Kerala Model of Development

Regional Development of Kerala

The reasons why states are poor – cannot be attributed to just income but also low human development.

Kerala, actually stands out because it has low per capita income and yet has a high human development and it figures higher on the social indicators list.

Trickle down hypothesis says that only when you have high levels of income can the State invest in social development. So a State cannot do the latter without the former.

Kerala is an exception because it shows that a region need not wait for income to rise and for a state to intervene and invest

major features of Kerala’s developmental achievements

1. Health Achievements

Demographic indicators

In Kerala, health and demographic transitions have been achieved within a single generation, i.e. after the formation of Kerala state. Four indicators which represent the outcomes of the health and demographic transitions in Kerala are life expectancy at birth, the infant mortality rate and the birth and death rates.

Life expectancy at birth in Kerala is similar to the corresponding figures for developing countries classified as having achieved high human development in Human Development Report,1993.

The birth rate in Kerala is also much lower than the birth rate for all of India. The decline in birth rate in Kerala was particularly substantial in the 1980s. Kerala’s low birth rate is associated with comparatively high rates of birth control.

The death rate in Kerala has declined steadily since the beginning of this century, and more rapidly than the Indian average.

The infant mortality rate of kerala in 1993 is better than the average for developing countries with ‘high human development’.

Food consumption and nutrition

According to the NNMB ( National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau) data, Kerala was the only state in which consumption improved over the 2 periods ( 1975-59, 1988-90) in terms of both anthropometric and intake indicators

Literacy in kerala

Literacy – and in particular female literacy – is an essential facilitator of kerala’s achievements in the spheres of health and of demographic change

Sex ratio

A key indicator of the historical status of women in Kerala and of the influence of the culture of old kerala on socio-economic development is the sex ratio, measured here as females per thousand males in the population. The sex ratio was 1040 in 1991 and has been more than 1000 at every census since the formation of the State.

The economy

 Kerala’s achievements are an outstanding example of the power of public action even in conditions of low production growth. However, Kerala faces an acute crisis in the spheres of employment and material production. People at large and political parties perceive the problems of unemployment and production as the major economic problems of the immediate future. The question also been raised is whether the development achievements of Kerala’s people can be sustained if the employment and production situations are not transformed.

 Net state domestic product per capita in kerala is below Indian average.

 Kerala’s agriculture is characterised by the existence of a series of agricultural micro environments suited to different kinds of mixed farming and by a substantial proportion of perennial crops in total agricultural output.

 The manufacturing sector grew at 2.8 % per annum between 1970-71. and 1986-87; the corresponding growth rates in Tamil nadu and Karnataka wee 5.3% and 6.0%

 Productive capita per capita in the factory sector has been consistently lower in kerala than in the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The state govt spread its invst thin ; most units were small with low absolute levels of invst. Their small sizw has made many of these enterprises financially and technologically unviable

Capital industrial entrepreneurship in Kerala is ill developed. One reason for the slow development of large and medium scale industries is  perhaps the lack of entrepreneurs interested in their development. There is only one big capitalist industrial house from Kerala.

Kerala kas the highest rate of unemployment in the country. Unemployment is high particularly among educated persons.

Kerala has a history of labour migration and remittances from outside the state influence disposable incomes significantly. From the 1970s the migration of workers to countries of West Asia particularly Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE has been a major feature of social and economic life in Kerala.

 Despite the stagnation in per capita domestic income, per capita consumption expenditure registered a steady increase.

 Market forces will not ensure that productive invst appears spontaneously; transformation in the spheres of production and employment requires public intervention. State supported infrastructural invst is crucial for industrial and agricultural growth in Kerala. The potential for the expansion of skilled employment in Kerala is extraordinary. Any plan for rural economic growth in kerala must consider the very promising opportunities for growth based on the mixed cultivation of diverse crops that require skilled crop management and that involve new forms of production organisation.  

2. Historical aspects

a) Aspects of caste and gender relations in kerala

Among the worst forms of untouchability in the country were practiced in kerala, and the oppression of people of the oppressed caste took savage forms

At the top of the traditional caste hierarchy were the Namboodiris, Malayalam speaking Brahmans who were patrilineal. At the bottom of the caste- Hindu scale were the Nayars, who were matrilineal. Below the Nayars in terms of ritual status were the Izhava caste.

The diversity in the traditional caste calling of the people of the Izhava caste was to have important consequences for the Izhava social reform movt.

In traditional Kerala, matrilineal systems of inheritance were followed by an important section of people. The Nayars were matrilineal and so were some sections of Ambalavasi and Izhava caste and sections of Muslim population.

The matrilineal system influenced social and cultural development in kerala in general. It contributed to changing social attitudes and it contributed to creating social conditions in which women made real progress in health and education. Progressive social attitudes towards female survival and female education are a precondition for the health and demographic transition. In the case of Kerala, a set of historical and sociological conditions – inclusing systems of marriage and matrilineal inheritance that were specific to the region – contributed to the establishment of such attitudes.

b) Literacy expansion in the nineteenth century

Mass literacy requires mass schooling, and the history of literacy in Kerala is closely linked with the history of modern schooling, introduced in the region in the first part of the nineteenth century.

Modern schools were first established by Christian missionaries and later by the state. Protestant missionaries were pioneers of modern school education. The importance of Protestant missions for education lay in their leading role in giving a new direction to schooling in the early 19th century.

  • First, the mass base of the Protestant missionaries, such as it was, came from the oppressed castes , the Shanars, the Pulayas and Izhavas.

  • Secondly, there was a clear perception among the early Protestant missionaries that educational work was a necessary pre-requisite for their religious work.

  • Thirdly, it followed that missionaries asserted the right of people of oppressed castes to modern education, and mission schools were the only new style schools to which the people of oppressed castes had access.

  • Fourthly, conversion and primary education were linked with missionary led movements against other features of Hindu Society : against untouchabilty and distance pollution; against agrarian slavery, against upper caste prohibition on women of ritually impure castes wearing clothes above the waist, and against other caste-taboos.

  • Fifthly, missionary education brought girls from oppressed castes to schools.

  • Sixthly, the school courses though biased towards Christian theology, also had a secular component to school studies (arithmetic, geography).

  • Seventhly, instruction in these schools was in the vernacular i.e Tamil and Malayalam.

  • Eighthly, missionary schools were the first institutions of elementary technical training or craft schools.

The rulers of Travancore, under the influence of missionaries and British, took significant initiative in spreading mass education and mass literacy.

Education was linked to employment, and schooling a pre-requisite for a government job

c) Caste based reform movements

The well known caste reform movements were among the people of the Izhava and Pulaya castes and among the Nayars and Namboodiris. Caste movts were active in the movt for social reform and for changes in social practices, particularly the practice of untouchability; they also made efforts to reform internal caste rules and to alter, by means of state intervention through legislation, inheritance laws and rules of family organisation.

The Izhava social reform movt: For all the advances in the economic status, the Izhava people continued to be victims of different forms of caste discrimination. The emerging Izhava elite demanded the right to be full participants in the modernisation that began in the 19th century. Their main movts were against untouchability

for literacy and education, for employment in govt jobs, and for greater representation in the restricted franchise legislature.

The Pulaya social reform movt : Demands for education and against caste discrimination and civil disabilities were important to the agenda of the movt.

Nayars :.Nayar caste movts aimed at increased access to higher education and at large scale Nayar entry into the professions and the bureaucracy. Two important features of reform among Nayars were the reform of marriage law and the reform of property law.

Namboodiris : There were reform movts against reactionary marriage practices within the caste, and for the right to modern education

3. Agrarian change

Agrarian relations

A foundational feature of Kerala’s development experience and of social and economic progress in Kerala, is the transformation of agrarian relations in the state. The history of this change is a history of public action – which took the form of mass struggle and of legislative action – against some of the most complex, exploitative and oppressive rural social formations in the country.

Agrarian movements

Agrarian rebellion was fiercest in Malabar, and the organised peasant and agricultural worker movt in Kerala began there.

Three main currents in the movement to transform agrarian relations in Malabar have been identified.

The first was the movt of Mapilla tenants and agricultural labourers against ‘lord and state’

The second major current was the organised effort of kanakkaran intermediaries to acquire occupancy rights on land over which they had kanam rights

The third current was the most radical current, the movement of peasants and working tenants that culminated in the land reform of contemporary Kerala

The independent class demands of agricultural workers involved the right to organise, demands against social oppression, for higher wages, for payment in standard measures and against arbitrary exactions from landlords.

Land reform

Land reform was crucial to the transformation of agrarian relations in Kerala. The land reforms had 3 major components.

The first involved that burdensome, complex, and rampant affliction of Kerala agriculture tenancy

Second main component of land reform involved homestead land occupied by the rural poor. Occupants of such land were to be given ownership rights

3rd component – concerned the imposition of limits on land ownership and the distribution of land identified as surplus to the landless.

The agrarian movement has played a crucial role in creating an awareness of people’s rights, in democratising rural life, and in creating conditions favourable to the spread of mass education and facilities for improved conditions of public health.

4. The role of the Left

The Communist party and the organisations of workers, peasants, agricultural labourers, students, teachers, youth and women under its leadership, have been the major organisers and leaders of mass political movts in Kerala since the end of the 1930s, and have been the major agents of the politicisation of the mass of Kerala’s people. The different movts included the freedom movt, movt of workers, peasants and radical intellectuals

The first govt. in Kerala was a Communist govt and the major features of its agenda and of later communist ministries in the State were, among other things, land reform, health, education and strengthening the system of public distribution of food and other essential commodities.

5. Women’s agency

2 issues regarding the place and the role of women in Kerala’s development achievements are worth emphasizing. First Kerala’s women have made outstanding gains in the fields of education and health and are more equal participants with men in education and health achievements than in any other part of India.

Secondly, Kerala’s experience is a dramatic example of the role of women’s agency in advancing the social and economic development of a society. Female literacy and education are crucial determinants of child survival, general health and hygiene. These, in turn determine progress in other demographic and health indicators

6. State Governments

The areas of State govt intervention in Kerala that have been most significant for the people have been land reform, health and education, and the public distribution system. It also introduced measures to provide protective social security to persons outside the organised sector, who are not usually covered by such schemes. Throughout the post independence period, health expenditure as proportion of total expenditure has been higher in kerala than in any other state

Education was also an early concern. The proportion of total govt expenditure spent on education in Kerala is much higher than the corresponding proportion spent by all the states.

The 2 tier public distribution system was established and strengthened in the 1970s and the 1980s

Kerala has social security measures that cover most sections of rural workers


There has been a progressive transformation in Kerala of the health and demographic conditions characteristic of less developed societies, and the state is far ahead of the rest of India with respect to these conditions


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