Friday, March 29, 2024

Agriculture, Caste, Religion and Happiness in South Asia

Pakistan's agriculture sector GDP grew at a rate of 5.2% in the October-December 2023 quarter, according to the government figures. This is a rare bright spot in the overall national economy that showed just 1% growth during the quarter. Strong performance of the farm sector gives the much needed boost for about 37% of Pakistan's workforce engaged in agriculture. It helps the country's rural economy improve their living standards. In the same period, India's agriculture sector that employs 43% of the workforce slowed to 1.2% growth. This could be one possible contributing factor for Pakistan (rank108) significantly outperforming India (rank 126) on the World Happiness Index once again. 

World Happiness Map 2023. Source: Gallup

Pakistan has seen bumper crops of rice, corn, wheat, sugar and cotton this fiscal year after the devastation caused by massive floods in the prior year. During the first six months of the current fiscal year 2023-24, exports of agro and food products from Pakistan have soared by 64% as compared to the same period during 2022-2023. In the month of December alone, there was a growth of 118%, as $882 million of food was exported as compared  to $404 million in the same month in 2022-23. Pakistan's gains in the food export market have come at a time when India has had to limit or ban exports of rice, corn, sugar and other commodities due to crop failures.  

The World Happiness Report attributes India's poor ranking in the Index to widespread caste discrimination in the country. Older Indians belonging to upper castes, and “never experience[d] discrimination or ill-treatment” were “more satisfied with their lives”, according to the report.

Caste discrimination contributed “significantly to the caste-based discrepancies in life satisfaction”, the research showed. Caste backgrounds determined access to education, social services, health care or financial security in India.  Individuals with secondary or higher education, and those of higher social castes reported higher life satisfaction than those without access to formal education and those from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).

Another factor contributing to India's unhappiness is the ruling party's targeting of its minorities, including Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. Here's an excerpts from Rohit Khanna's piece in The Quint describing this issue:

"In recent years, 20 percent of India, our minorities, have been targeted – economically, socially, and physically. We have all seen multiple viral videos calling for the economic boycott of Muslims, of them being mob-lynched on the roads, of their homes being bulldozed, of inter-faith marriages being targeted as ‘love-jihad’ and more. We have seen videos of Christian pastors and congregations being roughed up, and of church buildings being vandalised. We have seen protesting Sikh farmers being vilified on communal lines as ‘Khalistanis’". 

Average MPCE (Monthly Per Capita Consumption Expenditure) for Indian Muslims is only Rs. 2,170.  Average MPCE for upper caste Hindus is Rs. 3,321, the highest of all groups. Lower caste Hindus fare much worse than upper caste Hindus, according to Indian government data

Average Monthly Per Capita Consumption Expenditure by Caste in India. Source: Hindustan Times

India is almost totally dominated by the upper caste Hindus. It is not just the 220 million Dalits (untouchables), or the 190 million Muslims, or the 110 million from “scheduled tribes” (Adivasis)  who are under-represented in positions of power and privilege, but also the 40-50% of Hindus who come from the widest tier of the pyramid, the shudras or laboring castes, known as Other Backwards Classes (OBCs), according to a report in The Economist Magazine.

Some Indians claim without evidence that the Indian Muslims are richer than Pakistani Muslims. The fact is that the average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) in Pakistan was PKR 5,959 in 2019-20, the year closest to the 2021-22 for which the Indian MPCE data is available. Using the 2019 average exchange rate of 2.136 PKR to INR, this works out to MPCE of INR 2,789 in Pakistan, higher than for Indian Hindus (INR 2,470) and Muslims (INR 2,170).  As to the cost of living in the two countries, Pakistan is 15.8% cheaper than India without rent and 20.1% cheaper with rent, according to Numbeo

While it is true the Pakistani currency has suffered significant devaluation in the last couple of years, there have been large increases in wages. Pakistan's minimum wage has increased 14 times since 2001, from 14% to 67%. The minimum wage for unskilled workers in 2023 is 32,000 Pakistani rupees per month, up from 25,000 rupees in 2022. The cost of living has been a key factor in determining the new rate. 

Income Poverty in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Source: Our World in Data

Over 75% of the world's poor deprived of basic living standards (nutrition, cooking fuel, sanitation and housing) live in India compared to 4.6% in Bangladesh and 4.1% in Pakistan, according to a recently released OPHI/UNDP report on multidimensional poverty.  Here's what the report says: "More than 45.5 million poor people are deprived in only these four indicators (nutrition, cooking fuel, sanitation and housing). Of those people, 34.4 million live in India, 2.1 million in Bangladesh and 1.9 million in Pakistan—making this a predominantly South Asian profile". 

Related Links:


Zen, Germany said...

worth thinking how much of the misery of north indian muslims has to be attributed to caste within muslim community..something which does not exist in Islam, but made its way into community

Riaz Haq said...

Zen: "worth thinking how much of the misery of north indian muslims has to be attributed to caste within muslim community"

Please note the MPCE graph of government data for various castes/religions.

It shows that that there is very little economic inequality among Indian Muslims. MPCE is INR 2164 for ST/SC/OBC Muslims versus INR 2180 for other Muslims.

On the other hand, there is a huge caste-based MPCE gap among Hindus.

ST Hindus are at INR 1789, SC Hindus at INR 2095, OBC Hindus at INR 2393 and upper caste Hindus at INR 3321.

Vineeth said...

I see that you are finally reconciled to Pakistan being ruled by the familiar faces in the form of a PDM 2.0 (+ ME) for the forseeable future, and we are therefore back to our old India-bashing routine. But with your zeal to highlight how and why India scored worse than Pakistan in one index or the other, are you forgetting (or choosing not to talk about) another index that downgraded Pakistan significantly in its recent rankings? With its ranking at 41 as a "flawed democracy" in EIU's democracy index, India under Modi still seems to score much higher than Pakistan which ranked at 118 as "authoritarian". (Not that it should matter for "happiness" though. People living under authoritarian political systems and enduring high inflation and a grinding economic crisis could well be "happier" than those living under a "flawed democracy" with moderate inflation, I guess.)

But I'm not gloating here about India's better ranking vis-a-vis Pakistan in EIU's Democracy index. The extent of the witch hunt launched by Modi's "establishment" here against opposition parties and leaders in the name of "corruption" and "unpaid taxes" right before Parliament election reminds me very much of all the pre-poll rigging that Pakistan's ME engineered during the past year to keep IK out of power. So, I wouldn't be surprised to see India's democracy rankings slip further next time. (Not that voting masses here care about these rankings.)

Anyways, my point is that both Indians and Pakistanis are essentially stuck in the same mud pit. We are all equally dirty. Indians mocking Pakistan and Pakistanis mocking Indians for each other's faults and failings is like the classic case of pot calling kettle black. In one socio-economic index Pakistan may score a bit better than India, and in another it may score a bit worse, but essentially both nations are under-performers languishing at the bottom, the only question being who is doing *worse*. The only real difference I see between the two countries these days is that India's economic fundamentals are relatively stronger (no thanks to Modi) and therefore it doesn't face the sort of acute economic crisis that Pakistan seems to be grappling with.

And as for religious tolerance, we know that Islamic Republic of Pakistan isn't exactly a paradise of religious freedom either for its minority Hindus, Ahmedis and Christians, and the socio-economic condition of these minorities in Pakistan may well be worse than that of its Muslims. In fact, those liberal Indians who feel concerned about rising religious intolerance under Modi rule lament that India is increasingly turning into a Hindu version of Pakistan, which isn't exactly a flattering comparison.

And by the way, crop failures are not the only reason why Modi govt banned exports of many agricultural commodities. They wouldn't want inflation to spike in an election year. For the same reason, even fuel prices here have been kept static for the past year despite all the ups and down in the oil market. But its quite likely the ban on agricultural exports would be lifted and fuel prices hiked once the election results are announced. Its largely a political decision.

Also, "shudras" are actually a class (working class) and many upper castes themselves may be classified as "shudras" in the 4-tier "Varna" classification (i.e. Kshatriya - Warrior/Ruler, Brahmana - Priest, Vaishya - Trader, Shudra - worker). For instance, I belong to the Nair caste in Kerala state which is considered a dominant "upper caste" here, but a "shudra" by Varna.

Zen, Germany said...


I think there are some muslims in India with lots of money, but they are tail end. But overall upliftment of the community is held back by caste among muslims. Being equal among poorest and most backward doesn't help.

Vineeth said...

I happened to come across the following article in DAWN today, and I am curious to know how this report can be reconciled to the assertions in your articles that Pakistan is somehow doing better than India in socio-economic indicators despite its grinding economic crisis. (This is not to say India is doing a stellar job at the economic upliftment of its people either. Like I said in my earlier comment, both nations are essentially stuck in the same mud pit and bickering over who is "dirtier".)


- Naseer Memon, Published April 6, 2024

"THE UNDP’s Human Development Report for 2023-24 ranks Pakistan 164th out of 193 countries. Last year, Pakistan stood at 161. Its decline on the Human Development Index (HDI) did not create much of a stir in the country. Perhaps few were surprised, considering the protracted political instability, the colossal losses resulting from the 2022 floods, poor governance and staggering inflation."

"Among the eight Saarc countries, only Pakistan and Afghanistan fall in the ‘low human development’ category. India (134), Bangladesh (129), Nepal (146), Bhutan (125) and the Maldives (87) come under the ‘medium development’ category, whereas Sri Lanka, while slipping to 78 from 73, because of its nightmarish economic meltdown, remains in the ‘high development’ category. Some of the other countries, too, have slipped, including India, Nepal and Afghanistan, whereas Bangladesh has maintained its position and Bhutan and the Maldives have been ranked higher than previously."

"While most of the Saarc countries do not have an enviable presence on the human development map, Pakistan consistently remains below them with the exception of war-torn Afghanistan. It trailed Nigeria and Rwanda, while it has performed only slightly better than Sudan, Eritrea and Ghana, all chronically low performers. A closer look shows that Pakistan particularly went down in expected years of schooling for both females (from 8.1 to 7.3 years) and males (from 9.2 to 8.4 years)."

"The recent report also provides a look at the performance trajectory from 2015 to 2022. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries in the Saarc region whose human development status plunged during these seven years. Afghanistan dropped by eight levels, while Pakistan descended three rungs. This should be a real cause of concern for our policymakers, ie, it is not just a transitory decline in a single year but a continuous downslide. On this scale, all other Saarc countries have performed progressively. Maldives (+13), Bhutan (+10), and Bangladesh (+12) have demonstrated impressive gains in human development. Sri Lanka, India and Nepal ascended by six, four and three steps respectively."