THE 'SAVE KERALA' INITIATIVE

THE 'SAVE KERALA' INITIATIVE

Friday, November 24, 2006

Welfare and banana leaf thalis - a foreign student’s take on Kerala, Part 2

…continued from Part 1.

Challenges for the future

Of course, none of all the positives I talked about in the first part means that Kerala is now on an arrow-straight path to prosperity. The state, just like the rest of India (or any developing country) is still facing some major challenges for the future. Some of them are common to the whole of the country – like combating poverty, or the rate of farmers' suicides – while others are more specific to Kerala, of which reducing the unemployment rate is the most pressing. The problem is actually more or less confined to the educated part of the population, with the educated unemployment rate being something like 21%. This has led to, as many of you have pointed out in the comments to my last post, a clear paradox in that workers are imported from as far away as Bihar and West Bengal to do menial jobs that the highly educated consider beneath them. There are no easy solutions to the unemployment crisis, but private investment in knowledge based industries, and public investment in infrastructure (more below) is probably most crucial.

Another challenge is the so-called 'second generation' of problems now facing the welfare sector, those of quality over quantity. For example, Kerala has already established universal schooling, but now the need is to improve the quality of the education by revising curriculums, raising teachers’ salaries, and more spending on higher education (80% of the state education budget today goes to school education). In terms of health care there is not only the need to improve the existing services, but also a future problem of old age care, since Kerala’s high levels of life expectancy means that the state will soon have a large older population. This also goes for infrastructure – while Kerala has the highest road density in India, there is a need to improve the quality of those roads (take the bus from Bangalore to Trivandrum and you’ll see what I mean, the ride gets bumpier as soon as you leave Karnataka), as well as to improve electricity supply, build new ports, and so on. The need to strengthen infrastructure is also directly linked to generating more employment – the poor availability of electric power, etc., is preventing larger industrial enterprises from happening in Kerala.

While in Kerala I heard much talk about the state’s reputation of being ‘investment-unfriendly’, with trade unions too strong for their own good blocking new technology or development from happening, loaders flat out refusing to work, or state-wide bandhs being a favourite pastime for some parts of the workforce (Chandy for instance talked about an ‘almost anti-work mentality’ in some places). These problems have undoubtedly harmed Kerala’s development, but there does seem to be a genuine effort to change this image from both politicians and workers. Most people I talked to said that the situation had improved considerably just over the past decade, something that places like Technopark and the new Smart City project are proof of. V.J. Jayakumar, the CEO of Technopark, told me that in the IT-park’s early days there was some initial apprehension from companies about moving to Kerala because of the state’s reputation, but that those doubts had significantly lessened now.

One place that struck me as the perfect symbol of how Kerala’s future could be a fusion of a developed welfare system and a progressive economy was actually Technopark. Fully owned by the government and taking advantage of Kerala’s huge pool of highly educated workers, it’s home to companies like Tata and American Software, and with 10,000 employees, 90% of whom are Keralites, it is also the single largest source of employment in the state.

Conclusion

It’s very easy for me to draw up a list of things I like about Kerala – the ‘Backwaters’, the incredibly friendly and welcoming people, or just those awesome banana leaf thalis. But what has always struck me the most is how present politics is everywhere in Kerala, and how tangible it is in the daily lives of people all across the state. There’s hardly a street that’s not covered in orange or red flags and posters; newspaper readership is the highest in India; and I found I could ask pretty much anybody I met about any given issue that was on the news agenda and I’d get an well-informed reply (one of the most surreal experiences I had was when a rickshaw driver started giving me a socio-political lecture – in flawless English - after I had asked him about some street protest we went by).

While this intense politicisation might have brought some negatives with it (like contributing to the ‘investment-unfriendly’ reputation, for instance), I also think it’s important to remember that there is another side to it, a sort of spirit of social justice and egalitarianism that runs throughout Kerala. The ‘Kerala Model’ was after all never really a ‘Model’ imposed from above by any government, it was more a natural response to the demands of the people. Kerala has been a centre for progressive politics in India since long before Independence, and ever since 1956 political parties have had little chance of getting elected if welfare and social policies have not been top of their agenda. As Dr Vijayamohan Pillai from the Centre for Development Studies told me: “The people in Kerala are far ahead of the politicians. They are the ones who make sure that health care and education are provided.” Where this particular Keralite spirit comes from is probably a topic for a whole new project, but it is what attracted me so much to the state in the first place, and has been the most direct explanation for Kerala's achievement over the past 50 years.

And those achievements are truly remarkable – you have used democracy and relatively meagre natural and financial resources to build up a society that is unlike anything else in India or the developing world, and that has made the lives of millions of people better in a very concrete way. The ‘Kerala Model’ has also arguably disproved the notion that a developed welfare system has to be preceded by economic growth – which in practice often means a long period of inequality between rich and poor while the economy is ‘developing’, before money can be spent on things like health care and education. If you look at India on a national level today, there is actually little evidence that the money derived from the last fifteen years’ economic boom is reaching the least privileged in society, and in this sense Kerala can really serve as a role model for the rest of the country.

At the moment I’m doing a masters degree in contemporary Indian politics and history at the School of Oriental and African Studies (also part of the University of London), and it has been really interesting to see how the phrase ‘with the exception of Kerala’ runs almost like a mantra through most of my textbooks, whether they are talking about India’s rural poverty, high levels of illiteracy, or the rise of Hindu nationalist politics. Kerala has the potential to become one India’s biggest success stories, and with the economy picking up, I’d say that the future of God’s Own Country is looking very hopeful.

23 comments:

alex said...

"the educated unemployment rate being something like 21%"

Such is the mindset of people, educated ones try to go with what is booming in the labour market. Even though the number of employment opprtunities in the ITES are increasing, the rate is very less. But there are vacancies in the field of teaching etc.

Moreover, workers do no mind doing menial jobs in the middle east and elsewhere.

"quality over quantity"

This certainly a very important issue. Ensuring better participation from the public and making institutional processes transparent will enable the denizens of Kerala to be more informed of what is taking place in the educational sectors.

"state will soon have a large older population"

When the state has an older population there will be a corresponding increase in the working population too. Provision of retirement benefits becomes significant.
These days, due to such increase in 'older population', a number of old age homes have sprung up.

Technopark needs to be lauded. Along with the Government of kerala and its people.

"sort of spirit of social justice and egalitarianism that runs throughout Kerala"

True. :)

"The ‘Kerala Model’ was after all never really a ‘Model’ imposed from above by any government, it was more a natural response to the demands of the people."

I couldnt have put it in a better way.

Olof, great analysis man. Hoping to see more of your views on diverse subjects. And good luck with your course! Kudos!

Mind Curry said...

the more i think about it, the more connection i see with the malayali diaspora. much of the development and achievements can be traced to them.

i remember my relatives and neighbourhood folks leaving kerala, both to foreign countries as well as other states, as early as the sixties..and by seventies it became a trend and i think in the 80s it hit a peak.

so like you also pointed out, most of the money and in return development can be attributed to that single source of cash inflow. which is perhaps why we have a Kerala Model today.."a developed welfare system preceded by economic growth "

but i think with that cash inflow not sustaining..we really need to gear up if we are to continue to enjoy a "developed welfare system".. we can already see cracks in the system..in terms of ailing health system, plundered state exchequer..stagnant education system..poor roads and infrastructure..

we did, and still do, have lots to be proud of..but if we dont "wake up" now, all that we had is going to crumble real soon..perhaps some day we will become a case study as to why we, the state of Kerala, failed in a nation that is the fastest growing economy and stormed itself as a developed nation.

the truth is quite stark..whether we are willing to see it or not is the question..and whether we are willing to act upon the truth is another question..

alex said...

Mindcurry,

What you said is right. 'Remittances' are what significantly contributes to the 'consumption and demand exapnsion' which we see in Kerala.

silverine said...

mind curry: That was a neat summation and something I hear from folks this side too. And I wish too that the govt and the people see the writing on the wall.

Anonymous said...

I was never a great admirer of Kerala’s development model. All those years (during my school and college days), I cursed myself for being in a state, where a woman can’t think of travelling on a bus or walk on a road after 7 pm. Not to mention other luxuries of life like eating out or window-shopping in a mall. I know, when I talk about all these amenities (or rather luxuries), they have no place on the list of an ordinary man’s priorities.

This is just a prelude. True Kerala has a remittance-dependent economy. It is also true that once you complete 23 (or 22 in some cases) almost all Keralite are forced to go out the state in search of a life. But if you take into consideration, the aspirational levels of other southern states including Karnataka and AP, their aim would be to achieve what Kerala has achieved. About the economics – the state’s revenues in accordance with population is again highest among all southern states. And here, I’m not making a statement. This was told by one of the top economic advisors to the AP state government. Though he gave the figures, I forgot to write it down because I never thought it would be of any use (for a few moments I was basking in the glory of those figures, I must confess).

Over the years, I have seen envy in the eyes of policy makers and higher officials in other states, when one said `Keralite.’ Somewhere, they all want to become a welfare state. Think about it, what is M’rashtra without M’bay, AP without Hyderabad or K’taka without B’lore. But if you want to see the real picture, go out of these cities and see. Being a developed country, we cannot pit our state against EU or the US. When the so-called job havens like B’lore or M’bay are going ahead other parts of the state are reeling under abject poverty. Travel some 100 kilometres from M’bay, one can find cast discrimination Dalit Kkillings etc. Are we better off ? Certainly yes. What we lack is that, we are yet to leverage our strengths in the state.

As Olof had said, the strengths such as literacy, good heath or awareness about one’s right may spin off new ways of development in itself. At least, we could safeguard as against any kind of exploitation. How many times, you have heard of people losing land for development activities like `SEZ?’ That has become a frequent phenomenon in other states like Maharashtra or AP. Consider this, these states’ dependence on agriculture is crucial in terms of GDP. Agriculture for example accounts for 65% of AP’s GDP. Kerala depnds on other states for essential commodities like vegetables. But then, ask economists, for a country to become developed it has to gradually progress from an agrarian to industrial to service-oriented economy. In that way Kerala has made progress.

There is a dearth of skilled labourers in the country. Think this way, people are coming from Bihar and Tamil Nadu because their states can’t offer them even a pittance for the kind of work they do. They are not educated and there don’t have anything to look forward to in those places. So they come to Kerala for a living. Give them education, make them graduates. Do you think they will ever do the work they are doing now? Surey they would not. States like TN or K’takaka or AP are able to offer jobs to educated people over there is because the supply of `educated’ people is scarce. All the more, Kerala has implemented land reforms in the later 50s and early 60s. So it is hard to find landlord there unlike other states, where educated landlords set up industries and jack up real estate prices. Here political awareness also comes into play.

Also, look at the conditions in EU countries and the US. These are considered as the biggest DIE (do it yourself) markets in the world. One would not be ale to afford a maid or a mason or carpenter or even a plumber over there. They do small work themselves with the help of user guides. These are highly paying jobs over there. If we could offer high salaries for skilled labourers even institutes will open up tomorrow to offer courses in these areas. The problem here is that while Kerala developed other parts of India still remain very much under developed. Or else, we would have gradually progressed into a new country where even a taxi driver can own a duplex and Flat TV like in Finland.

Politicians make money everywhere. The difference in Kerala is that people are aware and they use their democratic rights to oust the government each time (though choices are limited). Anti-incumbency is always a great factor in Kerala elections. Look at other states. If the leaders bring development, they also pocket money. But the star hotels they own abroad or educational institutions run by them or the real estate agencies owned by them are hardly any issue during elections in other states. Imagine the plight of TN, where people are left with two choices – Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa, We are much better off.

Sustainability of our development, it is a question. Policies no doubt required to be changed. Considering the high awareness levels, it is not easy in Kerala as it has to work on a consensus basis. But in today’s globalised world, why fear about job loss. Barriers are anyway melting away. If we can give suggestions on policu changes, it would be great. Or at least a Californian system of governance with recall rights.

abhishek said...

@anonymous

What's ironic is that the very migrants in our state who come to perform menial jobs don't flock to unions and what not as you would expect an ordinary Keralite to do. They're not bothered with that, because the key to social mobility lies more with education than it does with organized labour.

@Olof
Great post once again. You brought up some good points with the "quality over quantity" debate. I feel this is primarily due to a lack of feedback from the industry and monetary incentives for teachers to retrain themselves. I'm not convinced, that these issues will work themselves out over time for a couple of reasons:
1) Quality of education is not a "people's" issue for most politicians. It's also an intangible issue and hard to push when most of our politicians are college dropouts or haven't been paying much attention in class and working in college politics at such a young level.
2) Quality of education improves as a result of the resources you push into the system, and the government's fiscal situation is already out of hand. Kerala's government spends less today on social services on a per capita basis than it did in the past because a) its revenue base has dwindled and b) people have been moving to the private sector for education.
You won't find the benefits that you would in other states from private higher education in Kerala for the simple reason that there's no industry or valid destination for employment of skilled workers around. There's no feedback process and there's not sufficient competition among the schools for the best students because there's nothing to be gained from recruiting the best students. There's no developed alumni community as in the US, where the alums are a significant source of funds. I could keep going but there's a whole system of incentives to be in place before the "private" in private higher education can really achieve its potential. Private education institutions have a great potential for imparting quality education if they can pay enough to keep the best talent in their institution. Can you imagine what would happen if a private institution hired non-Keralite teachers/researchers for 50% of the available posts? There would be rioting in the streets because that would be another issue for the teacher union, because again quantity wins over quality. And yet that's what you would need to do in many cases, because Keralite teachers for the most part are mediocre. This is an assessment based on my personal experiences as a student in Kerala and anecdotes of my cousins and friends studying there as well.

I think you've succeeded to a large degree in showing that Kerala's society is entering a "virtuous cycle". But, isn't part of that development contingent on continued remittances? That's a high risk situation right there because even the current high levels warrant making contingent plans for the vast pool of skilled and unskilled labour pool of Kerala if some day they had to return. The Middle East is not going to be rich forever (there's a limit to development based on natural resources) and holds high political risk as a region. So, what I'm hoping is that the virtuous cycle does not just drive temporary growth in limited sectors of Kerala, but also forces people to change their views and aspirations in the state. If we have been able to build strong basic education and basic health sectors on the basis of a welfare system, isn't it time to focus our energies on building a meritocracy where merit and hard work are drivers of growth rather than the mere fact that you're a human?

Anonymous said...

Hi Abhishek

I read ur comment. Though it is for Olof to respond, I would like to make a few observations. Workers from outside are not forming unions coz they are not aware of their rights. It is like any other right or policy. Look at reservation. Ultimately, the benefits will be cornered by a few, who are aware of suh a policy. Majority will be left out with nothing.
So to form a union, one should have a certain level of understaning of one's problems. Without a union, they can make a living. For them thats what is important. It is part subsistenance style of living.
Can't agree with u that teachers in Kerala are medicore. All over India, deterioration of teaching standrads is a problem. Debates are going on about introducing contract system in education. The question is not about quality but about the remuneration. Without good remuneration, one would not be able to attract good brains. The problem exisits even in IITs and IIMs.
The focus should be on curriculum modification. At the college level, curriculum should changed to make it more industry relevant and at school level emphasis should be on imparting free thinking and creativity.
Also, like any other sector, state should abstain from controlling this sector. It should act as a facilitator. In order to prevent any kind of exploitation, there should be a regulatory authority as well. That is bound to happen as govt schools or colleges are not doing any good in Kerala.
About competition. My God. I can't imagine a situation, where hoardings on schools attracting young kids offering international education. That is ridiculous without proper checks n balances in place as one cannot experiment with education.

Olof said...

Mind Curry, you're right in that the diaspora has had a huge effect on Kerala, but the development in welfare started decades before the effects of the remittances were being felt. Historically speaking, a focus on welfare actually dates back all the way to the early 19th century, and it has certainly been an issue ever since Kerala became a state in 1956, and the top priority of state governments ever since. So to say that you have in fact had "a developed welfare system preceded by economic growth " is in my opinion wrong, no matter how you look at it. The remittances are a product of the welfare system, not the other way around (see Part 1).

Alex, cheers for the comments, but I don't think that the educated unemployment rate is down to some kind of arrogance or pride on behalf of the people (that's how I understood your post, sorry if I got it wrong). There is in fact a chronic shortage of jobs, and most studies show that the unemployed are not couch potatoes comfortably cashing in welfare checks, but are in fact actively doing everything to find more work (like increasing skills through study, etc.).

One answer I remember particularly well from my interview with Dr. Kannan, who headed the team behind the Kerala Human Development report for 2005, was what he said when I asked him what the reactions to the HDR had been like. If I paraphrase, it went something like: "The reactions have overall been very positive, except from some Keralites who have trouble believing that Kerala is developing, since the Keralite mindset is extremely cynical. They are so used to always criticising the government, that they can’t really see that the state is heading in a positive direction." And after following the thread of comments here and to my last point, I'm seriously starting to see his point. I definitely think there is a tendency among some posters to conveniently ignore most of the positive conclusions from my project, and instead just focus on the negatives (in posts whose main point usually is that Kerala is heading straight for the Apocalypse ;-)). I understand that you're all Kerala patriotic and only want to start a debate about improving your state (which is brilliant), but I just think things should be kept in perspective too.

Kerala isn't on the brink of collapse, in fact the situation is looking better than ever. One of the last things I had time to do before leaving India was to pick up India Today's 'State of the State' issue, where Kerala was ranked as the second most prosperous state after only Punjab.

Will try to reply to some more posts tonight. Oh yeah, and if you have half an hour to spare, the Observer has an India-special today!

alex said...

Olof,
There is definitely no doubt that Kerala is growing. cant afford to be complacent though.

We just want to make sure that this development can be sustained.

About the educated unemployment, i might be wrong about the figures. Could you point out a study on that if you know so. it would be an immense help.[What i said reflected my opinion on the basis of what i see happening around me. It need not be a general trend.]

Mind Curry said...

@ olof - while there are many aspects about Kerala to be proud of, i doubt that we can sit back proudly reading the Kerala Human Development Report. there are many issues that we face, irrespective of what the HDR says..

even if you take human development, have you had a chance to take a look at some of the figures which suggest the atrocities against women?

and the point abhishek raised about our stagnant education system is very true. i am not saying we have to compare it to some other state and say we are fine. but when are comparing everything else to developed countries, there is every justification of the concerns brought up here.

and once again, its not that we are predicting immediate apocalypse..but at the rate we are going, we are in track for just that. and all these comments bringing out the negative aspects are not directed to you or your post..but to all of us here.. unless we discuss the negatives, how are we going to tackle the issues? its time to move from the
"kerala=developed country" comparison..move on forward i mean.

The remittances are a product of the welfare system, not the other way around (see Part 1).
the remittances cannot be a product of the welfare system of kerala..the remittances are a product of the welfare system that exist outside kerala, in the gulf countries or in other indian cities from where the keralites worked hard to send back money.

i did read your part 1, and my thoughts, purely my thoughts, were from that itself. if you consider the remittances, a lot of things fall into place. things like

- why we have a malfunctioning governance system here,
- why a lot of people are not bothered who rules or how they rule,
- why people dont value public property
- why people have no dignity of labor

and a lot more..

because people in kerala began taking things for granted..they got a lot of things for "free", while people worked hard outside kerala. they could afford to do that.

the "gulf" opportunity began ceasing only in the last 10 years or so..after arab countries began tightening employment rules, and started throwing out lot of indian workers. so its now that we are going to feel the pinch.

ask most educated youth in kerala, about the employment opportunities..they will tell you the fact, in comparison to karnataka or TN. the youth, given a chance would leave the state in search of better education, better employment..

technopark, started in early 1990s, as the first IT park in india, sprung to life only recently, riding on the highs found by Karnataka and TN and AP - who started off much later. but yes, its giving the present generation a lot of hope.

one thing is true though..now kerala is "looking better than ever"..and if we dont make it now, then its going to be pretty much never.

abhishek said...

@anonymous

"Can't agree with u that teachers in Kerala are medicore. All over India, deterioration of teaching standrads is a problem. Debates are going on about introducing contract system in education. The question is not about quality but about the remuneration. Without good remuneration, one would not be able to attract good brains. The problem exisits even in IITs and IIMs."

I didn't claim that Keralite teachers are especially mediocre and you are right in claiming that this is an issue which affects all states in India. You will also notice when I said "I feel this is primarily due to a lack of feedback from the industry and monetary incentives for teachers to retrain themselves", I had already stated that I believe renumeration is key to quality education, which agrees with your point. So I don't us disagreeing with the fundamental problem. All I was saying was that while attracting good teachers with good remuneration, Kerala schools should be open and actively seek out the best talent in the country and not restrict ourselves to in-state teachers. This is more relevant at the college level than at the high school level, where quality of research of our teachers would greatly benefit from an infusion of professionalism.

Also, on "The focus should be on curriculum modification. At the college level, curriculum should changed to make it more industry relevant and at school level emphasis should be on imparting free thinking and creativity."

While I believe that curriculum deserves to be updated, I don't believe it is the focus of a strategy to improve education, but rather, one of many things that need to be done. Because, ultimately, you can't force a curriculum to be updated ad-hoc. College curriculum is a living, breathing institution itself which without adequate feedback, can stagnate. It can only sustain itself if there is constant input from community leaders and industry leaders. Can you think of any industry players in Kerala who could step up to suggest changes to the curriculum? I don't think there are sufficient professional ones out there. What about professional community leaders?

The Kerala Department of Education did do one thing for which I'm really grateful. They uploaded the SCERT textbooks, which I have to say, are replete with grammatical errors, poor word usage and political incorrectness. Take for example, the following sentence in a geography textbook:
"Many people from all over the world left their motherland and became refugees. Motherland became "foreign" to them."
Wow, what does "foreign" mean here? That refugees no longer hold any memories of their "motherland"? Or that they are no longer in their home countries, in which case, the statement is merely a tautology. The wording of these sentences can be misconstrued in so many ways.

Or take an example of political incorrectedness and over-generalization:

"The Vanishing racial purityAs time elapsed marital relations between different races led to the emergence of mixed racial groups. Today each major race has a number of sub races and mixed races. In short, there is no such thing as racial purity . All are alike."

Implicit in this statement are a number of notions that smack of casteism and classism, the very beliefs that we believe have long vanished from Kerala:
1) Racial purity - what a loaded word! First, how do you define who is racially pure? Does dark skin and a hairy body constitute the Dravidian race?
2) Vanishing - implicit in this notion that people at one time were racially distinct. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This geography textbook has identified vastly different human features as the cornerstones of different classes of human when in fact, that is an arbitrary way of classifying humans, when intermingling and inter-community marriages have existed for as long as humans have existed. That is not to say, certain people have traits that distinguish them from others, but to imply that there is some sort of time-trend is and unsupported by concrete evidence.
3) All are alike - so there are "races" and then everyone's alike. Wow, talk about contradicting yourself in the same breath. These editors have to take their job far more seriously if they can't even present coherent and lucid arguments.

Can you believe this is what is being fed to millions of our children in Kerala? No wonder, people complain about their own writing skills and have outdated notions of the world. The whole discussion on race is behind us or at least being discussed in scientific terms allowing for a wide range of hypothesis in many textbooks in the U.S., Europe and even parts of Asia. Instead, our curriculum drafters are intent on presenting their limited, outdated and regurgigated view of the world without putting a bit of original thought into the process.

@Olof

"And after following the thread of comments here and to my last point, I'm seriously starting to see his point. I definitely think there is a tendency among some posters to conveniently ignore most of the positive conclusions from my project, and instead just focus on the negatives (in posts whose main point usually is that Kerala is heading straight for the Apocalypse ;-)). I understand that you're all Kerala patriotic and only want to start a debate about improving your state (which is brilliant), but I just think things should be kept in perspective too."

Olof, hope you don't stop posting and commenting on this blog just because people tend to focus on the negative side of things. Some people believe that there are too many problems with the underlying welfare system in that it has created an educated, skilled workforce that can't find jobs at home. I agree that basic education and health has improved the lot for many Keralites and probably brought more benefits within the last two or three generations than any other period in our state's history. But, I do want to point out that while a welfare system is great in redistributing wealth and access to opportunities so that the playing field is levelled, it is a Damocle's sword in that it also encourages people to believe that the government should provide for everything. The government is only a redistribution agent in that sense. But, if the society's fundamental industrial state/wealth generation (including agricultural) is not on a sound footing, then the ability to redistribute wealth and provide such basic services can be constrained. So, while it is a fact that having a highly educated population has enabled people to seek jobs elsewhere and keep this virtuous cycle sustainable for the time being, I think there is something fundamentally wrong when people are forced to do that. There was a period in Kerala's history when trade unions were mild in their activities and only pursued wage negotiations. But, that situation has disintegrated with their activities becoming militant in nature and almost entirely, selfish at heart. The link between mass participation and worker unions have been severed with most unions enforcing labour monopolies.

Jiby said...

kerala sure will piggyback on the IT boom considering how many engineering colleges have come up in the state, and a lot of people will find jobs, if not in kerala then elsewhere. but in a country like india with a deep cultural heritage and commitment to democracy, economic development is meaningless unless a healthy society with politics based on vision and an overall development and continuity in fields like arts, literature, sports, movies, etc, etc are also present.

the way kerala is going we are more becoming like warehouses for IT and call-center companies which isn't too bad but a lot of creativity, enterprise and brilliance that malayalis have shown over the last century is getting stunted now.

kerala has done well bcoz of the awakening in the pre-independence era and the kerala model certainly built upon it...the travancore-cochin kings were not as despotic as the ones north of the vindhyas or by the britishers who ruled the presidencies and patronized education, there were social reform movements inside the hindu community amongst both nairs and ezhavas, the church started a lot of schools and colleges, the communist movement ushered in land reforms and radicalized political thought in the state...now it is time for the economists/planners, sociologists /politicians to visualize where they want kerala to be a 100 years from now...

when i keep seeing the freeways, the forward compatibility of their technologies, etc i am amazed at the vision every generation of americans have shown, they earn for themselves the right to call themselves founding fathers of the american nation from future generations...has any indian, whether in a public position or otherwise ever wondered what legacy he bequeaths to his country at large, rather than his family.

Olof, that was a great two posts...reading it felt good in that kerala made for happy reading in the otherwide sad state of affairs that india had traditionally been, but its frustrating that all the head-start is being wasted in ignorance, politicking, complacence and apathy.

Maveli Keralam said...

dear Olof,

You could see many things good about Kerala is highly appreciated. But I could see you getting frustrated here and there when some comments on your article were negative. That is because, at a very deeper level Kerala remains divided along various lines. Not all are able to see a unified position.

You wrote"where this particular Kerala spirit comes from, is probably a topic for a whole new project....', which is what attracted you to the state in the first place.
The study of any nation or state, will not be complete until one studty its history.

Kerala has a very concealed history. i belive the 'spirit' you mentioned to have found among the Keralites will not be grasped in full unless one research into its history. Keral's history did not start in 1950, though that was the year in which it was formed into a state.
In fact it has a very ancient history, starting from which point in time is not recorded correctly in the modern history of Kerala. However, since traditional times it had trade with Middle East, Europe and Asia. Then it was a highly productive industrial state, with highly skilled people who manufactured things to suit the needs of the people far and wide.
Then came the dark era of occupation by foreigners and the oppression and discrimination against the people of the soil. Gradually power and economy was grabbed mainly by the foreign occupants; caste discrimination became so strife and the people of the soil lost their glory, dignity,opportunities and grace.

But their potential could not be destroyed by the oppressors. It is true that now the social surface of Kerala is calm having the least sings of segregation. But the traditionally skilled majority is still backward, but they still keep in their system that old 'spirit' once evolved with their developments.

That is why even an ordinary looking person can argue out things in a very logical and intellectural manner. The welfare system only offered them opprotunities that they ahve lost once.

Yes kerala is a unique place with unique developmental history. And I hope any body who is willing to undertake a study on Kerala's 'spirit' will look honestly in to how its historical factors contribuited to its developments.

abhishek said...

@mavellam

"But their potential could not be destroyed by the oppressors. It is true that now the social surface of Kerala is calm having the least sings of segregation. But the traditionally skilled majority is still backward, but they still keep in their system that old 'spirit' once evolved with their developments.

That is why even an ordinary looking person can argue out things in a very logical and intellectural manner. The welfare system only offered them opprotunities that they ahve lost once. "

Very apt, the Malayali spirit to criticize is ancient and is all about not resting on your laurels. We are probably much more aware than any other people of the "process" of socio-economic development because of our mass participation movements, which did not begin in the 50s, but much earlier than that.

alex said...

Maveli keralam,

You have brought to the fore the importance and significance of 'history'.

To trace out the developments, we need to go back in time and see how the various proceses and institutions eveolved.

Olof said...

First of all I really want to apologise if I came off as disrespectful in the last post - I definitely didn't mean to. It was never my intention to belittle anyone's opinion, and I'm truly sorry if it sounded that way. As an outsider who's very interested in both India and development politics, I've always been extremely impressed by Kerala, and I guess I just reacted to what I saw as an attitude that was overly-focused on the negatives. I've really enjoyed posting my project here and getting feedback from everyone, and I'd definitely like to keep being involved with this blog in the future. It's a great initiative, and, like I told Mind Curry, the quality of the posts on this blog is extremely high (even if I might not agree with everything ;))!

Right, on to some replies:

Alex: The study I mentioned was actually in the HDR, in Chapter 7 I think. But it's possible that the answer is somewhere in between the official statistics and your 'street-level' observations, something you're obviously more clued up on than me. Looking forward to your post btw!

Mind Curry: What I mean when I say that the remittances are a product of the welfare system, is that the opportunities workers gained from growing up in Kerala to a large part enabled them to move abroad in the first place. They were healthier and better educated than in the rest of India, and probably more aware of opporunities beyond their home state.

And you're right that you have to focus on the problems to move forwards, I was just trying to say that Kerala has already gotten through the worst part with the years of economic stagnation, and is now heading in a positive direction, which I think should be acknowledged. I remember asking someone from the state planning commission if the doubts about the 'Kerala Model' were still there, and he said something like "They are still be there, but they have gone far into the background." To me that sounds like a good summary of the situation.

The atrocities against women definitely sound like a real problem, but something I don't really know enough about to comment on. I can, however, say that in terms of low crime rates and general maintenance of law and order, Kerala ranks top in India, so there is a pretty big positive side too.

Abhishek: First of all, it was interesting to hear about how the idea of 'racial purity' is still there in school text books. I'm doing a course in Indian colonial history at the moment, and it's pretty scary to see how the idea of India as a mix between an invading Aryan, fair-skinned race, and a dark-skinned Dravidian race is still taken as almost common sense in the West today.

I agree that the end goal of course has to be to provide jobs within Kerala so that people won't have to emigrate in the first place, but an over-spending on welfare is not the culprit responsible for unemployment. There are several factors that count, one that is fundamentally important is Kerala's lack of space: it is one of the most densely populated areas in India, meaning that large-scale industrial or agricultural development is very difficult. Which is why continued focus on developing the service sector of industry will be so important for Kerala in the future...

maveli keralam: Thanks for the post, it was very interesting, you're right that Kerala's history is very important in trying to understand why it developed like it has, and where the Keralite spirit comes from. There are many standard explanations, like the traditional matrilinial system, or the early arrivals of Christians in Kerala, and I heard a couple more that seemed pretty plausible while in the state. One was that there was no 'information assymetry' in Kerala; i.e. that the proximity of villages and towns meant that there was no traditional rural-urban divide, which made it easier for people all around the state to organise around mass-issues. Another thing that might explain why Hindu nationalism has never been an issue in Kerala is the fact that there is no history of conquest from any religion, in the way that it is in North India.

abhishek said...

@Olof
"it's pretty scary to see how the idea of India as a mix between an invading Aryan, fair-skinned race, and a dark-skinned Dravidian race is still taken as almost common sense in the West today."

I agree. It marginalizes other cultures (Parsis, Syrian Christians, Arabs, Portugese) who have settled in India for many centuries. Part of the simplification of this idea rests upon the notion in the U.S. that the US is the only melting pot in the world, when in fact nearly every country in the world has been a melting pot at varying times in its past. In the long scheme of things, people are attracted to lands of opportunity and right now, opportunities abound in the U.S., but that East-West trend is showing signs of plateauing. Who knows - someday, it may even reverse itself?

"I agree that the end goal of course has to be to provide jobs within Kerala so that people won't have to emigrate in the first place, but an over-spending on welfare is not the culprit responsible for unemployment. There are several factors that count, one that is fundamentally important is Kerala's lack of space: it is one of the most densely populated areas in India, meaning that large-scale industrial or agricultural development is very difficult. Which is why continued focus on developing the service sector of industry will be so important for Kerala in the future..."

Oh, I agree completely. In fact, I think Kerala is not spending enough on welfare measures and social services including education and health, because its finances are strapped by decades of economic stagnation. The tax base has been reduced to such pittance, because now the majority of the personal income in the state is sourced from abroad, which escapes income tax. What I am ultimately arguing is that in order to continue levelling the playing field, Kerala has to rectify its trade union situation, because it is severely restricting economic freedom. I am sure you have heard of the headload worker's union. And hartals and bandhs of course. These two phenomenons constitute the majority of the disincentives for investors to shun Kerala. They disrupt ordinary life - it's as simple as that. I am not arguing against strikes. That is a separate issue in my mind. But if we can't promise potential investors some level of security for their investments, then it's not surprising that they would reject the politicians and local industrialists' attempts to reach out. The latter will never be able to overcome the horrifying image of student activists breaking into the Coca Cola warehouses and destroying property and subsequently, being condoned by the Chief Minister, without addressing the root issues of the system - tendancy to violence. Because actions speak louder than words.

"First of all I really want to apologise if I came off as disrespectful in the last post - I definitely didn't mean to. It was never my intention to belittle anyone's opinion, and I'm truly sorry if it sounded that way."

Never man. What are you talking about? Disrespectful to whom? And you never belittled anyone's opinion, let alone came close to it. If someone conveyed that opinion, it was he/she who was mistaken. Because everyone is here seeking the same goal - the truth - as naive and idealistic as it sounds.

sJ said...

Great discussion.

Olof , I was wondering as to who will evaluate ur thesis on this project at London better than the responses on this Blog?

The disparity in views - whether the state of kerala is improving or not - is largely due to how we all look at it.
To some one looking kerala as a part of poor developing India ,it has made strides more bold than any state towards the goal.For the keralite who has been to developed economies and been able to adapt well so easily finds it hard to accept the slow pace of changes and gets frustrated with the hindrances in kerala 's economy.All are passionate about their opinion!!!

Welfare state -> Remittance -> economic growth or the other way round.

Looks like all the economists are going to argue till the end of life as in whether egg or chicken came first. Iam no expert and guess is all I can give.AS Maveli said history may be useful.But when will u start.Homosapiens existed in south India for a long time!!! It seems that the most unadultered race(Iam no racist) in terms of minimal genetic mingling is the African Bush Man(source - some californian university study.Sorry I dont know the name.I aint a racist(may be because I am not a bush man) and never thought that I will ever have to use this info ever).The next best is Australian Aborigines.Homosapiens originated around present Middle East and then travelled all over.(To become among others, bush men in Africa and aborgines in Australia).
On thier journey to australia early man settled in south india.(yes, they walked from continent to continent before the sea level rose to the present level).Then came the second wave of the early man from North.Then there were numerous such waves, with characters of some still dominant others subtle and few others hidden.So why Kerala is part of a developing country ? Multifactorial at the best.There is a book by Jared Diamond (another Californian) called "Guns ,germs and Steel" which tells about why societies are developed or not.Here the pulitzer prize winning professor who fancies himself as ecohistorian says he is bewildered as to why India is a poor nation despite having an early settlement by homosapiens and early acceptance of agrculture and a structured (caste)society and also the early advances in science.Explanation ventured by him is the religion ,petty division of princely states and lack of promotion of individualism over collective good.
This is for all those serious minds trying to get to the root of our problem.

I would say that why we are the way we are is due to the fact that we dont have to work hard for a living at all.Its the same climate through out the year. Rain / no rain being the big challenge.With the land reform bill of first communist govt, farmers got deeds to the land they farmed.90 % of the land can yeild one food crop or the other to sustain the tiller and family.(I say Can, but many dont till).So is their any thing to worry about? And why should WE work extra at all.GOD'S OWN COUNTRY.
Why do farmers commit suicide? Because of debts.Sad as they are, has any one asked as to how they got into debt?.Housing loans, automobile loans and agricultural loans used for purposes other than agriculture including private financing would explain quiet a few.Iam not assuming that all are due to this and Iam not being judgemental on the deceased.Was there a crop failure? Was there an unexpected drought? I said unexpected.Did the price of Rice or any other major crop collapse recently(2 yrs)? Certain soap bubbles like "Vanila" burst and rubber came back to normal.Kerala imports Rice -the staple food, just like all its commodities of daily use!!!(paddy cultivation is not cost effective).
Despite all these, is average keralite spending more now even when adjusted for inflation? YES would be my answer. Is it remittance or easy loans? I dont know.More people tend to be 'on the move' now. Then it must be the service industry making resident keralites earn from what non residents are sending for their family.Will it sustain? How about tourism.[will I get an economics degree for this deduction?.Just that I fancy paper degrees like all my compatriots :-).Check out the originality and usefulness of papers from our university before u rule me out.]

Over politicisation of the public?
Its the attitude that all those who invest is an oppressor of the public that is creating problem.Many of the so called worker's union leaders have wrecked workers home with lay outs than saved them from oppression.With all the so called good education they have when will the workers realise this?Labour laws(central govt) do not allow the free hire and fire policy.Upsetting the investor many a times and by protecting the worker makes the employer afraid to employ more than for the long term needs require, there by reducing oppurtunity to the worker.
politicians dont get away with nonsense these days, thanks to our awareness.But the general elections with two fronts do not answer the issues.We get to choose only the lesser evil for the time being and both fronts have proven to be bad often enough. Will a referundum for each major issues be the answer? cost may be huge but will represent what the public want on each issue.Poll rate being >75% ,there will not be any doubt as to the reach of discussion among public.

Is it true that there are not many politicians in kerala who can earn a living with his education if out of politics? We have lawyers and doctors who have never practised.We have graduates and post graduates who have never been employed.We have a few land owners who can sustain them well though - ancestral property.Despite that almost all have enough property by the time they are old and caught in scandals.{Thomas Issac, Savithri laxman,Thomas k.V, Krishnakumar, sreemathi are exceptions.Have u ever heard any one of them making a bold statement ever?} Is politics that lucrative? No wonder that our arts college campuses are making more politicians than any one else or no one with any other serious purpose of life ever goes there.
May be the fault is entirely ours as we have allowed these cunning rogues to represent us.How many of us ever contested an election?Well there are panchayat/muncipal elections to start with.Civics has been taken out of curriculum long time ago from schools!!

Future: A retired mans abode .

Probably the best scenario. Reasons- excellent service industry including health care.No industrialisation due to lack of resources (land ,electricity and committed work force).Diaspora has better jobs abroad till their will to work wanes.(Florida has the same climate as Kerala and we have no hurricanes and tsunami is rare).So expatriates breath easy .U will all get back to kerala when the time is ripe(or when u ripen) and enjoy the laziness of the system as it will exist.

Babin said...

@olof Thank you very much for enriching this blog with your thoughts. I am surprised by your depth of knowledge in analyzing contemporary kerala.

Overall, I am also optimistic about the future of kerala. Especially since these days the chances that either Cochin or Trivandrum will turn into a well planned urban center is very promising. I don't know if people understand the stakes involved for Kerala to produce a job magnet city like Bangloor,Chennai or Hydrabad as other southern states have. It is the only chance of quelling the 20% unemployment rates that u mentioned.
Also, I think Kerala along with India had hit the rock bottom of economic development and there is no place to go but up for our economy to catch up. In other words GDP growths rates will be very high over the next 5 years atleast since state’s GDP base is very low

Your thoughts about quality Vs Quantity is absolutely true. Historically, it is a no brainer for kerala's socialist rooted politicians (LDF and UDF alike) and opinion makers. They always chose Quantity over quality. Things are slowly changing. Thanks to a much liberal central government and even Supreme Court!

Kerala has been like a child who doesn't take medicine because the medicine tastes bitter! Somehow Keralites and their politicians are very stubborn about enduring agonies of economic reforms in exchange for a better future ahead. It is a classic issue in every other transforming economies but in Kerala things are complicated 100 times because of its unique political environment.

@SJ
I would say that why we are the way we are is due to the fact that we dont have to work hard for a living at all.Its the same climate through out the year. Rain / no rain being the big challenge.With the land reform bill of first communist govt, farmers got deeds to the land they farmed.90 % of the land can yeild one food crop or the other to sustain the tiller and family.(I say Can, but many dont till).So is their any thing to worry about? And why should WE work extra at all.GOD'S OWN COUNTRY.

SJ, I thought of the same when I read that Jared Diamond’s book from college. Productivity of kerala's LAND, not the people, has been very high. It gave us a very high level of comfort that none of our neighboring states had not enjoyed. One can argue, so called "Kerala Model" is a byproduct of the locational advantage we had in the subcontinent. Unfortunately this advantage we had is coming back and biting us on our back! darn it!

I am seeing very deeeeeeeep discussions here... never thought it will get this deeep!

Anonymous said...

hey guys n gals...i dont think ur discussing stg thats important..these revelations are neither great nor shocking ...y dont u do the research in depth.any kiddo knows these simple truths abt kerals.gud luck next time

Mind Curry said...

anonymous here has provided us a glimpse of what lies ahead as a giant task for us - motivating some of that "100% literate people" we have in our state- like anonymous himself.. or herself.

anyway, for the benefit of our own ignorant selves, i hope we have the permission to continue our discussions on simple truths.

alex said...

Anon,
I accept you are learned. So we will just keep to discussing simple truths. Truth is the truth whether simple or hard.

Its better talking simple.

sJ said...

Jared Diamond wrote another book "Collapse" on his study on how societies collapsed(Babin may find it useful, a lil too dry for a casual reader like me).Kerala may survive long with the present plundering if the past collapsed societies are the model.Environmentalist are a vital part if we are to survive well in to 22nd century.If surveys are to be beleived then green cover of kerala is increasing. No not the ones who are oppsed to neuturing stray dogs also as it may hurt its girl friends feelings.I mean some one who can give constructive suggestions for doing things and corecting the destruction.Sounds difficult and Utopian but that is what is wanted and not the opposition for the sole reason of opposing.

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