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Is Kerala losing form like Sachin Tendulkar?

Debraj Bhattacharya

Updated: September 30, 2013, 12:01 PM IST
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It is well-known that Kerala is India's Sachin Tendulkar when comes to progress in Human Development. Over the last two decades it has made giant strides in human development and decentralized planning, which has been lauded both nationally as well as internationally. The latest Human Development Report published by the Planning Commission in 2011 ranks Kerala as the first in this regard among all Indian states (Government of India: 2011). I have visited Kerala on several occasions in the last decade and have seen many of its outstanding achievements - the Panchayats, the health system, the schools, the lush green countryside and the beautiful backwaters which are an international tourist destination. The achievements of this small coastal state with high density of population are indeed inspiring.

In 2007 I visited the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) to learn about Kerala's achievements in local governance. One faculty member, whose name I unfortunately do not remember, made an excellent presentation about the problems faced by the tribal population (about 5%) and he said that their reality is very different from rest of Kerala. OK, I thought, but still the rest of the achievements are definitely worth feeling proud of as an Indian.

Malnutrition deaths in Atapaddi

Recently however there have been reports of children suffering from malnutrition in tribal areas and in Atapaddi area there have been several infant deaths due to malnutrition and hunger. The Kerala Human Rights Commission has also condemned the state government for poor performance in tribal areas. Clearly all is not well in God's Own Country.

Violence against Women and girls

A recent study coordinated by Dr. L. Thara Bhai on behalf of the Institute of Social Sciences, has raised a question mark regarding safety of women and girls in the state and has shown that violence against women is a matter of serious concern. The report, titled "Women Victims of Crimes in Kerala 2012-13" has made some disturbing observations. Let me briefly point out some of them:

• National Crime Record Bureau's "Crime in India 2011" report has ranked Kerala only next to Assam in terms of crimes against women.
• The respondents of the study have all agreed that crimes against women are increasing.
• Many college going girls have said that they are afraid to step out of their houses. They have said that travelling in buses to their college is often a horrible experience because of the behaviour of the bus conductors.
• Married women have to face violence at home and dowry related harassment.
• Violence against the girl child is also increasing.
• Alcoholism and drug abuse is rampant in Kerala and this is directly related to increase in violence against women and girls. 99.6 % of the respondents said that there is a positive correlation between alcoholism and crime against women. 87% of the respondents said that there is a positive correlation between drugs and crime against women.
• The perpetrators of such violence are often protected by political leaders and the police are therefore not able to convict the criminals.
• Victims of crimes against women often have to bear the pain all alone as their families try to cover up the issue, especially in case of middle-class families.

Plight of Migrant Workers

According to a report published on 21 August 2013 in New Indian Express a study conducted by Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation has raised serious concern about the condition of migrants in the state. Over 2.5 million workers, mostly from Uttar Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, are employed in Kerala. They get reasonable wages but their living conditions are extremely unhygienic. They live in shanties and the State Human Rights Commission has received several complains that the labour camps where migrants live do not have basic amenities like toilets. The report quotes Mr. M K Appunni, retired additional district medical officer of Kozhikode and a study by Organisation of International Social, Cultural Advancement and says that diseases like faliciparum malaria, hepatitits B, typhoid, AIDS etc are increasing. (New Indian Express: 21.08.13)

Excluded communities

The Fourth Finance Commission Report of Kerala (2011) also pointed towards certain important failures of Kerala regarding inclusion of vulnerable groups in the development process of the state. I quote:

"8.3. ... It is now fairly well documented that the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and fisherfolk community are the most marginalized social groups of Kerala. They remain 'outliers' or stay excluded from the social achievements of the so-called 'Kerala Model'. Landlessness, poor housing, relatively high infant mortality and maternal mortality, low level of life expectancy, worsening sanitary conditions, adverse female male ratio (e.g. 979 for fisherfolk as against 1058 for the state as a whole is remarkably telling), poverty-induced diseases and so on continue to bedevil these groups." (Oommen: 2011)

It went on to say in Para 8.14 "that more than one-fourth of SC/fisherfolk and around two-fifth of the ST population are deprived of basic amenities indicates the magnitude of inequality and exclusion prevailing in Kerala economy".

Decentralisation and Public Health

Finally we consider two aspects of Kerala in which it is world famous - its decentralization initiatives and its public health system. Here also everything is not great. According to the Report of the Committee for Evaluation of Decentralised Planning and Development (2009):

"Quality of actual delivery of services to the level of the citizens has not improved. A detailed survey of 20 GPs and 379 patients both out patients and inpatients conducted by the Centre for Socio-Economic Change in 2006 show serious shortfall in the quality of services provided at the PHC level. Some of them are reported below. While some can be attended at the local level, many need the attention of higher level authorities. Nearly 5 per cent of PHC do not have electricity connection. Only 60 per cent PHCs had adequate stock of drugs. Although there are serious inadequacies it is important to note that out of 379 patients surveyed 41 per cent were "fully satisfied" and received all the medicines prescribed by the PHC. One worrisome aspect is the fact 91 per cent of the patients have not heard about the citizen's charter with reference to PHCs. In this way accountability to the community is rendered weak. This is also indicative of the poor growth of local democracy."(Oommen: 2009:104)

Clearly therefore Kerala has no room for complacency based on the Human Development Index. If Kerala fails to address the challenges mentioned here it will be a huge loss not only for Kerala but also for India. We need Kerala to be the Sachin Tendulkar of 2000 rather Sachin Tendulkar of today. But is class and patriarchy becoming more powerful than the forces of egalitarian change?


Government of India (2011) India Human Development Report 2011, New Delhi, OUP.

L. Thara Bhai (2013) Women Victims of Crimes in Kerala 2012-13, Institute of Social Sciences. New Delhi.

The Hindu (03.08.2013) Kerala pays lip service to tribal welfare: Right Panel Checked on 21.08.13
MA Oommen et al (2011) Report of the Fourth Finance Commission of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.
M A Oommen, et al (2009) Report of the Committee of Evaluation of Decentralised Planning and Development. Thiruvananthapuram.
The New Indian Express (21.08.13) Unhygienic Migrant colonies turning state into a slum, Checked on 21.08.13

First Published: September 30, 2013, 12:01 PM IST