With Budget 2020 frenzy gripping the nation, I guess my “Right to Smile” is the last thing on anyone’s mind, leave alone the super-busy leaders. For that matter, you may even wonder, and rightly so, whether there’s such a thing as a “Right to Smile.”

But there is my friend, and it’s a fundamental existential need and right of every human being, technically promised to each and every one of us by the people we choose as our political leaders, the guardians of the rule of law and justice and those in charge of our socio-economic well being.

Ages ago, Thomas Jefferson declared “the care of human life and happiness” as the “first and only object of good government.”  Echoing him, John Adams added, “Happiness of society is (thus) the end of government.” Period! The erudite founding fathers had it right way back then.

Without getting into highfalutin jargon, the simple and sure short method therefore of gauging whether these pillars on which the very existence of democracy, and I say democracy since India is apparently one, rests is to monitor an Indian’s “Right to Smile.”

If your score is in the negative, it’s an irrefutable indication of things going horribly wrong. That’s a bright red flag right there because it takes seriously little to bring a smile on someone’s face, and in a situation where even that “little” is denied, alarm bells should be ringing… LOUD!

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Let me explain my “Right to Smile.” It truly takes very little. A sucker for social media, I derive immense pleasure sharing my opinions, pictures, songs and moods on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Insta and LinkedIn. It’s cathartic, it’s invigorating, it’s my way of information building and exchange of thought with individuals whose words mean a lot to me; basically, my chosen route to “freedom of expression.” Works fantastically, for the most part, obviously factoring in things like fake news, social media addiction and trolling. These are part and parcel of life now and it’s best to “handle” them rather than “hide,” though doses of social media detox every now and then that work wonders.

Happiness paradox studies have proven that meaningful social media interactions, the feeling of connectivity and building of mature experiences definitely increase the “smile quotient” of social media users.

So when I am denied my “right” to post happy, positive, colourful and vibrant messages, it bothers me. A great deal. No, I don’t live in Kashmir or anywhere near it, and that is the alarming bit. Right here in the country’s bustling financial capital I feel cheated and robbed of my “Right to Smile” when the hanging of all four convicts in the inhuman Jyoti Singh Gang Rape case is yet again postponed, her harried mother slumped in tears of dejection. Has not justice already been “delayed” enough in a case that brought out country international shame?

I feel cheated and robbed of my “Right to Smile” when students are openly bashed up on campuses with full connivance of those in power. And as if that wasn’t enough the one celebrity who has the balls to stand up with them in solidarity is immediately witch-hunted, her ads dropped, her film, a powerful commentary on one of the ugliest mind-set prevalent in our chauvinistic society, pathetically targeted.

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I feel cheated and robbed of my “Right to Smile” when each day is increasingly becoming just a sum total of another farmer committing suicide failing to feed his own family; another disillusioned millennial committing suicide in the wake of increasing unemployment; another innocent life being lost because the tax-payers’ money wasn’t used to repair potholes but squandered in a statue building competition; another man carries his dead wife’s body on his shoulders for miles in Badaun as he was “denied” ambulance service; another building collapsed, killing several inmates because of rampant corruption; another physically and mentally challenged inmate was sexually abused and another day was spent wondering about the impending environmental doom in the light of burgeoning pollution and fast dwindling eco-empathy despite literacy, despite resounding warnings!

There’s just nothing left to smile about! No use of the smiley emoji anymore.

Everything’s only about anger, mistrust, tears, protest, cuss words, heckling and overall deep-seated discontent across age groups. Individual happiness is almost becoming a guilty pleasure to be indulged in secretly. Simple smiles are lost, fading in a fug of fulmination!

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In the powerful words of one of the world’s most influential thinkers Nelson Mandela, “Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people,” for what counts in life “is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead,” as such, “Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity, and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty.” Doesn’t get any more crystal! So dear leaders, in this cauldron of too many wrongs, can I, a citizen of India, expect to get back one “right” – my “Right to Smile.”

Gunjan Pant Pande speaks her mind in her short stories, blogs, opinion pieces and poems. When not on mom duty she reads, writes, travels, watches re-runs of stand-ups, photographs, paints, knits, chats up her girl gang and cooks soul food with her twist! The views expressed are the author’s own.

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