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Indian DevelopmentSelected Regional Perspectives$

Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780198292043

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198292043.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 04 August 2020

On Kerala's Development Achievements

On Kerala's Development Achievements

Chapter:
(p.205) 4 On Kerala's Development Achievements*
Source:
Indian Development
Author(s):

V.K. Ramachandran

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198292043.003.0004

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter presents a major historical account of Kerala's impressive record in eliminating basic deprivations at an early stage of economic development. Kerala is distinct among Indian states in terms of a wide range of social indicators, including a life expectancy of above seventy-two years and near-universal literacy in the younger age groups. This chapter relates these social achievements to historical conditions and political action. It draws particular attention to the role of early educational expansion, combined with a significant reduction of social and economic inequalities.

Keywords:   Kerala, economic development, life expectancy, literacy, political action, educational expansion, social inequalities, economic inequalities

1. Introduction

The most conspicuous feature of the Indian economy is that hundreds of millions of India's people live in conditions of appalling (p.206) (p.207) deprivation —in conditions of hunger, ill-health, homelessness, illiteracy and subject to different forms of class, caste, and gender oppression. Among the states of India there is, as is now well-known, one state—Kerala—whose performance in the spheres of social and economic development has been substantially better than the others. Kerala's accomplishment shows that the well-being of the people can be improved, and social, political, and cultural conditions transformed, even at low levels of income, when there is appropriate public action.1 In Kerala, the action of mass organizations and mass movements against social, political, and economic oppression and the policy actions of governments have been the most important constituents of public action.

On Kerala's Development Achievements

Map of Kerala

Life expectancy at birth in Kerala was 68.8 years for men and 74.4 years for women in 1990–2. The infant mortality rate in 1992 was 17 per thousand in rural Kerala and 13 per thousand in urban Kerala. There were 1040 females per thousand males in Kerala in 1991. Kerala has the lowest birth and death rates in India, and has more hospital beds relative to the population than any other state. The rate of immunization is among the highest in India, and current data indicate that girls are immunized at the same rate as boys. The rate of literacy among persons in the state who are 7 years old and above is more than 90 per cent. The most radical implementation of land reforms in India has taken place in Kerala. There have been important achievements with respect to the abolition of untouchability. Women in Kerala have made outstanding gains in the spheres of health and education. Kerala has the best public food-distribution system of India's states. The circulation of newspapers is more widespread in Kerala than elsewhere in India. The gaps between ‘backward’ and ‘advanced’ regions of the state have been narrowed substantially.

The objective of this review is to investigate the sources of Kerala's high-profile performance in respect of living standards. When studying the sources of Kerala's current levels of achievement, it quickly becomes clear that Kerala has special features in respect of a host of social circumstances. The purpose of this study, however, is not to study the specific features of Kerala's experience only in order to try and establish Kerala's exclusiveness; it is to try and draw (p.208) lessons from Kerala's experience for the rest of India and, perhaps, for other developing societies.

This paper is organized as follows. The second section discusses some basic features of Kerala's economy and society. Section 3 deals with Kerala's achievements in respect of the health status of the people. Specifically, it deals with health, nutrition, the public distribution system, and sex ratios. It also discusses some pockets of persistent health-deprivation in the state. Section 4 deals with literacy, a key facilitator of Kerala's health and demographic achievements. Section 5 discusses aspects of caste and gender relations in Kerala. Section 6 attempts to analyse changes in agrarian relations in Kerala. Section 7 reviews the part played by the major agents of social change in Kerala: it deals with the role of governments, the role of women in development, Protestant missionaries in the nineteenth-century, caste-based reform movements, and the modern left movement. Section 8 is a brief concluding section.

2. Background

Kerala has an area of about 39,000 sq km and its population in 1991 was 29,098,518. The density of population was 749 per sq km, much higher than the Indian average of 257 per sq km, and the highest among states in India after West Bengal (767 per sq km). At the Census of 1981, the population was divided into Hindu, Muslim, and Christian groups in the proportion 58: 21: 21.

There are four major physiographic zones in the state, the highlands, the middle zone, the lowland plain, and the coastal plain.2 The highland zone is part of the Western Ghats, and generally forms the eastern border of Kerala. In the midland region (alt. 300m to 600m), hill ranges extend westward from the hill zone and continue into valleys that widen as altitude declines. These are productive laterite tracts. The lowland zone (alt. 30m to 300m) varies between 20 and 100 km in width, and ends in the narrow (the average width is 10 km) coastal plain.

Kerala is a region of relatively heavy monsoon rain. There are more than 40 streams and rivers in Kerala that originate along the (p.209) crest of the Western Ghats and flow westward into backwaters and the Arabian Sea, Kerala is a region of arresting greenness (the green, for instance, of paddy and coconut fields, of vegetable, fruit, and spice gardens, of live fences, of forests, and of cardamom, tea, and coffee plantations), of the sea, and of lakes and backwaters in the coastal plains.

Regional Divisions

The state of Kerala was established in 1956 with the reorganization of three areas, where most people spoke Malayalam, into a single state. The three areas were the Malayalam-majority regions of Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar.3 Travancore and Cochin were princely states before Indian independence. The state of Travancore as it existed at the time of India's independence was created in the mid-eighteenth century, during and after the rule of Martanda Varma (1729–58), The state of Cochin was, similarly, a product of the late eighteenth century. The consolidation of the state followed Cochin's treaty in 1791 with the East India Company. Malabar was a district of the Madras Presidency in British India, and was absorbed into British India in stages, with the military defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1792.4

The distinction between the three regions is of importance in the history of Kerala's social, economic, and political development. In the nineteenth century and until the formation of Kerala, there were marked divergences in state policy in the three regions. In respect of agrarian relations, education, and health, modern administrative reforms, transport and communications, and in respect of the commercialization of agriculture and the growth of trade and commerce, the ‘states’ part of Kerala (Travancore and Cochin) pushed far ahead of the part that was directly under British rule. While the basic (p.210) distinction is between the states part of Kerala and Malabar, there were also differences between Travancore and Cochin. Travancore had a more powerful and authoritarian State than Cochin, with a larger bureaucracy and a more high-profile, interventionist regime. It had a bigger and more varied resource base than Cochin,5 and the development of capitalism in agriculture and the expansion of trade and commerce was greater in Travancore than in Cochin.

Settlement Patterns

A feature of Kerala's development performance is that there are no great disparities between achievements in the urban areas of Kerala and the rural areas. The absence of great disparities is because public policy is so targeted; public policy has been helped in this regard by the special geographical configuration of towns and villages in Kerala. The distinction between rural and urban areas is less sharp in Kerala than in other parts of the country. The literature is full of references to Kerala's ‘rural–urban continuum’; a new Kerala coinage is ‘rurban’.

The occupational structure of Kerala's villages also distinguishes them from villages elsewhere. There is a larger proportion of workers outside agriculture, in waged and salaried non-agricultural occupations, in Kerala's villages than in villages elsewhere. In other parts of India, the inhabited part of a village and the cultivated part—that is, where people live and where the fields are—are easy enough to distinguish. Not so in Kerala, where houses are scattered, not clustered, and are located near cultivated fields.

That Kerala's habitational pattern was distinct was noted by writers as early as Ibn Batuta. The origins of the present pattern have been ascribed to the relationship between landowning castes and the unfree tillers of the soil; they have also been traced to features of Kerala's distinct topography, hydrology, and cropping pattern.6

(p.211) The development of road transport since the nineteen-sixties, and particularly after the mid-seventies, has had the effect of accentuating the urbanization of Kerala's villages. Every village in the state is connected by motorable road. There are, as a result, increased opportunities for commuting to work for members of the non-agricultural workforce who live in villages and work in towns. The growth of retail trade, construction, and other forms of economic activity in villages after the sharp increase in the volume of remittances from workers in the Gulf countries has also contributed to the urbanization of Kerala's villages.

Kerala's villages are not the same kind of distinct socio-economic unit that villages in other parts of the country are; boundaries between villages, which have been demarcated for purposes of administration, are somewhat arbitrary. The average size of a village at the Census of 1981 was 16,967 persons (the all-India average was 911 persons).

Political Movements

After the late nineteen-thirties and until the present, the Communist Party, with its mass organizations of workers, peasants and agricultural labourers, students, youth, and women, has been the major organizer of mass political movements among the people of Kerala. The first general elections in united Kerala were won by the Communist Party; the first Communist government in India, led by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Kerala's pre-eminent Communist, took office in Kerala in 1957. Kerala has had Communist-led, Communist-majority governments from 1957 to 1959, 1967 to 1969, 1980 to 1981, and 1987 to 1991; all other governments were Congress-majority governments. Although the Communist Party and its allies have actually been in power for relatively short periods of time, the Communist Party and the left have had a profound influence on social and political life and government policy in Kerala, and on the legislative agenda of the state since its formation.

Voter turnouts in Kerala are high. Electoral contests in Kerala are, basically, contests between the coalitions led by the Congress Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M). There are no members of the state's Legislative Assembly from the main political party of the Hindu right, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); non-secular parties of the Muslim and Christian minorities (p.212) are, however, active in electoral politics and in the legislature (and, indeed, can be decisive factors in the survival of coalition governments).

The Economy

Kerala's achievements are an outstanding example of the power of public action even in conditions of low-production growth; the other side of the coin, however, is that Kerala faces an acute crisis in the spheres of employment and material production (and, indeed, one does not have to be in Kerala very long to recognize the extent and intensity of unemployment in the state). People at large and political parties of the left perceive the problems of unemployment and production as the major economic problems of the immediate future; this concern also found repeated expression in the proceedings of the International Congress on Kerala Studies in August 1994. The persistence of the crisis is understood as being a threat to the polity and society, and the question has also been raised, by persons in politics, journalists, scholars, and others, whether the development achievements of Kerala's people can be sustained if the employment and production situations are not transformed.7

Net state domestic product (NSDP) per capita in Kerala is below the Indian average. In 1980–1, for instance, Kerala was ranked sixteenth out of 24 states and 3 Union Territories; in 1991–2, its rank was fourteenth out of 22 states and 1 Union Territory. As Fig. 1 indicates, there has been very little growth of per-capita NSDP in Kerala since 1970.

On Kerala's Development Achievements

Fig. 1. Per-capita State Domestic Product Kerla, and Per-capita Net Domestic Product, India at Contant (1970–1 and 1980–1) Prices, 1970–1 to 1991–2

Notes and Sources. See Annexure.

Through the seventies and eighties, the compound annual rate of growth of NSDP per capita in Kerala was substantially lower than the compound annual rate of growth in Net Domestic Product (NDP) in India (Table 1). Significantly, however, over the most recent quinquennium for which official data are available, 1986–7 to 1991–2, the growth rate of NSDP per capita in Kerala was substantially higher than the corresponding growth rate of NDP per capita in India.

TABLE 1. Compound Annual Rates of Growth of Per-capita Net Domestic Product in Kerala and India, 1970–1 to 1991–2

(in per cent)

Time period

Kerala

India

1970–1 to 1980–1

0.06

1.39

1980–1 to 1990–1

1.40

3.25

1986–7 to 1991–2

6.16

3.79

Sources. See Annexure.

(p.213)

(p.214)

According to estimates of the proportion of the population below the poverty line (or the head-count ratio), which are available until 1987–8 (see EPW Research Foundation, 1993), the head-count ratios for Kerala were higher than the corresponding all-India ratios through the nineteen sixties and seventies; in 1983 and 1987–8, however, the rural head-count ratio was marginally lower (ibid.; see Table 2).8 Similarly, the Sen index for Kerala, which was much higher than the all-India index in the nineteen sixties and seventies, was marginally lower than the all-India index in 1986–7 (ibid.; see Table 3.)

TABLE 2. Proportion of Persons Below the Poverty Line (Minhas, Jain, and Tendulkar Estimates), Kerala and India

(in per cent)

Year

Rural

Urban

Rural + Urban

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

1970–1

69.0

57.3

62.4

45.9

68.0

55.0

1983

47.2

49.0

47.8

38.3

47.3

46.5

1987–8

44.0

44.9

44.5

36.5

44.1

42.7

Source. EPW Research Foundation (1993).

TABLE 3. Sen Index, Kerala and India

Year

Kerala

India

1960–1

0.25

0.14

1970–1

0.29

0.18

1977–8

0.16

0.14

1986–7

0.06

0.08

Source. EPW Research Foundation (1993).

(p.215)

Kerala's agriculture is characterized 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. In 1985–6, ten crops accounted for about 84 per cent of the gross cropped area: paddy, tapioca, banana, rubber, coffee, cardamom, areca nut, cashew, pepper, and coconut. Kerala's growth performance in agriculture has been very poor. The decade 1975–6 to 1985–6 was, according to Kannan and Pushpangadan (1990), a period of ‘generalized stagnation’, that is, it was characterized by stagnation or decline in the rates of growth of output of most crops (the exceptions were rubber and coffee). For all crops other than paddy, the stagnation in output reflected stagnant yields. The rate of growth of paddy production declined as a result of a fall in the area under cultivation.9 In a review of the performance of the 1987 Communist government in Kerala, Isaac and Mohana Kumar (1991) note that there was a distinct improvement in agricultural production between 1986–7 and 1990–1 (on a review of changes in the eighties whose conclusions are consistent with the findings of Isaac and Mohanakumar, see Sathian, 1994). According to data on net state domestic product at constant prices, the annual compound rate of growth of agriculture was 7.5 percent between 1986–7 and 1990–1.10

In 1950, the value of output per capita of the manufacturing sector in Travancore was Rs 48 against an all-India average of Rs 37 (Isaac and Tharakan, 1986a). In the same year, per-capita net domestic product in Travancore-Cochin was also a little higher than the Indian (p.216) average After 1950, Kerala's industrial growth performance was worse than the all-India record, and worse than the other three south Indian states. The manufacturing sector grew at 2.8 per cent per annum between 1970–1 and 1986–7; the corresponding rates of growth in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were 5.3 per cent and 6.0 per cent.11 Again, Isaac and Mohana Kumar (1991) note an improvement in industrial growth between 1986–7 and 1990–1. The share of the manufacturing sector in net state domestic product increased from 13 per cent in 1986–7 to 16 per cent in 1990–1 (Government of Kerala, 1992, Appendix 2.2, p. 140). The compound rate of growth of the manufacturing sector in state domestic product at constant prices was 12 per cent per annum between 1986–7 and 1990–1 (ibid.).

Productive capital per capita in the factory sector has been consistently lower in Kerala than in the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and much lower in Kerala than in India as a whole (Table 4). Similarly, gross per-capita output in the factory sector has been consistently lower in Kerala than in the neighbouring states and in India as a whole (Table 5). In respect of small industry, for which data are available for the years 1972–3 and 1987–8, the growth in Kerala in the number of working units, in fixed investment, in production, in net value-added, and in employment was also below the all-India average (Subrahmanian and Mohanan Pillai, 1993).

TABLE 4. Total Productive Capital Per-capita at Constant (1970–1) Prices in the Factory Sector: Kerala, Neighbouring States, and Indiaa

(in rupees)

Years

India

Kerala

Karnataka

Tamil Nadu

1969–72

205 (100)

124 (100)

195 (100)

262 (100)

1973–6

187 (91)

158 (127)

157 (80)

215 (82)

1978–81

256 (125)

201 (162)

209 (107)

276 (105)

1983–6

322 (157)

228 (184)

254 (130)

451 (172)

1988–91

370 (180)

219 (177)

265 (136)

527 (201)

Note.

(a) Index numbers in brackets, with 1969–72 as the base period

Source. Calculated from Annual Survey of Industries data cited in Chandhok and the Policy Group (1990); also Annual Survey of Industries (1993, 1994). Each figure is a three-year average.

TABLE 5. Gross Output Per-capita at Constant (1970–1) Prices in the Factory Sector: Kerala, Neighbouring States, and Indiaa

(in rupees)

Years

India

Kerala

Karnataka

Tamil Nadu

1969–72

240 (100)

172 (100)

184 (100)

316 (100)

1973–6

261 (109)

197 (114)

199 (108)

347 (110)

1978–81

358 (149)

308 (179)

293 (159)

531 (168)

1983–6

451 (188)

314 (182)

348 (189)

682 (216)

1988–91

586 (244)

418 (243)

489 (266)

876 (277)

Note.

(a) Index numbers in brackets, with 1969–72 as the base period

Source. Calculated from Annual Survey of Industries data cited in Chandhok and the Policy Group (1990); also Annual Survey of Industries (1993, 1994). Each figure is a three-year average.

(p.217)

Kerala's share in total industrial investments by the Government of India was 3.2 per cent in 1975, and fell to 1.5 per cent in 1990 (well below its population share, 3.4 per cent).12 Kerala received 2.9 per cent of central investment in 1971–2 and 1.6 per cent in 1987–8 (Subrahmanian, 1990). The state government spread its investment thin; most units were small with low absolute levels of investment (Subrahmanian, 1990). Subrahmanian (1990) argues that their small size has made many of these enterprises ‘financially and technologically unviable’ (p. 2058). A study of the private manufacturing sector in Kerala between 1972 and 1985 showed that the financial performance of the corporate sector in Kerala was worse than the all-India average (Nirmala Padmanabhan, 1990).

Although Kerala has a largely literate, skilled labour force, capitalist industrial entrepreneurship in Kerala is ill-developed. According to K.N. Raj, ‘One reason for the relatively slow development of large and medium-scale industries is perhaps the lack of entrepreneurs interested in their development. Kerala, it would seem, is still at the stage of capitalist development when projects which promise easy as well as quick money, and even speculative enterprises, seem to have appeal to those who have reasonable amounts of capital’ (cited in Isaac and Tharakan, 1986a, p. 29). There is only (p.218) one big capitalist industrial house from Kerala. Its main industrial production establishments are, however, based in Madras; its plantations are in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and, not surprisingly, its newspaper group and publishing enterprises are in Kerala.

Kerala has the highest rate of unemployment in the country. This is so whatever the measure of unemployment used. The proportion of males ‘usually unemployed’ (unemployed for more than 183 days in a year), according to the 43rd round of the National Sample Survey (1987–8) was 14.1 per cent in urban areas and 12.5 per cent in rural areas. The corresponding proportions for females were 33.8 per cent in urban areas and 25.0 per cent in rural areas. The all-India rates of ‘usual status’ unemployment for the same year were 6.1 per cent (males, urban), 2.8 per cent (males, rural), 8.5 per cent (females, urban), and 3.5 per cent (females, rural). The comparative situation is similar when the employment data by ‘current daily status’ and ‘current weekly status’ are considered. By all three measures, ‘Kerala has the highest incidence of unemployment for males and females in rural as well as urban areas among Indian states’ (Oommen, 1992, p. 233).13 The most recent annual survey of employment and unemployment by the National Sample Survey (NSS), conducted in 1992–3 (this annual survey covered a smaller sample than the quinquennial survey in 1987–8) confirms these basic findings.

Unemployment m Kerala is particularly high among educated persons.14 According to NSS data for 1986–7, the unemployment rate among educated adults in urban Kerala was 18 per cent for males and 42 per cent for females (the corresponding all-India figures were 6 per cent and 22 per cent). The average waiting period for a first job for a job-seeker with a school leaving certificate was as high as 48 months for a permanent job and 35 months for a temporary job.15 Data from the Census of 1981 show that 87.8 per (p.219) cent of all unemployed persons were in the age group 15–34 years. Another interesting pattern is the apparent decline over time in the availability of employment in rural areas. According to data from the Rural Labour Enquiry and the Government of Kerala, among rural labour households, a male worker gained employment for an average of 196 days in 1964–5, 168 days in 1974–5 and 146 days in 1983–4. The corresponding figures for female rural workers were 164 days, 126 days, and 112 days.16

Kerala has a history of labour migration, and remittances from outside the state influence disposable incomes significantly. In the early part of the century, there was large-scale migration of workers from Travancore and Malabar to the plantations. After the great depression, there were different streams of migration (discussed in Isaac, 1992). One was of peasants from Travancore to the hill regions of Malabar (Tharakan, 1977, 1981). Another was to Malaya, Ceylon, and Burma, and involved poor and oppressed-caste migrants from coastal Travancore. A third stream was to other parts of India, and involved educated persons, professionals, and workers. From the seventies, following the 1973 increase in petroleum prices, the migration of workers to countries of West Asia (particularly Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) and Libya, has been a major feature of social and economic life in Kerala. Thomas Isaac (1992) estimated the number of migrants in the mid-eighties from Kerala to this region to have been about 500,000.17

Calculations of net state domestic product do not, of course, include remittances from Kerala's emigrants. In an important recent paper, in which he has estimated Kerala's state income from a consumption function, T.N. Krishnan (1994) presents new estimates of the part played by remittance incomes in income change in Kerala. According to Krishnan, remittances were in the region of 15 to 22 per cent of the state domestic product after 1972–3. The peak levels were 30 per cent in 1978–9 and 26 per cent in 1986–7, and the lowest level was 15 per cent, in 1989–90 (Krishnan, 1994, p. 58). Earlier (p.220) estimates worked on the Gulati and Mody (1983) assumption that 50 per cent of the remittances from the countries of the Persian Gulf and 5 per cent of the remittances from the rest of the world were destined for Kerala; on this basis, Isaac (1992) estimated per-capita remittances to have been 18 per cent of SDP per capita in 1980–1, and 13 per cent of SDP in 1988–9.

As a result of remittances from outside the state, despite the crisis of production and employment, according to National Sample Survey data, Kerala's rank among states in respect of annual household per-capita consumer expenditure improved substantially, particularly in rural areas, between the early seventies and the eighties. According to Krishnan (1994), ‘despite the stagnation in per-capita domestic income, per-capita consumption expenditure registered a steady increase, 1.61 per cent from 1960–1 to 1971–2 and 1.81 per cent from 1972–3 to 1989–90’. Krishnan estimated that if the same rate of growth was maintained after 1990, real per-capita consumption in Kerala in 1994 would be approximately double the per-capita consumption level of 1960–1.18 Table 6 and Figs. 23 present two series of per-capita household consumer expenditure at constant prices (see the Annexure for an explanation of the methods used to derive the two series). By our Series 1, which is from 1970–1 to 1987–8, per-capita household consumer expenditure in rural Kerala has been higher than the Indian average after 1983, and per-capita household consumer expenditure in urban Kerala went above the all-India figure in 1987–8. These data show that annual per-capita household expenditure among rural households in Kerala was 11.6 per cent below the Indian average in 1970–1, but 9.5 per cent more than the Indian average in 1987–8. In urban areas, annual per-capita household consumer expenditure in Kerala was 13.8 per cent less than the all-India average in 1970–1, and 0.7 per cent more than the Indian average in 1987–8. By our Series 2, which is from 1970–1 to 1992, per-capita household consumer expenditure in rural Kerala has been higher than the Indian average after 1973–4; per-capita household consumer expenditure in urban Kerala crossed the. Indian average in 1983, dipped below the Indian average in 1986–7, and has been above the Indian average since 1987–8. In our Series 2, annual per-capita household consumption expenditure in rural Kerala was 11.8 per cent (p.221) below the Indian average in 1970–1 and 31.1 per cent above the Indian average in 1992. In urban Kerala, annual per-capita household consumption expenditure was 13.9 per cent lower than the Indian average in 1970–1 and 4.4 per cent higher in 1992.

TABLE 6. Per-capita Annual Consumption Expenditure at Constant (1970–1) Prices, Adjusted for inter-state Price Variations

(in rupees)

1970–1

1972–3

1973–4

1977–8

1983

1986–7

1987–8

1989–90

1990–1

1992

Series 1

Rural

  Kerala

380

399

429

467

540

553

549

  India

430

423

435

475

482

498

501

Urban

  Kerala

554

571

560

575

695

700

750

  India

643

647

612

674

708

732

745

Series 2

Rural

  Kerala

374

n/a

432

519

602

653

662

606

628

708

  India

424

n/a

421

491

507

562

557

588

569

540

Urban

  Kerala

546

n/a

542

579

699

695

777

842

896

807

  India

634

n/a

579

658

689

723

738

774

756

773

Notes. In Series 1, the price deflators for states and India are consumer prices for all items as given in Jain and Minhas (1991) and Tendulkar and Jain (1993). In Series 2, the price deflators for states and India are consumer price indices for agricultural labourers for rural areas, and consumer price indices for industrial workers for urban areas. In both series, inter-state variations in price levels are accounted for by using indices of price levels in different states relative to the all-India level (all items, with 1970–1 as base) as given in Minhas and Jain (1990) for rural areas and Minhas, Jain, and Saluja (1990) for urban areas.

Sources. See Annexure.

On Kerala's Development Achievements

Fig. 2. Per-capita Annual Consumption Expenditure at Constant (1970–1) Prices Adjusted for Inter-state Variations (Series1), Kerala and India, Rural and Urban Areas, 1970–1 to 1987–8

Note. The price deflators for states and India are consumer price indices for all items as given in Jain and Minhas (1991) and Tendulkar and Jain (1993). See Annexure for further notes.

On Kerala's Development Achievements

Fig. 3. Per -capita Annual Consumption Expenditure at Constant (1970–1) Prices Adjusted for Inter-state Variations (Series 2), Kerala and India, Rural and Urban Areas, 1910–1 to 1990–1

Note, The price deflators for Kerala and India are consumer price indices for agricultural labourers for Kerala and India respectively. See Annexure for further notes.

(p.222)

(p.223)

(p.224) Although it is not the objective of this paper to attempt a detailed analysis of the causes of industrial and agricultural stagnation in Kerala, or to work at some kind of blueprint for production and employment in the state, some general points can be made. First, market forces will not ensure that productive investment appears spontaneously; transformation in the spheres of production and employment requires public intervention. It requires the conscious policy attention of governments and intervention by political parties and mass organizations. Secondly, it is clear, and there is general scholarly consensus, that state-supported infrastructural investment is crucial for industrial and agricultural growth in Kerala. Thirdly, the potential for the expansion of skilled employment in Kerala is extraordinary. Unlike the rest of India, where schemes for mass employment are basically earth-work projects that involve unskilled work or work that requires low skills, Kerala is a region where even schemes for mass employment can draw on a labour force, rural and urban, whose members are literate, with high levels of political and social consciousness. Fourthly, 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, with support (in respect for instance, of marketing) from public institutions and that involve new forms of production organization.

3. Kerala's Health Achievements

Historically, Kerala has done better than the rest of India in respect of literacy and key demographic indicators. In the eighties, Kerala's position in respect of some major health-transition and literacy indicators improved substantially, and Kerala began to achieve standards comparable with countries of the developing world that were medium-to-high achievers. In doing so, once again, it left the rest of India behind.19

3.1 Demographic Indicators

Kerala has been described as a ‘unique’ case among developing countries, a society where the ‘health and demographic transitions (p.225) have been achieved within a single generation’, that is, after the formation of Kerala state (Krishnan, 1991, p. 1). Fertility and the birth rate have also fallen; the infant mortality rate, the mortality rate among children below the age of five years, and the death rate have declined; life expectancy at birth has risen; and the ratio of men to women in the population is characteristic of a society where there is not a systematic bias against the survival of girls and women in the population. Following Krishnan (1991), four indicators are taken here as representing the outcomes of the health and demographic transitions in Kerala: life expectancy at birth, the infant mortality rate, and the birth and death rates. Time series are available on these indicators from at least the early part of this century; caste-wise and class-wise data are difficult to come by, other than from micro-studies and from sources other than official ones, such as Zachariah et al. (1992).

One of the key indicators of Kerala's health achievements is a high life expectancy at birth (Table 7). Life expectancy at birth in (p.226) Kerala is similar to the corresponding figures for developing countries classified as having achieved ‘high human development’ in Human Development Report, 1993. A man in Kerala can expect to live to be 69 years, or 10 years longer than the average Indian man, and a woman in Kerala can expect to live 74 years, or 15 years longer than the average Indian woman. Table 7 shows that life expectancy for men and women in Kerala has been higher than all-India life expectancy since at least the second decade of this century. In the post-independence period in Kerala, there was a sharp increase in life expectancy in the sixties over the previous decade, and again in the eighties compared with the seventies.20

TABLE 7. Expectation of Life at Birth, Kerala and India

(in years)

Row no.

Years

Males

Females

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

1.

1911–20

25.5

22.6

27.4

23.3

2.

1921–30

29.5

26.9

32.7

26.6

3.

1951–61

44.3

35.5

45.3

35.7

4.

1961–71

54.1

43.2

57.4

43.5

5.

1971–81

60.6

49.8

62.6

49.3

6.

1971–5

60.5

49.7

63.0

48.3

7.

1976–80

63.5

51.7

67.4

51.8

8.

1981–5

65.2

54.5

71.5

54.9

9.

1986–8

67.5

56.0

73.0

56.5

10.

1990–2

68.8

59.0

74.4

59.4

Sources. Rows 1–2: cited in Nag (1983), Table 3. Rows 3–5: Census of India, cited in Zachariah et al. (1992), ch. 3, Table 3. Rows 6–9: Sample Registration System, cited ibid. Row 10: Drèze and Sen (1995), Statistical Appendix, based on Sample Registration System data.

(p.227) The birth rate in Kerala is also much lower than the birth rate for alt of India (see Table 8); it has been so for the whole period covered by our data (although the difference was marginal in the forties); the gap between the Kerala figure and the all-India figure was greater at the end-point in the time-series (1987–9) than at any time m the past; and the birth rate in Kerala declined substantially in the eighties.

TABLE 8. Birth Rates, Kerala and India

(per 1000)

Years

Kerala

India

1931–40

40.0

45.2

1941–50

39.8

39.9

1951–60

38.9

41.7

1970

31.6

36.8

1974

26.5

34.5

1977–9

25.7

33.1

1981–3

25.6

33.8

1983–5

23.7

33.6

1985–7

21.5

32.6

1987–9

20.7

31.5

1989–91

19.4

30.1

1990–2*

18.5

29.5

Note.

(*) Provisional.

Sources. T.N. Krishnan (1976), Tabic 1; CMIE (1991), Table 2.11; Sample Registration Bulletin, January 1994, Table 11.

Kerala's low birth rate is associated with comparatively high rates of birth control. The couple protection rate (CPR), which is the proportion of eligible couples that use long-term or temporary methods of birth control, increased sharply in Kerala over the eighties. Official data indicate that the CPR for the state rose from 36.8 per cent in 1981 to 60.9 per cent in 1990.21 According to the National Sample Survey, the all-India CPR for rural areas was 24.9 per cent in 1986–7; rural Kerala (43.6 per cent) ranked third after Delhi (51.8 per cent) and Maharashtra (44.5 per cent). The all-India CPR for urban areas was 36.8 per cent; urban Kerala (48.4 per cent) ranked fourth after Delhi (52.7 per cent), Maharashtra (49.1 per cent), and Punjab (48.9 per cent) (National Sample Survey, 1992a). Low fertility rates in Kerala are also associated with a higher age at marriage among women in Kerala than elsewhere. The all-India average, which was 18.3 years in 1981, was substantially lower than the Kerala average, 21.8 years.22 The average age of a woman at the time of first (p.228) childbirth is also higher in Kerala than in any other state (Kannan et al., 1991, p. 87).

Improved child health and higher levels of education, particularly female education, are among the most important reasons for Kerala's low and declining birth rate and the general acceptance of a small family norm.23 Caldwell and Caldwell (1985) conclude that parental education has a greater influence than income on fertility (p. 182). We shall return to these themes of the role of education and better child health.

The death rate in Kerala has declined steadily since the beginning of this century, and more rapidly than the Indian average (see Table 9). So has the infant mortality rate (Table 10). The infant mortality rate in Kerala in 1992–17 per thousand in rural areas and 13 per thousand in urban areas—put Kerala higher than the average for developing countries with ‘high human development’, among whom the average rate of infant mortality was 31 per thousand in 1991 (UNDP, 1993, p. 142). The decline in the infant mortality rate in Kerala has been associated with important improvements in pre-natal and post-natal health care and higher levels of institutional childbirth. As 1991 survey data from the Zachariah et al. (1992) study showed, for groups of people among whom there was immunization, hospitalization, and ante-natal and post-natal care, infant mortality rates of 6 to 7 per thousand were achieved in Kerala.24

TABLE 9. Death Rates, Kerala and India

(per 1000)

Years

Kerala

India

1911–20

37

47

1921–30

32

36

1931–40

29

31

1941–50

18

27

1951–60

16

23

1961–70

11

18

1971–5

8.6

15.5

1976–80

7.3

13.9

1981–3

6.6

12.1

1983–5

6.5

12.1

1985–7

6.2

11.3

1987–9

6.2

10.7

1989–91

6.0

9.9

1990–2*

6.1

9.8

Note.

(*) Provisional.

Sources. Nag (1983), Table 1; Zachariah et al. (1992), ch. 3, Table 2; Sample Registration Bulletin, January 1994, Table 11.

TABLE 10. Infant Mortality Rates, Kerala and India

(per 1000 live birhts)

Years

Kerala

India

1911–20

242

278

1921–30

210

228

1931–40

173

207

1941–50

153

192

1951–60

120

140

1961–70

66

114

1971

58

129

1972

63

139

1973

58

134

1974

54

126

1975

54

140

1976

56

129

1977

47

130

1978

42

127

1979

43

120

1980

40

114

1981

37

110

1982

30

105

1983

33

105

1984

29

104

1985

31

97

1986

27

96

1987

28

95

1988

28

94

1989

22

91

1990

17

80

1991*

16

80

1992*

17

79

Note

(*) Provisional; all-India data for 1991 and 1992 exclude Jammu and Kashmir.

Sources, 1911–20 to 1961–70: computed from Census of India volumes in Bhattacharjee and Shastri (1976), cited in Nag (1983), Table 4. 1971 to 1990: Sample Registration System, various issues, cited in Zachariah et al (1992), ch, 3, Table 1, 1991 and 1992: Sample Registration Bulletin, January 1994, Table 8.

T.N. Krishnan (1991) divides the post-1956 decline in infant mortality in Kerala into three periods: first, the decade after the formation of Kerala state, i.e. 1956 to 1966, when, according to Krishnan, ‘infant mortality appears to have declined by about 43 per cent’; secondly, 1966 to 1975, when the decline ‘appears to have slowed down’; and thirdly, from 1976 to 1988, when ‘the decline again accelerated’ (pp. 5–6). Krishnan associated changes in the first period with improvements in health care in Malabar and with greater control of infectious diseases; changes in the second period were associated with a levelling-off of the achievements of the first period; and the improvements in the third period were (p.229) (p.230) (p.231) associated with improved ante-natal and post-natal care and more institutional childbirths.25

By the second half of the eighties, the pattern of infant mortality shifted away from the pattern characteristic of less-developed economies. Perinatal mortality (deaths in the first seven days) accounted for 67 per cent of all infant deaths, and deaths in the first twenty-eight days for 75 per cent of all infant deaths (data from Krishnan, 1991, pp. 6–7). Deaths after the first four weeks are attributed to what are considered ‘exogenous’ factors, which can, to a greater extent than deaths in the first four weeks, be controlled by appropriate medication (ibid.).26

According to NSS data from the 42nd round (1986–7), the proportion of ‘domiciliary’ births or births at home was lower in urban Kerala (7.6 per cent) than in any other region (the all-India proportion was 46.9 per cent); in respect of rural areas, Kerala (20 per cent) ranked second after Goa, Daman, and Diu (6.5 per cent). The all-India figure for rural areas was 80.5 per cent (National Sample Survey, 1991b). Citing more recent data from rural Kerala, T.N. Krishnan reports that institutional births and home births attended by trained professionals added up to 90 per cent of all births, up from 46 per cent in 1973 and 57 per cent in 1978 (Sample Registration Reports for rural Kerala, cited in Krishnan, 1991, p. 26, Table 6).

The proportion of infants and children who were vaccinated was much higher in Kerala than in India, immunization coverage improved substantially in the eighties, and all the data point to a noteworthy improvement in this respect in the last years of the eighties.27 The survey of immunization in Kerala in 1989 and the (p.232) 1991 survey in Ernakulam, Palakkad, and Malappuram reported in Zachariah et al, 1992 indicate rates of immunization that were high, substantially higher than the rates recorded by the NSS in 1986–7.

A noteworthy feature of studies of immunization of children in Kerala was that incomes were not the major determinant of immunization. From a study of child health in an urban slum and a more prosperous ‘middle class’ area in Thiruvananthapuram in 1987–8, Soman et al. (1990) concluded that although the morbidity load in the slum was greater, vaccine-preventable diseases against which immunization services were freely available did not pose a particular problem in either area. An all-Kerala study conducted by the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad showed that the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases was not significantly concentrated among families in low-income and low-asset categories (Kannan et al., 1991).

The Zachariah et al. (1992) study showed continuing differences in the infant mortality rate (IMR) between districts and sections of the population. The survey figures on IMR in 1985–9 were, per thousand, 9 for Ernakulam district, 34 for Palakkad district, and 28 for Malappuram district. The infant mortality rate was lowest among Christians (among Christians in Ernakulam district, according to the survey, the rate of infant mortality in 1980–9 was as low as 6 per thousand), and highest among Muslims; among Hindus, IMR was highest among people of the Izhava and scheduled castes (though it remains lower for those groups than for Muslims). With reference to these community-based data, it is worth making three points. First, health indicators among the worse-off in Kerala, though much lower than the Kerala average, are generally better than among their counterparts in other parts of the country. Secondly, performance indicators for groups such as scheduled castes and Muslims often pick up information that is, strictly speaking, relevant to class status, rather than exclusively to religious or caste status. Thirdly, there is some evidence that community-based differences have narrowed over time in recent years.28

(p.233) Certain features of female empowerment in Kerala are vital to its achievements in respect of child health and health conditions in general; their importance really cannot be overemphasized.29 Female literacy and girls' schooling are, of course, critical factors in Kerala's performance in this sphere. Caldwell and Caldwell (1985) identify girls' schooling as ‘the single most important influence’ on survivorship differentials (p. 183); they also note that the historical record does not show ‘examples of economic development leading to low mortality levels where low levels of female education continue’ (p. 184). Mari Bhat and Irudaya Rajan (1990) identify female literacy as the ‘single most important factor explaining the demographic transition in Kerala’ (p. 1979), and, in an earlier paper, P.G.K. Panikar wrote that ‘the spread of education, especially among women in rural Kerala, was a crucial factor contributing to the high degree of awareness of health problems and fuller utilization of health facilities’ (Panikar, 1979). Other factors associated with female empowerment and relevant to Kerala's better performance in child and general health than elsewhere that have been discussed in the literature include: a higher average age at marriage, higher rates of female employment in the organized sector, higher levels of health awareness and information among women, maternal utilization of the health system, and the greater decision-making roles of women in Kerala households. Of great importance also are social and cultural attitudes towards female survival: primary-data based studies in Kerala emphasize the absence of parental discrimination in providing health care to boys and girls.30

(p.234) 3.2 Morbidity

Recent trends in morbidity in Kerala have been the subject of some controversy. The controversy concerns three distinct issues, and I shall begin to discuss these issues by describing the position of one side with respect to each issue. First, some scholars hold that there has been no real reduction in the extent of illness in Kerala (Soman and Panikar, 1984; Kannan et al., 1991; Soman, 1993). Secondly, some scholars hold that there has been no real change in the pattern of disease in Kerala (Soman and Panikar, 1984; Kannan et al., 1991; Soman, 1993). Thirdly, some scholars hold that increased longevity does not indicate an improvement in the health of the population, that it represents the result of a tradeoff between lower mortality and lower levels of illness (that Kerala has lower levels of mortality at the expense, as it were, of lower levels of morbidity) (Vaidyanathan, 1992; Gopalakrishna Kumar, 1993). The controversy has served the function of focusing attention on some crucial issues, in particular, the complex relationships between self-reported morbidity and some objective standard of illness, and between morbidity and mortality. Having said that, it is also true that the three arguments stated earlier lack convincing analytical and evidentiary bases.

In a book published by the Centre for Development Studies in 1984, P.G.K. Panikar and C.R. Soman (an economist and a medical doctor), noted that the annual compound rates of growth of inpatients and out-patients treated at government allopathic hospitals between 1956 and 1977 (6.62 per cent and 5.06 per cent) were higher than the rate of growth of population (2.34 per cent) during the same period, and concluded that there was no morbidity decline in Kerala during that period (Panikar and Soman, 1984, p. 145). Data across Indian states for the mid-seventies showed that reported illness was higher in Kerala than, say, Bihar (see Murray and Chen, 1992); this, too, was taken as evidence of higher illness in a state that had had conspicuous success in bringing down mortality rates and improving longevity (see, for example, Kumar, 1993). A similar point of view was expressed in the report of a major survey of health conditions in Kerala in the second half of the eighties: ‘On the one hand the incidence of poverty and environment-related diseases has not been controlled, and on the other, the incidence of chronic degenerative diseases has increased’ (Kannan et al, 1991, p. 68). Closely related to this proposition is the statement that the ‘remarkable reduction in (p.235) mortality (in Kerala) was more due to medical interventions preventing death than by an effective reduction in the incidence of preventable and communicable disease’ (ibid.).

The argument is fundamentally flawed. Morbidity data such as used by Panikar and Soman are based on reportage by patients themselves (i.e. on a respondent's own assessment of his or her medical status, rather than on medical examination), and higher reportage in Kerala reflects a better health care system and higher levels of health consciousness, as well as a greater awareness of personal rights and of the demands that a citizen can legitimately and successfully make of the health care system.31 In the most authoritative contemporary review of the issues involved, Christopher Murray and Lincoln Chen show that self-perceived morbidity rates in Kerala, while higher than the rest of India, are substantially lower than in the United States, and they present data on Cote dʼIvoire, Ghana, and Peru where rates of self-perceived morbidity rise with income (Murray et al., 1992, cited in Murray and Chen, 1992).32 As the authors emphasize, studies that do not distinguish adequately between self-perceived morbidity and the objective illness-status of a society fail to recognize the possibility that higher self-perceived morbidity may simply reflect ‘more demanding health ideals and a social situation less willing to tolerate illness’ (ibid., p. 492). This situation does seem to apply in Kerala. Indeed, there is no objective evidence of morbidity rates being higher in Kerala than in other parts of India.

This paper argues that the provision of health facilities has an outstanding effect on societies where social, economic, and political conditions are such that people are ready to receive and make good use of these facilities, and that Kerala in the eighties was such a society (see Caldwell, 1986; Kannan et al., 1991). Literacy, political awareness, and political action through political parties and mass (p.236) organizations were crucial for better health conditions because they helped make people sensitive to their rights and to the duties of the State to its citizens. People demanded more health facilities in Kerala than in the rest of India and they utilized them better.33

A question that remains open is whether the morbidity profile of Kerala is markedly different from that of other societies with similar levels of life expectancy and infant mortality. Although the conditions that existed in the early fifties, particularly in Malabar, have certainly improved, poor living environments are still an important cause of illness in Kerala, and income an important determinant of the kind of living environment that is available (this, too, must be qualified: the land reform that provided house sites has made better living environments available to a larger section of the rural population than elsewhere).34 According to Soman (1993), infectious and parasitic diseases constitute a major share of the total illness of the population (p. 3), He writes that ‘in-patient statistics from the SAT hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, indicate that in 1989, the five major causes for admission of children were acute respiratory illness, acute diarrhoeal disease, measles, bronchial asthma, and congenital heart disease.’ This disease profile, according to him, is corroborated by statistics on out-patients and by material from community-based observations. Kabir and Krishnan (1991) also write that ‘morbidity related to water and air-borne infections still dominate the health picture’ (p. 25), and that ‘a very high proportion of the morbidity in Kerala can be traced to the lack of protected water supply and the absence of proper toilet facilities within households’ (ibid.). Has any other society achieved life-expectancy and (p.237) infant-mortality levels similar to Kerala while diseases such as these (diseases ‘linked to underdevelopment and poverty’) remained as prevalent as they are in Kerala? There is, at present, no scholarly work on this subject with reference to Kerala. In response to the question, T.N. Krishnan suggested to me that while changes have certainly occurred in the disease profile of the state, the pattern of diseases may well reflect the fact that the health transition in Kerala took place over a relatively short space of time.

3.3 Food Consumption and Nutrition

From the first half of the seventies, the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB, Hyderabad) has carried out nutrition surveys in different states. These include clinical and anthropometric studies as well as measurements of household food consumption. The food consumption data come from weighing the food consumed by a section of respondent households over a 24-hour period, as well as from recall by other respondent households of their food consumption over the 24 hours preceding the survey. The NNMB has now published comparative material, the results of surveys conducted in (p.238) 1975–9 and 1988–90. Data are presented for seven—and for some variables, eight—states separately, and for all states and respondents combined. The Kerala studies covered households in 7 districts, 979 households in 106 villages in 1975–9, and 835 households in 91 villages in 1988–90. The other source of data on food consumption is, of course, the National Sample Survey (NSS). The main features of the NSS data are presented in Tables 6, 11, and 18.

TABLE 11. Quantity of Monthly Consumption Per Person, Selected Food Items, Kerala and India, 1987–8

Rural

Urban

Item

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Cereals, gram, cereal substitutes (kg)

12.43

14.64

10.29

11.29

Pulses and pulse products (kg)

0.40

0.84

0.55

0.96

Milk (l)

2.16

3.23

3.07

4.33

Edible oils (kg)

0.26

0.31

0.36

0.53

Meat (kg)

0.19

0.10

0.20

0.21

Eggs (nos.)

1.73

0.52

2.93

1.46

Fresh fish (kg)

1.06

0.15

1.59

0.17

Fresh fruit (kg)

4.48

0.68

5.12

1.28

Source. National Sample Survey (1991c), pp. S-105, S-127, S-136, S-158.

TABLE 18. Share of Purchases from the Public Distribution System, by Household Monthly Per-capita Consumption Expenditure Category, Selected Commodities: Kerala and India, 1986–7

(in per cent)

Area/fractile group

Rice

Wheat

Edible oil

Sugar

Kerosene

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Rural

  0–10

64.9

16.9

94.7

9.5

8.9

11.0

69.7

54.6

95.8

51.7

  10–20

58.6

15.3

93.8

9.7

9.1

11.2

64.9

56.2

96.0

4.9

  20–40

51.6

17.6

94.8

14.0

7.5

12.7

63.0

51.7

93.4

47.7

  40–60

51.9

15.5

94.3

12.8

6.7

10.9

56.2

47.9

95.2

47.6

  60–80

47.1

17.9

95.3

14.1

8.4

12.1

51.3

77.2

90.4

47.0

  80–90

40.7

17.8

91.9

13.4

9.4

9.6

41.6

37.3

87.1

47.4

  90–100

38.8

16.3

76.5

13.6

15.3

8.4

40.0

32.8

83.6

47.4

All

51.4

16.8

92.0

12.6

8.9

11.0

55.5

61.2

92.1

25.9

Urban

  0–10

54.4

21.5

96.1

12.3

10.6

17.4

60.8

58.4

96.6

55.4

  10–20

54.1

21.0

100.0

16.6

15.8

16.3

66.3

54.5

84.7

58.3

  20–40

51.5

18.5

97.8

18.1

18.8

16.1

56.9

51.3

91.1

57.3

  40–60

45.2

19.6

87.3

23.6

9.4

16.0

47.4

45.9

76.6

60.9

  60–80

38.9

18.2

90.3

20.0

10.6

14.0

43.0

42.9

87.2

60.1

  80–90

37.5

16.7

93.6

22.1

12.9

12.8

44.3

40.7

55.0

60.7

  90–100

23.6

14.7

72.2

19.5

21.6

8.3

27.4

36.3

80.3

60.7

All

46.2

19.0

91.5

19.3

13.6

14.5

50.4

46.8

83.0

59.3

Source. National Sample Survey (1990).

According to the NNMB data, food consumption per consumption unit in Kerala in 1975–9 was the lowest among all the states surveyed, and in 1988–90 was the lowest among all states but one, Tamil Nadu. Kerala was also well below the recommended daily intake in respect of protein consumption, energy consumption, and the consumption of micronutrients (see Tables 12, 13, and 14). At the same time, according to the NNMB data, Kerala was the only state in which consumption improved over the two periods in terms of both anthropometric and intake indicators. The 1983 NSS data also suggested that Kerala was at the bottom of the table in respect of food intake (Soman, 1993, p. 7), and the reported gap in energy intake was, according to Soman, 20 per cent in adults and over 30 per cent in children (ibid.). (p.239) (p.240)

TABLE 12. Average Consumption of Selected Food Items, Kerala and Combined Data for Seven States, 1975–9 and 1988–90

(in grams per consumption unit per diem)

Item

RDI

Years

Kerala

Combined states

Cereals

460

1975–9

341

504

1988–90

369

490

Pulses

40

1975–9

14

36

1988–90

18

32

Green leafy vegetables

40

1975–9

4

8

1988–90

9

11

Other vegetables

60

1975–9

81

51

1988–90

65

49

Roots and tubers

50

1975–9

135

48

1988–90

63

40

Milk and milk products

150

1975–9

47

100

1988–90

87

96

Fats and oils

20

1975–9

4

12

1988–90

14

13

Sugar and jaggery

30

1975–9

19

23

1988–90

32

29

Notes.

1. The seven states in which surveys were conducted in both periods and for which we have the data which are pooled here are: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.

2. The surveys covered only rural areas.

3. RDI = recommended daily intake.

Source. National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (1991), Table 3.1, p. 49.

TABLE 13. Households for which Protein and Energy Consumption were Adequate as a Proportion of all Surveyed Households: Kerala and Combined Data fir Seven States, 1975–9 and 1988–90

(in per cent)

Status

1975–9

1988–90

Kerala

Combined states

Kerala

Combined states

Protein-adequate

69.7

88.2

71.5

83.5

Energy-adequate

39.0

58.0

39.7

53.5

Notes.

1. The seven states in which surveys were conducted in both periods and for which we have the data which are pooled here are: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.

2. The surveys covered only rural areas.

Source. National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (1991), Table 4, p. 50.

TABLE 14. Average Daily Consumption of Nutrients per Consumption Unit: Kerala and Combined Data for Seven States, 1975–9 and 1988–90

Nutrient (units)

RDI

Years

Kerala

Combined states

Protein (grams)

60.0

1975–9

46.4

62.9

1988–90

52.9

82.5

Energy (kcal)

2350

1975–9

1978

2340

1988–90

2140

2283

Calcium (mg)

400

1975–9

507

590

1988–90

608

556

Iron (mg)

28.0

1975–9

20.8

30.9

1988–90

22.0

28.4

Vitamin A (μ‎g)

600

1975–9

176

257

1988–90

297

294

Vitamin C (mg)

40

1975–9

67

37

1988–90

47

37

Thiamine (mg)

1.20

1975–9

0.72

1.60

1988–90

0.72

1.53

Riboflavin (mg)

1.40

1975–9

0.72

0.97

1988–90

0.74

0.94

Niacin (mg)

16.0

1975–9

11.5

15.7

1988–90

11.8

15.5

Notes.

1. The seven states in which surveys were conducted in both periods and for which we have data which are pooled here are: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.

2. The surveys covered only rural areas.

3. RDI = recommended daily intake.

Source. National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (1991), Table 4, p. 50.

Those were the intake data; the NNMB results on nutritional outcomes showed Kerala in a better light. In terms of (i) age-wise mean anthropometric evidence (height, weight, arm circumference, fat-fold at triceps); (ii) clinical signs of nutritional deficiency in children; and (iii) the classification of children according to nutritional grades in 1988–90, Kerala does markedly better than the other states (see Tables 15 and 16). The low incidence of ‘severe’ (p.241) child undernourishment in Kerala by the end of the eighties (see Table 15) is particularly noteworthy. (p.242)

TABLE 15. Distribution of Children aged One Year to Five Years by Nutritional Grades: Kerala and Combined Data for Seven States, 1975–9 and 1988–90

(in per cent)

Group/Year

Region

Nutritional grade

Normal

Mild

Moderate

Severe

Children

  1975–9

Kerala

7.5

35.7

46.5

10.3

Combined states

5.9

31.6

47.5

15.0

1988–90

Kerala

17.7

47.4

32.9

2.0

Combined states

9.9

37.6

43.8

8.7

Boys

  1975–9

Kerala

7.5

32.4

49.9

10.2

Combined states

5.3

30.3

49.8

14.6

  1988–90

Kerala

16.6

47.7

33.3

2.4

Combined states

8.9

37.8

44.3

9.0

Girls

  1975–9

Kerala

7.4

39.0

43.2

10.4

Combined states

6.7

33.1

44.9

15.3

  1988–90

Kerala

18.8

47.1

32.5

1.6

Combined states

10.9

37.3

42.8

9.0

Notes.

1. The seven states in which surveys were conducted in both periods and for which we have data which are pooled here are: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.

2. The surveys covered only rural areas.

Source. National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (1991), Tables 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, pp. 55–7.

TABLE 16. Prevalence of Signs of Nutritional Deficiency in Pre-school Children: Kerala and Combined Data for Seven States, 1975–9 and 1988–90

(in per cent)

Nutritional deficiency signs

Survey period

Kerala

Combined states

Oedema

1975–9

0.4

1988–90

0.1

Marasmus

1975–9

0.2

1.3

1988–90

0.1

0.6

Two or more signs of PEM

1975–9

0.2

1.2

1988–90

0.2

Bitot's spots

1975–9

0.1

1.8

1988–90

0.5

0.7

Angular stomatitis

1975–9

1.6

5.7

1988–90

5.7

No apparent deficiency

1975–9

91.7

80.7

1988–90

94.5

83.5

Notes.

1. The seven states in which surveys were conducted in both periods and for which we have data which are pooled here are: Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.

2. The surveys covered only rural areas.

3. PEM = protein energy malnutrition.

Source. National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (1991), Table 10, p. 59.

One attempt to resolve this apparent paradox of comparatively low intake and comparatively high nutrition (not to speak of better health outcomes as measured by other indicators) has been by C.R. Soman. According to him, ‘the only possible explanation is that [in Kerala] the nutrients are better utilized, quite possibly because of the positive interaction between health care and nutrition.’

The part played by the health care system and the health environment in Kerala is, no doubt, of enormous importance in determining the nutritional status of Kerala's people. There are, however, some issues that Soman's explanation does not consider.

First, there could well be problems with the data on consumption. The NNMB data, for instance, are problem-ridden in terms (p.243) of the stratification of the sample at the village level. There is nothing in the survey method that ensures the appropriate representation of different socio-economic strata in the villages surveyed. The NNMB account of its sampling design deals with this (crucial) issue thus: ‘The selection of households will be done by the team on the spot by random sampling after consultation with the village head’ (NNMB, 1991, p. 65).

There may also be important problems of measurement with the NSS data. In the seventies, scholars of the Centre for Development Studies showed that consumption in Kerala was underestimated because the National Sample Surveys did not capture the consumption of cereal substitutes—in particular, tapioca—by people in Kerala (see Centre for Development Studies, 1977). That problem may well persist in some form or other: there are problems of capturing, by means of standard all-India questionnaires, every item in a diet in a region where diets can be very different from other regions (is, for instance, the specific range of vegetables, fruit, and tubers that is to be found in a Kerala diet represented adequately in the questionnaire; is the consumption of dried fish measured accurately?). There is likely to be another data problem: people eat outside the household and in eating-houses a great deal in Kerala (large numbers of agricultural labourers, men and women, for instance, eat a morning meal in tea-shops or small restaurants), and this consumption may not adequately be recorded in questionnaire-based data on aggregate household consumption.35 In my opinion, given these problems of measurement, it has not conclusively been established that intakes (and particularly intakes among the poor), are significantly lower in Kerala than in the rest of the country.

Secondly, the quantitative data may hide some important features of the composition of diets in Kerala. There are marked differences in the component parts of household consumption in Kerala and India.36 According to data from the 43rd round of the National Sample Survey, the average household diet in Kerala was lower in (p.244) cereals and cereal substitutes, pulses, milk and milk products, and edible oil, and higher in meat, fish, eggs, and fruit than the average household diet in India (see Table 11). The NNMB data suggest a decline in the intake of cereals and cereal substitutes (consistent with the decline in tapioca production), and an increase in the consumption of milk (a non-traditional item), edible oils, and pulses.37

Thirdly, per-capita consumption data presented by the NSS and the NNMB are, respectively, household per-capita consumption (and consumer expenditure) and total household consumption divided by the number of consumption units in the household. In other words, in both cases, the data collected are for whole households, and the figures for individuals ignore intra-household inequalities in distribution. If intra-household distribution in respect of consumption in Kerala is better than elsewhere (and, from the information on female survival, that seems reasonable to assume), a consequence is likely to be better nutritional outcomes for given average intakes.

3.4 The Public Distribution System

Kerala is a food deficit state; more than fifty per cent of the cereals consumed by the people of Kerala comes from outside the state.38 It also has the best public distribution system of India's states, and the availability of food from the public distribution system has been, as can be expected, a major factor in providing nutrition to the income-poor.

Kerala's network of ration and fair-price shops is widespread, covering towns and villages. A substantial proportion (relative to the rest of India) of the essential consumer purchases of the people are made in fair-price and ration shops. Ration shops provide rice, whole wheat flour, cooking oil, and kerosene at about half the market rate. There are bonus issues at festival times, at Christmas, Onam, Easter, (p.245) Id, and so on. Shops of the state-run Maveli Stores chain sell pulses, spices, and condiments and a wide range of other consumer goods.

The public distribution system in Kerala was first established during World War II, in response to the food crisis of 1942–3 (Isaac and Ramachandran. forthcoming). The food crisis of 1942–3 in Malabar can, I think, be characterized as a famine (in any case, there were mass deaths during this period). If the figure for all deaths (in particular, cholera-related deaths in 1943) that I have put together from news reports of the time is correct, almost one per cent of the population died from hunger and epidemic disease. Data from the distinguished medical surveys of the Servants of India Society for Cochin and from the same surveys and the Coir Workers Union in Alleppey district suggest that there were local, taluk-wide food crises leading to mass deaths in Shertallai taluk in Travancore and Cochin–Kanayannur taluk in Cochin.39

In Malabar and Travancore, the public distribution system was directly the consequence of mass action and government response to such action during the period of food crisis. In Malabar, after 1942, peasant organizations, trade unions, and other mass organizations fought for compulsory procurement from landlords and for distribution through fair-price shops. People's Food Committees, which drew on wide sections of the population, were set up in most localities, and women in large numbers joined the struggle for food. Because of this pressure, and because of the administrative need of the British government itself, ration shops were set up; they were subsequently converted into producers' and consumers' cooperative societies.40 The governments of Travancore and Cochin brought the distribution of foodgrain under government control in 1943.41 (p.246) In Travancore, the coir workers' union was active in the struggle for rationing (see Isaac, 1984); the struggle for food was also an important factor in the formation of agricultural labour unions in Travancore (Jose George, 1980, p. 56). A very significant feature of the food crisis in Cochin was the establishment of rural rationing in February 1943, described by K.G. Sivaswamy of the Servants of India Society as the first of its kind in India.

The system of public distribution of food and rationing survived the war. In most parts of the Madras Presidency, the public distribution system was dismantled after the war and in the early years of independence. In Malabar (and the rest of Kerala), people's organizations fought to ensure that the system was not abolished.

A widespread, effective public distribution network in Kerala is, however, a post-1957 phenomenon. Among the most important spheres of activity of the first Communist Ministry was the food economy: the Government of Kerala negotiated the supply of foodgrain to Kerala with the Government of India, and established locality-based food committees to supervise the system of food distribution (see Namboodiripad, 1994b). An important change in the system came in 1964, during an extended period of President's Rule in Kerala, when the government abolished the southern food zone. Food all but ceased to come into Kerala, there was a sharp rise in food prices, and the Congress Party could not control the state-wide people's protest movement. Chief Ministers of the states of India met in New Delhi on 26 October 1964. At that meeting, it was decided to begin what was called ‘Informal rationing’ in Kerala from 1 November 1964, ‘so as to ensure an equitable distribution of the available supplies at a specified price’ (Government of Kerala, 1989a, p. 10). The Government of India undertook to supply grain to the public distribution system in the state, and it was agreed that it ‘would not be generally necessary for the State Government to procure any quota directly from other States’.42 There was a major expansion of the rationing system after 1964 (Koshy et al., 1989); this expansion continued in the eighties (see Table 17).43

TABLE 17. Classification of Ration Shops by Year of Establishment; Kerala State, 1987

(in per cent)

Years

Proportion of ration shops established in the specified period

Pre-independence

1.6

1956–60

7.9

1961–7

27.6

1968–73

13.4

1974–9

25.2

1980–5

16.5

1985–7

4.7

Not known

3.1

All shops

100.0

Source. Survey of 127 ration shops from all districts, in Koshy et al. (1989), p. 136, Table 5.3.

(p.247)

There is a two-level system of public distribution of essential commodities in Kerala. The Civil Supplies Department of the Government of Kerala administers public distribution activity in the state. It runs a network of authorized ration shops; and rice, wheat, sugar, cooking oil, and kerosene are the main commodities distributed through the ration system. The state depends on central allotments for the items distributed through the ration system. The Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation, a statutory state-run body established in 1974, operates the second level of the public distribution system. It procures rice, wheat products, sugar, pulses, vegetables, and a wide range of consumer goods independently from the open market, and sells it through its own network of ‘Maveli’ stores and supermarkets (Koshy et al, 1989, pp. 7–8).

The state government recovers the operating costs of the public distribution system (P.S. George, 1979, 1985; Narayana, 1992). The central government, however, provides a subsidy to cover the difference between the issue price and the total cost of procurement. Food subsidies accounted for around 5 per cent of central government expenditures on the revenue account in most years, and (p.248) around 20–30 per cent of central government subsidies (Narayana, 1992). P.S. George's assessment of the functioning of the public distribution system is that the gains to producers and consumers from the public distribution system in Kerala ‘exceeded the direct cost of government subsidy’ (P.S. George, 1979, p. 61).

Kerala is the only state that has near-universal rationing; all families that do not have land holdings big enough to meet household requirements have the right to a ration card (and a ration card is an important document of household identification in Kerala). About 90 per cent of households had ration cards in 1991 (Kannan, 1993, p. 28).44 In January 1992, there were 13,028 authorized retail outlets, one for every 389 households (Government of Kerala, 1992).

Commodities distributed through the public distribution system form a major part of the consumption basket of households in Kerala.45 As Table 18 indicates, food purchases from the public distribution system in Kerala account for a high share of total purchases (e.g. around 50 per cent for rice, and more than 90 per cent in the case of wheat); these purchases are large, in comparison with the corresponding all-India figures, in all expenditure groups; and the pattern of purchases from the public distribution system in Kerala is distinctly progressive, much more so than in India as a whole.

In 1986–7, fair-price shops in Kerala sold 59.4 kilograms of rice per capita (Koshy et al., 1989). By 1991, according to one calculation, the average amount of rice and wheat bought per consumer from the ration system was 69.6 kg (Kannan, 1993). By way of comparison, in 1989, the quantity of foodgrain per person per year distributed through the public distribution system was calculated to be 5 kg in Haryana, 6 kg in Uttar Pradesh, 8 kg in Bihar, 9 kg in Madhya Pradesh, 23 kg in West Bengal, and 52 kg in Kerala (Geetha and Suryanarayana, 1993).

(p.249)

Data from the 1987 survey of 806 beneficiaries of the public distribution system (Koshy et al, 1989) provide useful information on the utilization of the system, and highlight the fact that the poor use the system more than the rich. About 85 per cent of consumers met all or part of their rice requirements from fair-price shops. Beneficiaries with monthly incomes of less than Rs 100 bought 71 per cent of the amount of rice for which they were eligible; the (p.250) corresponding figure for beneficiaries with monthly incomes of more than Rs 3000 was 6 per cent. In general, low-income consumers did not have serious complaints regarding rice quality and did not complain that ration shops were overcrowded; 70 per cent of respondents did not have serious complaints about the weights and measures used in the shops, and 96 per cent said that there was no problem of availability with respect to rice and wheat. All respondents wanted the range of commodities available through the system to be extended. Transferring ration cards was not, in the assessment of the researchers, a serious problem; in fact, most transfers were from high-income beneficiaries who loaned their cards to beneficiaries with lower incomes.46

The system of comprehensive food subsidy in Kerala, which provides crucial income and nutrition support to its people, has been, by all accounts, highly successful. An important feature of the food system in Kerala has been public awareness of matters relating to the food-distribution system (see Mooij, 1994), and any attempt to restrict the public distribution system is likely to meet with strong political resistance, though that is certainly the policy of the present central government.47

3.5 Sex Ratios

A key indicator—and perhaps the most illustrative summary measure—of the historical status of women in Kerala, and of the influence (p.251) of what Robin Jeffrey calls the ‘culture of old Kerala’ on socio-economic development in Kerala, is the sex ratio, measured here as females per thousand males in the population (see Table 19).

TABLE 19. Females Per Thousand Males: Kerala and Constituent Regions, 1820–1991

Year

Travancore

Cochin

Malabar

Kerala

1820

983

1033

1836

962

992

1849

1003

1851–2

983

1856–7

974

1858

1000

1861–2

994

1866–7

994

1871

992

1875

1010

988

1881

1006

1014

1891

982

989

1018

1901

981

1004

1911

980

1037

1921

971

1027

1931

987

1043

1059

1941

993

1042

1067

1951

996

1046

1056

1961

998

1039

1039

1021

1971

1003

1024

1024

1016

1981

1022

1046

1035

1032

1991

1035

1043

1043

1040

Notes.

1. —indicates years for which I was not able to get the data.

2. Blanks indicate years in which censuses were not held in the administrative divisions, or years in which the administrative division did not exist.

3. On the modern districts that constitute the regions of Malabar, Cochin, and Travancore, see footnote 3 in the text.

Source. Censuses of Cochin, Travancore, Madras Presidency, and India. Data for Travancore in 1820 from Ward and Conner (1816–20), p. 111. Data for Travancore in 1836 from Horsley (1860), p. 11.

(p.252) We know that although more males are born than females, if the living environment is not hostile to female survival, more females survive in a population than males. The sex ratio in Japan was 1030 in 1990 and the average for industrial countries in 1990 was 1060. The sex ratio in Kerala was 1040 in 1991, and has been more than 1000 at every census after the formation of the state. For two component parts of Kerala, Cochin and Malabar, sex ratios have been greater than 1000 all of this century, and possibly also for much of the nineteenth century.48

With respect to the three regions that were brought together into the single state of Kerala in 1957, it is noteworthy that Malabar does best with respect to the sex ratio; the sex ratio in Malabar was higher than the ratios in Cochin and Travancore at every census but one since 1881. The case of Travancore, commonly thought to be the high-flier on socio-cultural indicators, is interesting and needs further investigation. In the modern period, the sex ratio in Travancore was the lowest of the three component regions of the state, and the sex ratio in the districts that comprised old Travancore crossed 1000 only at the Census of 1971 (and continued to be lower in 1991 than in the districts that comprised Cochin and Malabar).

Nineteenth-century observers of population didn't fail to see that the relatively high proportion of females to males in the population was a distinguishing feature of Kerala's demography and of local society. Ward and Conner noted this in the report of their well-known survey, which was carried out from 1816 to 1820. Their point of reference, and the standard that they perceived as representative of the usual order of things was, unsurprisingly, early nineteenth-century Europe. They wrote that ‘among the Nairs, particularly in Cochin, the females are most numerous, and the circumstance can only be ascribed to the singular economy of the people; the difference varies with locality; the excess is in some instances considerable and on the whole almost inverts the usual order’ (Ward and Conner, 1816–20, p. 109). There is a footnote at this point that seeks to explain the ‘usual order’; it reads: ‘In (p.253) Europe the males are to females as one hundred to ninety-seven, with the Nair here in the proportion of one hundred and ten, to one hundred and twelve.’

The Census Superintendent of Travancore at the Census of 1875 also sought to explain the preponderance of females in the population at the Census:

More boys are born [in Travancore] than girls, though it would appear that mortality is greater among boys than girls, a circumstance which changes the relative proportion of the sexes when they survive to attain an adult age. The causes of this disparity in the relative positions of the sexes when viewed in connection with their ages, it is difficult to discover, while to ascribe it to the partiality of parents in bestowing greater care on their female issues, will be hazarding an opinion based on insufficient data, though it is a fact that among [matrilineal] people a female child is prized more highly than a male one (Census of Travancore, 1875 (1876), pp. 139–40).

Although the idea that there was a marked preference for girls and that girls were much better taken care of than boys in matrilineal families is, I think, overstated (relatively high levels of female survival, can appear to be female preference when the observer's outlook and social background were patriarchal), it is of note that the explanation for the preponderance of females in Travancore in 1875 is sought in the fact that the marriage and inheritance system of a significant section of the people was matrilineal (more on that issue further down),

3.6 Sectional Deprivation

Public provisioning in the spheres of health and education has been more effective in Kerala than elsewhere, and better distributed between men and women, between social groups, and between regions of the state. This does not mean that traditional patterns of inequality and deprivation have been eliminated. Important differences between traditionally disadvantaged social groups and regions—people of the scheduled castes and tribes and the less developed regions of old Malabar—and the rest of the population persist.49

(p.254) There are at least three distinct pockets of deprivation in contemporary Kerala, three social groups that are substantially behind the rest of the state in respect of living standards.

The first group consists of traditional coastal fishing communities.50 According to a study by John Kurien, the rate of infant mortality among fishing communities in Thiruvananthapuram district in 1981 was 85 per thousand (John Kurien, 1993b, p. 40; see also Jessy Thomas, 1981). The sex ratio among traditional fishing communities was 972 women per 1000 men (ibid., p. 41). This study also presents evidence of environmental deprivation in coastal villages, including ‘overcrowding, lack of facilities for faeces disposal and scarcity of drinking water’, contributing to a high prevalence of respiratory diseases, skin infections, diarrhoeal disorders, and hookworm infestations (p. 40). A 1985 study of a fishing community in Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram district (Vimala Kumary, 1991) has evidence of infant mortality rates that are, by any standard, very high. The study reports that the infant mortality was 123 per 1000 live births (129 among Muslim families and 116 among Christian families). The deaths were related to the lack of ‘timely medical help to infants’, to ‘food prejudices’ during pregnancy and lactation (p. 159), and to conditions of poor hygiene. Of the deaths, 50 to 60 per cent were in families that had had more than 5 live births. The infant mortality rate among illiterate families was double the rate among literates.

The second such deprived social group is made up of the people of the scheduled tribes of the north Kerala highlands. There is much less information on this social group than on the fishing communities. As the subsequent section shows, rates of literacy among some tribal groups were lower than in the state as a whole (on deprivation, particularly educational deprivation, among people of the scheduled tribes of north Kerala, see S.S. Sreekumar, 1994 and Sebastian, 1994). In 1993, a series of articles in the daily Malayalam newspaper Deshabhimani pointed to an appalling situation in Wayanad district. Noolpuzha panchayat, Wayanad district, has 70 tribal ‘colonies’ or settlements. In the six settlements for which the Deshabhimani correspondent had information, 28 people died of hunger-related causes between July 1993 and 6 December 1993. Most of the dead were young men.

The third such group is the new underclass of Tamil migrant (p.255) workers in Kerala (this does not include Tamil plantation workers, who have worked in Kerala for generations). The workers come in search of unskilled or low-skill manual jobs, particularly non-agricultural jobs (which the educated unemployed in Kerala do not do), or are self-employed at low-income occupations. Their numbers include child workers, particularly young boys. Many such workers are homeless, and many live in exceptionally deprived and unhygienic conditions in new slums in Kerala's towns and villages. There is little research on this group, and, indeed, little recognition that they are a part of the community in Kerala.51

Although it may be said that, in numerical terms, these three groups are relatively small (the tribal population in Kerala, for instance, represents about one per cent of the total population), the persistence of acute deprivation among these three groups is, nevertheless, an important social failure, and calls for greater attention and concern from state authorities and political movements.

4. Literacy in Kerala

4.1 Educational Achievements

A cardinal feature of culture and society in Kerala, and of Kerala's political and economic development, is the high proportion of literate and educated persons in the population. Literacy—and, in particular, female literacy—is an essential (and is often regarded as the essential) facilitator of Kerala's achievements in the spheres of health and of demographic change. Literacy is a foundational feature of Kerala's political culture, crucial in the creation of public opinion and essential to that consciousness of individual and political rights that is so conspicuous a feature of social and political life in Kerala. Robin Jeffrey, writing in the context of Kerala, calls literacy ‘the basic personal skill that underlies the whole modernizing sequence’.52

(p.256)

With regard to the proportions of persons in the population who are literate, Kerala and the other states of India are in different leagues (see Table 20). Kerala has, historically, been ahead of other states in this respect, and today it is the only state that has achieved what UNESCO calls ‘total literacy’, or a state of society in which more than 85 per cent of the adult population is literate. In 1991, there was mass literacy among men as well as among women. Although the proportion of literates in the population of the northern districts (Kasargod, Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Malappuram, and Palakkad, approximately the old Malabar) at the Census of 1991 was lower than in the rest of the state, the gap was smaller than before (see Table 21). National Sample Survey data from the 42nd round (1986–7) on age-specific literacy show very high rates of literacy in the younger age-groups, over 97 per cent each among males and females in each age group between 6 years and 24 years, (p.257) (p.258) (p.259) in rural areas and urban areas. In every age group below 34, even the rural female literacy rate in Kerala is higher than the urban male literacy rate in India as a whole (Table 22). According to data from the Census of India 1981, child labour was lower in Kerala than any other state (see Table 23).

TABLE 20. Proportion of Literate Persons in the Population; Kerala and India, 1961–91

(in per cent)

Year

Persons

Males

Females

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

1961

46.8

24.0

55.0

34.3

38.9

12.9

1971

60.4

29.5

66.6

39.5

54.3

18.7

1981

69.2

36.2

74.0

46.7

64.5

24.9

1991

78.1

42.9

80.9

52.6

75.4

32.4

1981

81.6

43.6

87.7

56.4

75.7

29.8

1991

90.6

52.1

94.5

63.9

87.0

39.4

Notes.

1. The state of Kerala was formed in 1956.

2. Numbers in italics represent the number of literate persons above the age of seven as a proportion of all persons above the age of seven.

Source. Censuses of India.

TABLE 21. Literate Persons as a Proportion of the Population: Constituent Regions of Present-day Kerala and India, Persons, Males and Females, 1871 to 1991

(in per cent)

Year

Persons

Males

Females

T

C

M

I

T

C

M

I

T

C

M

I

1871

n/a

n/a

5.3a

n/a

n/a

9.7a

n/a

n/a

0.8a

1875

5.7

4.4

n/a

n/a

11.1

8.4

n/a

n/a

0.5

0.4

n/a

n/a

1881

n/a

10.0a

n/a

17.6a

6.6

n/a

2.5a

0.4

1891

13.4

n/a

12.9

5.8

23.1

30.5

22.0

8.7

3.5

5.6

3.9

0.5

1901

12.4

13.4

5.3

21.5

21.5

17.2

9.8

3.1

3.1

3.0

0.7

1911

15.0

15.1

11.1

5.9

24.8

24.3

19.0

10.6

5.0

6.1

3.5

1.1

1921

24.2

18.5

12.7

7.1

33.1

27.3

20.9

13.9b

15.0

9.9

4.9

1.9

1931

23.9

28.2

14.4

9.5

33.8

38.3

22.9

15.6b

13.9

18.5

6.4

2.4

1941

47.2

43.7c

n/a

15.1

58.2

55.5c

n/a

36.1

32.5c

n/a

6.9

1951d

46.7

43.3

31.3

16.6

55.6

52.2

41.3

25.0

37.7

34.7

21.7

12.9

1961

52.3

49.6

38.9

24.0

59.3

56.6

48.8

34.3

45.3

42.8

29.4

12.9

1971

66.3

63.6

52.1

29.5

71.4

68.5

60.3

39.5

61.3

58.7

44.2

18.7

1981

74.8

75.2

63.5

36.2

78.7

79.1

69.8

46.7

71.0

71.5

57.4

24.9

1991

80.9

80.7

74.2

42.9

83.2

83.2

77.8

52.6

78.8

78.3

70.8

32.4

Notes.

1. T = Travancore; C = Cochin; M = Malabar; I = India; n/a = not available;— = I have not been able to get the data.

(a) Proportion of persons who are ‘able to read and write’ or ‘learning’ in the total population.

(b) The reference population consists of persons aged 5 and above.

(c) The reference population consists of persons aged 7 and above.

(d) Figures for Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar are based on sample data.

Source. Censuses of Cochin, Travancore, Madras Presidency, and India. On the modem districts that constitute the regions of Malabar, Cochin, and Travancore, see footnote 3 in the text.

TABLE 22. Proportion of Literate Persons in the Population, by Age Group; India and Kerala, 1986–7

(in per cent)

Age group (years)

Rural

Urban

Male

Female

Male

Female

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

6–11

64.7

97.4

48.9

97.4

81.5

97.0

77.3

97.9

12–14

75.3

99.5

54.5

99.1

89.2

98.6

81.7

99.7

15–24

69.3

98.4

45.3

97.2

88.6

99.1

76.0

97.2

25–34

60.6

96.1

32.5

91.3

86.2

98.8

66.4

95.2

35–44

54.7

92.1

24.9

80.9

81.3

97.8

57.6

86.5

45–59

46.0

86.7

18.7

69.3

76.0

92.5

47.8

78.5

60 &above

38.5

81.0

14.9

53.1

71.2

90.5

33.9

70.2

Alla

52.4

84.1

31.6

79.6

74.0

88.7

59.0

84.8

Note.

(a) Including persons in the 0–5 age group.

Source. National Sample Survey (1993).

TABLE 23. Working Children as a Proportion of All Children: India and Kerala, 1981

(in per cent)

Age group (in years)

Boys

Girls

All child ten

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

5–9

0.89

0.06

0.76

0.06

0.83

0.06

10–14

16.97

2.86

12.74

2.73

14.97

2.80

5–14

8.67

1.53

6.42

1.47

7.58

1.50

Source. Census of India 1981, cited in B.A.N. Sharma (1994).

(p.260) Owing to the prevalent levels of literacy, the dissemination of information by means of the written word goes much deeper in Kerala than elsewhere in India; this has important implications for the quality and depth of public opinion, and of participatory democracy in the state.53 There are data on the circulation of daily newspapers from the Registrar of Newspapers; following the basic paper on this subject (Jeffrey, 1987), I have used calculations from census data on the number of speakers of different languages to calculate dailies-to-persons ratios (see Table 24). Kerala, predictably, has always done better than the rest of India in this respect: the circulation of newspapers in Malayalam per thousand speakers of Malayalam in 1989 was 61, and the corresponding figure for all newspapers in all languages and speakers of all languages in India was 28.54 There are also data from an all-India readership survey conducted in 1989 by the Operations Research Group that deals with adult readers of dailies, weeklies, fortnightlies, and monthlies in India. The data are given separately for men and women, and rural and urban areas, and by categories of income, age, occupation, and formal educational achievement. Some of the data for Kerala and the whole of India are recomputed in Tables 25 and 26. The differences between the Kerala results and the all-India results are very striking.55

TABLE 24. Circulation of Daily Newspapers: India, 1961–89

Language

Circulation of daily newspapers per thousand speakers

1961

1971

1981

1989

Assamese

1

2

6

15

Bengali

6

13

21

19

Gujarati

18

26

35

33

Hindi

5

7

14

25

Kannada

8

14

22

23

Malayalam

32

51

54

61

Marathi

12

22

28

29

Oriya

4

4

8

22

Punjabi

2

5

12

16

Sindhi

20

Tamil

20

24

21

26

Telugu

4

5

9

12

Urdu

10

13

21

34

All languages

11

22

28

Notes,

1. ‘Speakers’ are persons whose mother tongues are specified in the first column.

2. The data on persons in 1981 whose mother tongue was Tamil were lost ‘due to flood’ (Census of India 1981, 1991, p. ix) and were not reported. Data on Tamil in column 5 are from Census of India 1981 (1987), pp. 38–9.

3. The increase in the population of the speakers of a specific language between 1981 and 1989 was calculated by using the compound rate of growth of the population between 1981 and 1991 of the state in which that language is the principal language. For Hindi the increase was calculated by using the compound rate of growth of the combined populations of Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. For Urdu and Sindhi, the increase was calculated by using the compound rate of growth of the population of India between 1981 and 1991.

4. Census operations did not take place in Assam in 1981. The data in columns 5 and 6 for Assamese are projections from the 1971 mother-tongue data, 1981 population estimates, and the 1991 final population totals for Assam.

5. The calculations of population growth rates mentioned in note 3 are based on population totals given in Census of India 1981 (1983), Census of India 1991 (1993), and Bose (1991).

6. The data on circulation of newspapers in Assamese in 1971 are, in fact, data for 1970 (Jeffrey, 1987, Table 1, p. 607).

Sources. Censuses of India; Registrar of Newspapers (1962, 1991); Press in India, cited in Jeffrey (1987a), Table 1, p. 607. See the detailed notes in Ram (forthcoming).

TABLE 25. Proportion of Readers in the Estimated Adult Population: India and Kerala, 1989

(in per cent)

Readers

Any daily

Any publication

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

Total

Persons

17.7

44.3

21.1

58.6

Men

23.6

53.4

26.6

63.3

Women

11.5

35.8

15.4

54.2

Rural

Persons

6.8

37.5

9.0

53.1

Men

10.0

45.6

12.0

57.2

Women

3.6

29.7

5.9

49.1

Urban

Persons

49.4

72.2

56.4

81.1

Men

61.2

84.8

66.8

87.7

Women

35.8

60.2

44.6

74.9

Notes.

1. The survey covered persons above 15 years of age.

2. The category ‘any publication’ is made up of all the dailies, weeklies, fortnightlies, and monthlies in the survey schedule.

3. The reference period for each publication was the frequency of publication of the individual publication (a day for dailies, a week for weeklies, and so on).

Source. Operations Research Group (1990a, 1990b).

TABLE 26. Proportion of Readers in the Estimated Adult Population, by Occupation Group: India and Kerala, 1989

(in per cent)

Occupational Category

Any daily

Any publication

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

Professional/Executive

Persons

75.2

92.9

84.6

100.0

Men

79.2

94.2

87.7

100.0

Women

51.8

89.0

66.5

100.0

Clerk/Salesperson

Persons

64.6

84.5

71.3

97.9

Men

64.3

80.7

70.5

97.8

Women

66.6

97.8

77.5

98.5

industrialist/Trader

Persons

45.6

76.4

49.2

78.1

Men

46.8

77.1

50.4

78.7

Women

15.5

17.3

19.2

31.3

Worker

Persons

16.1

30.0

18.9

43.6

Men

17.4

33.8

20.0

44.5

Women

6.1

12.7

10.7

39.3

Student

Persons

49.8

74.5

59.7

94.0

Men

52.4

84.8

60.1

96.5

Women

45.5

65.0

59.2

91.7

Housewife/Non-worker

Persons

11.7

40.5

15.3

56.1

Men

27.3

62.0

31.6

68.3

Women

9.7

34.4

13.1

52.6

Agriculturist

Persons

7.8

37.9

8.9

50.6

Men

8.0

36.8

9.1

49.6

Women

3.4

67.6

4.6

77.5

Agricultural Labourer

Persons

1.9

23.5

2.6

32.9

Men

2.4

36.4

3.1

45.9

Women

0.3

2.7

0.7

11.9

Artisan

Persons

15.2

100.0

18.0

100.0

Men

18.2

100.0

20.6

100.0

Women

3.1

100.0

5.8

100.0

Other

Persons

12.8

29.9

15.7

41.1

Men

17.3

41.4

20.5

56.6

Women

5.7

7.5

8.1

11.0

Notes. See Table 25.

Source. Operations Research Group (1990a, 1990b).

(p.261) (p.262)

(p.263) Among castes, literacy traditionally matched a caste's position in the ritual hierarchy. In descending order of literacy, the position was, in general, Brahman, Kshatriya, and Ambalavasi, followed by (p.264) Nayars and then Izhavas and the so-called agrarian slave castes. Christians were ahead of Muslims and, in fact, right behind the Nayars. If we were to separate Syrian Christians from missionary converts, the pattern would be different. While on this theme, it is worth dispelling the notion that, because the traditional system of inheritance among the Nayars was matrilineal, Nayar women in traditional society were mainly literate. In the area for which we have data, Travancore, the literacy rate among Nayar females in 1875 was 1.2 per cent.

Disaggregated data on literacy among different classes and social groups in the nineties are still not available (other than in the report of the Total Literacy Campaign in Ernakulam district). From the data in the Census of 1981 and other studies in the eighties, including the surveys that were undertaken by the literacy campaigns prior to the campaign in each place, it was clear that although, from an all-India perspective, Kerala's achievements were impressive, some traditional differences persisted. The 1991 Census data showed literacy among people of the scheduled castes and tribes to be below the general level (see Table 27). According to the studies by John Kurien and others of living standards among the fisherpeople of (p.265) Kerala's coasts, the rate of male literacy among fishing workers was 67 per cent, and the rate of female literacy was 44 per cent (John Kurien, 1991). In Nadur village, near Shoranur, in 1987, Richard Franke found that while literacy improved over the seventies and eighties, the general pattern of literacy followed the pattern of traditional hierarchy in the village. Michael Tharakan's evaluation of the total literacy campaign showed the persistence of illiteracy among scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, among the poorest section of agricultural labourers and fishing communities, and among Muslims, particularly women (he documents one case of family resistance to a young Muslim woman becoming an instructor in the campaign)56

TABLE 27. Proportion of Literate persons among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes: Kerala and India

(in per cent)

Scheduled castes

Scheduled tribes

Total population

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

Kerala

India

1961

  Female

17.4

3.3

11.9

3.2

38.9

12.9

  Male

31.6

17.0

22.6

13.8

55.0

34.3

1991a

  Female

74.3

23.8

51.1

18.2

86.2

39.3

  Male

85.2

49.9

63.4

40.7

93.6

64.1

Note.

(a) Age 7 and above.

Source. Census of India 1961; Tyagi (1993), Tables 1013, based on 1991 Census data.

4.2 Literacy Expansion in the Nineteenth Century

The progress of literacy is the achievement whose history has been written about in the greatest detail. This history has been documented, in particular, for Travancore. Conditions in Cochin are relatively understudied.

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.57

In her pioneering work on literacy in Kerala, Kathleen Gough argued that widespread literacy was an important feature of pre-British society in Kerala (Gough, 1968). She contended that before British rule, almost all Nayar men and most Nayar women were literate and that more than 50 per cent of men in general and more (p.266) than 25 per cent of women in the early eighteenth century were literate. Gough argued that there was a massive decline in literacy in the early part of British rule.58 The wars of the late eighteenth century and the neglect of Sanskrit and vernacular learning by the British were, according to Gough, responsible for the decline. There is, however, little evidence to substantiate this argument.

Michael Tharakan, a more recent historian of literacy in Kerala, argues that the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries were a period of growth of literacy in Kerala, and that during this period education spread beyond the Brahmans and ‘came within reach of almost all the socially and economically privileged sections of society’ (Tharakan, 1984, p. 1915)59 Nevertheless, he considers Gough's estimates to be based on inadequate information and ‘exaggerated’: in his view, it is unlikely that literacy among caste Hindus went too much beyond Brahmans and aristocratic Nayars, or that literacy among Christians and Muslims went beyond traders within the communities, or that literacy among Izhavas went beyond the ayurveda practitioners and astrologers among them. He also writes that ‘there is no reason to believe that there was any significant spread of literacy’ among the agrarian Pulaya and Cherumar slave castes (ibid., p. 1916). To this must be added the fact that female literacy was very low.

Modern schools were first established by Christian missionaries and, later, by the state. There were two streams of missionary activity, Roman Catholic and Protestant. Protestant missionaries, and not Roman Catholic, were the pioneers of modern school education. Roman Catholic missionaries opened seminaries, and they also established schools among fishing communities. Michael Tharakan cites the historian H. Hoster, who wrote that these schools were ‘essentially catechism classes’, and is doubtful that they made any real contribution to literacy in that period (ibid., p. 1919).

A key nineteenth-century event in the history of literacy in Kerala was the missionary activity of the London Missionary Society (LMS) and the Christian Mission Society (CMS). The objective of these organizations was, of course, to evangelize among the people of (p.267) Travancore; in practice, their activity also took on the character of movements for educational and social reform.60

Although Syrian Christian schools outnumbered Protestant schools by the early twentieth century, Protestant missionary influence on education was very important, and its importance lay in its leading role in giving a new direction to schooling in the early nineteenth century. These are some of the main features of missionary education in Travancore as they emerge in the writings of historians of nineteenth-century Travancore, First, the mass base of the Protestant missionaries, such as it was, came from the oppressed castes: the Shanars, Pulayas, and Izhavas. Secondly, as Tharakan writes, ‘there was a clear perception among early Protestant missionaries that educational work was a necessary pre-requisite for their religious work’ (Tharakan, 1984, p. 1920). 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. This was part of a conscious effort by Protestant missionaries, and, on this subject, Samuel Mateer, the nineteenth-century missionary and missionary historian, wrote:

Let (the educated classes of Travancore) take a decided stand against the social evils of caste. Let them make an attempt in real earnest to raise the masses by primary education and by a few firm and resolute measures against the cruel oppression of the poor and helpless; and a solid and general advance in national prosperity, power, and happiness will speedily be evident to the world.

(Mateer, 1883, p. 352).

Mateer also wrote that ‘the lowest classes are … without the means of obtaining instruction, except in Mission Schools; their children being refused admission to all respectable schools, and, with rare and recent exceptions, to all Government Schools’ (Mateer, 1871, p. 156).61 By 1883, he was able to write that there were ‘some ten or twelve thousand (Pulayar people) under the instruction of the Church and London Missionary Societies’ (Mateer, 1883, p. 33).

(p.268) Fourthly, conversion and primary education were linked with missionary-led movements against other features of Hindu society: against untouchability and distance pollution, against agrarian slavery, against the upper-caste prohibition on women of ritually ‘impure’ castes wearing clothes above the waist, and against other caste-based taboos. Fifthly, missionary education brought girls from oppressed castes to schools.62 Sixthly, although school courses were biased towards the teaching of Christian theology, there was also a secular component to school studies. Geography and arithmetic, for instance, were part of the primary school curriculum (Tharakan, 1984). Seventhly, instruction in missionary schools was in the vernacular, i.e. in Tamil and Malayalam. Eighthly, missionary schools were the first institutions of elementary technical training, or craft schools. Missionary activity in education was also linked to their activities in the development of health facilities. They established dispensaries and hospitals and provided instruction in hygiene and public health.

The missionary effort had, in important matters and in spite of ruling class opposition to the oppressed castes, the support of state power in Travancore, particularly during the period that James Munro was in Travancore. Munro was Resident in Travancore from 1810 to 1819, and was actually Dewan as well from 1811 to 1814. He was also Resident in Cochin. During this period, the LMS and CMS received grants of land and the patronage of the state in other forms. Francis Maltby, Resident from 1860, was a member of the Madras committee of the CMS (Jeffrey, 1976).

In 1817 in Travancore the remarkable Royal Rescript, addressed to the Dewan Peishkar at Quilon, was issued. The Rescript was, in all likelihood, written by James Munro,63 and its best-known section read:

The state should defray the entire cost of the education of its people in order that there might be no backwardness in the spread of enlightenment among them, that by diffusion of education they might become better subjects and public servants and that the reputation of the state might be enhanced thereby.

(p.269) The Rescript was remarkable because it declared universal education, paid for by the state, to be an objective of state policy. It was also remarkable for the fact that it was issued as early as 181764 in a princely state (no comparable statement was made, in the nineteenth century or the twentieth, by any government in British India, since universal education was never British policy), and by a young—fifteen-year old—woman ruler.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, despite the Royal Rescript, there was little state activity in Travancore in the sphere of modern school education beyond the establishment of some schools in which instruction was in English, and support to mission schools (Tharakan, 1984). In the second half of the nineteenth century, primary education in Travancore ‘expanded, and … acquired the characteristics of a “modern” system’65 During this period, and particularly when T. Madhava Rao was Dewan of Travancore (1862–74), the government opened new schools (including for girls), and gave substantial grants-in-aid to private organizations and individuals to start schools.66 Instruction in schools was mainly in Malayalam or Tamil, and primary education was largely in the vernacular (Francis, 1985, pp. 166ff). The first English school was established in 1834 in Thiruvananthapuram during the rule of Maharaja Swati Tirunal. The school was free until 1863–4, and was subsequently fee-based (Francis, 1985, p. 159). Education was linked to employment, and schooling was a pre-requisite for a government job; a proclamation of 1844 gave preference in government employment to persons with an English education (Jeffrey, 1976, pp. 75ff; Francis, 1985, p. 159). The government also established a text-book committee, which worked on translations and commissioned the writing of textbooks (Jeffrey, 1976, p. 79). In 1881, the Maharaja declared that

No civilized government can be oblivious to the great advantages of popular education … for … a government which has to deal with an educated (p.270) population is by far stronger than one which has to control ignorant and disorderly masses. Hence education is a twice-blessed thing—it benefits those who give it and those who receive it.

(cited in Jeffrey, 1992, p. 55).

Traditional systems of learning were disrupted and dislodged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They were disrupted by war and changing political conditions in the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, and supplanted by new systems of education in the second half of the nineteenth century (and in the twentieth century). Some of the main types of traditional schools were the ezhuttuppalli, the kalari (schools of martial arts) and Vedic schools. There was also the madrasa (information cited in Francis, 1985, p. 156). These were pre-modern non-secular schools in terms of what was taught, and socially exclusionary; many of them appear to have been based on rote learning; and even in the second half of the nineteenth century, books and paper were not used in these schools and children wrote on sand, rice grains or, when they were better at writing, on palm leaves.67 Although socially exclusive, the system of traditional schools was extensive, and traditional, caste-based schools existed in villages across the region. Traditional schools did not entirely disappear, and in fact showed remarkable resilience. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they also functioned as pre-primary schools in which educationally privileged children were educated before they went to non-traditional schools (Tharakan, 1984; Krishna Menon, 1949). They appear to have survived longer in Travancore than elsewhere in the state.

For all the progress that was made in terms of educational policy during that period, there was no mass literacy at the end of the nineteenth-century (see Table 21). Even in Travancore—where Christian missionaries were most active and where the nineteenth-century state was most interventionist—less than a quarter of all males and less than five per cent of all females were literate. Although Kerala's performance was outstanding compared to other parts of India, it was a century and three-quarters after the Rani of Travancore's proclamation that Kerala achieved mass literacy.

(p.271) 4.3 Overcoming Social Divisions

Mass education cannot be that without overcoming the great barriers to mass education in Indian society—gender and caste discrimination and class oppression. Although official policy in Travancore and Cochin created what Richard Franke calls an ‘official environment of support for education’, it required female education, organized movements of people of the oppressed castes and, later, the left movement to establish comprehensive schooling and mass literacy.

To take the caste question first. Some of the worst forms of untouchability and distance pollution were practised in Kerala, and one of the most important reasons for Travancore pulling decisively ahead of Malabar in respect of literacy in the twenties was the spread of education among people of the Izhava caste, the upper tier of Kerala's (roughly speaking) two-tier system of untouchability. The change in literacy levels on a social scale came in the thirties, with higher levels of education among people of the Izhava caste, and the change occurred when the Izhava social reform movement became a large-scale mass movement, more than four decades after Sree Narayana Guru began his public mission. In the nineteen twenties and thirties, there was a rapid expansion in enrolment, in educational investment, and in affirmative action (in the form of scholarships, fee concessions, and unrestricted access to primary schools), that consolidated the basis of mass education68

The argument that female literacy was the key factor in the high levels of literacy achieved by Kerala (that ‘women made Kerala literate’) has been made most forcefully by Robin Jeffrey69 Female literacy leads to mass literacy; Jeffrey refers to the old wisdom that ‘literate men have literate sons; literate women have literate children’. Jeffrey illustrates his argument on the role of female literacy in achieving mass literacy using Baroda as a control; Baroda was another princely state with similar levels of male literacy at the beginning of the century, and where the princely government declared a policy of mass primary education. Kerala got ahead because Kerala's culture fostered female literacy. Kerala (p.272) has a history of matriliny among a significant section of the population, and it did not have a tradition of female seclusion, except among Namboodiris and a section of Muslims (and, among these groups, Namboodiri women were more literate than other women). There was never organised social opposition to women's literacy in Kerala.70

For all the favourable conditions, however, mass literacy among women in Kerala is recent. It was only from the sixties that a majority of adult women in Kerala were able to read and write. This was also the period when literacy spread decisively to the backward districts and to the rural poor. The gap between Malabar and Cochin and Travancore in respect of literacy widened during the period of British rule in Malabar. Mass schooling in Malabar was established after the formation of Kerala. The extension of mass literacy to the rural poor, and particularly the rural poor in Malabar, also took place in the sixties and subsequently.

4.4 Towards Total Literacy

The transition from a stage in which literacy is achieved by social elites and by some sections of the skilled labour force (but not by all people and, in particular, not by rural workers and women) to mass literacy has, historically, been the achievement of mass social movements for schooling and literacy. The transition, in other words, is not a matter merely of the passage of time, but requires public action for literacy on a societal scale. Kerala was the first, and remains the only, state for which every district was declared wholly literate by the National Literacy Mission. This followed the state-wide Total Literacy Campaign (TLC) of 1989 to 1991. On 18 April 1991, Aysha Chelakkodan, a 55-year-old neoliterate Muslim woman from Malappuram district, lit a lamp at a public ceremony at Kozhikode to mark the successful end of the first phase of the Total Literacy Campaign in Kerala. She lit the lamp and said: ‘I pray that (p.273) the lamp that has been lit will carry the light of literacy to all corners of the world. May it drive away the darkness of evil and ignorance’ (see Ramakrishnan, 1991).

The Ernakulam District Total Literacy Campaign was the first district-wide movement of its kind in Kerala and India. It established a method for literacy campaigns in the districts of the state, and, although the Ernakulam method could not be reproduced in every other TLC district in the country, it was a major influence on the design of total literacy campaigns all over India. The organization whose activists were the main inspirers and organizers of the movement was the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), and KSSP activists have been important organizers of total literacy campaigns in different parts of India.71

The Ernakulam campaign was conducted by a Literacy Society in which representatives of the district administration, different mass organizations and other non-government organizations, and concerned citizens were members. The target-group of the campaign were illiterates in the age group 6 years to 60 years (a bigger group than the target-group of persons between the ages of 15 years to 35 years recommended by the National Literacy Mission). The campaign sought to eliminate illiteracy through a single, sustained campaign, and to do so by using unpaid volunteers as instructors (more than 350,000 volunteers participated in the literacy campaign). The organizers surveyed the illiterate population of each district, and they made careful efforts to actually identify every illiterate person in the district, and to identify groups and areas where illiteracy was disproportionately high (Tharakan, 1990, pp. 7–8, passim).72 The campaign primer, called Aksharam, included lessons on food, work, the dignity of labour, disease-prevention, drinking water, oral rehydration therapy, India's freedom struggle, (p.274) panchayats, post offices, the equality of the sexes, fair-price shops, and immunization (ibid., p. 60, passim). The literacy campaign was also linked to the Universal Immunization Programme and with a wide range of cultural activities (ibid., p. 64, passim).73

All enlightened societies, developed and less-developed, have instituted laws of compulsory school education. India has not,74 and, although Kerala has achieved mass literacy, it, too, has no law of compulsory education. It has been pointed out that such a legislation is necessary and still of relevance (Ram, 1994). First, a law of compulsory education would provide a legal basis for ensuring that not a single child in Kerala (including the children, for instance, of migrant workers) is out of school; secondly, it would help ensure that mass literacy and mass education are irreversible;75 and, thirdly, it would serve as an example to other states of a state that has a law of compulsory education and has achieved mass literacy.

5. Aspects of Caste and Gender Relations in Kerala

In Kerala, as elsewhere in India, the caste system was an enemy of social progress. The traditional caste system in Kerala had special features, as did traditional systems of marriage, inheritance, and succession.76

Among the worst forms of untouchability in the country were practised in Kerala, and the persecution of people of the oppressed castes took savage forms. The rules of the caste system also included complex rules on distance pollution (‘unapproachability’) and (p.275) included, against some castes, rules of ‘unseeability’. The people of the ‘slave castes’ (for instance, the Pulayar, Parayar, and Cherumar castes) and the people of the aboriginal tribes of Kerala, as well as those born into the Izhava caste did not have access to public places, temples, bathing tanks, public paths and roads, and educational institutions. The employment of people born into these castes in occupations outside their traditional caste callings was also prohibited. Persons of oppressed castes were not permitted to wear clean clothes, or cloth other than coarse cloth, nor any clothes at all above the waist; they were not permitted to keep milch cattle or use the services of oil-presses, to use metal pots and pans, or carry umbrellas, or wear slippers on their feet. They were not permitted to take Sanskrit given names, and there were rules that governed the words that could be used in conversation with persons of status-superior castes: for example, the use of the first person singular was not permitted (it had to be ‘this slave’ or ‘this inferior’); a person of an oppressed caste could not refer to ‘my money’ but to ‘copper’.77

At the top of the traditional caste hierarchy were the Namboodiris, Malayalam-speaking Brahmans who read the Vedas and were patrilineal. Kathleen Gough, in her seminal analysis of matrilineal kinship in Kerala, points out that in Kerala, ‘the higher the caste, the wider the field of social relationships’ (Gough, 1962, p. 319). Of Namboodiris in the traditional order she writes: ‘the field of social relations of the Namboodiris was the whole of Kerala …. Alone of all the castes, they moved unmolested between enemy kingdoms’ (ibid., p. 305). At the bottom of the caste-I Hindu (p.276) scale were the Nayars, who did not read the Vedas as part of their traditional caste duties and who were matrilineal. Below the Nayar caste in terms of ritual status was the Izhava caste. The people of the Izhava and equivalent castes were considered outcaste by caste Hindus, who practised untouchability against the Izhava people. The people of the Izhava caste, however, occupied an intermediate position between caste Hindus and castes that were traditionally subjected to chattel slavery and people of Kerala's aboriginal tribes. The people of Izhava and equivalent castes considered the slave castes and the aboriginal tribes of Kerala to be polluting castes. The main traditional occupation of the people of the Izhava caste was agricultural labour. There were also tenants and (mainly small) peasant proprietors among them, and toddy tappers and coconut workers. A striking feature of the Izhava caste is that there were within it, in different parts of the state, men of learning in Sanskrit as well as ayurvedists and astrologers. This diversity in the traditional caste calling of the people of the Izhava caste was to have important consequences for the Izhava social reform movement.

Rules of female seclusion in Kerala were less widespread than elsewhere in India. Female seclusion was practised among Namboodiris and among Muslims. Female seclusion was not practised by others and was not a mark of status or social advance among other castes.78

In traditional Kerala, matrilineal systems of inheritance were followed by an important section of the people.79 The Nayars were matrilineal and, traditionally, matri local as well (the system of matrilineal family organization and inheritance was called the marumakkattayam system).80 Nayars lived in joint families in which family (p.277) property was inherited by female descendants. Male members of a joint family had rights in the family property only during their lifetimes; when they died, land was inherited by their sisters, sisters' children, and by other members of the family female bloodline. This system was practised not only by Nayars, but by sections of the Ambalavasi castes (castes of temple servants, who had traditional temple duties), and by sections of the Izhava caste (different sections of the Izhava caste followed patrilineal and matrilineal systems of inheritance; some followed a combination of the two).81 A significant section of the Muslim population in Malabar was, by tradition, matrilineal.82

Matrilineal did not, of course, mean matriarchal.83 The heads of joint families were males. Among Nayars, the karanavar was the head of the joint family; he was the eldest male of the taravad or Nayar house. A feature of the social system in Kerala was that this system of succession was followed by the caste of Kshatriyas, to which the ruling families of Travancore and Cochin belonged, and whose system of inheritance was not wholly matrilineal. The Maharajas of Travancore and Cochin were chosen in this way: on the death of a Maharaja, his younger brother succeeded him; when he had no brother, his sister's son succeeded him (the sister's son was the successor also in cases where the deceased Maharaja's brother was younger than him, i.e. when a person was older than his maternal uncle). When there were no females in the bloodline to provide successors, women were adopted into the royal families.

A distinguishing feature of the marriage system among caste Hindus was that Nayar women entered into marriage relations with men of all castes equivalent to or above them in the caste Hindu hierarchy. The means for this was the form of marriage called samhandham, A stylized version is as follows: first, when the sambandham involved Nayar men, men of the Nayar caste visited Nayar women and had sexual relations with them; the men continued to live in their taravads; the children of the marriages became children of the women's families. Men of upper castes—including Namboodiris and Kshatriyas—visited Nayar women and had sexual (p.278) relations with Nayar women. This relationship was not considered an illicit one by the upper castes; it had social legitimacy.84 The difference between the sambandham and what is conventionally understood by the term marriage is that children of the unions did not become members of their fathers' family. For the Nayar woman, the sambandham was recognized socially as a marriage, and her children became members of her joint family and took her family name. The sambandham was not polyandrous in the conventional sense: a woman did not share a household with many men. Traditionally, a Nayar woman could have sexual relations with more than one man. Later—and this was particularly true of aristocratic Nayar families—women either stopped having multiple relations with men or, indeed, became monogamous in practice (although continuing matrilocal practices). A sambandham relationship could be broken by a man; more significantly, it could be broken unilaterally by a woman.

Among Namboodiris, only the eldest son married within the caste; Namboodiris have also been described as the only caste in south India that followed the principle of primogeniture.85 Younger sons entered sambandham relationships with women from matrilineal castes. For Namboodiri men, such unions were ‘socially acceptable concubinage’ (Gough, 1962, p. 320) in which a union was not initiated with Vedic rites and the children of which were not accepted as Brahmans or kin folk. On the other hand, ‘matrilineal castes considered the same unions as marriages’, that ‘fulfilled the recognized rules of Nayar marriage and served to legitimise the children’ of the unions (ibid.).

A further feature of the system was that there occurred—particularly in the case of Nayars who belonged to the landed aristocracy—certain disjunctures between ritual status and other aspects of social and cultural status. Gough writes that hypergamy ‘inextricably linked the secular and religious hierarchies’ and that it permitted office-bearing lineages ‘to sidestep the awkward question of their precise rank in the hierarchy as a whole’ (p. 322). As an illustration, there is an example that Namboodiripad discusses in his autobiography:

(p.279) Very close relations existed between the royalty of Valluvanad [a landed Nayar family] and the Namboodiri families. The women of the former were given in marriage only to Namboodiris, so much so that the members of their families could be called semi-Namboodins. Except in learning the Vedas and performing Vedic rites, in social and cultural fields there was no difference between them. However, it was acknowledged that they were of a lower caste than the Namboodiris.

(Namboodiripad, 1976).

In a very important discussion, E.M.S. Namboodiripad has written that a feature of Kerala society ‘which marked Kerala off from the rest of (northern and southern) India is the continuity of the patriarchal and the matriarchal joint family system’ (Namboodiripad, 1984, p. 31). As we have seen, an aspect of this ‘continuity’ was the fact that there was marriage and sexual relations between women of matrilineal families and men of patrilineal families. Much has been written on the rigidity of the caste system and the inflexibility of the caste environment in Kerala. At one end, the caste system was characterized by the crime of untouchability and by detailed gradations of distance pollution. Among caste Hindus, however, the caste system permitted forms of marriage between Nayar women and men at different levels of the caste hierarchy; sexual intermingling among caste Hindus was a special feature of the caste system in Kerala.

In Nayar families, the ultimate positions of control were held by men. Female literacy among Nayars, even at the turn of the century and later, was a fraction of male literacy. At the same time, Nayar women had greater personal freedom than most women to take decisions regarding marital and sexual relations. Nayar women played a crucial role in making household decisions, the decision-making role being invested with greater authority for the fact that inheritance was through them, and it was they who were the bearers of the family name. The birth of a girl in a Nayar household was welcomed; it was far from being considered a disaster as in other parts of India.

The matrilineal system was an enormous influence on social and cultural development in Kerala. It contributed to changing social attitudes and it contributed to creating social conditions in which women made real progress in health and education. The lesson to be had here is not that the achievement of Kerala-style outcomes requires a history of matriliny—that would be absurd—but that a precondition for the health and demographic transition (p.280) are progressive social attitudes towards female survival and female education. In the case of Kerala, a unique set of historical and sociological conditions—including systems of marriage and matrilineal inheritance that were specific to the region—contributed to the establishment of such attitudes.

6. Agrarian Change

6.1 Agrarian Relations

The progressive transformation of agrarian relations is intrinsically important, since such transformation undermines pre-capitalist relations of unfreedom in the countryside. It is important instrumentally as well: societies dominated by pre-capitalist landlordism suppress the forces of production in rural society and they have little stake in improving the conditions of health and education of the masses of their people. In a recent study published by the Inter-American Development Bank, a group of scholars present the results of a comparative study of two sets of countries. They took one group of countries that were small and resource-rich and distinctly less-developed in the middle of the last century and are at the top of the table today (the Nordic countries: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland) and compared them with four medium-sized Latin American countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and Uruguay). ‘It is no surprise,’ a reviewer of this research writes, ‘that two points emerge strongly that are just what also emerge from East Asian comparisons: the role of early agrarian reform … and the role of education.’86 The significance of education and changes in archaic agrarian relations are lessons from Kerala's experience as well. 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. A more radical transformation of agrarian relations has been brought about by the people of Kerala after independence than of any other state of India. 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.

(p.281) Landlordism dominated social and economic arrangements in villages throughout Kerala; there were also important differences between regions in agrarian relations and land tenures, associated, inter alia, with differences in administration, administrative policy, and the nature of government, and in the development of the productive forces (which includes differences in farming practices, irrigation, land use, and land colonization, and the development of agricultural entrepreneurship).87

Malabar

In Malabar, the agrarian population was divided into four main categories.88 The first category was that of janmi landlords, holders of janmam rights. All agricultural land, forest land, and cultivable waste land in Malabar was owned by janmi landlords.89 The second category was that of the kanakkaran, holders of kanam rights. Kanam was a superior tenancy right and the kanakkaran (a heterogeneous category) was often an intermediary. The third main category, also internally differentiated, was that of verumpattakkaran, or tenant (non-owner) cultivator. The fourth main category was made up of unfree landless agricultural labourers, descendants of the members of the ‘slave castes’, subject to the worst forms of untouchability and class oppression.

After the seizure of Malabar from Tipu's rule and its annexation in 1792, the East India Company began to codify land tenure and to create a new system of land rights from the old.90 The objectives of the new system were to extract as much revenue as possible from the people and to create, in the janmi, a bulwark for British rule in Malabar. To these ends, British administrators crammed local agrarian relationships into the conceptual categories available to English (p.282) and Roman law.91 The janmam right was considered equivalent to the Roman plenum dominium; in practice, all land in Malabar (except in Wayanad taluk) was recognized as being on private janmam tenure. Janmam was declared to be ‘a right as absolute as can be had in property’, one that gave the proprietor ‘the right to alienate [property] in every possible way and to oust all the occupants of it at pleasure, all such at least as have not a lease from the proprietor.’92 The archetypal janmi was the head of a Namboodiri Brahman family or the head of a matrilineal Nayar or cognate caste-Hindu chieftain family.93 Legislation, government policy, and judgements of civil courts under the Company and the crown reinforced the dominant legal status of the janmi.94 The kanakkaran, whose traditional role was that of ‘supervisor’ and ‘protector’ of the inhabitants of the territory and traditionally of Nayar or cognate caste, was given the legal status of a mortgagee, and the kanam right was deemed a usufructuary mortgage, in which the period of mortgage, unless specified otherwise, was twelve years. The verumpattakkaran had the insecure legal status of a tenant-at-will.

Statutory janmi landlordism was disastrous for production and for the people. It was a ruinous combination of large-scale ownership and small-scale, primitive production, with one level or more of sub-leasing in between. Although the ryotwari system was formally extended to all non-zamindari parts of the Madras Presidency, janmam tenure was, in fact, not ryotwari at all, it was far more oppressive.

Land ownership was vested in the janmi, and was concentrated in the hands of the most powerful of them. The degree of concentration of ownership was extraordinary. For instance, Panikkar's calculations show that, in 1920–1, just 32 janmi landlords held 628,921 out of 1,229,217 acres, or 51 per cent of all cultivated land. Their land was spread over whole taluks; the Samutiri of Kozhikode, for example, owned land in 6 taluks and 520 villages. Prakash Karat (p.283) studied land records in 20 villages (desam) that were among the first Karshaka Sangham (Peasant Union) villages. Title deeds on which the assessment was more than 100 rupees comprised 3 per cent of all title deeds, and covered 53 per cent of all agricultural land. In 10 of these villages, just 5 landlords and the temples controlled 43 per cent of the cultivated land.95

Under the janmi system, peasants were subjected to an uncommon degree of rack-renting. In the eighteen-eighties, William Logan reported that the rates of assessment were about 86 per cent of the net produce of wet lands and 63 per cent of the produce of garden lands; in 1917, F.B. Evans, Collector of Malabar, reported that rents were invariably between 75 and 85 per cent of the net produce. In his well-known report of 1916, Charles Innes, Evans' predecessor, reported that actual rents on wet land varied between 10 and 12 times the assessments; basing himself on Innes' observations, Karat calculated that ‘10 to 12 times the assessment would consume the whole net produce and leave the producer with nothing but the straw in most cases’.96

Rates of assessment were not only high, they were also regressive, laying ‘a heavier burden of land revenue on the weaker rather than on the better-off sections of the agricultural population’ (Panikkar, 1989, p. 7). Of the early years of the nineteenth century, Panikkar writes that ‘as many as fifty different taxes were realized from the people’, including taxes on houses, shops, cattle, looms, ferries, fishing nets, tapping knives, toddy, and arrack. ‘Nothing,’ in Panikkar's words, ‘fell outside the exacting grasp of the state’ (ibid.). There were also many other exactions from tenants and landless workers, in kind and in the form of free labour, and often associated with festivals and life-cycle events and rituals in landlord households.97

In general, where a kanakkaran intervened between the tenant and the janmi, the kanakkaran appropriated the largest share of the rent paid by the tenant, and, indeed, of the produce. However, although the kanakkaran received the largest share of the individual tenant's produce, the kanakkaran had to pay burdensome renewal-fees (p.284) at the end of 12 years (or the end of the contract-period) to the janmi (who, of course, collected rents from many more producers than a kanakkaran did). Punishing renewal-fees were also demanded of the verumpattakkaran. With rents, taxes, and other exactions as high as they were, it is not surprising that indebtedness among the peasantry was widespread as well.98

In 1819, Malabar had, in the reckoning of revenue officials of the Company, more slaves than other districts of the Madras Presidency. These slaves belonged to the lowest levels of the caste hierarchy—from, for example, the Cherumar, Pulayar, and Vettuvan castes—and were transferred with landed property. Revenue officials considered them tangible property, and entered them as such in accounts submitted to the Collector, and it is recorded that only in Malabar were slaves sold for arrears of revenue.99 Although slavery was formally abolished in 1843 in Madras, unfree and bonded labour remained. The important point is that the decline in patron-client relations was asymmetric: the landlord rid himself of the obligations of the patron, while he continued to demand the services and material benefits that derived from the client status of the status-inferior.

Landlords could extract very high rents from tenants-at-will, and eviction was a major janmi weapon against tenants-at-will and intermediaries. Janmi landlords could evict tenants without compensation from wet-land leases and for very little when a tenant had made improvements on other-than-wet land.100 Intermediaries who could afford to challenged evictions in court, and the number of eviction suits in Malabar courts was enormous: about 4,700 a year between 1916 and 1926, and about 5,300 a year between 1940 and 1946 (which was after the Malabar Tenancy Act was passed in 1930).101 Evictions were also from homestead land, on which tenants had established dwellings. In their efforts to evict kanakkaran intermediaries, landlords concluded contracts to overlease land (the (p.285) contracts were called melchart) with persons who became new intermediaries. Again, examples from the literature indicate that the number of such contracts was huge: more than 40,000 overleases were concluded between 1916 and 1926.102

Travancore

Travancore was the largest of the three constituent parts of Kerala. Its territory was consolidated under a single kingdom by its most important eighteenth century ruler, Martanda Varma (1729–58) with the help of the Company. Its treaty with the Company was concluded in 1788. After Martanda Varma's armies suppressed the forces of scattered feudal Nayar chieftains, new forms of agrarian relations emerged in the state. Land under the control of the chieftains came under the control of the Travancore state (and was formally consecrated to the main deity of the Travancore family), while the land held by the Brahmans, major temples, and the Travancore royal family and its hangers-on remained under the old forms of control.103

In the mid-nineteenth century, there were three main legal categories of land. The first was State or sirkar land, which had two main sub-categories. The first sub-category was land for which persons deemed to be tenants of the State paid revenue to the State (pandoravaka land). The second sub-category was land held by the royal family and its accomplices: it included land of the royal palace (kandukrishi), land that belonged to the Padmanabha temple in Thiruvananthapuram (Sree Pandaravaka) and land that belonged to the women of the royal family (Sree Padam). The second main category was non-sirkar or janmam land, controlled mainly by Namboodiri and status-superior Nayar and other chieftain families and wealthy temples. The third category of land was granted to certain families for no rent or very low payments (similar to inam tenures).

The most dynamic component of the agrarian economy in the mid-nineteenth century was the pandaravaka category of land holding. In the eighteen-fifties, between 60 and 70 per cent of all cultivated (p.286) land was pandaravaka, and all uncultivated waste land was deemed pandaravaka.104 In 1865, a Royal Proclamation was issued that was to make a dramatic difference to land relations in Travancore. The terms of the proclamation began a process that unfettered the productive forces on pandaravaka land in a way that did not occur on any other tenure-category of land in Travancore, Cochin, or Malabar. The Travancore government conferred full ownership rights on tenant-cultivators of pandaravaka lands and allowed the new owners of pandaravaka land to transfer property without restriction. Revenue incentives were given for the cultivation of cultivable waste and for starting plantations (plantation agriculture in the hill tracts of Travancore dated from 1834). In 1891, an Agricultural Loans Act provided possibilities for new rural investment. There was a significant increase in the area of land under field crops and plantation crops, and, by the turn of the century, large investments were made to convert extensive reaches of swamp-land in the Kuttanad region (the region of backwaters, or kayal) to a type of reclaimed agricultural land.105 Pandaravaka and kayal lands were the most important components of the land holdings of the Syrian Christian agrarian elite that rose to prominence and wealth in the nineteenth century.106 The rise in prices of agricultural commodities and plantation crops that occurred in the nineteenth century, and the coconut and coir boom of the late nineteenth century served as price incentives for the expansion of cultivation in a way that did not happen in Malabar, where agrarian relations stifled advances in production.

Cochin

Agrarian relations in Cochin represented something in between conditions in Malabar and Travancore, though they were closer to Malabar than to Travancore. In the eighteen-fifties, 60 per cent of cultivated land was on forms of janmam tenure, and 40 per cent was sirkar land. Janmam land was owned by Namboodiris, temples, Nayar and other leading families, and by families close (p.287) to the royal family.107 The rates of assessment imposed on tenants on sirkar land were very high (the tribute paid by the Cochin state to the Company and later the crown was also exceptionally high) and continued to be high after ownership rights were conferred, which was only after the Cochin land settlement of 1905–9. Conditions were not as detrimental to the expansion of cultivation as in Malabar; since the control of u η‎ as signed waste land was not in the hands of janmi landlords, area under field crop cultivation expanded.

Overview

As is evident, the land system and the caste system were closely connected, and, consequently, there were close links between agrarian relations and the marriage and family systems. Hierarchies of land ownership and hierarchies of caste and ritual purity overlapped substantially. Worst-off in the system were, of course, people of the ritually inferior castes, who bore the double burden of class and caste oppression in rural Kerala. Most severe was the oppression of the people of the lowest tier of ‘untouchable’ castes, who were subject to slavery and different forms of bondage and unfreedom even after the formal abolition of slavery.108

Large joint families were poor agents of accumulation and of social and economic change. The joint family property of patrilineal Namboodiri families and of families of matrilineal Nayar and cognate castes was impartible. In the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, new laws allowed the partition of joint family property; first came laws that permitted lineages to split from the main family, and, later, laws that permitted property to be partitioned and acquired by smaller units of joint families (including nuclear families). Family properties were partitioned faster in Travancore than in Cochin and, of course, than in Malabar (Varghese, 1970, ch. 6). In central and northern Kerala, it was also noted that aristocratic Nayar lineages kept their property together longer (Gough, 1962, p. 373).

(p.288) In Travancore, a formally free market in pandaravaka land was created after 1865. Land that was brought under new cultivation—crop land and plantation land—was also deemed pandaravaka, and was, ipso facto, part of the land market. The persons who were most active in taking advantage of the new market in land were, above all, from the Syrian Christian elite (although there were also persons of the Izhava elite, relatively few in number though important in terms of their social significance and impact). Syrian Christian entrepreneurs were typically less burdened by huge joint families and traditions of impartible property, and they made substantial gains in agricultural and trading activity in the nineteenth century. When joint-family households of traditional Hindu landlords weakened and when their land began to be partitioned and sold, Syrian Christian entrepreneurs were the major beneficiaries. The two processes identified by Varghese—of undermining the landed power of landlord families under the old system and of the emergence of communities that could ‘fill the void’—went furthest in Travancore, The processes were weak in Cochin, and least advanced in Malabar.109

It is worth noting that the difference between Malabar and Travancore was not between an area characterized by the economic dominance of landlordism and another by peasant proprietorship (as has been suggested in the literature). Travancore was not a region where ‘peasant proprietorship’ was dominant. First, janmam land and sirkar and inam land directly under the control of the royal family, its temples and persons favoured by it continued to exist. Secondly, even on pandaravaka land, the dominant class of landowners were not peasants, they did not touch the plough or participate directly in the major manual operations on the land. The dominant class on pandaravaka land was made up of capitalist landlords (and corresponded roughly to ryotwari landlords in some parts of the Madras Presidency). They were vastly more advanced entrepreneurs than old-style landlords, but were landlords nevertheless. The difference between Malabar and Travancore was between a region where the janmi system was almost total, and another where a circumscribed janmi system existed with a growing, and more dynamic, sector that was dominated by new forms of capitalist landlordism.

(p.289) 6.2 Agrarian Movements

Agrarian rebellion in the nineteenth century and until 1921 was fiercest in Malabar, and the organized peasant and agricultural worker movement in Kerala began there. The foremost modern historian of the Mappila revolts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, K.N. Panikkar, writes that ‘rural society in Malabar was in a state of perpetual ferment during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The revolts, dacoities, thefts, and social banditry that occurred almost regularly were essentially an expression of the protest of the rural poor against oppression and exploitation.’110

The literature identifies three main currents in the movement to transform agrarian relations in Malabar.111 The first was the movement of Mappila tenants and agricultural labourers ‘against lord and state’,112 from the first of what the British called ‘Moplah outrages’ in 1836 to the Malabar rebellion of 1921, which lasted eight months and in which thousands of persons were killed. The Mappila Muslims of Malabar were converts from 1 Hinduism (often from oppressed castes, such as the so-called slave castes, and the fisherfolk castes), and also included descendants of Arab traders. They became a predominantly rural community in Malabar from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, concentrated in the south Malabar taluks of Eranad, Valluvanad, and Ponnani.113 The Mappila masses were mainly tenants, agricultural workers, workers in petty trade, and fisherpeople, owning little land and with low educational levels.114 From 1834, united by their status as a class exploited by the janmi system and the colonial power, and united as well by religious identity, the Mappila rebels fought landlords and government furiously, and often mercilessly. The social background of the rebels was overwhelmingly peasant and labour and their targets werejanmi landlords and their accomplices and government revenue officials.

The colonial government saw the struggles of the rural Mappila (p.290) poor as ‘outrages’ committed by a fanatical, less-than-civilized section of the population, and the basic administrative response of the government was repression. By the end of the nineteenth century, administrators, particularly William Logan, perceived, and attempted to analyse the agrarian roots of Mappila rebellion.115 In practice, however, the thrust of late nineteenth-century and twentieth-century British policy in this sphere was to make some concessions to the more powerful and status-superior sections of Hindu kanakkaran intermediaries, while preserving the basic power of janmi landlords (and their status as bulwarks of British rule). It was not to concede the demands of the working poor of Malabar's villages.

The second major current in the movement for agrarian change in Malabar was the organized effort of kanakkaran intermediaries to acquire occupancy rights on land over which they had kanam rights. Most kanakkar did not touch the plough, the land over which they had kanam rights was cultivated by sub-tenants, and often there was more than a single layer of sub-leasing between them and the actual cultivators of the soil.

The most powerful of the kanakkar intermediaries were from Nayar and related castes.116 These families acquired status and rights to land on kanam tenure through hypergamous sambandham arrangements with Namboodiri families. More than any other social group, they took advantage of opportunities for English education and entered professions such as the law, journalism, politics, and the bureaucracy. From the late nineteenth century, some prominent Nayars began to write and speak against Namboodiri domination and against sambandham relationships between Nayar women and Namboodiri men.117 Over the same period, rich intermediaries ·— with Nayar intermediaries the most prominent among them—began a movement for occupancy rights, for security of tenure, for regulated rents and renewal fees, against overleases, and against other janmi exactions. Although sections of working tenants were mobilized during this movement—which can be said to have lasted (p.291) until the Malabar Tenancy Act was passed in 1930—it represented the interests of privileged intermediaries, and was a struggle for a greater share of the surplus between two non-labouring groups, one more privileged than the other.118

The kanakkaran demands were agitated in the courts, in the restricted-franchise legislatures, in departments of government in Calicut, Madras, New Delhi, and Simla, in the newspapers, and through public meetings—and not in the fields and streets and in battle against the armed strength of the janmi and state,119 From 1912 through 1929, different versions of tenancy legislations were discussed, and despite the machinations of the landlords and of those in government who supported them, the essential demands of the intermediaries were made law in the Malabar Tenancy Act of 1930.

Thus, the long history of tenant-landlord legislative conflict (as distinct from the class struggle outside) in Malabar in the late nineteenth-century, and before 1930, represented conflicts between janmi landlord oppressors, on the one hand, and representatives of non-cultivating tenants—many of whom were actual or potential rent-collecting landlords, capitalist landlords, or upper-stratum peasants themselves—on the other, rather than conflicts between feudal janmi landlords and representatives of the toiling peasantry. The first significant and explicit statement of the socio-economic interests of the actual tenant-cultivators on official record was E.M.S. Namboodiripad's note of dissent to the Report on Malabar Tenancy Reform in 1939, and the first piece of tenancy-reform legislation that unambiguously took the part of, and ensured rights in land to, working tenants — tenant families whose members participated in the major manual tasks on the land — was the Kerala Agrarian Relations Bill of 1959.

The conditions of life of the rural poor worsened during the great depression. In Malabar, the combination of high rents and renewal fees, illegal exactions, new and higher levels of land revenue assessment after the land resettlement of 1929, and indebtedness (p.292) became more than many peasants could bear, and evictions took place on a very large scale.120 In these conditions, the third current in the movement for agrarian change in Malabar gained strength. This was the most radical current, the movement of peasants and working tenants that culminated in the land reform of contemporary Kerala.121 The movement was led by persons who were active in the freedom movement and the Congress in the early thirties, who formed the Congress Socialist Party in Malabar later in the decade, and who were the core of the Communist Party in Malabar when it was established in the late thirties.

Politics in Malabar in the thirties and forties had many special qualities. The political movement brought together the struggle against British imperialism and the struggle against landlordism, and, by the forties, its main leaders were Communists. The Communist movement spread over an extraordinary range of socio-political activities. Communists led the peasants' and workers' movements, and the Communist Party and Communist-Party-Ied organizations were the strongest contingent of the national movement. Persons who became Communists were the leading activists in the struggle for progressive social reform, against untouchability and in the temple-entry movement. Communist organizers and school-teachers organized village schools and study-classes and were active in the granthasala or public library movement. Communists led the struggle for food in 1942–3, and Communist volunteers were the most active in relief work during the epidemic diseases of that period. Communist agit-prop theatre and journalism became well known. The first serious modern social-theoretical work on Malabar was by a Communist social theorist and political leader, E.M.S. Namboodiripad.

From the days of the khilafat movement, the emphasis in Malabar political organization was on village-level organization. After Congress activists were released from jail after the Civil Disobedience movement, and after E.M.S. Namboodiripad became the Secretary of the District Congress Committee, the Congress organization attempted to set up, in every village, a village Congress committee, a reading room, and a night school (from Namboodiripad interview, (p.293) 1992). This organizational practice of village-level organization, unique to Malabar, was taken over and extended by the Communists of Malabar in the late thirties and forties.

The Kerala Karshaka Sangham (Peasants' Union) was established in 1933. By 1937, it became an organization with village and taluk-level committees as well as an all-Malabar committee. By the forties, it was a major mass organization in the district. Its demands were against the janmi system, against social disabilities of people of the oppressed castes, and for the amendment of the Malabar Tenancy Act and its extension to the Hosdurg taluk of the South Canara district The ‘hunger marches’ of 1936—including the landmark Kannur-to-Madras march led by A.K. Gopalan—were organized by the Peasants' Union. The unions organized the procurement of grain and its distribution through fair-price shops and campaigns of de-hoarding grain during the food crisis of 1942–3.

At the turn of the century, agricultural workers were a larger proportion of rural workers in Travancore than in Malabar or Cochin. Powerful independent organizations of agricultural workers emerged in Travancore, where the first Triruvithamkur Karshaka Thozhilali Union (Travancore Agricultural Workers' Union) was formed in 1939, in Kainakiri village in the Kuttanad region.122 Scholars have pointed out that it was no accident that such a union was formed in Kuttanad. Reclaimed kayal land was cultivated in blocks of hundreds of acres on which thousands of workers were employed for the cultivation of wet-land rice. Big landlords dominated land ownership in Kuttanad, and wage labour was more prevalent here than in other parts of Kerala. The agricultural labour movement, which was led by Communists, was deeply influenced by (and, in time, influenced) the social-reform movement among people of the oppressed castes, by the freedom struggle and the struggle for democratic rule in Travancore, and by the movement for literacy, schooling, and education in Travancore. There were close links between the agricultural workers' movement and the unions of coir workers in the Kuttanad region.

The independent class demands of agricultural workers involved the right to organize, and demands against social oppression, for higher wages, for payment in standard measures and against arbitrary exactions from landlords. Later, particularly from the fifties, there (p.294) were struggles around the issue of the length of the working day. In the sixties and seventies, agricultural workers were active in the struggle for agricultural and house-site land. Agricultural workers' organizations were important participants, from the forties, in the movement to establish a public food-distribution system.123

6.3 Land Reform

Land reform, or passing and implementing new laws to alter or abolish old land tenures and to create new ones, was crucial to the transformation of agrarian relations in Kerala. The first Communist Ministry represented a turning point in that transformation; a few days after it took office in 1957, the legislative process for land reform began.

Land reform in Kerala had three major components.124 The first involved that burdensome, complex, and widespread affliction of Kerala agriculture, tenancy. Tenancy legislation had four main features. First, it sought to provide security of tenure to tenants. It is noteworthy that action on this front began less than a week after the Namboodiripad ministry was sworn in. By an Ordinance of 11 April 1957 (the Ministry was formed on 5 April), evictions were prohibited and land holdings restored to tenants who were evicted after the formation of the state of Kerala. Secondly, arrears of rent were cancelled. Thirdly, the rights of janmi landlords and intermediaries on tenanted land were taken over by the government. Where land rights vested in the government, all rent payments were (p.295) stopped- Fourthly, tenancy legislation sought to give land to the tiller. Communist Party policy was, of course, to expropriate landlords without compensation. However, legal requirements related to the constitutional ‘right’ to property made some sort of compensation necessary; the solution taken on was to make the purchase price of land a multiple of rent, to set a statutory rent, and to set that rent low (at between one-fourth and one-twelfth of the gross produce). The terms of payment were favourable to the tenant, and the purchase price was treated as a debt to the government, with no forfeiture of ownership rights in case of default.

The second main component of land reform involved homestead land (kudikidappu) occupied by the rural poor. Occupants of such land were to be given ownership rights. The size of the plot to be allotted varied from 0.03 acres in a town or city to 0.10 acres in a village, and could be purchased at 25 per cent of the market rate, and half that if the owner had land above the ceiling. Government subsidized half the purchase price, and the rest was due in instalments. There were subsidiary provisions in respect of kudikidappu regarding, first, security of tenure; secondly, making occupancy rights heritable; thirdly, discharging arrears of rent; and, fourthly, rent control.

The third component of land reform concerned the imposition of limits on land ownership and the distribution of land identified as surplus to the landless. The land ceiling in Kerala, which was imposed on household landholdings, varied with the size of household; it did not exceed 25 standard acres.

Radical land reform laws with the foregoing features were drafted by the ministries (1957–9 and 1967–9) led by E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Soon after the Kerala Agrarian Relations Bill was passed by the Kerala Legislative Assembly in 1959, a coalition of right-wing opposition groups, made up of reactionary landed interests, representatives of the private sector in higher education, the Church, caste organizations such as the Nair Service Society led by Mannath Padmanabhan, and other anti-Communist individuals and organizations in the state, in league with the Congress Party, began a violent campaign of social disruption in Kerala. The Congress Party (of which Indira Gandhi was then President) and the Government of India organized the dismissal of the Government of Kerala by the President of India.

The next Congress government introduced a new land-reform (p.296) bill. This could not completely and explicitly undo the Communist law, but it attempted to enfeeble it by introducing new exemptions regarding land transfers. A new Act was passed, the Kerala Agrarian Relations Act of 1960. The courts declared even this unconstitutional, and another Act, the Kerala Agrarian Relations Act of 1964 was passed and entered in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, that is, it was placed outside the purview of the courts. In 1967, the second E.M.S. Namboodiripad ministry, a coalition government led by the CPI (M), introduced the Kerala Land Reforms Bill, and the Act that ensued provided the basis for the land reforms that took place in the seventies.

Land reform was a struggle until the end. From 1 January 1970, peasant unions and other mass organizations of the CPI (M)—which was no longer in government—began intensive state-wide campaigns to ensure that land reforms were implemented. The government of which C. Achutha Menon was Chief Minister called in the paramilitary Central Reserve Police to put down the mass struggle in the state. The first years of the seventies were years of demonstrations and land-occupation campaigns, and of attacks on the people's movement by police, paramilitary forces, and landlords' henchmen. Repression took the form of arrests, tear-gas, and lathi attacks, shooting down demonstrators, and burning down the huts of peasants and agricultural workers. During the eighty-day mobilization of agricultural workers and peasants in June-August 1972 alone, 1,60,000 demonstrators were arrested, and 10,000 sentenced to jail terms (Nayanar, 1982, pp. 149–50). Despite state and landlord-sponsored repression that organizations of the left had to face, the writing was on the wall, and state power could not prevent the implementation of certain aspects of land reform.

Put very briefly, the implementation of the first two sets of land reform (concerned with tenancy and homestead land) was relatively successful; the implementation of reforms relating to the identification of land above the ceiling and its redistribution was not. Using official data, Radhakrishnan reported that the first set of reforms resulted in the transfer of 1,970,000 acres to 1,270,000 households, the second set of reforms resulted in the transfer of 20,000 acres of homestead land to 270,000 households, and the third led to the transfer of 50,000 acres to 90,000 households (Radhakrishnan, 1989, p. 185).

(p.297) Radhakrishnan (1989) discusses the reasons for the poor performance in respect of the third set of land reforms. Landlords transferred land on a large scale in order to escape ceiling laws. There were bogus transfers as well as transfers validated by the Acts of 1964 and 1969, and their combined effect was to make a lot of surplus land disappear. In 1979, in order to validate transfers in the form of gifts made by certain classes of landlords so as to circumvent ceiling laws, the Congress government passed the Kerala Land Reforms Amendment Act (known as the Gift Deeds Act) and, although rejected earlier the same year because its provisions ‘defeated the very purpose of land reforms’ (Radhakrishnan, 1989, pp. 184–5), it was approved by the President of India in October 1979.125

Two important studies provide village-level information on the implementation of land reform. Of Kodakkad in north Malabar, P. Radhakrishnan writes that the ‘land system now is strikingly different from … the pre-reforms period’, ‘the land system is no longer characterized by the extreme concentration of land in a single group’, and old forms of class-caste correspondence in land ownership in the village no longer exist (Radhakrishnan, 1989, p. 229). In Nadur, Richard Franke reports, ‘the land reform redistributed substantial amounts of land from the biggest owners to small holders and the landless’ (Franke, 1993, p. 148). Land reform ‘reduced both land and income inequality’, and the ‘land reform undermined the material basis of caste and class inequality’ (ibid.).126

The Kerala Agricultural Workers' Act came into effect on 2 October 1975. It has been described as a trade union act for agricultural workers, and is the only one of its kind in the country. The Act legislated minimum wages, job security, and retirement benefits (in the form of a Provident Fund to which workers and employers contribute), it limited the length of the working day, (p.298) and it created arbitration boards for settling disputes between workers and employers. It required local bodies to prepare lists of agricultural workers (Franke and Chasin, 1992, pp. 65ff; Jose George, 1980, pp. 111ff.). According to Franke and Chasin, the highest real wage gains for agricultural workers since the mid-sixties occurred immediately after the Act was passed. Legislation for unemployment insurance for agricultural workers was enacted in 1980–1 and agricultural labour pensions were started in 1982. Franke and Chasin calculated that, at 1986 prices, the pension was enough to buy rice for an adult for about 10 days in a month (Franke and Chasin, 1992, op. cit.).

According to data from the Government of Kerala, the proportion of rural labour households to all households was 50 per cent in 1983–4 (Government of Kerala, 1985, p. 1, Table 1). Of all rural labour households, no less than 93 per cent owned land (ibid., p. 7), and 93 per cent owned the houses in which they lived (ibid., p. 34). A.V. Jose (1994) shows that, between 1970–1 and 1988–9, the highest percentage increase in real daily agricultural wages paid to men (63 per cent) was in Kerala, and that the trends in wage rates for women workers were similar. In 1988–9, the daily money wage rates paid to men were highest in Punjab (Rs 28.90), Kerala (Rs 27.70), and Haryana (Rs 26.40) (ibid.). Jose writes that ‘social policy … and redistributive transfers effectively complemented labour market interventions’ which together ‘conditioned improved terms of wage employment in Kerala’ (ibid.). Despite these measures, given the stagnation of agricultural production in Kerala and the stagnation in the number of days of employment available in agriculture, there is no evidence of radical change in the income status of agricultural workers in Kerala in the contemporary period.

The phase of large-scale mass struggles for land reform ended with the seventies. Until the end of the seventies in Kerala, a party's or a person's political position was defined by where they stood on the land question. Today agrarian change is a fact, and there is no political challenge to land reform or movement for its reversal.127

(p.299) The gains of land reform should not, of course, be exaggerated. The scope of land reforms in any single region is circumscribed by the class character of the Indian state and the government in power in New Delhi. Land reform in Kerala did not transfer agrarian power to agricultural labourers and poor peasants, and it did not end capitalist landlordism.128 It did not lead to the establishment of production cooperatives or collectives or to other post-capitalist forms of agrarian production organization (or, for that matter, to the creation of a panchayat system as democratic as the one in West Bengal).129 Land reform in Kerala was not followed by substantial increases in crop production, as was the case in West Bengal, nor were there substantial increases in rural employment.

Despite these limitations, the achievements of land reform in Kerala are far from negligible. Land reform abolished statutory landlordism and ended the janmi system. It reduced the concentration of ownership of land holdings (see Table 28). It broke the back of Namboodiri landlordism and weakened Nayar landlordism. It protected tenants, and ended systems of rack-renting and those illegal exactions from the poor that characterized the old system. It provided house sites to tens of thousands of families. Further, agricultural workers' wage struggles and the achievements of the people in gaining agricultural and house-site land contributed to raising rural daily wage rates in Kerala significantly,130 and to the introduction of social security schemes for agricultural labourers.131

TABLE 28. Distribution of Household Ownership Holdings: Kerala, 1961–2 and 1982

(in per cent)

Size category of ownership holding (acres)

1961–2

1982

Number of households

Area

Number of households

Area

Landless

30.9

0.0

12.8

0.0

0.01–0.99

41.5

12.3

63.5

21.0

1.00–2.49

14.8

18.1

14.4

24.8

2.50–4.99

7.4

20.2

6.1

23.5

5.00–14.99

4.6

27.5

3.0

25.8

≥15.00

0.8

21.9

0.2

4.9

Source. National Sample Survey, 17th and 37th rounds, cited in H.R. Sharma (1992).

(p.300)

The role must be emphasized of land reform not only as a process that helped to transform agrarian relations in the state, but also as a facilitator of social change in Kerala. Land reform and the larger achievement of change in agrarian relations were not, as is clear, achieved ‘from above’. They were achieved after decades of struggle by people's organizations that were based on powerful village-level organizational units and led by the Communist Party. Their struggles influenced and changed the lives of the rural poor in many spheres. For decades, the agrarian movement mobilized the rural poor for economic and social (including educational) change. The agrarian movement has played a crucial role in creating an awareness of people's rights, in democratizing rural life, and in creating conditions favourable to the spread of mass education and facilities for improved conditions of public health.

7. Agents of Change

7.1 Travancore and Cochin

The establishment of the kingdom of Travancore in the eighteenth century was accompanied by a strengthening of the centralized (p.301) power of the State. An important feature of the consolidation of state power was the destruction, by Martanda Varma and his successors, of small feudatories and of independent centres of feudal power. Land was brought under state control, and the ceremonial consecration of the state of Travancore to Anantapadmanabha, the family deity of the royal family of Travancore, was symbolic of Travancore's unification and of the conquest of scattered sources of military-feudal power.

From the beginning of the nineteenth century, British suzerainty was well established. The revolts of Velu Thampi in Travancore and of Paliyath Achan in Cochin had been crushed. The state in Travancore and Cochin functioned within the bounds set by the British power, and by its immediate representative, the British Resident in Thiruvananthapuram. The Resident from 1810 to 1819 was Sir James Munro, who was, among other things, influenced by the activity of the London Missionary Society (LMS) and its work (particularly in south Travancore) in the spheres of education and health, for the elimination of slavery, and against other forms of oppression of the lower castes. Although they practised untouchability themselves, the rulers of Travancore accommodated the activity of the LMS, and absorbed important features of missionary activity into state policy.

In a recent interview, E.M.S. Namboodiripad said that, in his opinion, the royal administrations of Travancore and Cochin were sensitive to the aspirations of the local bourgeoisie and upper-caste elites, and ‘closer to the people’ than the rulers in other Indian princely states.132 We have seen that men of the royal families of Travancore and Cochin, who belonged to the Kshatriya caste, married Nayar women (the men of the Cochin royal family had to cast their nets wider among Nayar families for wives than those of the Travancore family, for the reason that there were more of them). The characteristics of the royal families of which Namboodiripad speaks, and the so-called ‘middle-classness’ of the extended royal family, had to do, undoubtedly, with the broad-based (for royalty) system of marriage and the system of succession that the royal families followed.

The administrative history of nineteenth-century Travancore was marked by an extraordinary series of state-sponsored reforms (p.302) and declarations of intent,133 Free and universal education was declared to be an objective of public policy. Schools were opened and instruction was introduced in Malayalam. The first public library in India was established in Thiruvananthapuram and the state sponsored a remarkable programme of translations. Legislation against chattel slavery was passed. Civil and criminal laws and laws of legal procedure were codified. A system of public health was introduced and hospitals were built. Land tenure legislation brought Travancore closer to a system of ryotwari, investing proprietary rights in new sections of persons who were actually responsible for farming the soil There was an important programme of agricultural colonization. Public works became an important sphere of state activity. There was progress in road transport in Travancore. Travancore was the first princely state to constitute some sort of council for the work of legislation.134 There is an interesting comparison to be had here with the Meiji, another example of a regime which, in a general context of foreign intervention, brought the decentralized power of scattered military-feudal lords to an end and initiated a programme of social, educational, and economic reform under a centralized monarchy.135

It is useful to remember, though, that the monarchy and the upper-caste elite remained an autocratic and undemocratic ruling stratum. Its members practised untouchability and were hostile to the demands of the outcaste and the oppressed. State power under Dewan C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar discriminated openly against the Christians in Travancore's population, and attacked the state's people's movements and the movement of peasants, agricultural workers, and coir workers.

Are Kerala's achievements today the ‘consequence’ of the policies of the royal administrations of the princely states? Certainly not. (p.303) The policies of the princely states did create what has been called an ‘environment of official support’ for primary education, and Travancore and Cochin did better than Malabar or other princely states in respect of the public administration of, broadly speaking, social services.136 Nevertheless, Kerala's achievements today required radical changes in the status of people of the oppressed castes and land reform, and policies that closed the gap between different regions of the state —changes well outside the class and caste calling of the ruling elites of the princely states of Travancore and Cochin.

7.2 Missionary Activity

By one account, Travancore had a higher density of Protestant missionaries in the mid-nineteenth century than any other part of India (Jeffrey, 1992, p. 97); one of the reasons for Travancore having become a major field of Protestant evangelical effort was certainly the extraordinary state of unfreedom of the people of the oppressed castes. They came as agents of the colonial power, and to evangelize; the Protestant missionaries in Travancore in the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries also constituted the first modern organized group opposed to untouchability and caste discrimination as they found it in Travancore.137 They put their social outlook into practice in many ways: they opened the first modern schools in the state, and they opened them to the children of the outcastes, boys and girls.138 They opened rural (p.304) hospitals and dispensaries (the establishment of the South Travancore Medical Mission in Neyyoor in 1838 by the missionary Archibald Ramsay was a landmark event in the history of health care in Kerala).139 They played a major role in medical education in south India and in propagating principles of hygiene and public health. They encouraged the breaking of caste taboos, and were the main support of the people who fought for women of oppressed castes to be allowed to clothe themselves above the waist.140 They began literacy and anti-slavery campaigns among the Shanar people of south Travancore and among the Pulayar people, and pressed for legislation against slavery and against forms of torture. In a society in which social sanctions against the ritually ‘impure’ castes and outcastes were as severe as they were in Travancore, the systematic spread of education among the people of such groups could not but be profoundly destabilizing.

Because Protestant missionaries were representatives of the colonial power, they were also able to influence public policy. Two Residents, James Munro and Francis Maltby, had direct links with Protestant missions. As written earlier, the statement of Gowri Parvathi Bai on education was undoubtedly influenced directly by—in all likelihood written by—the Dewan and Resident, James Munro, a person described as ‘a devout Christian with evangelical convictions, who wanted to convert all Christians and non-Christians to the Protestant faith’ (Yesudas, 1978, pp. 99 and 100; see also Yesudas, 1980).141

There is no question that missionary activity and influence helped prepare the ground for the social movements of the second half of the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth century.142

(p.305) 7.3 Caste-based Reform Movements

There were caste-based movements among many castes in Kerala. Among the most well-known of these were the reform movements among the people of the Izhava caste and the Pulaya caste and among Nayars and Namboodiris. The Nadars of south Travancore—particularly in Kanniyakumari and Tirunelveli—were also organized into a caste-based movement; the centre of activity and organization of the Nadar caste organization was in Tamil Nadu. Something of the heterogeneity of the caste-based reform movements is apparent even from, this list—it consisted of oppressed castes as well as oppressor castes. Caste movements were active in the movement 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 organization.

The Izhava Movement

The Izhava social reform movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was one of the most important caste-based social-reform movements of the modern period in India.143 The Izhava social-reform movement, one scholar writes, was ‘the most radical aspect of the social awakening that accompanied the rise of capitalism (in Travancore) and was the most sweeping mass movement that Travancore had known’ (Isaac, 1985). Its early leaders — persons such as Sree Narayana Guru, Kumaran Asan, Dr Palpu — and the chief caste organization of the Izhava people — the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, or SNDP Yogam — have been described as being the first organizers and inspirers of the mass democratic movement of cultivating peasants and the landless in Kerala (Namboodiripad, 1984, p. 99). Although the Izhava social-reform movement became widespread and was active in Malabar and Cochin, its origins were in Travancore, as was its real organizational strength.

In Kerala's caste hierarchy, the Izhava caste was the upper tier of the two levels of untouchability. Considered outcaste and untouchable by caste Hindus, Izhavas were also considered ritually superior (p.306) to the Pulaya and other slave castes.144 A salient feature of social change among the Izhavas is a kind of discrepancy between ritual status and economic opportunity that emerged in the last decades of the nineteenth century and in the early part of the twentieth. This was a period in Travancore of commercialization and the capitalist development of agriculture, a period of agricultural colonization and the development of plantations in the hill regions, of agrarian legislation in the direction of ‘peasant proprietorship’, and of the beginning of the break-up of the old Nayar and Namboodiri estates. Travancore also benefited from the late-century boom in the coconut trade, when the demand for coconut and for coir-matting in Britain and the United States became an important stimulus for growth in coconut cultivation and coir-making in Travancore.145

The traditional occupations of the people of Izhava caste involved agricultural labour and peasant cultivation, the cultivation and processing of coconut and coconut-palm products, and the production and sale of toddy and arrack. The Izhava people were not completely excluded from traditional learning: there were ayurvedists and astrologers among them, and men of learning in Sanskrit. The traditional occupations of the caste became, in the context of changes in Travancore's economy, a springboard for the economic advancement of some members of the caste during this period. They obtained contracts for the production of arrack and for tapping toddy, and they entered the coconut trade and coir manufacture and trade. The occupations that were characteristic of their low ritual status provided the basis, in a sense, for economic advancement among an Izhava elite in the twentieth century. By 1875, there was a higher proportion of traders in the Izhava caste than in any other Malayalam-speaking Hindu caste. Izhava workers were more mobile than others, and an Izhava working class grew in non-agricultural occupations (by the end of the nineteen-thirties, 80 per cent of coir (p.307) workers were of the Izhava caste: Isaac, 1985), on plantations, in public works (public works were an important sphere of activity of the Travancore government in the nineteenth century), and in land reclamation and agriculture. Their exclusion from government salaried employment influenced the search by persons of the caste for employment elsewhere.

Social change was also helped by the greater flexibility of the marriage and inheritance systems among Izhava families, and the tendency to form nuclear families was more marked among Izhava families than, say, among Nayar or Namboodiri families (Varghese, 1970). Social consciousness was influenced by missionary activity in the field of education and against caste discrimination (Chandramohan, 1981).

For all these advances, the Izhava people continued to be victims of different forms of caste discrimination. A vivid example of the disjunctive between caste and economic status, and one often referred to, is the case of Alamoottil Channar, one of the two owners in Travancore of private automobiles in the nineteen-twenties. When the car got to public roads on which persons of the caste were not permitted, he got out of the car and ran along to a point where he could get back in, to which his Nayar chauffeur drove the car. He also had roads built on his private estate on which to drive his car.146 Izhava representation was disproportionately low in government employment. In 1891, people of the caste were 16 per cent of the population; in 1881, persons of the caste had less than 1 per cent of government jobs. The best-known example of government discrimination was against Dr Palpu, who was ranked second in the entrance examinations to the medical college but was refused admission because he was an Izhava. He qualified in medicine at Madras, was refused employment in Travancore, and found employment in the princely state of Mysore. In 1932, people of the Izhava caste were 17 per cent of the population and had less than 4 per cent of government jobs. By comparison, Nayar persons were 17 per cent of the population and had 52 per cent of jobs; Brahmans were 0.8 per cent of the population and had 18 per cent of government jobs.147

The emerging Izhava elite demanded the right to be full participants in the modernization that began in the nineteenth century. (p.308) The SNDP Yogam was established in 1903. The main demands of the Izhava social-reform movement were against untouchability and against caste-Hindu prohibitions on access by members of the caste to roads, bathing-places, water sources and other public places, for free entry into Hindu temples, for literacy and education, for employment in government jobs, and for greater representation in the restricted-franchise legislature of the Travancore state (an issue on which the Izhava social-reform movement made common cause for a time with representatives of the Christian and Muslim communities in Travancore).

The emphasis on education was remarkable. At the first meeting of the Yogam, Dr Palpu declared: ‘We are the largest Hindu community in Kerala. … Without education no community has attained permanent civilized prosperity. In our community there must be no man or woman without primary education.’148 The most striking feature of the early history of the Izhava social-reform movement is the movement to gain access to primary education for all boys and girls, and to higher education as well. Caste Hindu Nayars opposed mass education among the Izhava people with violence, as during the attacks on Izhava people in Quilon.

The movement also organized against backward customs and primitive practices associated with Hinduism. Its demands regarding the reform of inheritance laws led to the promulgation of the Izhava Regulation of 1925. The demand for temple-entry received broad support. The famous satyagraha of 1924–5 at Vaikkam in Travancore was not, in fact, for temple entry, but demanded the right of people of the oppressed castes to travel on roads near the temple. The struggle was called off in 1925 on Gandhi's advice, when the government permitted public access to all roads near the temple but one, the eastern road. The Vaikkam satyagraha was, however, a landmark event, and the movement for temple-entry gained in strength. The government issued a temple-entry proclamation in 1936.149

(p.309) The late eighteen-eighties and early eighteen-nineties were a crucial period in the formation of modern Kerala.150 In the seventies and eighties, newspapers emerged and the language of the people was used in print.151 In the eighties and nineties, translating texts into Malayalam became a movement. In 1889, the first full-fledged Malayalam novel, Indulekha, which had a social-reform theme, was published. In 1889, literary criticism first appeared as a modern literary form in Malayalam. In 1888, Sree Narayana Guru, who was the son of a middle peasant from a matrilineal Izhava family, and was deeply influenced by Vedanta and by ideas of social equality and social and religious reform, began his public mission. He proclaimed the teaching with which his personal philosophy was to be identified: ‘One Caste, One Religion, One God for Man.’ In 1891, the Malayalee Memorial was presented to the court of Travancore. Although it reflected the demands of the Nayars against non-Malayalam speaking Brahmans, the third signatory was Dr Palpu, and the Memorial referred to the fact that not a single Tiyya (Izhava) was employed in any government job that carried a salary of more than five rupees a month.152

An outstanding — and perhaps unique — feature of the Malayalam renaissance of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was that people from a caste that was considered outcaste and whose members were considered untouchable by caste Hindus, that is, people of the Izhava caste, played a distinguished part in the renaissance.153 Kumaran Asan, educated in Calcutta, was the first Secretary of the SNDP Yogam, and the first lyrical poet in modern Malayalam.

Political and ideological trends within the Izhava social-reform movement, and the relationship between this movement on the one hand and the workers' movement on the other, have been discussed in a few contributions to the scholarly literature.154 In the nineteen-thirties (p.310) and forties, social and economic differentiation within the caste led to a clear demarcation of conservative and radical trends in the social-reform movement (Isaac and Tharakan, 1986b). With the economic advance of an Izhava elite, the conservative section of the Izhava leadership turned against the national movement, the movement against princely rule, and the coir-workers' movement in Travancore.155 Another section moved to secular, radical positions (turning, for instance, the old Narayana Guru precept of ‘One Caste, One Religion, One God for Man’ to ‘No Caste, No Religion and No God for Man’) and identified with and participated in the agricultural workers' and coir-workers' movements, with the movement against autocracy, and, later, with the left movement (see Isaac, 1985 and Isaac and Tharakan, 1986b). The turning point, in Isaac's (1985) analysis, was the general strike of workers in the Alleppey area in 1938, when the pro-government positions of the conservative leadership isolated it and undermined its hold on working Izhava people. In later years, peasants and agricultural labourers and coir-workers of the Izhava caste joined the Communist Party and mass organizations led by the Communists in large numbers.156

Other Caste-based Reform Movements

The Pulaya social reform movement had to confront more formidable obstacles to social progress than the Izhava social reform movement.157 ‘The nature of upper-class opposition,’ according to a historian of the Pulaya movement, ‘can be described today by no word other than barbaric’ (Saradamoni, 1980). This movement did (p.311) not have the same windows of opportunity, even for an elite within the caste.

From the eighteen-nineties, Ayyankali of Travancore (1863–1941), the great leader of the Pulaya masses of Travancore, organized movements for access to public roads near his village south of Thiruvananthapuram. The demands for education and against caste discrimination and civil disabilities were important items on the movement's agenda. One of the first (it has been suggested that it was the first) strike of agricultural labourers in Kerala was organized by Ayyankali in 1914.158 Ayyankali attempted to gain admission for a Pulaya girl in a government school in Ooroottambalam village in Neyyatinkara taluk near Thiruvananthapuram. The Nayars of the area began a campaign of violence against the Pulayas for this act and, after violent clashes, burned the school down. Ayyankali organized a strike of agricultural labourers, and work stopped in the fields of the upper castes. Government intervened, and after a magistrate's inquiry, the strike ended in success for the workers.159

Among Nayars, by the nineteenth century it was clear that the Nayar joint family system was singularly unsuited to modern society.160 With Nayar militias disbanded by the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, men hung around the taravad with little to do, and were subject to the petty tyranny of the karanavar (the male head of the Nayar joint family).161 There were new developments in agrarian relations—including the growth of capitalist relations of production in agriculture, new agrarian legislation, and the growth of the land market — and Nayar joint families began to partition and sell taravad property.

The situation was specially oppressive for women. Fathers took no responsibility for bringing up their children; men crowded the (p.312) taravad, living off family property and contributing nothing to it; women did not work outside the taravad; levels of female literacy, though higher than among the excluded castes, were still much lower than literacy rates among men. It is little surprise that the impulse to transform the matrilineal joint family in the direction of monogamy and nuclear families came largely from the women of these families.

Nayar caste movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries aimed at increased Nayar access to higher education and at large-scale Nayar entry into the professions and the bureaucracy.162 Given the ability of the Nayars to influence and manipulate court affairs, a Nayar elite soon began to fill up government positions, and to gain positions of dominance in the bureaucracy. Needless to say, Nayar achievement was not as investors of capital or, in general, in the sphere of material production.

Two important features of reform among Nayars were the reform of marriage law and the reform of property law. The first was against the practice of sambandham marriages. The other important demand of the Nayars was for legislation permitting the partition of taravad property. The passing of the Marumakkatayam Acts in Malabar, Cochin, and Travancore played a decisive role in the break-up of the old matrilineal, matrilocal joint-family system of the Nayars.

Among Namboodiris, there were reform movements against reactionary marriage practices within the caste and for the right to modern education. There were close links between these movements in Malabar and the freedom movement. There were also social-reform movements among Christian communities in Kerala. A distinction is to be made here between Christian missionaries and the Syrian Christians. Christian missionaries, as we have seen, came with the colonial powers. They played an important role in the spheres of education and health and against traditional forms of slavery. The Syrian Christians were, by contrast, non-evangelical; theirs was not a missionary church, and caste distinctions existed within the Syrian church. There were also movements among the Nadar people of south Travancore.163

(p.313) It is clear that the real area of activity of caste organizations of the oppressed castes and of the Nayars and of religion-based Christian organizations was Travancore and not Malabar. To take an example, the membership of the SNDP Yogam in 1929 was 63,674, of whom only 121 were from Malabar (Chandramohan, 1981). In Malabar, movements against caste oppression became part of the freedom movement and the left movement. Travancore's politics in the nineteen-twenties and thirties has been described as consisting of court intrigues above, and caste and communal politics below.164 It took the formation of the State's People's Congress and the entry of Communist political organizers to reorient the political scene in Travancore and to win the people of the oppressed castes over to the freedom movement and the class struggle. A leading scholar of the left movement in Kerala considers the attitude of the Communists towards caste reform movements as being ‘perhaps the most important contribution of the Communists in Kerala’ (Isaac, 1994):

While supporting and actively participating in the social reform movements in various communities, particularly the anti-savarna movements of the oppressed castes, the Communists (also) sought to build class and mass organizations … irrespective of caste, and raised caste-reform slogans as part of their anti-feudal democratic struggle. The Communists carried forward the radical legacy of the social reform movement and won over a large part of the masses in these movements, while the elites within these castes began to confine themselves to sectarian demands and withdraw into casteist organizational shells. (ibid.)

7.4 The Role of the Left

The Communist Party and the organizations of workers, peasants, agricultural labourers, students, teachers, youth, and women under its leadership have been the major organizers and leaders of mass political movements in Kerala since the end of the nineteen-thirties (p.314) and have been the major agents of the politicization of the mass of Kerala's people. Kerala is one part of India where the Communist Party assimilated the most progressive features of diverse local socio-political movements and gave them a new philosophical and political direction. These different movements in Kerala included the freedom movement, the radical and anti-caste sections of the social-reform movement, the movement against landlordism, the movement against autocracy and monarchy, the movement for the linguistic reorganization of the region and for the establishment of a unified Kerala, and, of course, the modern movement of workers, peasants, and radical intellectuals.165 Communists were among the early organizers of mass political organizations of women in the state.166 Communists played a leading part in the literary movement and in the cultural movement (including the theatre movement) in Kerala. School teachers were key activists and mass organizers of the national movement and the Communist Party; they were the first organizers of the granthashala (library) movement and the movement for literacy in Malabar.167 In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, Communists were the main activists in the popular science movement led by the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad, and in the Total Literacy Campaign of 1989 to 1991.

The modern state of Kerala was formed in 1956, and elections were held to the first Legislative Assembly in 1957. Of all the political forces in the state, only the Communists had a coherent vision for Kerala's future; they knew what they were going to do and how they would go about it. In June 1956, the Communist Party in Kerala met in Thrissur to discuss a policy framework for Party activity in Kerala, and the document that emerged from the meeting, ‘Communist Proposal for Building a Democratic and Prosperous Kerala’, provided the basis for the communist election manifesto of 1957 and, indeed, for future public policy in the (p.315) state.168 The first Government of Kerala was a Communist government, 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. It has been noted in the scholarly literature that, brief though the periods of Communist rule in the state have been, each was decisive in consolidating the basic agenda for Kerala's transformation.169 Land reform and the public distribution system are recognized as unmistakably Communist projects; Communist governments also worked on policies that helped bridge the gap between regions, they drafted early legislation on local self-government, and the ministry of 1987–91 provided administrative and institutional support to the Total Literacy Campaign. Kerala's electorate has kept the Communists on a tight leash (Isaac and Mohana Kumar, 1992); at the same time, the left has made many parts of its agenda part of the broad social consensus in the state. Put another way, even when the left loses the elections, it does not mean that the electorate rejects the socio-economic programme of the left in toto; it is not, for instance, a vote against the literacy programme, or for agrarian counter-reform, or against the system of public distribution of foodgrain (see Herring, 1992).

Radical individuals in Travancore began to make an impact on intellectual life in Kerala from the early part of the century; the Communist movement, however, began in Malabar. There is a stimulating scholarly literature and memoirs by leading participants, and novels as well, on the left movement in Malabar in the thirties and forties, which deals with the events of the time and with the people who lived and died in its cause.170 The number and quality of the extraordinary mass organizers and leaders for which the Communist movement in Malabar is famous—of whom E.M.S. Namboodiripad, A.K. Gopalan, and P. Krishna Pillai are the best-known—are remarkable. Selfless, enlightened, and acutely sensitive (p.316) to injustice, the Communist organizers of Malabar faced extraordinary repression by the ruling classes in order to achieve a better future for the people of Kerala and of India. E.M.S. Namboodiripad himself is Kerala's leading social theorist. No person has played as important a part in the socio-political and cultural life of a region of India for as long a period in the twentieth century as has EMS in Kerala.

In the literature on regional issues in Kerala's development, the dynamism of Travancore is often contrasted with stagnation in Malabar; it is often assumed that while the waves of change beat on Travancore and (to a lesser extent) Cochin, Malabar was, in Kerala terms, a backwater; that, in regional terms, Kerala's development involved taking the lessons of Travancore and applying them to Malabar. This perception of Malabar as an area of unrelieved backwardness and no change, which underlies many discussions of the regional factor in Kerala's development, must be recognized for what it is — a partial and ill-informed view. Malabar made a distinct and, in the historical balance, crucial contribution to Kerala's development. It was the people of Malabar who faced the most archaic and reactionary system of agrarian relations; it was the people of Malabar who confronted the British colonial power directly. In Malabar emerged a mass-based movement — later led by the left in the Congress and still later by the Communists — against landlord oppression and against British rule.

An anti-imperialist, anti-feudal political movement, based on mass organizations of workers, peasants, agricultural workers, teachers, and youth, and led by the left-wing (and later Communist) contingent of the freedom movement was Malabar's specific contribution to Kerala's development.171 The stimulus to organize the freedom movement in the princely states of Travancore and Cochin came from the north. An important aspect of the movement in Malabar was the struggle against caste discrimination and for entry into Hindu temples by the people of all castes. In this context, the fact is often overlooked that the political movement of the left infused new content into the movement of the people of oppressed castes — particularly of the slave castes and of the Izhavas — in Kerala as a whole, and gave these movements a new direction. In an interview in April (p.317) 1992, E.M.S. Namboodiripad summarized his views on this point in the following way:

As a matter of fact, the anti-imperialist freedom movement and the left in that movement came from Malabar to the States part, while educational and socio-cultural developments went from the States part to Malabar.

In short, Malabar was the birthplace of the left movement in Kerala and, as such, it played a crucial role in Kerala's development history.

7.5 Women's Agency

At the risk of some repetition, two issues regarding the place and 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. Kerala is the only state where mass literacy has been achieved among women as well as among men. Literacy among adolescent girls was almost universal in 1986–7. Women's literacy is supported by society and the state, and there has never been any organized opposition to female literacy and education in Kerala. At 74 years, female life expectancy at birth in Kerala is 15 years higher than the Indian average and almost 6 years above the corresponding figure for men in Kerala. Girls and women have access to the health care system in Kerala and primary-data based surveys show that, in general, the rates of immunization of girls are as high as those of boys. As a result of progressive social attitudes in Kerala towards the survival of girls and towards female survival in general, the proportion of females in the population was 1040 per thousand males in 1991; the all-India average was 927.

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: the expectancy of life at birth, the birth and death rates, the infant mortality rate, and general morbidity. Kerala's achievements in the sphere of health would have been impossible without female literacy and without an enlightened social attitude towards the survival of girl children (p.318) and women. Female literacy ensures next-generation literacy; literate mothers generally have literate children. Women in Kerala have been, historically, important participants in the trade union movement (and particularly in the coir and cashew industries and in the plantations), in the peasant and agricultural labour movements and the movement for land reform, and in the movement for food.172

While the extraordinary historic gains of women in Kerala cannot be underestimated — and it is simply incorrect to dismiss the achievements of Kerala's women as superficial — there are still important spheres in which women's equality has not been achieved, and in which discrimination persists. Representatives and supporters of the women's movement in Kerala express the opinion that socio-political and economic advance among women in recent years is not commensurate with the historic achievements of women in the spheres of education and health. Work participation rates among women are low, rates of unemployment are very high, and gender differentials in the labour market persist across caste, income, and education categories. A substantial section of the women's labour force is concentrated in traditional occupations — coir-work, cashew-processing, bamboo-work, for example — that are now stagnant or in decline. The representation of women is very low in elected bodies — Parliament, the Legislative Assembly, and local bodies — and in trade union executives, even in trade unions in occupations where most workers are women. The women's movement in Kerala has drawn attention to dowry-related deaths in Kerala and to sexual harassment and other crimes against women.173

7.6 State Governments

It remains to review certain features of action by state governments in Kerala. The areas of state government intervention in Kerala that (p.319) have been most significant for the people have been land reform, health, and education, and the public distribution system. The state has also introduced a series of measures that are intended to provide protective social security to persons outside the ‘organized’ sector, who are not usually covered by such schemes. Government policies have also attempted to reduce disparities in major development achievements between the north and the south. Government action in these spheres has been in response to political action by political parties and mass organizations of the people.174 Government action on land reform, for instance, began a few days after the first Government of Kerala took office (see section 6.3).

There is no question that government policy after the formation of Kerala has played a key role in raising health standards and in demographic change.175 Throughout the post-independence period, health expenditure as proportion of total expenditure has been higher in Kerala than in any other state. Although the economic history of health care in Kerala is yet to be written, the data indicate high levels of expenditure in the princely states of Travancore and Cochin (particularly the former) on health and education (although a greater proportion was spent on education than health) from the nineteen-twenties (see Table 29; see also Jeffrey, 1992, pp. 188ff). In terms of hospitals and dispensaries, the health infrastructure in Kerala is far better developed than in India as a whole: in 1989, there were 106 hospitals and dispensaries per 1000 sq kin in Kerala against 12 in India, and 254 hospital and dispensary beds in Kerala per 100,000 persons against 77 in India (Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, 1991). While per-capita expenditure on health was only marginally higher in Kerala than in other states in the late nineteen-eighties (Krishnan, (p.320) 1991), an important feature of health expenditure in Kerala has been the emphasis on mother and child care and immunization as well as on curative medicine (Krishnan, 1991; Kabir and Krishnan, 1991; Panikar, 1979).176

TABLE 29. Share of Education and Health Expenditure in Total Government Expenditure: Travancore and Cochin

(in per cent)

Year

Share of Education

Share of Health

Travancore

Cochin

Travancore

Cochin

1867–8 to 1869–70

1.9

0.9

n/a

n/a

1870–9

2.7

1.5

1.8a

n/a

1880–9

3.4

2.8

1.5

1.7b

1890–9

4.6

4.2

3.2

2.6

1900–9

6.3

4.2

4.1

3.4

1910–19

11.1

10.9

4.0

7.9

1920–9

18.3

16.5

4.5

5.4

1930–9

19.8

18.1

5.3

6.3

1940–1 to 1942–3

16.1

17.3c

4.6

6.9c

Notes.

(a) 1873–9.

(b) 1887–9.

(c) 1940–1 to 1941–2.

1. Each figure is an unweighted average of the corresponding figures for the relevant individual years.

2. For Cochin, expenditure on ‘health’ represents annual disbursements under the head ‘Medical, vaccination, sanitation and conservancy’ (this first appeared as a separate category in the Cochin reports in 1887–8). For Travancore, expenditure on ‘health’ has been obtained by aggregation over the relevant heads.

3. For Travancore, expenditures on education from 1864–5 to 1902–3 were presented under the heading ‘Education, Science, and Art’; these are the figures in the table. In subsequent years, disbursements on education are given separately.

Source. Calculated from Government of Travancore, Reports of the Administration of Travancore, various issues; and Government of Cochin, Reports of the Administration of Cochin, various issues.

(p.321)

With regard to the structure of the public health system, every district has an apex district hospital where spdcialized curative care is provided (the information here is from Kannan et al., 1991, pp. 108ff.). In rural areas, the Primary Health Centre (PHC) is the basic medical institution.177 PHCs were first established in 1952 as part of the Community Development Programme. They are intended to cover a rural population of 30,000 (or 20,000 in hill and tribal areas). Each PHC is to have 2 to 3 physicians, a female health assistant, a male health assistant, and supporting technical and administrative personnel. The female health assistant deals with maternal and child health — ante-natal and post-natal care — and birth control matters. The male assistant's functions include recording vital events, immunization, house-to-house malaria surveillance, and so on. Although the basic structure of public health facilities is quite similar in Kerala and other states, an important difference is that health programmes in Kerala have been far better implemented, largely due to the vigilance of an educated and politically conscious public.

Education was also an early concern (see section 4). The proportion of total government expenditure spent on education in Kerala is much higher than the corresponding proportion spent by all states (see Table 31), and it is of note that the proportion of total expenditure spent on education by the states of Travancore and Cochin crossed 15 per cent in the twenties (see Table 29). Most primary school children go to state-run or state-supported schools. In the (p.322) late eighties, Kerala's non-plan expenditure per capita on primary education was the highest among 14 states (see Table 32).178

TABLE 31. Expenditure on Education as a Proportion of Development and Non-development Expenditure (Revenue Account): All States and Kerala

(in per cent)

Year

Kerala

All states

1959–60

37.0

19.6

1960–1

35.1

19.5

1962–3

32.1

19.9

1964–5

33.8

20.2

1965–6

35.4

19.7

1966–7

36.0

19.1

1971–2

36.4

21.9

1981–2

32.2

21.4

1990–1

27.8

18.4

1991–2

25.3

17.4

1992–3

26.9

17.4

Note. The figures for 1960–1 and 1991–2 are based on revised budget estimates; the figures for 1992–3 are based on budget estimates; all other figures are based on final accounts.

source. reserve Bank of India Bulletin, successive issue

TABLE 32. Non-plan Government Expenditure on Education in Fourteen States, 1986–7

(in rupees per capita)

State

Non-plan expenditure

Primary Education

Secondary Education

Higher Education

Andhra Pradesh

39

26

21

Bihar

43

13

12

Gujarat

61

38

15

Haryana

38

42

17

Karnataka

54

23

20

Kerala

83

48

27

Madhya Pradesh

43

27

10

Maharashtra

58

49

18

Orissa

33

29

11

Punjab

44

62

21

Rajasthan

42

28

11

Tamil Nadu

51

29

21

Uttar Pradesh

33

23

7

West Bengal

34

43

14

Fourteen states

45

31

15

Source. Report of the Ninth Finance Commission, December 1989, cited in Government of West Bengal (1992), pp. 17–19.

The two-tier public distribution system was established and strengthened in the seventies and eighties; early attempts to establish an extensive public food-distribution system of a permanent nature in the state began with the 1957 ministry (see the sub-section on the public distribution system in section 3). As with land reform, the establishment of ration shops and other state-run stores to sell food and some basic articles of consumption to the people has been described as a ‘Communist project’ (Herring, 1992).

(p.323)

Kerala has social security measures that cover most sections of rural workers (Duvvury, 1994; Isaac and Mohana Kumar, 1991; Kannan, 1993). These are mainly contributory welfare funds in which government, employers, and workers participate. Nata Duvvury (1994) lists twenty-five such programmes, including welfare funds for agricultural workers, toddy workers, head-load workers, artisans, fishermen, cashew workers, coir workers, handloom and khadi workers, and construction workers. There are also pension (p.324) schemes for destitutes and for physically handicapped persons and for assisting the unemployed. Duvvury notes that welfare funds are intended to cover ‘not only (workers) pensions, gratuity, provident funds, and other retirement benefits, but also medical, educational, marriage and housing assistance’ (ibid., p. 2). She notes, however, that ‘most schemes today are pension schemes’ (ibid.).

Seventeen of twenty-five such social security measures listed by Nata Duvvury were begun in the nineteen-eighties (ibid.). In an assessment of the agricultural workers pension scheme, Leela Gulati (1992, p. 44 and 1993) indicates that although the amount received by individual pensioners appears low, the entitlement is enough to pay for half the foodgrain requirements of an adult, and that pension entitlements make an appreciable difference to the status and acceptability of older persons in the households to which they belong. The gamut of such social security measures in Kerala are the subject of research in progress (see Duvvury, 1994); while their effectiveness is still to be assessed, their important feature is their coverage, which extends to most rural workers. In the seventies, 57,000 low-cost houses for working people were built under a mass housing scheme (see Jeffrey, 1992, pp. 204ff).

A highlight of Kerala's development experience is that public action after 1957 helped close the gap in important respects between Malabar and the southern districts of Kerala. The disparities in health and education facilities in Travancore and Malabar have been usefully discussed in Kabir and Krishnan (1991). In respect of literacy, it is clear that the literacy gap between Malabar and the princely states widened substantially during the period that Malabar was part of British India, and it narrowed only after mass schooling was established in Malabar after 1957. The reduction of differences between the north and south in respect of literacy, medical facilities, infant mortality, immunization, and fertility and death rates, and in infrastructural and general cultural development is a standing example of the achievement of people and governments in recent decades.179

(p.325) 8. Conclusions

This paper attempted to review and analyse the most important social and economic development achievements of the people of Kerala. The achievements of the people of Kerala are the result of major social, economic, and political transformations. These changes have roots in Kerala's history, but they were also, in an important sense, achievements of public action in post-1957 Kerala. They were possible because there was mass literacy; because agrarian relations were transformed; because there were important changes in the conditions of unfreedom of the people of the oppressed castes; because of enlightened social attitudes towards girls' and women's survival and education, and because of the public policy interventions of governments in Kerala. All these conditions are replicable.

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 in respect of these conditions. In 1990–2, the expectation of life at birth of males was 68.8 years against an Indian average of 59.0 years, and the expectation of life at birth of females was 74.4 years against an Indian average of 59.4 years. The birth rate in Kerala was 18.5 per thousand against an Indian average of 29.5 per thousand. The death rate was 6.1 per thousand against an Indian average of 9.8 per thousand. The infant mortality rate was 17 per thousand against an Indian average of 79 per thousand. There were 1040 females per thousand males in Kerala's population, against an Indian average of 927.

Kerala was the only state of India where the socio-economic arrangements were in place to absorb international advances in the last three decades in epidemiology and public health. The ratio of medical establishments to population is substantially higher in Kerala than the rest of India. In an area of mass literacy and where social and political consciousness are high, people demand more health facilities, use the health system more, and use it better. Recent data indicate that the rate of immunization of boys and girls is higher than elsewhere and that immunization is not determined by the level of income. While the evidence is of progressive change in the pattern of morbidity and of improved facilities to deal with illness, medical evidence also indicates that much remains to be done to control the incidence of water-borne and air-borne infections in Kerala.

(p.326) Nutrition levels have improved in Kerala after the seventies and, according to official data, household consumption levels were higher than the Indian average by the late eighties. The public food-distribution system, the best among India's states, gives basic nutritional support to the people of Kerala. There is a two-tier system of public distribution of essential commodities. The system was extended and consolidated from the second half of the seventies. Of the population of the state, 90 per cent held ration cards (which entitle households to buy subsidized rice, wheat, sugar, cooking oil, and kerosene), and the average amount of foodgrain bought from ration shops by an individual in Kerala was 69.6 kg in 1991. The corresponding figures for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 1989 were 6 kg and 8 kg.

The people of Kerala have altered radically a system of agrarian relations that was among the most complex, burdensome, and exploitative in India, and have won important victories against some of the most monstrous forms of caste oppression. Public action in recent decades has narrowed the gap in health and educational facilities and achievements between the districts of the north and the districts of the south, a gap that widened during the period of colonial rule. The modern state of Kerala has also introduced a series of interesting protective social security measures that attempt to provide pensions and other payments to working people in the so-called ‘informal’ sector, and to destitute and physically handicapped persons. Kerala is the only state in India where there is mass literacy (and near-total literacy among adolescents and youth), and is also the state with the lowest proportion of child workers in the population.

The case of Kerala is an outstanding example of the importance of literacy for social and economic progress. Widespread literacy was a precondition of Kerala's major health and demographic achievements. The achievement of mass literacy in Kerala required — just as the achievement of mass literacy in India will require — mass schooling. Mass literacy was not achieved in Kerala until basic caste, gender, and class obstacles to literacy were overcome; that is, until literacy was gained by people of the oppressed castes, by women, by the working people, and by the rural and urban poor. The case of Kerala is also an important example of women's achievement in health and education and of women's agency in development.

It is necessary also to remember that there are many people in Kerala's population among whom conditions of education and health (p.327) remain unacceptably poor, and are far behind the rest of the population: among them are sections of the people of the scheduled tribes (particularly in north Malabar), of the fishing communities, and of the scheduled castes. Among them are also the members of the new underclass of migrant workers, mainly from Tamil Nadu, who work at a wide range of manual tasks in contemporary Kerala.

With regard to specific features of Kerala's modern history, in nineteenth-century Kerala, missionary activity and government policy in the princely states (particularly Travancore) played a foundational role in establishing a climate of official support for education and public health. The pervasive influence of the matrilineal system was important in determining social attitudes towards women's survival, women's education, and women's health. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, social-reform organizations of people of the oppressed castes emerged as pioneers of anti-caste social reform and as the first organizers of democratic socio-political movements among rural working people. The mass political movements led by the Communist Party from the thirties and the communist governments that came to power in 1957, 1967, 1980, and 1987 were crucial agents of socio-political change. When the state of Kerala was established in 1956, the Communist Party was the only political organization in the state with a programme for socio-economic and political change. Despite its relatively short periods in the leadership of government in the state, it is the Communist Party that has set the basic legislative agenda of the people of Kerala.

The crises in the spheres of employment and material production are perhaps the most pressing economic problems in Kerala at present. The present situation of a low to no-growth economy is neither desirable nor politically viable (and it is no surprise that transforming the conditions of production in the economy is the task that senior representatives of the left in Kerala's polity see today as its most important task). Kerala's development experience and Kerala's development future are matters of great importance for the left in India and internationally. Working within the constraints imposed by the Constitution of India and by hostile central governments, the left in Kerala has mobilized the people for kinds of social change unprecedented in the rest of the country. It is now clear that the tasks of increasing employment and production (and transforming production conditions) have to be principal components of the (p.328) next phase of Kerala's development. This transformation, however, must build on, consolidate, and extend the achievements of the past, and not undermine (or liquidate) the gains of a long history of public action in order to impose a capitalist-market-driven, income-growth-alone strategy of development on the people. Such a new phase of economic development has special resources on which to draw. Kerala has extraordinary natural resources, a basic land reform, an educated, skilled, and politically conscious workforce, and unique achievements in the spheres of health and education. It has a strong left political movement that is sensitive to issues of development and growth, that has set itself the task of building social alliances for economic development and socio-political change, and is active in the movement to create new institutions of local government in the state.

To reiterate the major conclusion of this paper, Kerala's achievements were possible because of mass literacy and because traditional patterns of gender, caste, and class dominance were transformed radically. In the conditions of contemporary India, it is worth remembering that public action, and not policies of globalization and liberalization, was the locomotive of Kerala's progress.

(p.329) Annexure

Income

The data on per-capita domestic product used in this paper (see particularly Fig. 1 on p. 214) are based on publications of the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO). Fig. 1 presents two separate series: one for per-capita domestic product at constant 1970–1 prices for the period 1970–1 to 1986–7, and one for per-capita domestic product at constant 1980–1 prices for the period 1980–1 to 1991–2. Owing to data limitations, we were unable to merge the two series.

In recent years, data on state domestic products have become more difficult to get. The CSO does not currently publish the data, because of problems with the comparability of data generated by different State Bureaus of Statistics. We also learn that the CSO does not, at present, authenticate data on state domestic products, which is considered the responsibility of State Bureaus.

Consumer Expenditure

Two series on per-capita household consumption expenditure at constant prices are used in the paper (see Table 5, and Figs. 25).

The data on per-capita household consumer expenditure at current prices for both series come from various rounds of the National Sample Survey (NSS). The most detailed data are from the quinquennial surveys of the NSS; the last such survey from which data have been published was part of the 43rd round of 1987–8 (data from the 1992–3 survey were not published at the time of writing). Data from the 45th, 46th, and 48th rounds, when annual surveys of consumer expenditure were conducted, have been published and are used in the paper. The annual surveys cover a smaller sample than the quinquennial surveys, and the material published at present does not include data on quantities consumed (kilograms of cereals and pulses, etc.). The most recent survey from which such data are published is the quinquennial survey (43rd round, 1987–8).

(p.330) We got the data on consumer expenditure at current prices from Roy Choudhury (1993), and from reports of the NSS and Sarvekshana (see under National Sample Survey in the bibliography). The data in Roy Choudhury (1993) represents expenditure for 360 days; in our statistical tables, all annual data are for a 365-day year.

In our Series 1, the price deflators for states are consumer price indices for states and India as given in Jain and Minhas (1991) and Tendulkar and Jain (1993). These price indices are available for NSS rounds until the 43rd round (1987–8), and we have presented data for the states for which the sources cited in this paragraph provide data.

Inter-state variations in prices were accounted for by using state-wise consumer price indices adjusted to an all-India base for 1970–1 for all items as given in Jain and Minhas (1991) and Tendulkar and Jain (1993).

In our Series 2, the price deflators are the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labourers (CPIAL) for Kerala and the CPIAL for India for rural areas, and the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers (CPIIW) for Aluva (formerly Alwaye) and CPIIW for India for urban areas. We took CPIAL and CPIIW data from different volumes of Indian Labour Statistics, Indian Labour Year Book, the Reserve Bank of India Bulletin and from the Index Numbers of Wholesale Prices and Consumer Prices published by the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy.

The price deflators were the average value of the relevant monthly price indices for the months covered by the particular round of the NSS. The price data for certain months covered by the 27th round (1972–3) were not available to us; for that reason, the statistical table does not present data for that year. All price indices were converted to a 1970–1 (July 1970 to June 1971) base.

The variation between prices in Kerala and India were accounted for by the procedure used for Series 1, that is, by using consumer price indices for Kerala adjusted to an all-India base for 1970–1 for all items as given in Jain and Minhas (1991) and Tendulkar and Jain (1993).

Since the CPIAL and CPIIW are up-to-date, Series 2 includes data from the 45th (1989–90), 46th (1990–1), and 48th (1992) rounds. These data are presented with a reminder that the sample covered in the 45th, 46th, and 48th rounds were smaller samples than in the quinquennial surveys.

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Census Volumes

Census of Cochin 1875 (1877), Report on the Census of Native Cochin, taken on the 6th Karkatam 1050/20th July 1875, together with Statistical Tables and a Manual of Geography, by A. Sankariah, BA, Dewan Peishkar, Cochin, printed in Madras.

Census of Cochin 1891 (1893), Report on the Census of Cochin 1891 AD 1066 ME: Part 1 — The Review, by C. Achyuta Menon, BA, Superintendent of Census Operations, Cochin Government Press.

Census of India 1891 (1893a), volume XIII, Madras, The Report on the Census, by H.A. Stuart, ICS, FRSS, Member RAS, Superintendent of Census Operations, Madras, Government Press, Madras.

(p.353) Census of India 1891 (1893b), volume XIV, Madras, Tables I–XVII c British Territory, Madras.

——— (1893c), volume XIV, Madras, Tables A to E, British Territory, Tables for Feudatory States and a Caste Index, Madras.

Census of India 1901 (1902), volume xx–A, Cochin, Part II, Imperial Tables, by M. Sankara Menon, BA, Superintendent of Census Operations, Ernakulam.

——— (1903a), volume xx, Cochin, Part 1, Report, by M, Sankara Menon, BA, Superintendent of Census Operations, Cochin Government Press, Ernakulam.

——— (1903b), volume XXVI, Travancore, Part 1, Report, by N. Subrahmanya Aiyar, MA, MB, CM, Dewan Peishcar, Census Commissioner, Thiruvananthapuram.

——— (1903c), volume XXVI–A, Travancore, Part 2, Imperial Tables, by N. Subrahmanya Aiyar, MA, MB, CM, Dewan Peishcar, Census Commissioner, Thiruvananthapuram.

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——— (1912c), volume XVIII, Cochin, Part 1, Report; Part 2, Imperial Tables, by C. Achyuta Menon, BA, Superintendent of Census Operations, Cochin State, Ernakulam.

——— (1912d), volume XXIII, Travancore, Part 1, Report, by N. Subrahmanya Aiyar, MA, Dewan Peishcar, Census Commissioner, Thiruvananthapuram.

——— (1912e), volume XXIII, Travancore, Part 2, Imperial Tables, by N. Subrahmanya Aiyar, MA, Dewan Peishcar, Census Commissioner, Thiruvananthapuram.

——— (1912f), volume XXIII, Travancore, Part 3, Provincial Tables, by N. Subrahmanya Aiyar, MA, Dewan Peishcar, Census Commissioner, Thiruvananthapuram.

Census of India 1921 (1922a), volume XIX, Cochin, Part 1, Report; Part 2, Imperial Tables, by P. Govinda Menon, BA, Superintendent of Census Operations, Cochin State, Government Press, Ernakulam.

——— (1922b), volume XXV, Travancore, Part 1, Report; Part 2, Imperial Tables, by Murari S. Krishnamurthi Ayyar, MB and CM, Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, Census Commissioner, Travancore, Thiruvananthapuram.

(p.354) Census of India 1921 (1922c), volume XIII, Madras, Part 1, Report, by G.T. Boag, MA, of the Indian Civil Service, Superintendent of Census Operations, Madras, Madras.

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——— (1932b), volume XIV, Madras, Part 2, Imperial and Provincial Tables, by M.W.M. Yeatts, ICS, Superintendent of Census Operations, Madras, Government of India Special Publications Branch, Calcutta.

——— (1932c), volume XXVIII, Travancore, Part 1, Report, by N. Kunjan Pillai, Thiruvananthapuram.

——— (1932d), volume XXVIII, Travancore, Part 2, Tables, by N. Kunjan Pillai, Thiruvananthapuram.

——— (1933), volume XXI, Cochin, Part 1; Report and Part 2, A & B — Tables, by T.K. Sankara Menon, Ernakulam.

Census of India 1941 (1942a), volume 2, Madras, Tables, by D.H. Elwin, OBE, ICS, Superintendent of Census Operations, Madras, Manager of Publications, Delhi.

——— (1942b), volume XXV, Travancore, Part 3, State Tables, by A. Narayanan Tampi, Thiruvananthapuram.

——— (1944), volume XIX, Cochin, Part 1; Report, Part 2, Tables, by B.V.K. Menon, Ernakulam.

Census of India 1951 (1953a), District Census Handbook, Malabar District (Delhi: Manager of Publications).

——— (1953b), volume XIII, Travancore—Cochin, Part I–A, Report, by U. Sivaraman Nair (Delhi: Manager of Publications.

——— (1953c), volume XIII, Travancore—Cochin, Part 2, Tables, by U. Sivaraman Nair, Manager of Publications, Delhi.

——— (1957), Paper No. 1 of 1957, General Population Tables and Summary Figures by Districts of Reorganised States — 1951 Census, Delhi.

Census of India 1961 (1962), Paper No. 1 of 1962, Final Population Totals, Delhi.

——— (1964), volume VII, Kerala, Part II-A, General Population Tables, by M.K. Devassy, IAS, Manager of Publications, Delhi.

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——— (1991), Series 1, India, Part IV-B(i), Population by Language/Mother-Tongue (Table C-7) (Delhi: Controller of Publications).

Census of India 1991 (1991), Series 1, India, Paper 2 of 1991, Provisional Population Totals: Rural—Urban Distribution, Ministry of Home Affairs (New Delhi: Government of India).

——— (1993), Series 1, India, Paper 1 of 1992, Final Population Tables, in two volumes (Delhi: Controller of Publications).

——— (1993a), Series 1, India, Paper 2 of 1991, Final Population Totals: Brief Analysis of Primary Census Abstract, Delhi.

Census of the Madras Presidency 1871 (1874), Report on the Census of the Madras Presidency, 1871 (with Appendix containing the results of the Census arranged in standard forms prescribed by the Government of India), by W.R. Cornish, PRCS, Surgeon Major, Sanitary Commissioner for Madras, volume 1, Madras.

Census of Travancore 1875 (1876), Report on the Census of Travancore, (taken on the 18th May 1875 AD — 6th Vycausy 1050 ME), Census Superintendent: V. N again Aiya, Travancore Government Press, Thiruvananthapuram.

Census of Travancore 1881 (1884), Report on the Census of Travancore, taken on the 17th February 1881 AD — 7th Mausy 1056 ME along with the Imperial Census of India, by V. Nagamaiya, Thiruvananthapuram.

(p.356) Census of Travancore 1891 (1892a), Report on Census, Part 1, Thiruvananthapuram.

——— (1892b), Report on Census, Part 2, Thiruvananthapuram.

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Other Serial Publications

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Government of India, Ministry of Labour, Labour Bureau, Indian Labour Statistics, Chandigarh/Shimla.

——— Ministry of Labour, Labour Bureau, Indian Labour Year Book, Chandigarh/Shimla.

Notes:

(*) I began to collect material for this paper while at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, and most of the work was done while at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), Bombay, The research was supported by WIDER and IGIDR. I am grateful to the Directors of the three institutions, Lincoln Chen, Lal Jayawardena, and Kirit Parikh for their support.

I am very grateful to friends and colleagues on the faculty and student body of the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), and to the administrative staff for their hospitality and help, and their generosity in sharing research results and the resources of the Centre with a visitor, I am grateful to the staff at the library of the CDS, the India Office Library (IOL), the Jawaharlal Nehru University Library, the Library at the office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at A.K. Gopalan Bhavan, and the Library of the Communist Party of India at Ajay Bhavan for their help.

Amartya Sen provided the initial ideas and encouragement for this research, and Jean Drèze and he provided ideas and comments at every stage of the work. Jean Drèze did much painstaking work on the final draft of the paper, his suggestions and criticism contribute a great deal to the argument and presentation. I had helpful discussions with Nata Duvvury, Judith Heyer, Thomas Isaac, Kumari Jayawardena, Prakash Karat, T.N. Krishnan, Saraswathi Menon, Siddique Osmani, Vikas Rawal, A.K. Shiva Kumar, M.H. Suryanarayana, Madhura Swaminathan, David Washbrook and participants in a seminar at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Arundhati Mundlay helped tabulate data from the national readership surveys. P. Poovendran, Chief Cartographer, TTK Maps, Madras, drew the map. Vikas Rawal and I collected and processed the data on incomes, consumer expenditure, and prices, and wrote the Annexure together. E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Govinda Pillai, and M.S. Swaminathan gave me detailed interviews. Thomas Isaac, Madhura Swaminathan, and Michael Tharakan commented on drafts of this paper, and Thomas Isaac made detailed suggestions regarding the presentation of the material and the argument. I am very grateful to all of them.

(1) See Centre for Development Studies (1977). On examples of the successes of direct support amidst general conditions of low-income growth, see Drèze and Sen (1989). especially ch. 12.

(2) For introductory data on the state, see Gazetteer of India (1986, 1989), and Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (1993).

(3) The districts of modern Kerala that correspond to regions of old Travancore (also spelled Thiruvithamkoor) are Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum), Kollam (formerly Quilon), Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Idukki, Alappuzha (formerly Alleppey). The districts that correspond to old Cochin, are Ernakulam and Thrissur (formerly Trichur). The modern districts that correspond to the area of the old Malabar district are Malappuram, Palakkad (formerly Palghat). Kozhikode (formerly Calicut), Kannur (formerly Cannanore), Wayanad, and Kasargod.

(4) The district of Malabar also included enclaves in Cochin (the taluk of ‘British Cochin’), two enclaves in Travancore as well as the Lakshadweep and Minicoy islands.

(5) Travancore included parts of modern Tamil Nadu — the whole of the present Kanniyakumari district and parts of Tirunelveli district.

(6) On settlement patterns in Kerala and the spatial organization of Kerala's villages, see Aiyappan (1965), pp. 33–4; Mencher (1966); Mayer (1952), p. 49; Munro (1817); Ward and Conner (1816–20), pp. 6–7. See Nagaraj (1986), T.T. Sreekumar (1990), and Casinader (1994) on aspects of the rural–urban continuum in settlement patterns, and Chattopadhyay (1994) on the influence of the biophysical environment on settlement patterns in Kerala.

(7) On the current problems of Kerala's economy, and other issues relating to the sustainability of its development achievements, see Namboodiripad (1994), Gulati (1994), Raj (1994), K.K. George (1994), Isaac (1994), C.T. Kurien (1994), Krishnan (1992), Damodaran and Govindarajulu (1994), and other contributors to A.K.G. Centre for Research and Studies (1994a–e).

(8) On issues related to the measurement of income-poverty in Kerala and its incidence, see Mohandas (1994).

(9) On Kerala's agricultural economy, see Narayana (1992); see also Mohan Das (1992).

(10) Government of Kerala (1992), Appendix 2.2, p. 140. On constraints on growth and growth alternatives in Kerala, see also Shyamasundaran Nair (1994).

(11) Subrahmanian (1990). On industrial stagnation, see also Albin (1990, 1992).

(12) Government of Kerala (1992), pp. 62–3.

(13) It is possible, of course, that higher rates of employment partly reflect a consciousness factor, that people who do not consider themselves gainfully employed report themselves unemployed; see also Mukherjee and Isaac (1994) on special features of data on disguised employment in a labour force whose members have relatively high levels of education.

(14) Oommen (1992). Table 3, p. 238; see also Mukherjee and Isaac (1994). On aspects of unemployment among women in Kerala, see E.T. Mathew (1994) and Rachel Kumar (1994).

(15) Isaac and Mukherjee, cited in Oommen (1992); see also Mukherjee and Isaac (1994). An interesting feature of the labour market in Kerala, noted by Mukherjee and Isaac, is that the ‘spread of education and strong traditions of affirmative action in education and employment has significantly reduced inter-caste differentials in the probability of gaining employment’) Mukherjee and Isaac, 1994, p. 67).

(16) Government of Kerala (1985), Table 26, p. 22. For fieldwork based data that show a decline in the average number of full days of agricultural employment per worker, see Krishnakumari and George (1994) and Mencher (1994).

(17) The number of emigrants to the region from Kerala has recently been estimated as being between 700,000 and 800,000 persons (Gopinathan Nair, 1994).

(18) Krishnaji (1994) notes the impact of remittances from the Gulf region on household incomes in Kerala, and also notes the contribution of remittances to increases in employment in the services sector of Kerala's economy.

(19) See the comparative data in Shiva Kumar (1991).

(20) With higher life expectancy, an issue that has important implications for the sustainability of Kerala's present path of development is the aging of its population and the need to provide health facilities and other kinds of social and economic support for senior citizens. On aging, and on the need for social provisioning for senior citizens and widows, see also Gulati (1992), P.K.B. Nayar (1994), Gulati and Gulati (1994), and Asari (1994).

(21) Official data cited in Zachariah et. al., 1992, ch. 5, Table 1. Results from a comparison of data from the NSS on the utilization of family planning services in 1986–7 with the 1990 Kerala data are also consistent with a record of a substantial increase in birth control in Kerala in the second half of the eighties (although comparisons of data sets from different sources must be made with caution).

(22) According to district-level primary data from three districts reported in Zachariah et al. (1992), the average age at marriage of women married in the period 1985–90 was 22.9 years in Ernakulam district (1975–80 average: 20.9 years); 20.9 years m Palakkad district (1975–80average: 19.5years); and 19years in Malappuram district (Zachariah et al., 1992. ch. 6. p. 6, Table 3). The average age of marriage varied with the educational status of women and of men (women of higher formal educational status married later than others: Zachariah et al., 1992, ch. 6; Kannan et al., 1991, ch 6). It varied with caste and religious status, and in the Zachariah et al. (1992) survey, Christian women and Nayar women had the highest age at marriage, followed by Izhava women and women of the scheduled castes and tribes. The lowest average age at marriage was among Muslim women (Zachariah et al., 1992. ch. 6, Table 6). Women from income and asset-poor families married, on average, at an earlier age than others (Kannan et al., 1991, ch. 6).

(23) Caldwell (1986), Kannan et al. (1991), Zachariah and Patel (1982), and Raj (1994).

(24) For a comparative study of infant mortality in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, see Nagaraj (1986).

(25) Zachariah et al. (1992) provides more data on the decline of infant mortality in the second half of the eighties, and deals with the part played by state-sponsored programmes of infant and child immunization in this decline.

(26) On causes of infant death, Krishnan suggests that the proportion of ‘death due to digestive disorders, disorders of the respiratory system, and fevers appears higher in Kerala. Secondly, the percentage of deaths due to prematurity appears lower in Kerala, and no deaths were recorded due to birth injury, malnutrition, cord infection, and malposition. Thirdly, Kerala does not report any deaths from typhoid, tetanus, and meningitis; these causes appear significant in India’ (cited in Krishnan, 1991, p. 9).

(27) The main sources of data on immunization in Kerala in recent years are the National Sample Survey (1991b), from the 42nd round, conducted in 1986–7, a survey of immunization in 1989 that was part of a national review of the Universal Immunization Programme (cited in Krishnan, 1991), the survey of Zachariah et al. (1992), and the National Family Health Survey of 1992–3 (llPS, 1994). The first and last sources have comparative data for individual states and for India.

(28) According to a study of households over the eighties by the Kerala Statistical Institute under its Development Monitoring System, disparities between people of different religions and castes in Kerala narrowed between 1981 and 1990 in respect of education, sanitation, housing, age structure, household size, the numbers of earners and dependents, electricity supply, and household and per-capita incomes (Somasekharan Nair, 1994).

(29) Caldwell (1986), Sen (1993), Caldwell and Caldwell (1985), Krishnan (1985, 1991). Mom Nag (1983, 1989), Raman Kutty (1987), Soman et al. (1990), Panikkar (1979), Mari Bhat and Irudaya Rajan (1990), Raman Kutty et al. (1993b), Kannan et al. (1991), are some of the contributors to the literature on women's agency and health in Kerala.

(30) Raman Kutty (1987), Soman et al. (1990). The absence of significant anti-female discrimination in child care is reflected in a female advantage in child survival in Kerala, which contrasts with the pronounced male advantage that can be found in many other parts of India (see e.g. Sample Registration System 1991, Table 7).

(31) See particularly Amartya Sen's (1984) discussion of self-perceived morbidity among women during the Bengal famine, and Murray and Chen (1992).

(32) In his memoir of work with a Protestant medical mission in Travancore, the medical missionary T H. Somervell compares data in the first annual report of the South Travancore Medical Mission in 1862 with the work done in a year in the late thirties (Somervell, 1940). and notes that the number of patients treated rose from 2,629 in 1862 to ‘Over 200,000’ in the late thirties. It would, of course, be pretty much off the mark if these data were taken as evidence of an extraordinary increase in morbidity in the region.

(33) Joan Mencher has written that ‘in Kerala, if a Primary Health Centre were unmanned for a few days, there would be a massive demonstration at the nearest collectorate led by local leftists, who would demand to be given what they knew they were entitled to. … [T]he availability of doctors at a primary health facility, and public knowledge that something will be done at any time of the day or night if it is an emergency, has gone a long way to lowering child death’ (Mencher, 1980, pp. 1781–2; see the discussion in Caldwell, 1986, and also Antia. 1994).

(34) On the effect of the living environment on disease prevalence in village Malabar in the fifties, see Mayer (1952), pp. 13–14; on village-level health and sanitary conditions in a village in Ponnani taluk in the fifties and what he saw to be the ‘progressive deterioration in the health of the villages’, see Aiyappan (1965), pp. 100ff. and p. 104. On environmental factors as a cause of ill-health in Kerala, see Panikar and Soman (1984); also see Krishnan (1991) and Kabir and Krishnan (1991).

(35) Thomas Isaac, personal communication. Robin Jeffrey (1992) cites material from the literature on working people eating out in tea-shops; he also reports that, in 1971, there were four times more tea-shops per head in Kerala than other states (pp. 210–11).

(36) According to one assessment, ‘food and nutrition security in Kerala depends on two factors: the public distribution system and the diversity of its people's diets’ (M.S. Swaminathan, interview. May 1992).

(37) Panikar and Soman (1984) reported a ‘mild’ qualitative improvement in diets in Kerala, particularly with respect to the consumption of fish (p. 26); data from a village survey in the late eighties showed that 96 per cent of households in the village ate fish ‘rdgularly’ (Raman Kutty, 1987, p. 77, Table 3.10). It is not clear, though, whether the increase in fish consumption has been sustained in recent years.

(38) In 1985, of the total amount of rice and wheat available for consumption in Kerala, 62 per cent came from outside the state (Koshy et al, 1989, Table 2.7).

(39) See Sivaswamy et al. (1946a, b, and c). There were reported to have been 30,000 cholera deaths m Malabar alone in June-August 1943, about 1 per cent of the population (Namboodiripad, 1943). The Servants of India Society reported 90,000 excess deaths in Travancore during the food crisis. In respect of Cochin, the Society concluded that ‘there was famine in Cochin-Kanayannur taluk in 1943–4, severe malnutrition in many places, and food distress in many others in the state of Cochin’ (Sivaswamy et al., 1946a, p. v).

(40) EMS. Namboodiripad, interview, April 1992. On activism on the food front during this period, see the despatches from Kerala in People's War between 1942 and 1945. Nayanar (1982), Gopalan (1974), and Karat (1977).

(41) See Famine Inquiry Commission (1945) See also the Namboodiripad despatches in People's War (Namboodiripad, 1942, 1943. 1944 are a selection); Jeffrey (1992), pp. 83ff.

(42) Government of Kerala (1989a), p. 10; see also Koshy et al. (1989), p. 9.

(43) An important legal measure in respect of the public food-distribution system in Kerala was the Kerala Rationing Order of 1966, which specified procedures for running the system (for discussion, see Mooij, 1994).

(44) According to Koshy et al. (1989), more than 97 per cent of households in Kerala were covered by the rationing system in 1986–7 (p. 9).

(45) Households with ration cards were entitled to the following food items m 1987 (per adult, with lower entitlements — about half as large — for children): wheat, 240 grams per day; rice, 220 grams per day (with an additional entitlement of 5 kilograms per month per card, subject to availability); sugar, 450 grams per month; and palmolein (edible oil), 3 kilograms per month. See Koshy et al. (1989), p. 9.

(46) See Koshy et al. (1989), pp. 74, 78–9, 81, 84–5,103. The data in the preceding paragraph refer to purchases in fair-price, or ration, shops, They do not include grain and other commodities bought at the Maveli outlets of the Civil Supplies Corporation. As mentioned, a very wide range of commodities is sold in these shops, and they have had a very important influence on the general price level in the state.

(47) See, in this context, Kannan (1993) and Krishnaji (1994); on current policy statements in respect of the public food-distribution system, see Swaminathan (1994). Those proposing restrictions on the public distribution system have, of course, focused on targeting, on excluding a section of households from the benefits of a public distribution system. In a recent paper on food security in Kerala, Krishnaji (1994) warned that ‘no matter what the Centre decides, whether to wholly dismantle the public distribution system or severely curtail its scope and coverage, it will pose serious problems of financial and economic management for Kerala’. On welfare losses caused by shifts from universal schemes to targeted schemes, see Cornia and Stewart (1993).

(48) The nineteenth-century data are not unproblematic; the important problem with regard to the calculation of sex ratios is that there may have been gaps in enumeration. C. Achyuta Menon, the Superintendent of Census Operations in Cochin in 1891, for instance, noted that ‘the persons left uncounted in an Indian Census are chiefly to be found among the females and the low castes’ (see Census of Cochin 1891 (1893), pp. 45ff, on the nature of omissions in the Census).

(49) See also Gulati (1992) and Kerala State Women's Development Corporation (KSWDC) (1990) on deprivation among women workers, particularly of the scheduled castes and tribes, and in low-technology occupations (e.g. coir, cashew, and bamboo work, and stone-crushing).

(50) See particularly John Kurien (1993a, 1993b, 1993c, 1994).

(51) On conditions of life and work, and the absence of strong trade unions among construction workers from Tamil Nadu in Kerala, see Anand (1994). For a description of migrants to Kerala from a dry-land village in Dindigul taluk in Tamil Nadu, see Swaminathan (1985).

(52) Jeffrey (1976); see also Caldwell and Caldwell (1985) and Weiner (1991). On the personal and social importance of literacy and basic education, see chapter 2 in the companion volume (Drèze and Sen, 1995). In a post-revolution formulation that set tough standards, Lenin wrote: ‘I can say that so long as there is such a thing as illiteracy in our country, it is too much to talk about political education. … An illiterate person stands outside politics, he must first learn his ABC. Without that, there can be no politics, without that there are rumours, gossip, fairy-tales and prejudices, but not politics’ (Lenin, 1921, p. 78).

(53) For descriptions of the spread of information through newspapers, see Jeffrey (1987, 1992) and Aiyappan (1965), pp. 95–6.

(54) Kerala is still far behind the developing countries in UNDP's ‘high human development’ category, among whom the figure was 200 in 1988–90 (UNDP, 1993, p. 166).

(55) I must add, however, that I was surprised to see that the readership figures for women agricultural labourerr, although much higher than elsewhere, were less than 12 per cent, and markedly lower than the figure for men.

(56) Tharakan (1990). Tharakan also discusses the specific problems during the literacy campaign of fisherpeople and dock-workers in Mattanchery and Cochin (ibid., p. 74). The literacy profile and the differences that still remain between identifiable social groups in respect of literacy will need to be reassessed in the light of the achievements of the Total Literacy Campaign, which ended in April 1991. The discussion of educational disparities in the eighties is subject to the qualification that the studies that identified these differences preceded the mass literacy campaign.

(57) See, for instance, Jeffrey (1987, 1992), Tharakan (1984), Gopinathan Nair (1974). See also the Census volumes by Nagam Aiya, Velu Pillai, Achyuta Menon, and Kerala's District Gazetteers. On the history of literacy and other features of Kerala's achievements in education, see the contributions to National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (1986).

(58) She cites, with approval, A.S. Menon, who wrote that there was an ‘alarming increase in illiteracy’ in the early British period (Gough, 1968, p. 155).

(59) This was also the period of emergence of an independent Malayalam alphabet; the Malayalam alphabet was introduced in the seventeenth century (Zograph, 1960, p. 141).

(60) See, in this context, Tharakan (1984), Kooiman (1989), Mateer (1871), and Agur (1903).

(61) Michael Tharakan writes that the ‘education of the lower castes — Izhava and Shanar as well as “slave” castes — was the exclusive preserve of missionary schools until the government came into the field at the end of the nineteenth century’ (Tharakan, 1984, p. 1920).

(62) The missionaries began efforts at female education from the start; see Mateer (1871), p. 156.

(63) Gopinathan Nair (1974); A. Sreedhara Menon, cited in K. Francis (1985), p. 156.

(64) The Rescript was issued 55 years before the Meiji Educational Law of 1872 in Japan. The Meiji law said: ‘People have made a mistake of thinking that learning is a matter for those above samurai rank …. It is intended that henceforth universally (without any distinction of class or sex) in a village there shall be no house without learning and in a house no individual without learning’ (Beasley, 1972, p. 360).

(65) Tharakan, 1984, p. 1921. On education policy in nineteenth-century Travancore, see also Jeffrey (1976, 1992); Gopinathan Nair (1981), K. Francis (1985).

(66) Jeffrey (1976, 1992); Tharakan (1983); Gopinathan Nair (1974); K. Francis (1985).

(67) See, in this connection, Jeffrey (1976).

(68) Jose George (1980) writes of the enthusiasm for literacy among agricultural workers in Travancore in the thirties and forties.

(69) Jeffrey (1987b. 1992).

(70) This was a feature of society that Protestant missionaries did not fail to notice. ‘There has never been any decided objection on the part of Sudras or Ilavars to the elementary instruction of females,’ Samuel Mateer wrote, ‘probably in consequence of their singular system of inheritance by the female line. One or two thousand girls of these castes attend the ordinary village schools’ (Mateer, 1871, p. 156).

(71) Michael Tharakan evaluated the Ernakulam Total Literacy Campaign for the National Literacy Mission. His report (Tharakan, 1990) is the basic source of information on the campaign.

(72) The Ernakulam campaign formulated an interesting criterion for literacy. The objective of the campaign was to teach a learner, first, to read without difficulty a description of something that was within his or her experience at a rate of at least 30 words a minute; and, secondly, to copy out a description of something at a rate of seven words a minute. Numeracy was defined as the ability to count and write from 1 to 100, to add and subtract 3-digit numbers, and to divide and multiply 2-digit numbers (Tharakan, 1990, p. 44).

(73) After the government led by the Congress (I) came to power in June 1991, the post-literacy phase of the campaign ran into serious trouble. The committee that organized the campaign, the Kerala Saksharata Samiti, was disbanded, funds were withdrawn from the campaign, and there have been reports of neo-literates regressing into illiteracy (Ramakrishnan, 1991; Venugopal, 1992).

(74) Only the Tamil Nadu legislature has passed a Bill on compulsory primary education.

(75) See, in this context, Tharakan and Navaneetham (1994).

(76) There is a vast literature on castes and caste hierarchy in Kerala; see, for instance, Namboodiripad (1976, 1984), L.A. Krishna Iyer (1968,1970), L.K. Anantha Krishna Iyer (1912). For descriptions of castes and caste functions in early post-independence Kerala, see Mayer (1952), Aiyappan (1965), and Gough (1970). On matriliny and on the oppressed castes, see references below. On caste status and customs, a useful reference is Jeffrey (1976). p. 9, passim.

(77) The early missionary literature has detailed descriptions of the conditions of life of people of the oppressed castes and of slavery: see, for instance. Cox (1857); ‘A.H.’ (1860). Agur (1903); Mateer (1871, 1883); and the writings of Claudius Buchanan, cited in Yesudas (1978). See also, in this context, Jeffrey (1976) and Kooiman (1989). A memorial of 19 March 1847, signed by 13 missionaries, said there were 164,864 slaves in Travancore, and called on the Raja to pass a law against slavery (Cox, 1857, p. xii). Ward and Conner (1816–20) described vividly the contrast between the houses of the upper castes and the living spaces of the oppressed (pp. 7–8). Chandramohan (1981) and Peter (1987) have detailed descriptions of forms of oppression of the Izhava people. For a summary of descriptions of the literature on hierarchy, see Jeffrey (1992), p. 19, passim, and for forms of caste discrimination in a Malabar village, see Aiyappan (1965). See also Saradamoni (1980, 1981) and Kusuman (1973). On social discrimination against scheduled caste agricultural labourers, see Jose George (1980), pp. 50ff.

(78) Of the status of Namboodiri women, E.M.S. Namboodiripad wrote in 1942: ‘The absence of free marriage and of the right of divorce, the existence of polygamy and compulsory purdah, the lack of economic rights and backward educational and cultural standards — all these social disabilities of Hindu womanhood was the lot of Namboodiri women alone among the women of Kerala’ (Namboodiripad, 1942).

(79) There is an extensive literature on matriliny in Kerala. For an introduction, see Gough (1962), Fawcett (1901), Fuller (1976), which proposes a very useful framework for the study of social change among Nayars; also jeffrey (1976), Puthenkulam (1977), Balakrishnan (1981), and the references in the first footnote in this section.

(80) We shall not deal here with sub-castes; the main Nayar caste organization, the Nair Service Society, brought together more than a hundred (notional) sub-castes into the organization.

(81) On systems of inheritance among people of the Izhava caste, see Chandramohan (1981); on Izhava family structure, see Jeffrey (1992), pp. 49ff.

(82) On matriliny among Mappila Muslims, see Miller (1992), pp. 251–2.

(83) Matriliny, Robin Jeffrey writes, ‘gave women … a unique importance, though this stopped far short of equality with men’ (Jeffrey, 1992, p. 25).

(84) Kerala, Professor Aiyappan wrote, was ‘the only area in India where the Brahmans could legally mate with Sudra women’ (Aiyappan, 1965, p. 5).

(85) See Suresh Kumar (1979), p. 50.

(86) Thorp (1993).

(87) The earliest attempt to characterize pre-capitalist agrarian relations in Kerala theoretically was by E.M.S. Namboodiripad in the thirties and forties; he described feudalism in Kerala as being characterized by janmi-samrna-chieftain (landlord-upper caste-chieftain) domination of agrarian society (see Namboodiripad, 1994 for a discussion).

(88) For simplicity, only the four main categories are presented here.

(89) Varghese (1970).

(90) On the traditional functions and rights in land of the janmi, kanakkaran, verumpattakkaran, and others, see Namboodiripad (1943), Karat (1973), Panikkar (1989), Radhakrishnan (1989), and the original work of William Logan.

(91) As they did elsewhere in India: ‘The zamindari and the ryotwari were both … effected by British ukases … the one a caricature of English landlordism, and the other of French peasant proprietorship’ (Marx, 1853, p. 78).

(92) Cited in Varghese (1970), p. 26.

(93) There were some Muslim janmi landlords, and a very small number of Izhava families acquired janmam rights as well.

(94) British rule did not recognize the allodial right claimed by holders of janmam rights; all land was, of course, taxed.

(95) Panikkar (1989), p. 25; Karat (1973), pp. 28–9. See also Radhakrishnan (1989) for evidence on the concentration of ownership of land in a north Malabar village prior to the land reform of the nineteen-seventies.

(96) Karat (1973), p. 32. See also Panikkar (1989), pp. 18ff. and passim, and Namboodiripad (1943).

(97) See Panikkar (1989), Namboodiripad (1943).

(98) Karat (1973), pp. 34ff. ‘One of the chief characteristics of holding verumpattam land was that the peasant could not escape debt’ (ibid.).

(99) Proceedings of the Board of Revenue, Madras, 25 November 1819, p. 349. Officials of the Company estimated the number of slaves in the district, excluding Wayanad taluk, at 100,000.

(100) Varghese (1970), p. 41. Wet land: a term in revenue administration in south India that refers to crop land under surface irrigation (and not to all irrigated land). The main crop on wet land was generally paddy.

(101) Karat (1973), p. 32.

(102) On forms of land ownership, tenancy, and employer-employee relations, and on tied and ‘free’ labour in early post-independence Malabar, see Mayer (1952). For descriptions of land tenures and castes and rural occupations in a Malabar village before land reform, see Aiyappan (1965),

(103) Varghese (1970), pp. 20ff.

(104) Varghese (1970), p. 45, passim.

(105) On state investment in land reclamation, see Jose George (1980), p. 48.

(106) On social and economic change among Syrian Christians in the second half of the nineteenth century, see Jeffrey (1976), especially ch. 4; and for a diagrammatic representation of caste and agrarian hierarchies in nineteenth-century Travancore, see Tharakan (1991), p. 4.

(107) Varghese (1970), pp. 32–3,48–50,69–74, passim. On agrarian slavery and civil disabilities in rural Cochin, see Achyuta Menon (1923), pp. 144ff.

(108) Laws against slavery were passed in Malabar in 1843, m Cochin in 1854 and 1855. and in Travancore in 1853 and 1855.

(109) See Varghese (1970), especially ch. 6.

(110) Panikkar (1989), p. 49 See also Panikkar (1990), a collection of documents on agrarian revolt and peasant struggles in nineteenth and twentieth-century Malabar.

(111) Namboodiripad (1943), Radhakrishnan (1989), Panikkar (1989).

(112) The term is the title of Panikkar's book. Most of the information in this paragraph is from chapter 2 of the book.

(113) For the leading account of social organization among Mappila Muslims, and a history of the community, see Miller (1992).

(104) On mass conversions of fisherfolk to Islam, see Aiyappan (1965).

(115) See Panikkar (1989); on Logan's investigations of agrarian relations in Malabar, see also Kurup (1981), Radhakrishnan (1989), Nambiar (1982).

(116) On the rise of the kanakkaran, see Namboodiripad (1943), Panikkar (1989), Radhakrishnan (1989).

(117) The first novel in Malayalam, Indukkha, written by O. Chaudu Menon, a judge of a subordinate court, dealt with this theme. On sambandham, see section 7.3 below.

(118) In his 1943 history of the peasant movement in Malabar, E.M.S. Namboodiripad described this aspect of the kanakkaran perspective thus: ‘The educated and professional man with a wide outlook and a sturdy sense of self-respect has to humiliate himself before the narrow-minded and conceited ignoramus who is his landlord’ (Namboodiripad, 1943, p. 174).

(119) The most useful modern description of this phase is in Radhakrishnan (1989), ch. 3. See also Gopalankutty (n.d).

(120) See Karat (1973), Radhakrishnan (1989), Nambiar (1982).

(121) See Prakash Karat (1973), Namboodiripad (1943), Radhakrishnan (1989), Gopalankutty (1981), and Nambiar (1982) for analyses of this period. Radhakrishnan's summary is particularly useful.

(122) See Jose (1980), Kannan (1988), Jose George (1980).

(123) See Jose (1980) and Kannan (1988) for useful accounts of the agricultural labour movement and its demands, on new features of the movement after the introduction of new varieties of rice in the seventies and on the spread of the movement in other regions of Kerala. On living conditions among agricultural workers in Travancore, on the pohticization of the agricultural workers' movement in the region, and for an account of workers' demands, see Jose George (1980). On the peasant movement in Cochin, see Balan (1994).

(124) There is an extensive scholarly literature on this subject, from which this summary derives. Raj and Tharakan (1983) and Radhakrishnan (1989) have the best analytical summaries; the latter has a very useful full-length study of land reform and before-and-after data that include data from a village study. See also Namboodiripad (1985), Raj (1992), Herring (1983), Saradamoni (1981, 1982), Franke and Chasin (1992), Franke (1993). On the Communists and agricultural labour after 1957, see Kannan (1988) and Jose George (1980).

(125) See the very useful account of the Gift Deeds Act controversy in Tharakan (n.d). The area involved was not trivial: it amounted to 14,164 acres or 9 per cent of the area ordered for surrender (Ronald Herring, 1981, cited in Radhakrishnan, 1989, p. 185). Radhakrishnan writes: ‘The enactment of the Bill was undoubtedly a defeat for the CPI(M) and other progressive forces in Kerala as much as it was a victory for the Kerala Congress and the Muslim League. The real losers were … the thousands of landless labourers, especially Harijans and persons from other socially and economically backward sections of society who … [hoped] to get a piece of land as their own through the surplus land redistribution’ (p. 185).

(126) See the accounts in Radhakrishnan (1989), ch. 6, and Franke (1993), ch. 7.

(127) On this issue, see Jose George (1980), p. 19, Jeffrey (1992), p. 185, Herring (1992), p. 5. While the history of Kerala's agrarian relations and the implementation of land reform have been studied by scholars in some detail, I am not aware of any scholarly primary-data based study that attempts to characterize, in a convincing way, agrarian relations and class structure in the countryside in contemporary Kerala.

There is also no detailed study or informed survey of the rights in land of women in the contemporary period, particularly after the land reform.

(128) In an interview recently, E.M.S. Namboodiripad characterized landlordism in contemporary Kerala m the following way. In his opinion, although ‘the old type of janmi ceased to exist’, there is still ‘landlordism of another type’, that is, of landlords ‘who get their lands cultivated through wage labour and those who live on usury and are also the dominant section in rural trade’ (interview, April 1992).

(129) The programmes of group farming that were introduced in the late eighties during the 1987–91 Nayanar ministry were very interesting experiments, and indicate areas of possible public action in the future, but they did not survive or spread.

(130) Total agricultural wage earnings are, of course, another matter, since earnings depend also on the number of days of employment.

(131) On social security schemes for agricultural labourers, see Gulati (1993).

(132) Interview, April 1992.

(133) On the changes brought about by the Travancore administration in the second half of the nineteenth century, the best account is in Jeffrey (1976), especially ch. 3.

(134) See All-Travancore Joint Political Congress (1934), pp. 2ff.

(135) According to the historian K.N. Ganesh, the state-formation process in eighteenth-century Travancore took place in circumstances in which the centralized monarchy derived direct support from the lower echelons of the agrarian population as well as from merchants, and, consequently, acted in favour of those groups (Ganesh, 1990, cited and discussed in Tharakan, 1991), p. 2; in this context, see also Washbrook(1994).

(136) In 1868, Lord Salisbury, the Secretary of State for India, said that ‘if all Native States were governed as were Travancore by Madhava Rau and Cochin by Sankunni Menon, the British Government would have to look for their laurels’ (cited in Achyuta Menon, 1922, p. 9).

(137) See, for instance, Kooiman (1989), Agur (1903), Somervell (1940), and Hardgrave (1969). On Protestant missionary initiatives in advocating social reform in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and on changes in missionary activity after 1850, see Oddie (1978); see also Potts (1967). Of Protestant missionary activity in the nineteenth century, the church historian C.M. Agur wrote: ‘It has always been the method of the Gospel, first to find its home among the humbler classes, the despised and rejected ones. … It was so and is so in India, and it is remarkably so in Travancore’ (Agur, 1903, vol. 1, p. 13).

(138) On the part played by Protestant missionaries in the history of schooling in Kerala in the nineteenth century, see section 4.2.

(139) For a description of the mission (‘At first it was only a small medicine chest …’), see Somervell (1940).

(140) Samuel Mateer introduced his description of the ‘Upper Cloth Riots’ thus: ‘Towards the close of 1858 the powers of darkness, error and paganism again came into direct collision with Christian truth and social freedom’ (Mateer, 1871, p. 295).

(141) It is another matter that the missionaries were also racist and social-exclusionary themselves. The punishment when an LMS missionary married a local person was expulsion from the society.

(142) Professor Aiyappan accorded the missionaries a formative role in the history of social relations in Kerala: ‘The social legislation against untouchability, the temple entry act and the tenancy acts were the culmination of a long process which really started with the beginnings of westernization of India and the impact of Protestant Christianity’ (Aiyappan, 1965, pp. 8–9).

(143) On the movement led by Narayana Guru and on social change among the Izhava people in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Chandramohan (1981, 1987).

(144) This latter demarcation was one that conservative mainstream Izhava leaders insisted on at one stage of the movement in the twentieth century. When the Izhava leader Sahodaran Aiyappan attempted, in the twentieth century, to introduce inter-caste eating, leaders of the SNDP Yogam said no to the presence of people from the slave castes.

(145) On economic: status and social change among people of the Izhava caste in the second half of the nineteenth century, see Jeffrey (1976), especially ch. 4; for information on the transition from caste to class factors in social change among the Izhava people, see ibid., especially ch. 6.

(146) Chandramohan (1981); interview with P. Govinda Pillai.

(147) Data from Chandramohan (1981).

(148) Cited in Isaac and Tharakan (1986b). On education and social mobility in Travancore at the turn of the century, see Tharakan (1991), pp. 10–11.

(149) See Isaac and Tharakan (1986b) on the impatience of activists of the movement with the strategy and tactics of upper-caste Congressmen and Gandhi on the issue of temple-entry. For a village-level description of the Izhava social-reform movement, see Aiyappan (1965).

(150) Interview, P. Govinda Pillai.

(151) The first Malayalam daily, Deepika, began in 1887, and Malayala Manorama was founded as a weekly in 1890 (Kesavan, 1988, p. 657).

(152) The Memorial said also that this was worse than in Malabar, where persons of the Izhava caste could rise to high positions in the uncovenanted civil services. The reply of the Dewan of Travancore referred to the position of Izhavas as that of ‘confirmed social inferiors’ (Chandramohan, 1981). On the Malayalee Memorial, see Jeffrey (1978); on class aspects of the Memorial, see Prabhash (1994).

(153) P. Govinda Pillai, interview. See also Govinda Pillai (1994), in which he discusses the contrast between Kerala and Bengal in this regard.

(154) On this phase, see Isaac and Tharakan (1986b) and Isaac (1985).

(155) In a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1928, the General Secretary of the SNDP Yogam said, of the Izhava people and people of other oppressed castes, that ‘their own self-interest demands them to cast their lot with the British Government and not with a caste Hindu oligarchy under whom they suffered untold miseries for thousands of years. The presence of these classes in the Council will he a source of strength to Government and will have a sobering effect on the political visionary and the nationalist enthusiast crying himself hoarse at the top of his voice for the expulsion of the Englishman from India’ (Kunjuraman, 1928, p. 255).

(156) Isaac (1985). On the influence of the movement of the people of the oppressed castes and of the temple-entry movement on agricultural workers' movements and consciousness, see Jose George (1980).

(157) On the social-reform movement among the Pulaya people, see Saradamoni (1980) and Alex George (1990). On obstacles before Pulaya liberation, see also Tharakan (1991).

(158) Scholars' accounts differ on whether it took place in 1914 or 1915; the correct year appears to be 1914.

(159) On village-level organizations of people of oppressed castes and their role in the struggle for civil liberties and education, see Joseph (1992). On the role of education in social mobility among the oppressed castes, see Leela Kumari (1994), Kusalakumari (1994), and Ashley Mathew (1994).

(160) On the political and social history of the Nayars in the nineteenth century, focused on Travancore, the standard work is Jeffrey (1976).

(161) Reviewing events in Travancore, a British administrator wrote in 1812 that ‘many of the Nairs are now reduced to the necessity of working for their subsistence, a circumstance which they regard as an intolerable hardship …’ (Fort St. George, 1812).

(162) In order to gain clout from numbers, Nayar organizations attempted to unify 116 castes identified in the 1901 Census into a single caste category (Tharakan, 1991, p. 7).

(163) On caste-tike observances among Syrian Christians, see Tharakan (1991) and Jeffrey (1976), ch. 2; see also Jeffrey (1976), ch. 7 on Syrian Christian efforts against discrimination in employment and on Syrian Christian community organizations in the late nineteenth century. On Nadar social reform, see Hardgrave (1969); on socio-religious reform movements among Muslims in Kerala and their distinct features, see Kabir (1994).

(164) Robin Jeffrey's descriptions of caste factionalism and palace intrigues provide a flavour of events in this regard in the second half of the nineteenth century (Jeffrey, 1976).

(165) See Namboodiripad (1984), p. 207.

(166) See Meera Velayudhan's (1992) interview with Kalikutty Asatty, a proletarian and social and political activist who went from the SNDP Yogam to the Communist Party and worked in the trade union and women's movements.

(167) On school teachers as organizers of the Malabar movement, see Namboodiripad (1984, 1994b), Gopalan (1974), Karat (1977), Nayanar (1982), Nambiar (1982), pp. 102ff.; Jeffrey (1992), pp. 69ff. On the radical student movement, its role in fighting caste, its role in the freedom movement and against autocracy, see Jeffrey (1992). pp. 59ff.; see also Bhaskaran (1992).

(168) See Namboodiripad (1994b), Nossiter (1982), pp. 121–2.

(169) Isaac and Mohana Kumar (1991). See also Namboodiripad (1984) and, for an assessment of Kerala's development that highlights the role of the left and of public policy in the modern period, Franke and Chasin (1992).

(170) See, for instance, Namboodiripad (1976, 1984, 1994b); Nayanar (1982); Gopalan (1974); T.V. Krishnan (1971); K.C. George (1975); Karat (1973, 1977); Gopalankutty (1978).

(171) See, in this context, Nambiar (1982) on socio-political movements in North Malabar after 1934, and Gopalankutty (1978, 1981, 1989, n.d.).

(172) For a summary of the range of activities of the left women's movement in Kerala, see AIDWA (1994), pp. 44–86,

(173) On these issues, see AIDWA (1994), Duvvury (1994a), Karat (1994), Mukherjee and Isaac (1994), Franke and Chasin (1989), ch. 11, Surendran (1993), Roy (1994), Saradamoni (1994a and b), Rachel Kumar (1994), and contributions to A.K.G. Centre for Research and Studies (1994a–f). See also the reports and analyses (e.g. Leela Menon, 1992 and Parvathi Menon, 1992) at the time of the appalling putrakameshti yaga, or mass Hindu ritual for the birth of male children, held in Cochin in 1992.

(174) ‘The demands of class organizations were not confined to issues of land and wages alone … they were also concerned with the social provisioning of many basic needs as well as with a variety of social and cultural issues. Left-led governments in Kerala set new paradigms of radical redistributive state policies. Class organizations succeeded in implementing land reform, improving the level of wages and conditions of work, and strengthening a radical sense of self-respect and awareness among the people’ (Isaac, 1994, p. 58).

(175) See Krishnan (1991), Zachariah (1994). Zachariah writes that ‘much of Kerala's success in moderating fertility and mortality in such a short span … was due to the policies which successive governments in Kerala followed since independence’ (p. 94).

(176) Health expenditure has risen steadily from the early sixties, and Krishnan's estimates indicate that an important feature of the health system in Kerala is the rise in private medical expenditure since the mid-seventies (see Table 30), Remittances from emigrant Malayalees are likely to have played a key role in this development, and in the general expansion of health expenditures (Krishnan, 1991, pp. 33ff.).

(TABLE 30.) Rate of Growth of Per-capita Health Expenditure in Kerala

(in per cent)

Year

Government

Private

Total

1961–2 to 1973–4

1.4

1.9

1.9

1973–4 to 1986–7

2.5

4.9

4.1

Source. Krishnan (1991), p. 32, Table 8.

(177) There are sub-centres below the PHC, serving populations of 5,000 each (2,500 in hill regions); the personnel here are one female and one male multipurpose health worker. The Sixth Plan envisaged establishing one Community Health Centre (CHC) for every 100,000 persons in the population. A CMC is a 30-bed hospital with specialized medical services in gynaecology, paediatrics, and general surgery and medicine.

(178) ‘Government education has particularly directed its efforts towards the education of children in the first four standards. … The [Catholic] Church's activity, on the contrary, is concentrated more on higher and secondary education’ (Houtart and Lemercinier, 1974, pp. 150–1). The authors point out that that was also the case with respect to private non-Catholic organizations.

(179) On the relative backwardness of Malabar in respect of medical facilities, see Kabir and Krishnan (1991) and Jeffrey (1992), pp. 25ff. On changes in health achievements in Malabar, see Krishnan (1985) and Kabir and Krishnan (1991); see also Caldwell (1986).