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I requested my friend Varghese to respond to the following question
raised by Arvind. Varghese(Assistant Director/Shipping, Hong Kong Marine
Department) is hugely interested in all matters relating to Kerala. Also
attached is a long article provided by Varghese, which perhaps really
interested ones should read when you have time in hand. Nothing much
there relating to current discussion on Education.
For quick answer to Arvind's question (from Varghese perspective), simply
scroll down to the last paragraph below.
>Can someone post on what exactly the successive governments in
>Kerala have done? If I am not mistaken, Kerala had a head start in
>literacy rate thanks to the good monarchy which encouraged
>schools and healthcare. I am also interested in knowing if literacy
>alone is the reason for Kerala's success or if there are other factors.
>If so, what are they?
> Varghese's response:
> I append my personal views below. I also attach an article by an American
> academic . If you cannot open the attachment please let me know. I am
> sending this from my Mac and there may be problems for you PC users.(i
> had no problem in opening the attachment - suresh)
> Kerala seems to be coming up in various
> discussions as a model for other States. I am not an expert in
> development matters, but having born and grown up in Kerala I have
> witnessed the changes taking place there. For those who are more
> academically inclined I attach an article The Enigma of Kerala, not
> because I agree with all that is said there.
> Firstly, some common assumptions need to be put in their place. Land
> reform, high literacy, equal (almost) status for women in society and
> benevolent kings of the past have all contributed to the transformation
> of Kerala society. But I venture to suggest that certain underlying
> characteristics of the society have been instrumental in promoting the
> reasons mentioned. The problem however is that the character of a
> society, its personality, is developed over centuries and cannot be
> copied instantly and easily.
> Officially Kerala today has the lowest per capita GDP in India. I have
> doubts about the calculations, but suffice to say that its per capita
> income is one of the lowest in India. But Malayalees have learned to
> make the best use of their minimal resources in achieving a reasonable
> quality of living. I will try to dwell on some of the personality
> traits of Malayalees, which have contributed to this achievement.
> The Kings and the ruling class in the small kingdoms of Kerala generally
> refrained from the practice of exploiting the population through over
> taxing, for their grandiose schemes. (Why? The ethos of the land
> prevented them exercising extreme arbitrary powers.) We do not have
> magnificent (expensive to make and non-productive) temples, palaces and
> forts. They were utilitarian at best. There was a feeling of live and
> let live. Even though Kerala Brahmins had invented some of the most
> atrocious customs to keep the lower classes in their place, the actual
> effect was never severe nor has it left festering wounds (By law only one
> Brahmin family was permitted per village. The best way to limit
> exploitation is to limit the number of exploiters!). In general there
> has been a better acceptance of the dignity of an individual regardless
> of the strata of society to which he belonged.
> The sense of individual dignity is further aided by the way people live
> in the villages. Almost everyone has a piece of land and a house to live
> in. The land area even when small can still bring in some income from
> agriculture. The agricultural labour class has never been totally
> dependent on a single landlord for its sustenance. As a result, the
> landlords (smaller holdings, compared to rest of India) have never been
> able to blatantly exploit the workers or make them helpless and
> A second characteristic is the position of women; having had a
> matrilineal system, historically women always had a say in the matters.
> Kerala used to be the only State in India (and now Haryana) having more
> females than males.One result of this has been the achievements in
> female education , more critical to population growth than the overall
> literacy rate itself. Without female education the improvements in
> public health and lowering of birth and child mortality rates could
> never have been achieved.
> A third characteristic is religious tolerance. Kerala was fortunate
> that there was no imposition of religions through force. There are no
> historical scores to settle and the people live in comparative peace.
> To this backdrop comes the modern schooling system introduced in 19th
> century (available to all casts and creeds) and the gradual rise in
> literacy. With independence and the communist influence individual
> dignity has been nurtured (land reforms, labour union movements etc.).
> The point to note is that the Kerala population was willing to accept
> the changes imposed without too much social upheaval. Land reform has
> remained such a sensitive and sticky subject all over India, because of
> the entrenched feudal and caste systems.
> Demands on the State from a Malayalee are quite nominal. Schools,
> hospitals and roads are demanded and provided (very basic facilities) at
> the cost of other development projects. I have never heard the people
> criticizing the government for the high unemployment rate. There does
> not seem to be any expectation that the government will come up with
> magic solutions. What Kerala is today is not the result of any
> conscious plans implemented by the Kings or the politicians of modern
> state. They just responded to the demands of the society as a whole (not
> just for the benefit of influential few) , not necessarily as best as
> they could, and we are what we are today.
> The drop in the birthrate is recent. A direct result of female education
> and improvements in basic public health facilities. The government has
> generally been an onlooker.The birthrates were already falling by the
> 60s, much before we heard of "Hum Do Hamare Do". The Malayalees would not
> in any case have tolerated arbitrary attempts by the government
> interfere in their personal choices (remember the individual dignity
> Kerala is not a paradise now. We are the most crowded State. We also
> have the highest unemployment rate. It is a serious problem when the
> unemployed are educated. While our primary and secondary education
> systems are adequate, the tertiary system is substandard. We have hardly
> any manufacturing industry and have not been able to break into the
> service sector that is expanding all over the country. We have no
> established enterprising class.
> The State is bankrupt, though not as corrupt as in other States, and
> cannot undertake any serious development work. Decision-making is
> difficult because the Malayalee trait of individualism hinders
> compromises. So, do not expect Kerala to be the Switzerland of
> Kerala is a State where the majority of population belongs to the lower
> middle class. Few rich and few really dispossessed.It is not a rich
> society, but to an outsider it may look like one.
> What Kerala has shown is that, to achieve a longer life span, to
> prevent starvation deaths, to avoid child labour or begging, it is not
> necessary to have a large per capita income. What you need a society
> devoid of major conflicts, universal school education, equality for
> females and respect for individual dignity. Those who are trying to
> emulate Kerala should note the need for social changes rather than
> putting faith in hastily devised economic/educational plans.
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