Kerala – A Special Place in India

When I say Kerala is the best state in India to be… I am not pushing patriotic bull shit,  nor am I doing propaganda for my chief minister. We are one of the most self critical people in India and when we say we are the best , it is based on facts and figures which you can verify.

There is more to Kerala than the beaches, the backwaters and the hill stations. The following is an extract from Wikipedia.

“Kerala, a state in India, is a bizarre anomaly among developing nations, a place that offers real    hope for the future of the Third World. Though not much larger than Maryland, Kerala has a population as big as California’s and a per capita annual income of less than $300 mn dollar. But its infant mortality rate is very low, its literacy rate among the highest on Earth, and its birth rate below America’s and falling faster. Kerala’s residents live nearly as long as Americans or Europeans. Though mostly a land of paddy-covered plains, statistically Kerala stands out in social development; there’s truly no place like it.”

 Let us start with our shortcomings..

Where are the highways ?

 We don’t have really wide roads in Kerala, the kind you see in Tamil Nadu or Gujarat with 6 lanes and dividers in between. We are a very small state, 1.2% of India’s landmass hosting 2.8% of its population here. Our population is roughly the same as Canada or Poland, but with the area of Switzerland. In this small area of land mass, 21% are covered by forests and unusable for everyday life.


We are so densely populated that we cannot afford to build 6 lane highways across the state connecting every small village and town. We use most of the land to meet our housing and commercial needs keeping in mind the preservation of the natural beauty of the Kerala. 30% of our GDP is agriculture and 10% is tourism. Nature is important.

Why is Kerala so densely populated?

Historically, Kerala has been an agrarian economy which flourished on international spice trade. The fertile land supported a healthy and well populated society. We have Portuguese sailors who came with Vasco da Gama commenting on the abundance of people in Kerala way back in 1498. We also started many health reforms starting from early 19th century which increased our life expectancy and reduced mortality rates among children. Both factors led to the densely populated state that we see now.

Since we are in the southernmost tip of India and is protected by sea on one end and the mountain range of Western Ghats on the other, we never had to face any major invasion. Our kings were relatively peaceful people and managed to reign in peace barring minor skirmishes from rest of India. They looked to avoid wars with treaties than endanger the life of their people. Even when Indian Union was formed in 1947, our king decided not to fight because he knew there was no chance of winning against the mighty Indian army. Those princely states, which chose to fight the Indian Union, paid a huge price, with many lives lost, property destroyed and left generations of hurt.

 In this peaceful and fertile land called Kerala.. we have flourished.

Democracy and political consciousness

When we say India is the largest democracy, it is an underestimation of the effort that goes into upholding those values. We are almost like 30 different countries joined together with different cultures, languages and beliefs. It is easy to use punch lines like “Unity in diversity”, but it is a hard job keeping it together. Yet we have been quite successful in doing that for the past 65 years.

Kerala with its top literacy and newspaper reading population is more politically conscious and sensitive than any other state. It makes me very proud to say that we elected the first communist government into power. They started a revolution in the state which is the foundation on which the state grew. But we did not let them rule us forever like in West Bengal where absolute power corrupted the communist party and pretty much destroyed the state. We have been alternatively choosing the left and the right for every election till now. It gave Kerala the sufficient power balance required for us to grow and correct ourselves.

Education and its impact

We are a 100% literate state. It is a sentence you see everywhere they talk about Kerala..  to the point where you have actually trained your mind to ignore it. The effects of education on the culture, society and the economy of Kerala is often underestimated by most Keralites, especially the ones who has never set foot outside Kerala. If it was not for the education Kerala would be been like any other state in India

Kerala’s tryst with modern education started with the Christian missionaries setting up schools knows are pallikoodams and education provided to everyone irrespective of religion or caste. This was very well supported by the rulers of Kerala. The Travancore king gave land in Trivandrum to the missionaries which is currently known as the Ivanios Nagar and is hosting many educational institutions including schools, arts and science colleges and engineering colleges.

Following this model every community in Kerala invested in education, the Ezhavas, NSS and the Muslims of Kerala run many educational institutions. This education is the foundation of modern Kerala’s growth.

With education many of the commoners were able to climb the social ladder, from being a peasant to a farmer to a salaried person or a self-employed person / business owner. What was an agrarian economy a century ago, is now a service driven economy like many European nations. With education we were able to take up opportunities in other states of the country as well as that outside the country. The “gulf boom” is a term used to refer to the mass migration of a lot of workforce from Kerala to the gulf in the 1970’s. The phenomenon continues even today also, albeit with a lesser impact. Educated Keralites take up jobs in Gulf and in many western countries. 

More than the money aspect of education, it has changed the way we think and and how we get involved in the political and democratic process. In the last election the the voter turnout in Kerala was 76%. To give you a comparison, the voter turnout in the last US presidential election as well as the Indian general elections were 57%. Yes, we actively participate in the democratic process.

Women empowerment

If I say, Kerala is the best and safest place to be in India as a woman, someone might laugh, because we hear stories of murders and rapes through our media regularly. We should not forget the fact that these things happen in every part of the world. Since we have a highly educated female population the percentage of unreported incidents are lesser when compared to other states.

 Keeping the rapes and murders apart, if you look at the gender ratio in Kerala there are 1058 females for every 1000 males. For India it is at a much lower 940 females for 1000 males. In Kerala we do not discriminate between the girl child and the boy child.Girl child gets the same education as the boy child. Walk into a post graduation class room and you will know.

Kerala has the highest divorce rate in the country(1.1%). A comparatively  higher divorce rate (when as low as this) can be seen as the result of educated independent females who can stand on their feet, who need not depend on the husband or the in-laws to survive.. Education and financial independence gives them options and the confidence to pursue it instead of living like a slave.

Overall Societal Development

Although India has a low Human Development Index, Kerala leads India with an HDI of 0.79 (2007) keeping it close to the Very High HDI countries of the world. It continues to lead India in both health and education fronts boasting of the highest life expectancy at the time of birth (around 74 years) and the lowest infant mortality rate (13 in 1000). With the privatization of higher education after 2000, the education sector has seen a huge growth adding on the strong base of school education that was set up after 1947. Our population is also under control with a growth of 0.5% over the last two decades. Poverty has been reduced to below 7%, the second lowest in the country, after Goa (5%).

Economic Development

One of the key criticisms of Kerala in the 1970s was that while it excelled at a societal level, it remained weak economically. However, Kerala has been able leap high with the Gulf Boom and the IT boom and is now a vibrant economy registering growth of around 10% year on year for the past decade. The service sector forms 64% of the Kerala economy, with revenues from health, education, travel, tourism and retail. Keralites have gone on to become the biggest consumers in India with even a farmer, the lowest income earner in the state spending 40% more than their counterparts in other states.


© Since 2007-2014 Kenney Jacob. Follow me on Twitter