Kerala of my Dreams
Prof. Babu Joseph of the Rajaji Forum, a think tank, asked me to write on “Kerala of my dreams”. I accepted with enthusiasm, but on starting to write, I realized the difficulty of saying something on such a broad topic without sounding too vague and simplistic.
Kerala is the southern most state in India with exceptionally high levels in many human development indices. It rose to magnificent heights of selflessness and service during the floods of 2018: should we dream of a Kerala where this streak of altruism shines through at all times when each one of us feels the pain and concern of others at all times?
We heard of villages taking up a collection to enable a poor student to listen to online classes by providing a cheap TV set and internet connection. But, should we dream of a Kerala where everyone’s needs are taken care of through shared empathy: A Universal Basic Source of Goods and Services!?
Our generation lamented that Kerala does not create wealth through industries; that people have to leave Kerala to find employment and prosperity. The reversal of this through the startup revolution of high technology industries is inspiring. Kerala Start-Up Mission has been heralding many programmes to accelerate the commercialization of innovation through ventures such as the Integrated Startup Complex in Kochi, spread over a large area with dedicated facilities for various tech sectors. Kerala of our dreams should be one where every youngster in every town or village who has an innovative idea is proffered help with management, financial and infrastructural resources like the one in Kochi.
The great universities of the west made us despair of being out of reach except for the very rich. Though we can be proud of our record in achieving high literacy levels, Kerala’s performance in developing Human Resources with the requisite skillsets in the emerging areas of the technological spectrum is relatively weak. Emerging technologies like IoT, AI, Blockchain, Robotics and 3D printing will drive the emerging manufacturing and employment opportunities and make present skill sets obsolete. Should we dream of a Kerala with a few world-class universities which specialize in these and other areas of knowledge?
“What the world can learn from Kerala about how to fight covid-19,” wrote MIT’s Technology Review Magazine praising how the Pathanamthitta Collector P B Nooh responded to the Covid challenge. Nooh is an exception to a generally ambivalent, uncommitted bureaucracy. Is the idea of a Kerala where every administrator is tech-savvy, networked and driven as this young IAS officer unrealistic?
In many developed countries, “U3Age: University of the Third Age” conduct continuing academic programmes aimed at Senior Citizens. Can we hope our universities have the social commitment to continue educating the aged?
A YouTube video (1) presents Homegrown Nursery, the world’s largest fruit orchard, the creation of Jose Jacob of Kanjirapally. Does a dream of a Kerala where every farmer becomes an entrepreneur and rules and regulations do not come in his way of planting what he likes, where he wants in an economically attractive manner make sense? A Kerala where we do not have to be fed by the neighbouring states with their poisoned farm produces.
Kerala’s de-centralized healthcare model is crucial to its success in providing affordable and accessible care. As the State’s population ages rapidly, a policy is already being generated to service this class of the population. Can we dream of a Kerala, where networked healthcare systems provide world-class healthcare from infancy to dotage?
According to the Social Watch Report on Performance of Panchayats in Kerala by the Institute for Sustainable Development and Governance Thiruvananthapuram, (2) the State of Kerala is regarded as one of the forerunners in the process of decentralization in the country. The Kerala decentralization experience is said to have sharpened people’s entitlements and capabilities. It also empowered local Panchayats. It has helped to frame new sets of orders, rules, guidelines, and legislations, landmarks in the jurisprudence of devolution and democratic decentralization. Could we hope to achieve more success in decentralization to enable Kerala to become an icon emulated by other states of India?
A New York Times article (3) hailed Kudumbashree as “A Rare Government Success Story for Women’s Empowerment in Kerala”. In an environment often criticized as lacking commitment to women’s rights, the programme has been a shining example of successful women’s empowerment, both economically and socially. Microenterprises play a vital role in poverty alleviation and socio-economic development of the poor and help bring about equitable and balanced economic development with relatively low capital investment. Many studies show that Kudumbashree Micro-enterprises have demonstrated indications of sustainability. Moreover, a UNIDO report says that the Kudumbashree model manifests unique expertise in community development and poverty eradication, particularly among rural women. We can dream that the idea is further extended to develop a pan Kerala network of Microenterprises to empower more women and unemployed youth.
Kerala has been claiming to promote ecotourism or balanced tourism and has reported substantial tourism earnings. The political ecology of tourism development in the State highlights the powerful nexus between bureaucracy, politicians and the accommodation industry. Claim that Kerala is, indeed, benefiting from tourism has to be balanced against the damage caused to the environment and the social cost of deculturization due to becoming a service provider. Environmental cost to delicate ecologies like the Vembanad lake and the hill areas like Munnar and Wayanad is substantial. Tourism employment makes families dependent on cash income from tourism and less likely to participate in time-honoured work and social activities. This is a real problem in Kerala. The academic community has been largely insensitive to this problem, and the State often pursues policies that aggravate tourism’s harmful impacts. I dream of a Kerala that takes tourism’s environmental and social costs seriously and does not sell itself to the world so desperately.
So there! A panoply of dreams on a strongly melded social structure embellished with enhanced empathy, on enabling gains to flow out of innovation, on the possibility of learning in the best settings, on being served by humane and committed public servants, on farms and orchards which enrich the land and the farmer, on achieving wellness through dedicated caregivers, of wielding political power at the grassroots, of empowered women and youth. Let us hope that all these dreams come true.