THE 'SAVE KERALA' INITIATIVE

THE 'SAVE KERALA' INITIATIVE

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Welfare and banana leaf thalis – a foreign student’s take on Kerala, Part 1

My name is Olof Blomqvist, and I’m originally from Sweden but have spent the last three years at the University of London, where I’ve just graduated from a BA in Journalism and Contemporary History. This August I visited Kerala on a scholarship from my university to carry out a project about what the future of the state might look like, and I especially wanted see if the ‘Kerala Model’ could lead to economic growth, something it in a lot of people’s opinion has failed to do. While researching the project I came across this blog, and after mailing back and forth with Mind Curry for a while, he asked me if I wanted to post something about my experiences, which I was more than happy to do. So, here it is – I’ve tried to sum up my project and my conclusions briefly, and also write something about my personal experiences in Kerala (apologies for all the numbers and stats in this part, but I need them to prove my point - the next part will be more about my personal experiences and opinions).

I arrived in Trivandrum in early August and stayed for about two weeks, and then moved north through Kollam, Kochi, and Calicut, until I flew home from Mumbai. I had done most of my research in advance, so while on site I spent my time doing interviews with everyone from politicians like Oommen Chandy, to V.J. Jayakumar, the CEO of Technopark, to academics, or just everyday Keralites; and visiting key places, like government institutions, the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum, or the Malayala Manorama’s headquarters. I had an excellent time in Kerala, both because it's very hard to not like God's Own Country (how can you not love a place where you can have a beer by the Arabian Sea?), and because I was able to reach the conclusions I had hoped to, which I will try to present below. If you have any comments or criticism I'd love to hear it - it would be great to get some feedback from actual Keralites!

God’s Own Country rising – remittances, welfare and economic growth

Basically, the standard narrative about Kerala’s development process over the past decade and a half has been that even if the ‘Kerala Model’ has made some remarkable achievements in terms of human development, it is ultimately ‘unsustainable’ since it has not been able to stimulate enough economic growth. This has been dubbed as Kerala’s ‘lopsided development’, and has its roots in the fiscal crisis of the late 1980s, and the barren years in the 1970s-‘80s, and even into the ‘90s, when Kerala’s economy had stagnated and the state’s growth rate significantly lagged behind the rest of India’s. The first thing I realised when I started talking to people in Kerala was that this narrative had to be turned on its head – Kerala’s economy has since the mid-1990s not only caught up with the average growth rate in India, but even surpassed it, with the growth rate of 2005 being as high as 9.2 per cent. I’m sure this won’t come as news to any of you, you probably heard it repeated an endless number of times during the election campaign last May, but what was interesting to discover was what the actual causes for Kerala’s growth spurt had been.

While political leaders from both the LDF and the UDF have been quick to take credit – Chandy certainly did so when I interviewed him, claiming that the UDF’s pro-investment policies were to thank – the fact is that Kerala’s turnaround dates back much further than whatever short-term agenda any state government has been able to push through. As one of the people I talked to, Dr K.P. Kannan from the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum, has shown in this EPW article, the upswing actually started as far back as 1987, even if it has mainly made itself felt from the mid-1990s. Some of it can be explained by the economic reforms Rajiv Gandhi pushed through over the whole of India, but in a state with an industrial sector as weak as Kerala’s this does not tell the full story. Instead, what new research points to is that what for years was thought to hold Kerala back – the peculiar economic model of ‘lopsided development’ – has actually been the spark for Kerala’s growth spurt. Kerala’s economy is growing because of – not in spite – the money that for decades has been spent building up India’s best welfare system. As Dr Kannan told me: “Kerala’s high levels of human development have become the state’s greatest asset. The old song about high levels of human development but no economic growth needs to change.”

How has this happened? A large part of the answer lies in how remittances have affected Kerala. The great exodus of Keralites to the Gulf Countries during the 1970s oil boom was to a large extent possible because of the benefits these workers had gained from growing up in Kerala (better health and education, and more awareness of opportunities beyond their state). The money they send back today makes up 25% of the state budget, and one third of all remittances to India. It has not only helped to stimulate consumption levels in Kerala, which are among the highest in country, but it has also kick-started the boom in the tertiary (or service) sector of industry –IT, tourism, banking, private health care, etc. – that has been the driving force behind Kerala’s economic growth spurt. While neither the manufacturing industry nor agriculture has experienced any significant growth over the past decade, the service sector now makes up something like 65% of the state economy, and has since 1986 until today gone from a growth rate of 3.25% to 7.5%. The remittances also probably served to underestimate Kerala’s economy throughout the financial dark ages, since they do not count directly towards the GDP.

There are also other, more indirect ways that the welfare system has contributed to the turnaround. There are many studies that show a direct link between a developed welfare system and economic growth – well-educated and healthy people are able to work harder, are more creative, and generally more productive members of society. Especially in an economy as dependent on the modern service sector of industry as Kerala’s is, well educated workers are indispensable. The ‘Kerala Model’ has also provided an excellent base for the future, with low birth rates, increasing per capita incomes, and easy access to health care and education meaning that the new generation of Keralites growing up now will be of better quality than any before. Thanks to the low rate of population growth, there has also been a demographic shift that has bumped up the working population’s (15 to 59 years) share of the population to 60% - meaning that Kerala has an abundance of human resources in terms of educated workers. In short, Kerala has entered into what in development economics is called a ‘virtuous circle’, where the earlier investments in welfare is leading to economic growth, which in its turn is leading to more money spent on human development, and so on. (If you’re interested in more details about how the welfare system has led to economic growth, I really recommend the 2005 Kerala Human Development Report, which outlines the state’s whole development experience, or this article by Achin Chakraborty).

I’ll post the second part (on the challenges Kerala faces in the future, and some of my personal experiences/thoughts) during the week, thanks for reading this far!

21 comments:

Mind Curry said...

olof, at the outset we thank you for taking time to make Kerala your topic of study, and visiting our dearest state. its great that you could visit us as we marched onto our 50th year. we feel proud.

we also convey our deep appreciation for taking time to write on this blog. it truly is an honor.

Mind Curry said...

i think this article is truly an eye-opener in many senses, and i am sure its really great to get the facts straight from your perspective, supported by such good research and data.

while as keralites we have felt proud of our land, our main grouse is that we never achieved our true potential as a state or as keralites, despite the fact that our state is/was blessed with abundant resources, and its people supposedly healthier, literate and possibly luckier in many ways compared to other states.

personally i attribute this "lack of achieving potential" mostly to the politicians and the mentality that has pervaded (or instilled) into the mind of the keralite. and that is the whole surmise of this initiative. the very title of this blog is a campaign against these two factors, breaking out of which could just liberate ourselves into a whole new world, one that would be worthy of the title God's Own Country.

while politicians, left or right, may take credit for the 9.2% growth rate we caught a glimpse of, it is apparent that it was achieved DESPITE them. and its truly heart-breaking to see how the state has had to send out its children to reach that level of growth. while people who took pride in "working in the Gulf", it is also important to note the struggle and torment behind that pride - a pride achieved through working as labourers and back-breaking jobs in lands where others could not identify them, a pride that at some level prevented us doing the same in our own land.

at the same note i have to say that its not just the pride that has prevented people from working in kerala. it is also largely attributable to the lack of jobs within kerala - why the jobs are not there is attributed to many factors and is debated, and much political as well. if you consider the tag which has fallen on the state - antidevelopment, investment-unfriendly etc - its obvious there is serious work that we need to do, before Kerala can bring back her children.

its true that 9.2% sounds good, but it could have been much higher..and it would have been much more satisfying had it been a reflection of the wealth created from the sweat and labor within the state. that would have been more satisfying and more inspiring for each malayali. on the whole, i think its make or break situation for Kerala with the Gulf remittances beginning to wane, and almost every family feeling the heart-break of being separated. and i think the youth of the state have begun to realize this to some extend, and i hope we are on the verge of a big change.

this is a great article olof, and touches upon a plenty of things to be proud of, as well as inspires us into thinking about a lot of things.

abhishek said...

Olof...welcome to the blog! And a great beginning post!

You are spot on in your analysis. Kerala's finances are hanging by a shoestring and the ongoing growth sustained by remittances is no way to run an economy sustainably.

Alex M Thomas said...

Olof,
Good analysis.

Kerala's growth can be mainly attributed to foreign remittances just as these remittances contribute significantly to the Indian assets.

This is what fuels the consumption boom happening in Kerala economy and definitely some of the policies undertaken by the government has supported this 'spurt'.

About you saying, this growth is sustainable, i am not sure. Being in a 'virtuous circle' is a feat in itself. The problems faced are numerous.[I am waiting for your 2nd part]

The high human development which Kerala has been able to achieve is definitely commendable. Schools are common in this state, which has contributed to rising education levels.

Sadly, employment opportunities in Kerala is bleak.

~Alex

Jiby said...

Olof, thanks for a very informative article. the sad part about the kerala model today and all those social indices that we are so proud of is that the welfare mechanism is loosing quality due to the government just not having enough money to nourish it. after paying salaries and repaying debts i wonder what is left for the upkeep of govt.hospitals, funding of govt.schools, etc.

And what i find is kerala's worst tragedy is the poor quality of the collegiate and university level education in kerala...almost every brilliant school student i knew who went to college in kerala came out mediocre, wasted and with ambitions which had scaled down from the skies. nowadays malayalis born/living outside kerala corner all the glory in every field of activity in india...this was not the case until the 80's when some of the most brilliant writers, filmmakers, bureaucrats, etc all were homebred people...i lay the blame squarely on the stagnation that has set in, in every college and univ in kerala.

one again very nice post...got me thinking...just like every other article that has been posted in this blog...am happy that you are optimistic about the future of the state...dunno why but these days i am pessimistic of kerala doing well under the present socio-political setup but i believe economics and a resurgent, vibrant youth(hoping against hope!) in kerala can be a leveller from this morasse we have sunk into.

Anonymous said...

DEAR OLOF,
THAT WAS AN EXCELLENT READ. YOUR RESEARCH WORK AND ANALYSIS ON THE SMALL STATE OF KERALA IS REALLY COMMENDABLE. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. GOD BLESS.
YOUR OPTIMISM ABOUT THE STATE IS WELL APPRECIATED. BUT, I PERSONALLY FEEL THAT THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC SITUATION IN THE STATE WILL IMPROVE ONLY IF THE SO CALLED POLITICIANS TRY TO DO SOMETHING FOR THE STATE RATHER THAN CONCENTRATING ONLY ON FILLING THEIR POCKETS.
LOOING FORWARD TO YOUR NEXT ARTICLE.
REGARDS,
DR J SUNIL KUMAR ELANKATH,
CONSULTANT SURGEON,
INDIRA GANDHI MEMORIAL HOSPITAL,
MALE', REP. OF MALDIVES.

Anonymous said...

Just one correction. GNP does include net foreign remittances. GDP, the more frequently used measure of growth, does not.

PCM said...

Dear Olof,
First of all, let me thank you for your excellent study. Your mention of the 9.2% growth exhilarates me, but I have certain surmises regarding the way it has been achieved. As you said, each politician is only too ready to take the credit for this achievement, though they have done nothing consciously or otherwise to achieve this. According to a report that appeared in Malayalamanaorama Special Edition of celebrating 50 years of Kerala, more than 20 lakhs of people are working outside Kerala and they send an amount of more than 18,000 crores of Rupees every year now – which used to be 3000 crores about 15 years back. As far as the relatives of those working outside Kerala are concerned, it is easy money that comes to them, and they have no qualms about throwing it away in a spendthrift manner. All the money percolates into the society, which makes Kerala an ‘affluent State’. What will happen – God forbid – if these 20 lakhs lose their jobs one day owing to some policy changes of foreign countries and they are forced to return?
Again, let me ask, what is the contribution of ‘Kerala Model’ in this achievement? There are none in the state to do traditional jobs like climbing the coconut tree or working on the farms. People from Orissa and Tamilnadu have to be imported to do this job. The job of ironing clothes has now become the monopoly of Tamil workers. Carpenters and blacksmiths are few and far between. Masons are on high demand and need to be paid heavily. Even the ordinary labourers demand exhorbitant daily wages, which drives away contractors from undertaking Road and Railway works.
The atmosphere existing in Kerala for the past 25-30 years has done only one thing – drive people away from the State to work somewhere else. Be it the Gulf countries or other States in India. They will do even menial jobs there and send their earnings to Kerala, which their relatives spend freely on liquor and other extravaganza. The political parties will see to it that our children do not get proper education by disrupting the system in whatever way they can.
Yet, the State thrives. That is the power of God. That’s why Kerala is God’s own Country!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Olof said...

First of all many thanks for all the comments and giving me the opportunity to post my findings here, it's really been excellent getting feedback from actual Keralites who are clued up on what I'm talking about. I'll try to respond to some of your comments, but I'll be talking about many of the issues you've raised (unemployment, etc.) in the second part of my post, so stay tuned for that!

Mind Curry, I agree with you that Kerala's politicians have probably been more of a hinder than a help in getting Kerala where it is today. There is actually very little difference between the UDF and the LDF in terms of policy, both are pretty much left-of-centre, and they seem to waste a lot of time squabbling with each other over ridiculously minute details. The Human Development Report also talks about some areas where Kerala already has all the resources necessary to succeed, but politicians have messed up the implementation process - like providing better electricity supply, for instance.

abhishek, alex, and many others: I agree with you that an economy to 25% made up of remittances is not the most stable base for the future, but the point I'm trying to make is that those remittances are at the moment helping to build up something within Kerala that will provide that base - a flourishing service-based economy, etc. And the emigration levels from Kerala are still high, so most things point to that the remittances will keep on coming for the foreseeable future. Of course the goal has to be to provide more jobs within Kerala so that workers won't have to move, and it is a paradox that workers from as far away as Bihar and WB are imported to do menial jobs, but it's also a pretty understandable one, since most people have aspirations matching their qualifications. This is sort of the curse of a "too" educated population - civil engineers don't want to pick coconuts. (But like I said, I'll try to write more on unemployment in part 2).

I actually also heard a theory that might put a positive spin on the emigration from Kerala: with one in four households having an emigrant, and Kerala already being the mix of religions and cultures it is (probably living together with less communal tension than anywhere in India), Keralites have already had a high exposure to international experience, and the state might be better equipped to deal with globalisation than the rest of the country.

Another important point to remember when asking if Kerala will be able to keep up the spending on welfare is that far from stagnating, the levels of human development actually GREW during the crisis years of the 1980s/early 90s. This speaks volumes about the inherent stability of the system, and how rooted the welfare society has become in Kerala.

(And anonymous, thanks for the heads up on the GDP - my mistake, the post has been changed.)

abhishek said...

@Olof

That is a very interesting way of perceiving the benefits of an emigrant population. Perhaps, having so much of our population abroad is a way to equip Kerala with the tools to face challenges posed by globalization.

But, I have trouble reconciling that with the current trends - distressed agriculture sector, militant unionism, worker monopolies (headload workers), underemployment, unemployment, etc. Are these the best ways to deal with globalization? Where and what is the enlightened way in which the diaspora can influence the state economy?

My personal belief that Kerala emigrants are now in a position of remittances without representation, an unfair balance of power. So the people who drive much (not all, i agree) of the state finances and current economic growth are disenfranchised. They are in no position to influence the outcome of the economic policies of the state. To mean, it smacks of hypocrisy that non-resident Keralites earn their living in basically capitalist (as opposed to communist) societies while sending their money home to prop up an anti-business society thereby perpetuating the reason why they migrated.

I see a lot of social problems arise as well when workers have to work abroad. When fathers stay away from their homes, mothers and children are left without role models and one less parent. I know, there have been studies done of "Gulf" wives who have suddenly become more financially mature and independent as a result. But, I find it hard to believe that the absence of an important part of the nuclear family would not affect it in the long run.

Looking forward to your next post as well. You have a great way of expressing your thesis succinctly.

sJ said...

Its nice to read views on topic like this one.I do understand the benefits of long term investment in health and education made in kerala helping people to move forward with growth in service industries.Iam no economist and I believe u all as people around have more to spend these days.
Allow me to highlight about the present situation of these two institutions (health and education) in kerala.
Health sector.
Its been believed that with advancement in sanitation,economic growth and education the type of diseases prevalent in the community would change ie from infections to heart disease and cancers.It has actually done that.So another proof for the economists.But the incidence of infections are still too large to credit the developments in sanitation and basic education.There are yearly or monthly outbreaks of one preventable infection or the other reported in a frenzy by our beloved media.
To speak about the difference in standard between the service provided by govt and private sector institutions dealing with health care is a taboo among the planners of the state.But this is a reality understood by any average keralite.Majority of the population cannot afford proper treatment.Situation would have been worse if not for the efforts of religious organisations setting up all the well run hospitals across the state.LDF has actually recognised this when they started their own institutions with charges for the users.This is the same people who fought ferociously against charging a token fee from users of govt facility.UDF do not care any more.
Want to speak about the speciality care in our hospital system?.Dont laugh when I say this.U get all that is approved in any field of medicine even better than what a european or american institution is capable of(ofcourse not all the "in research " facilities.Some in research is availble to us before the Americans though).Unbelievable? Check out with ur physician next time u visit him /her to check ur BP and Sugar.They are starting bone marrow/ stem cell transplant in Kochi.Those stories coming in newspapers about heart/liver /kidney transplants happening in kerala are actually true.Who heads all these facilities?Keralites mostly(90%, even though I have no actual stats).Where were they trained? Basic education in kerala and further training elsewhere- india/ abroad.Yes , yes.Yet another point in favour of strength of basic education helping malayalees.Who can afford all these? No resident keralite with out support of non resident keralite.Health insurance? What is that?!!!
Child birth,birth control and immunization are the areas were govt institutions have made an impact among the masses.Think about it.With foreign aid.The rest is a sham to keep people have a false belief that there is free health care available.IT IS NOT AVAILABLE.(Pills are available for one month at one centre and then not for next three.Surgeries can be done but there are no facility for anaesthesia this month.)
My point is, its not the welfare state that did the help or doing it but the non govt organisations.Is it helpful ... only if we promote health tourism to the scale of Singapore.This could be a reality though.

Educational sector.
Nothing different here.What ever I said earlier holds true here as well.A govt highschool teacher sends his not that exceptionally bright child to another school because it has more work days and less strikes and a better syllabus.Oh.. he is on strike at his school to avoid a change in syllabus.Change school to college and u have a true picture there too.A bachelor in arts or science degree or masters obtained from universities in kerala ain't worth the paper its printed on.Pardon me if I hurt any.I was not talking about all degrees.And all those who did well with a degree from there, where did u get ur vocational training from?!!!!!yes think about that.Why were u not able to stay back in kerala?And those with out a vocational training ...how many were employed for ur degree?(Masters in commerce employed as receptionist with out promotion donot count sir.U probably have good language skills and I would be surprised if u acquired that from the college u went).The cirriculum has hardly changed over decades.Present changes?
That brings me to the second point.Its the diaspora bringing in new ideas and like any civilisation, kerala taking in fresh ideas more as an advantage for survival over ur neighbour.Its not the welfare state thats doing it but people are bringing in new ideas to equip next generation for a better job outside kerala.
Sorry if I sound disillusioned.But Iam happy and content doing nothing sitting at home.Why should'nt I be, when I have relatives working abroad who can take care of me?

Iam eagerly waiting for Olof's next post :-)

alex m thomas said...

sj,
The curriculum of arts colleges are definitely outdated.
But what professors have told me is that true learning after school can come only through oneself.[I am talking about those who wish to stay in the academia]

The curriculum cannot remain outdated.

?bLeAk?!! said...

olof, your post has been a real help to the understanding of my own state. I for one was under the impression that our state was going on to its inevitable doom, but now my opinion stands changed. Even though your post did not cover certain parts like whether this growth can be sustained or what the future holds for this little state, it did give me enough to hope that the state might not experience a complete breakdown of sorts (i am poor in gen knowledge.. ) due to its being the consumer state. Economics is beyond me and I cannot hope to understand how all this development in education has helped in saving the state economy from doom.

So I am looking forward to your subsequent posts, about any other insights into the state of our own "Gods Own Country" and ofcourse your own personal experiences

AlienTech said...

You missed a few things about the Kerala model.

They do not listen to the customer. The customer orders, The workers fill the order, the way they like, when they like and how they like. When you see the order, it might have no resumblance to what you ordered or thought ordered. In the US you can just go the doc and tell him to write you a prescription for some ganja because of the pain of your stubbed toe, here you might go home with a new kidney if you try that. So you have to do everything yourself and stay awake and be on top or you might even end up missing a kidney.
The socio-political-liberal-welfare model could be because of this. Everyone else seems to know what you need and are willing to do it for you even if you have no idea you need it or even want it. You will never ever see this model anywhere else in the world. This is one of the most absurd places I have lived at and it is understandable why no invader stays for long. The people once out of the influence of this model, definetely do not act this way. You can find them in almost every corner of the globe living in tall sky scrapers to igloos. And some of them will actually have dirt on their hands and cloths even if their hair is still slick except for certain high officals holding political offices on offical medical vacations or visits.

sJ said...

Alientech-
"So you have to do everything yourself and stay awake and be on top or you might even end up missing a kidney."

Stories of kidney racket are so dramatised by movies that all believe it.It doesnot happen that way.But there are people ready to sell one of there kidneys for money and middle men make money.Kidneys cannot be taken for reuse so easily and with all the advancement in medicine it cannot be done as popularly beleived.

And u dont get ganga prescription for stubbed toe in US.May be u can get it easier on the street with out prescription there than in kerala.

RAJIV CHACKO said...

Mr Olof is absolutely on target when he says that foreign remittances are the main driver of Kerala's growth.

In future Kerala will have to cut down its birth rate further as its population density is very high and per capita resource base very narrow. It must also cut down its burocracy and close down its government run companies. This is eating up a lot of public money. But the government should never withdraw from the education and health sectors as its presence is required to make them accessible to the poor.
Kerala cannot absorb any industries due to non-availability of land. The only industries possible are plantations, tourism and IT.
Kerala must also make English medium education accessible to all, particularly to the poor.

hash said...

something which wont be present in statistics

hi all, especially olof,

Olof, you have analysed kerala and was successfull to understand kerala in a short time. But only to an extend.I am hashir. I am from Kottakkal in malappuram district.Now working in accenture-chennai , a software company.

I knew kerala is good only when i reached in Tamil Nadu.Then my belief got strengthened when i visited other states where development is capital centric.Yes,kerala has got high HDI with low Per Capita Income.And got high rate of unemployement.

Since you will focus more on unemployment i would like to bring some hidden facts to your notice.In Malabar , in statistics a majority of youth will be unemployed.But thing is that it doesnt make any effect on living standard of people.Because I know personaly, most of my friends are unemployed in records, but they are making 10 times money than me.Because they are doing all the things possible on earth, both legal and mostly illegal things to make money.And to my knowledge it is not a minority . But it is the majority.In records Malappuram district may be a backward, i have been to all corners of kerala.. believe me its affluent.No one is free in kerala. They are doing something , somewhere.
And about the economic conditiond in malabar , a high group of people wil be BPL in ration card,and are getting government help in all fields including education, but you just need to have a look at their houses to determine if they are in poverty or they are the high class.

And about politics, in kerala situation is good because of anti-incumbency.Left will focus on socialism and right will focus on industrialised development (eventhough they were unable to do it more than an extend).Politicians are good, because kerala is the least currupt state.most of them live simple life, most of them are highly educated,eventhough there are exceptions.

I work in chennai, ya .. i prefer to work in kerala.If smartcity was completed at the time of last government perhaps i would have been working there.But I am happy that they couldnt sign it on those barbaric conditions.We are ready to wait to work in kerala .Our state should not be sold in the name of development.Development will come ...Because it is development which needs the DEVELOPMENT!

and olof i love sweedish movie.Its like a poem.You movies would flow from scene to scene.Under the sun, Glass bolwers childrens,Alfred....i love all those movies.Your country is beutiful....

N. V. Paul said...

This is Paul From Global TV.

Wonderful Article/Study. You understood Kerala better than we Keralites could do.

Congrats

KP said...

From K.P.Kannan:

I happened to read this blog. Extremely interesting, i must say. I am surprised and proud that how much so many Keralites care about their land. It may not exactly be a God's Own Country (save the lush green that God or Nature alone can endow in such abundant measure)but it certainly is not a 'Dog's Own Country' not only because of the bad taste that it conveys but also the self-defeating attitude that it reveals in a group who should be otherwise called 'enlightened'.

When Olof met me, I remember that he was loaded with such negative images gained from talking to many so called Kerala experts and also reading some earlier material. It was my good fortune to show him the new research that we generated at the Centre for Development Studies (through the Kerala Human Dev Report) as well as my article in the EPW.

It appears to me that many of the negative feelings and comments that the young bright Keralites entertain are based on a superficial understanding of social reality: some personal experiences, talks in the family, biases carried over owning to one's social background especially belonging to elite classes, newspaper readings which report only negative news esp about politicians. I am sad that these young men and women are not in a frame of mind to approach the problems of Kerala in a more disinterested manner by more reading, checking facts with others, taking a larger view of social reality and placing Kerala in a comparative Indian and global context.

Kerala's past was infested with casteism and a bit of communal sectarianis, if not open rivalry. It still continues but in a limited sense and that is why Kerala is a comparatively more modern society than most parts of India especially in social interaction among people belonging to different religious and backgrounds. The past of Kerala does not, in my view, evokes any nostalgia for the vast masses of poor and ordinary people. The good life of the past belonged to the elites of all communities be it education, arts, cultural talent, administration, etc. The situation changed with the onset of social reform movements beginning with Sree Narayana Guru -a visionary who belonged to the caste of Human Beings and an extraordinary social reformer who changed the mindset of the lesser people with exhortation to "educate" and "organise" themselves.

In today's Kerala, there is democratisation of education, arts and culture and a greater access to public employment and private opportunities.

The solid base created by education of the masses and access to such basics as health care, child care, food security, etc has stood Kerala in great stead despite the many crisis that it went through such as the food crisis of the sixties and seventies, the unemployment crisis of a longer duration (right from the Depression of the twenties. Most of these have been reduced if not eliminated. The demographic transition that Kerala attained (i.e. with just 1.8 children per couple today) is an achievement that few societies have been able at this level of per capita income.

All these do not mean that Kerala has solved its problems. Far from it. But it is no longer in the, what economists call, low level equilibrium trap. It has solved to a great extent the first generation problems such as destitution and hunger, access to schooling, basic health care, housing security and so on but second generation problems have started to surface more sharply than before. These are environmental problems including management of waste, unemployability of a large percentage of the so called educated, skill shortage, new diseases, continuing gender disparity and so on.

Politics and politicians may not be angels. But politics is, and was, the driving force in Kerala as in India. Most changes have been institutionalised with political decisions such as land reform, access to schooling, etc. Today's politics is qualitatively inferios to what was there 40 years ago. And there is more fragmentation of politics based on sectarian interests. But this politics reflects the mindset of the people. People mostly vote for regional, community-based or personality based parties for sectional interests backed by powerful religious interests. Only the youth can change this politics by thinking above sectional interests and thinking for the whole society. That will be true secularism where everyone will benefit as opposed to competitive politics based on sectional interests where someone is made to lose.

My advice to the youth is to read more about Kerala - not the newspaper stuff but serious work based on research. For understanding the current scenario, the Kerala Human Dev Report 2005 is an ideal one (not because this person was responsible for it). Olf cited the papers by me and Achin Chakravarty. But read more. There is one edited by Govindan Parayil called Kerala: Its Dev Experience. Or read the volume by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze on India: Eco Dev and Social Opportunity. Or just go Google and search for "Kerala Social and Economic Development". There is also one a Swiss scholar Patrick Heller: Labour and Development in Kerala (I am not sure about the title.

The social and political problems that you now talk about and worry about Kerala is nothing in comparison to historical experience. Try and read the economic and social history of Europe. E.g. The Short 20th century by Eric Hobsbawm or EP Thompson on Conditions of the Working Class in England.

Are you following the very many developmental initiatives and experiments talking place in Kerala by both government and those outside government esp the civil society organisations?

KP Kannan, now in New Delhi

Bobby KC said...

I come across this blog accidently and it's interesting. Will read it fully later..

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