another cause for disappointment. Ashutosh Paliwal has been an anandak since January, but the law graduate wonders how he can contribute in raising the state’s happiness quotient on an empty stomach. “I want people to be happy, but how do you do it when people are struggling on a daily basis. I am myself searching for happiness and battling my own demons,” he said. Having started assisting a senior lawyer, he has no steady income and finds himself in misery, unable to match parental expectations.

Since launching the happiness department in a blaze of publicity, the government, the volunteers claim, has done precious little for masses. Mandsaur, the ground zero of farmers’ unrest, reportedly has two master trainers to tutor the happiness volunteers, mostly from government departments. But none of the volunteers HT spoke to said they had been invited to attend any such coaching sessions.

The government, however, insists that work is underway to make people happier. “Right now, each district has just two master trainers or Anand Sahyogis whose number we want to increase up to six or seven,” said Manohar Dubey, the chief executive of the happiness department. He said the trainers will eventually train the volunteers and also the government employees.

But Veena Singh, a master trainer, said spreading happiness is easier said than done. “Happiness has to be a collective effort of all departments and sections of the society,” she said. Most residents of Mandsaur also did not seem to have much faith in the happiness department. Asked about the Rajya Ananda Sansthan, most thought the question related to the local Anand Medical Store.

First Published: Sep 22, 2017 07:31 IST