In Defence of Kerala

Pinarayi Vijayan

By Pinarayi Vijayan

Thiruvananthapuram: A few years ago, while speaking at the launch of International Centre for Human Development, a collaboration of United Nations Development Programme and Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, in Delhi, renowned Economist and Nobel laureate Prof. Amartya Sen had said, ‘there is a lot to learn from Kerala in delivering quality life.’ Advocating the much-acclaimed ‘Kerala Model of Development’ Sen also rolled out data which proved that we were far ahead of other Indian states in terms of social indicators.

One could argue that it was a few years ago and that much has changed since then. In fact, I would agree with them. Much has changed since then, for the better. Subsequently, Kerala was declared by the United Nations as the only state in the country which figures prominently somewhere at the top of the Human Development Index. More recently, particularly over the last 15 months, Kerala was adjudged as the best state in India, in the category of Law and Order, by India Today. Centre for Media Studies rated Kerala as one of the least corrupt states in the country. Based on a study conducted by the Public Affairs Centre, Kerala topped other Indian states in the Public Affairs Index. Kerala Police bagged the Police Excellence Award from Cops Today International as well during this period.

Kerala continues to lead the country in literacy and it is heartening that since the LDF Government has assumed office, Kerala furthered its enviable position in leading the Indian states on various counts. Kerala became the first Indian state with high population density to become Open Defecation Free. Kerala became the only state in the country to achieve 100 per cent electrification. Kerala is the only state which has a population proportionate allocation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the state budget. The percentage allocation made under those heads is higher than what is allotted in any other state in the country. In fact, Kerala even went to the extent of becoming the first to declare access to internet as a right to its citizens.

The list of firsts vis a vis Kerala is almost endless. We are the first to have a transgender policy. We are the first to maintain a registry of sex offenders. Kerala leads the country with the lowest infant mortality rates, highest sex ratio, highest health and life indices, highest foreign remittances, highest number of tourists, presence of modern roads in villages, availability of free education, access to free health and so on and so forth. Giving further focus on women, Kerala even set up a separate department for them and reintroduced gender budgeting with a share of 16 per cent in the state’s budget. With the highest minimum wage in the country, Kerala attracts a large number of migrant labourers and even instituted a health insurance scheme for them.

While transgenders were employed in Kochi Metro, we also ensured that differently abled have more reservation in higher education and jobs. Our care for the dispossessed is better than anywhere else in India that even the Central Minister for Social Justice recently had to say that the Dalits are safest in Kerala. Our general law and order situation is peaceful and Kerala Police have a conviction rate which is far higher than even that of the CBI. The Union Minister for Home has gone on record that law and order in Kerala is satisfactory. While some mention the high rate of crime in Kerala, one needs to understand that it is a testimony of the excellent work done by the police in ensuring that even the smallest of crimes should not go unreported and that the culprits are brought to book, as evinced by our conviction rate. The reality is that in many parts of the country, even serious crimes go unreported as the public’s faith in the police is not as high as it is in Kerala.

While all that refers to the present day Kerala, historically too, we have had a rich heritage. We had thriving trade relations with some of the erstwhile trade centres, including Rome and China. With these exchanges came people from different regions, religions and cultures. Thus, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all smoothly coexisted in the state over the centuries. Our spices were highly sought after in Europe. We developed a cosmopolitan ethos, receiving all those who came to our shores and freely giving to and taking from all of them. Such cultural exchanges are visible in our language, dress, food and even architecture, till this day.

Recently, in a blog article Justice Markandeya Katju, wrote, “Kerala is a microcosm of India. Keralites are the real Indians.” Around the same time veteran actor Kamal Haasan said that Kerala sets an example for neighbouring states. It is true that Kerala is a microcosm of India and that we set an example, particularly when it comes to religious harmony. Kerala has a proud heritage of renaissance led by people like Sree Narayana Guru, Chattambi Swamikal, Ayyankali, Makthi Thangal and others, who are revered by people across the state, regardless of their religious backgrounds. Riding on the waves of that renaissance, the progressive movements of the state were in the forefront of the freedom struggle. They were also instrumental in making the voice of the peasants and workers heard, winning land and rights for them which are still a distant dream in many other parts of our country.

Focusing on education, successive progressive governments in Kerala have paved the way to ensure that Malayalees are among the most educated people in the country. Malayalees have also been instrumental in nation building, holding high offices within the country and abroad, since Independence. One should not forget that the first person to hold the highest office of this country from our disadvantaged sections was from Kerala. India’s much beloved Metro Man, is also a Malayalee. It was in the state of Kerala that our pioneering ideas in space technology were developed. All around the world, Kerala is doing India proud by way of its migrant engineers, nurses and doctors. On top of all of this, Kerala is in the forefront of earning the much essential foreign exchange for our country’s exchequer through our human resources, spices, cashew and rubber.

In India, while inequality is quite high, Kerala has been able to keep it at the lower levels, thanks to progressive policies that ensure that our workers are paid comparatively at a higher level than their counterparts anywhere else in India. In the last year, we have revised the wages of our nurses, anganwadi workers, coir workers, handloom workers, cashew workers, plantation workers, daily wage labourers and several others, who were already among the highest paid in the country. Most of the workers who are thus benefitted are women. To top it off, Kerala’s women have been some of the best sportspersons our country has ever had. Kerala’s women even live longer than the average Indian women, thanks to the efforts towards universal health care, which has made Kerala at par with the world’s most developed countries in health indices, including sex ratio and life expectancy.

Cutting across political lines, everybody expressed the view that Kerala is in fact the best state in the country on several socio-economic indices and particularly in the case of law and order, in the recent all-party meeting held in the state. It is this beacon of hope and model for the rest of India that is being sought to be tarnished in the name of isolated incidents. At the same time, thousands are murdered, thousands are raped and thousands of infants die annually, elsewhere. While we need to be anguished at every instance where an Indian citizen is suffering, we should also be pained when a model state is being tarnished by vested interests. Let us resolve to stand against all divisive forces and protect the microcosm of India, so that it would continue to bring laurels to our country.

(Pinarayi Vijayan is Chief Minister, Kerala)