issue 241 - March 1993
KERALA is a poor state in a poor country. Yet its people
have a quality of life that is better than the rest of India or
almost any other low-income state. In fact, the quality of
life in Kerala is closer to that in the West. But they have
achieved it in a most un-Western way.
PEOPLE AND PLACE
It's the size of Switzerland and supports a population of 29 million people. That's 747 people per square kilometre1 compared with 234 in the UK, 160 in Switzerland, 26 in the US, 21 in Canada, 12 in Aotearoa/New Zealand and 2 in Australia.2
Of its population 60 per cent are Hindu, 20 per cent are Muslim and 20 per cent are Christian. A small Jewish community of 22 people remains.
In 1957 Kerala was the first state in the world to bring to power a communist government via democratic elections rather than revolution.
Over 90 per cent of people in Kerala own the land on which their home stands. Land ownership is limited to eight hectares per family.3
LITERACY AND EDUCATION
Kerala's literacy rate is higher than that of any Low-Income Country. The only countries in the Third World to have higher literacy are Cuba, Chile and Costa Rica.
30 per cent of total state spending is on education.3
LIFE AND HEALTH
Fair-price shops and ration cards ensure that two-thirds of the subsidized basic foods go to the poorest 30 per cent. And 99 per cent of Kerala's villages have a fair-price shop within two kilometres.6
POLITICS AND PENDULUMS
United Democratic Front (UDF)
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
QUALITY AND ECONOMY
But in conventional economic terms it is a poor state - lagging behind the rest of India.
Kerala manages to maintain high consumption and low productivity thanks to remittances from workers in the Gulf which equal 20 to 25 per cent of the state domestic product. Only two per cent of this is invested in commercial ventures. Most of it is spent on land, houses, cars or jewellery.8,3
WOMEN AND SOCIETY
94 per cent of primary- age girls and 99 per cent of primary-age boys are in school.3
There are more females than males enrolled in arts and sciences pre-degree, degree and graduated courses - a total of 82,538 women and 73,516 men in 1990-1.1
WORK AND RESOURCES
Major exports include rubber, pepper, cardamom, ginger, coffee, tea, cashews.
In 1986 women accounted for 28 per cent of Government employees and 36 per cent of employees in organized economic entities.3
An estimated 150,000 Keralites are working in the Gulf. Many are skilled technicians and medical staff.
Unemployment is the highest in India, with an estimated four million job seekers. 63.8 per cent of educated job-seekers were unemployed in 1991.7,1
1 Economic Review 1991, Government of Kerala State Planning Board.
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