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India Scores Badly on the Global Peace Index

Saturday, July 04, 2009 at 09:51 AM EDT

India slipped 15 points on the Global Peace Index (GPI) ranking, from 107 in 2008 to 122 (out of 144 countries) in 2009. Whether one gives any credence to these rankings or whether one accepts the definition of peace as stated by them, what I can say from my personal experience is that as a citizen I have perceived a deterioration of “peace” over the past two decades. At one time I perceived India to be peaceful and safe. I guess I was protected from the kind of violence in society that one read about in the newspapers (gender violence and crime) and I believed that as long as one kept away from the underworld and otherwise led a clean life one was relatively safe from crime and violence. In any case there was nothing in our daily lives to graphically remind us of a violent world…there was no checking at parks and malls and cinema halls, no bomb blasts and no terrorism. And no cable television.

There were wars though. As a child I remember rushing to hide under tables, running to safety at the sound of the siren, blackening our windows to prevent enemy planes from seeing city lights…but well, 1971 passed.

As time went on I realised that India was not as safe as I had imagined. There were incidents…like the time I was caught in a serious stone pelting incident (I was in a cab) when the news of Sanjay Gandhi’s accidental death spread. There was the time when I was stranded in a car on a burning street…in the midst of the 1984 riots, the day after Indira Gandhi was shot. When we were in Bangalore I’ve seen trouble because of the water sharing issue. Every year it seemed to be getting worse. Riots and bombs, riots and bombs, riots and bombs…and cable television was bringing it live into our homes.

Still, many of us think of India as a peaceful country. But this is not what the world thinks. Here is the map:

How the GPI is calculated
The Global Peace Index takes into account qualitative as well as quantitative factors relating to political stability, corruption, education, human rights, criminality and so on. There are 23 “indicators” under three broad categories: measures of ongoing domestic and international conflict, measures of safety and security in society and measures of militarization. The more the militarization, the worse the score.

The best and the worst
The most peaceful countries are New Zealand, Denmark and Norway, Iceland, Austria and Sweden. Sudan, Israel, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq are the bottom five. India may not be last, but it is ranked only a little better than Pakistan (137) and Sri Lanka (125).

Regional rankings
India does not fare well even if we look at it from a regional angle. India falls under the Asia and Australia region and here it ranks 20 out of 25, beating only Pakistan, Aghanistan, North Korea and Mynamar. Our regional leaders in peace are New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan.

Why does India score so badly?
Well, India has too many external and internal conflicts and then we score poorly when it comes to perceptions of criminality and corruption in society, respect for human rights, gender equality, potential for terrorist acts, the level of violent crime, likelihood of violent demonstrations, ease of access to weapons and level of military sophistication.

India scored alright on factors like political stability, military expenditure as a percentage of GDP (less), our fair electoral processes, and freedom of the press.

Is the GPI an accurate barometer?
No system can be quite “accurate” but it can certainly give us a reasonable guideline. Critics of the GPI say that the USA should have got a better rank as America’s high military expenditure gives a skewed picture because the USA is one of those countries which fights for the defense of other countries. That internally the USA is a peaceful country. Others believe that gender violence is not given adequate weightage in the index (for example female feticide and infanticide in China.) There are also those who bemoan the fact that “political and social freedom play no role in the rankings…that is why a totalitarian state like Cuba would be considered more peaceful than many a free country, like the USA for example.

I think when it comes to measuring peace (which I see as something affecting a peaceful, law-abiding citizen) then whether a state is totalitarian or not shouldn’t make a difference. Even if China is communist and Cuba has a dictator and Singapore is totalitarian I shouldn’t think it matters as long as the citizens are protected from random senseless violence. And perpretrators of such violence are put behind bars. India is democratic but I do not see those who indulge in rioting being punished. I do not see us fighting terrorism and naxalism effectively.

What do the peaceful countries have in common?
Small and politically stable countries do well. The fact that these countries have more or less homogeneous populations plays an important part in their peacefulness. Diversity can be a problem, particularly if the government and the police and the judiciary is weak and/or corrupt. In India our government spends its time dividing the people on the basis of caste and religion for the sake of votes and the opposition parties do the same.

Economic prosperity, a high literacy rate and equal opportunities for all go a long way in removing frustration from the minds of the people.

There are those who believe that the lack of religiosity is important and say that countries with the most atheists are more peaceful. Well, religious fanatics who believe in conversions do divide people and sow the seeds of violence. India is a religious country, with more than 90 percent of its population religious. If one compares it to Sweden, one of the most peaceful countries of the world, 85% of its population is atheist/agnostic. The USA though has a lot of religious people – 59% of its population.

Which is then the most critical? Personally I think that economic prosperity and strong governments which come down hard on criminals irrespective of their political and religious leanings are the critical factors.

Related Reading: Indians believe their judiciary to be tainted
There is no reason or justifcation for violence
Rural and urban crime patterns of the world
Violent crime pattern in different parts of the world

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