Kerala’s self-proclaimed nickname is “God’s Own Country.” This is not far from the truth in a verdant state of beaches, coconut and banana plantations, and hills of coffee and tea. This green tropical state is almost how one would picture Eden. Yet, its goodness extends far beyond its natural beauty. Those familiar with Kerala know that it’s a picture of what India could be. Independence in 1947 merged three states (two independent, plus the British-ruled province of Malabar) into present day Kerala, based on linguistic lines (Kerala is the only state that speaks Malayalam). Although many people give credit to the mainly-Italian missionaries that settled here, at the time of Independence, Kerala was much like the rest of India. In 1947, literacy in Kerala was marginally higher than the rest of India; today it boasts a 98% literacy rate, compared with 65% for the rest of India (approximately 50% for females and 75% for males). Life expectancy in Kerala is 74 years, a full 10 years more than the Indian national average. The educational system, anti-upper-caste movements, and a history of matrilineal societies have also helped Kerala avoid many social problems. The female-male ratio is 1.06 (same as western countries), compared to .93 in the rest of male-dominated female-subjugated India. Kerala is ahead of even China in many educational and health statistics, while India uniformly lags behind its neighbor across the board (except for civil rights issues, of course). In fact, China could probably learn from Kerala, where education is credited with reducing the fertility rate from the Indian national average of 3.0 to 1.9 (below that of even China). Studies have actually shown that education is better at reducing family size than coercive measures. It is widely known that Kerala has one of two communist governments in Kerala. Right-wingers always credit the missionaries for Kerala’s development, while statistics show that radical left policies have worked at curing problems here. The flipside is, of course, that economic development is behind the Indian average and many Keralan’s go abroad to find work (mainly the Middle East), which accounts for the unrivaled amount of money that flows into the state from foreign remittances. And so Kerala is a model of successful left-wing-policies being implemented in India, and it poses an interesting question: social well-being or economic growth? It seems that in a nation where 850 million are close to starving, Kerala’s prioritization of welfare is worth looking at.
Much of the information here is from The Argumentative Indian, by Amrtya Sen. It is the best book I’ve ever read on India and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about India, whether you were born and raised here or don’t know a thing about India.