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Development Policy and the Nature of Society: Understanding the Kerala Model

The quality of life is usually measured by three interrelated dimensions such as the human development index, the human freedom index, and the human distress profile. In Kerala, in spite of high HDI, the rates of suicide, crime, drug addiction, unemployment, etc, are high compared to other states. This essay argues that a high quality of life should register a high HDI, the maximum HFI and minimum HDP. It is necessary to work towards this complex objective if Kerala wants to sustain its claim to a high quality of life.


Development Policy and the Nature of Society: Understanding the Kerala Model

T K Oommen

And yet, diametrically opposite articulations are made about linking state and nation/society. Let me illustrate it by r ecalling the views of two British authors. J S Mill held: “It is in general, a necessary condition of free institutions that the boundaries of government should coincide with those of nationality…” (cited in Smith

The quality of life is usually measured by three interrelated dimensions such as the human development index, the human freedom index, and the human distress profile. In Kerala, in spite of high HDI, the rates of suicide, crime, drug addiction, unemployment, etc, are high compared to other states. This essay argues that a high quality of life should register a high HDI, the maximum HFI and minimum HDP. It is necessary to work towards this complex objective if Kerala wants to sustain its claim to a high quality of life.

This is a revised version of the text of the keynote address delivered on 5 November 2008, at Thiruvananthapuram for the national seminar on “State and Society in South India”, organised by the Institute of Parliamentary Affairs, Government of Kerala.

T K Oommen is emeritus professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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march 28, 2009

tates and societies always existed; if societies are viewed as products of gradual evolution, states are believed to be consciously constituted structures for regulating the behaviour of the relevant population as and when required. Although some western anthropologists preferred to refer to tribes as “stateless societies”, it is a conceptual nullity in that all societies have had legitimised authority structures. They manifested in a wide variety of forms – tribal chiefs, council of elders, ecclesiastical heads, emperors, monarchs, dynasties, city-states, partystates and democratic states. If states represented all segments of societies and catered to their welfare, there cannot be any tension between the two, but the lack of fit between them did exist for a long time and persist till this day.

1 Introduction

It is widely acknowledged that the effort

to establish isomorphism between state

and society began only 360 years ago,

when the Peace of Westphalia gave birth

to the institution of the nation state. Ever

since that as Zygmunt Bauman, the Polish

social scientist, had aptly observed “...with

hardly any exception, all the concepts and

analytical tools currently employed by so

cial scientists are geared to a view of the

human world in which the most volumi

nous totality is a ‘society’, a notion equiva

lent for all practical purposes, to the con

cept of nation state’’ (1973: 78).

I suggest that the conflation of society

and nation state sowed the seeds of initial

confusion. Gradually, the institution of the

nation state came to be endorsed as an

ideal and nation state and state became

equivalents. Thus the conflation of society

and nation state and hyphenation of nation

and state are the twin sources of the

p revailing conceptual confusions and much

of the societal tensions in the world today.

vol xliv no 13

1971: 9). But Lord Acton differed violently: “Nationality does not aim at either liberty or prosperity, both of which it sacrifices to the imperative necessity of making the nation the mould and measure of the state; its course will be marked with material and moral ruin” (ibid: 9). I can go on with this exercise of recalling both positive and negative pronouncements regarding linking the state and the nation and its consequences. But this excurses will not be helpful in arriving at a consensus.

And as Tilly (1994: 137) reports “only a tiny proportion of the world’s distinctive religious, linguistic and cultural groupings have formed their own states, while precious few of the world’s existing states have approximated the homogeneity and commitment conjured up by the label ‘ nation state’ ’’. This is also true of west E urope, the cradle of nation states. Independent India, after some initial hesitation, decided to reconstitute its politicoadministrative units on linguistic basis. This was based on the recommendations of the State Reorganisation Commission (SRC) which submitted its report in 1956. This was indeed a giant leap forward in improving the governability of India. At the time of the reorganisation of the states in the 1950s, two broad views were articulated. One view was that the unity of India must not be imposed but must be a fundamental unity recognising its social pluralities and cultural diversity; the strength of Indian Union must be the strength that it derives from its constituent units, an approximation of J S Mill’s view and an implicit endorsement of the idea of a multinational state. The other view was that in the past, India had not been an integrated political unit and so the effort should be to create a united India; the new concept of unity cannot be based on the reaffirmation or re-enunciation of old values such as religion and language which are divisive rather than cohesive. Therefore, the

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unity of India should transcend community (read religion) and language and recognise the nation as one integrated unit. This view reflects an acknowledgement of Lord Acton’s position and endorses the homogenisation project of nation states.

However, Indian political praxis does not neatly fit either of these positions. Both empirical reality and political expediency called for a cautious approach. There are four important bases of sociocultural identity in India – religion, caste, tribe and language. Of these, the first two are not viable for the formation of politicoadministrative units (see Oommen 2005: 142-52) and language and tribe are a ccepted as the basis for the formation of provincial states.

The purpose of this short conceptual theoretical excurses is to suggest that there is an enormous gap between the empirical reality of India and the concept of nation state. Therefore, it is appropriate to designate India as a multinational state. But even those who used to invoke the notion in the past have abandoned it because it is not viewed as politically correct any more. Perhaps, the disintegration of multinational socialist states and the emergence of mononational states in their place has accelerated the process of rejecting the notion of multinational state. As I see it there exists a conceptual vacuum created by (1) the lack of fit between the concept of nation state and the empirical reality, and (2) the delegitimation of the idea of multinational state. However, there is no serious efforts made in political theory to grapple with this issue (see Oommen 1997, for an exception).

If India’s complex empirical reality cannot be denoted by the concept of nation state, and if the notion of multinational state is no more in vogue, what is an appropriate designation for India? Charles Tilly’s coinage, namely, national state, seems to be helpful. However, his definition of national states as “…relatively centralised, differentiated and autonomous organisations successfully claiming priority in the use of force within large, contiguous and clearly bounded territories” (1990: 43) fits more the bureaucratic structures of states and completely ignores the emotional appeal implied in the idea of nation. Further, national states are viewed

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as transitory structures; they are nation states-in-the-making in Tilly’s rendition, which does not fit in the Indian reality. Therefore, I have suggested that national states should be viewed as entities which do not simply accommodate, but consciously c elebrate cultural diversities in contrast to nation states which are perpetually e ngaged in creating monocultural states. This would require the coexistence of federal political structures along with social and cultural diversities (see Oommen 2008: 21-36). The essence of federalism lies not in the constitutional or institutional structures but in the society itself. The federal government is a device through which the federal qualities of the society are articulated and protected (Livingston 1966). On the other hand, what Smith (1979) designated as “methodological n ationalism” an offshoot of treating n ation states as the ultimate units of a nalysis is utterly unsuited for comprehending Indian social reality. This provides the methodo logical justification to treat India’s pro vincial states as units of analysis to understand their differing policies and the impact they make on their r espective societies.

2 State and Society in South India

The expression state usually connotes a

sovereign state and the entity designated

as south India does not have one, it exists

within the Republic of India, which is a

sovereign state. South India, however, has

six politico-administrative units, four pro

vincial states and two union territories.

On the other hand, south India is more a

geographical entity than a society. In fact,

it contains at least four major societies –

Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayali – if

language is invoked as the basis of society.

To put it pithily south India is encapsulat

ed within a sovereign state and it consists

of several societies.

The states of south India have different

“regime types”, to recall the phrase from

the theme paper, which differ in their value

orientation, seen in terms of the political

parties in power. For example, Tamil

n ationalist parties were/are in power in

Tamil Nadu for quite sometime; a national

ist p arty (Telugu Desam) and an all-India

transnational party have been alternatively

in power latterly in Andhra Pradesh; two

vol xliv no 13

coalitions both of which contains all-India parties have been in power alternatively in Kerala too and an all-India Hindu nationalist party (Bharatiya Janata Party) dislodged the Congress Party from power, recently in Karnataka. This being so one has to u ndertake comparative studies of the provincial states of south India to unfold the relationship between regime types, policy v ariations and the consequent development trajectories.

The theme paper poses a significant question: “Are the variations in policy outcomes a product of difference in regime type alone?” And, it also makes a claim: “The presence of a strong Left movement in Kerala and its assumption of office has made serious inroads in the caste-feudal system in the state and paved the way for the democratisation of the society with significant welfare components….No

o ther state in south India could legitimately claim parentage of social transformation of such a magnitude”. However, available articulations on this theme pull in opposite directions. For example, while Kohli (1987) argues that regime types are crucial in contributing to the welfare of the poor, Vyas and Bhargava (1995: 2559-72) have found that no causal connection between regime type and poverty alleviation can be firmly established. On the other hand, Harris (2006: 135-68) seems to s uggest that the very idea of regime type is ambiguous because (a) even as the same party is in power in two states, their achievements are uneven, and (b) the same political party may be compelled to follow different policy packages in different states they rule, due to local variations and political pressures. He seems to suggest that regional factors account for the differences. But the notion of “region” seems to be inappropriate to establish the relationship between policy initiatives, r egime type and development outcomes in south India, because while the states and societies of south India vary considerably, although they belong to the same “region”.

To answer the question posed and to e xplicate the claim made in the theme p aper one needs to resort to at least one of the two methodological devices. One, compare two “societies” of south India with differing regime types but have


Table 1: Disparities – States and Social Categories*

rural areas, five for urban Bengal and Tamil Nadu comes in between.

India Kerala Tamil Nadu

West Bengal Composite Composite Ranking Composite Ranking Composite Ranking areas, six for SCs, four for However, the disparity between the SCs Index Index Index Index

STs and four for non-SCs/ and STs on the one hand, and the general

Rural areas 2005

STs. The ranking for the population on the other, persists in all the

33.97 72.57 1 58.27 4 36.98 13 Urban areas 2005other two south Indian cases, but the worst in the case of West

44.84 67.49 2 53.26 5 51.40 8

states are as follows – Bengal which also indicates that the

Scheduled castes 2001

Andhra Pradesh: rural achievement of equity is not necessarily

24.89 61.55 1 37.22 6 29.52 11 Scheduled tribes 2001a reas nine, urban areas a ccelerated by the regime type. The situa

19.56 50.24 1 30.06 4 19.03 12

11, SCs nine, STs nine and tion of West Bengal, as compared with that

Non-SCs/STs 2001

non-SCs/STs 10; Karnata-of Kerala and Tamil Nadu is also adverse in

34.38 68.02 1 47.62 4 36.75 11

* Data presented are taken from H M Mathur, ed. (2008). Composite Index is worked out ka: rural areas six, urban eradicating poverty as shown in Table 2. based on six component indices – demography, healthcare, basic amenities, education, economic deprivation and social deprivation – and the Aggregate Index as obtained by areas 12, SCs eight, STs India’s rural-urban disparity is proverrange equalisation method for 20 large states.

five, and for non-SCs/STs, bial. But in the case of Kerala, there is

eight. If so one can con-hardly any difference: The very poor and achieved more or less the same magnitude clude that the differences both in regime poor together make 35.10% in rural and of social transformation, or at least, are types and societal types could have con-34.58% in urban areas. In the case of Tamil moving in the same direction. If social jointly produced the variations in rankings. Nadu, the figures are 45.32% for rural and transformation is discerned through social I have noted above that as for regime 58.45% for urban; the situation is reverse development indices, Kerala and Tamil type West Bengal is not only similar, but in that the presence of poor is 13% more in Nadu have comparable achievement even stronger seen in terms of the pres-urban areas. In contrast, in West Bengal d irections, although Kerala’s achievement ence of Leftist movement and government the rural-urban disparity is steep; 54.49% level is far higher. But their regime types as compared to Kerala. And yet, the rank-of the people in rural areas are poor as drastically vary. Tamil Nadu did not have ings West Bengal obtained are below all compared with 29.89% poor in urban a strong Left movement and a Left govern-the south Indian states and far below than a reas making for a difference of 25% more ment did not ever come to power there. that of Kerala as is evident from Table 1. poor in rural areas which is far worse than For the past 45 years Tamil Nadu has been The rankings obtained by West Bengal even the all-India situation wherein the governed by Tamil nationalist parties. If are: rural areas 13, urban areas eight, SCs difference is only 5 %. different regime types can produce proxi-11, STs 12 and non-SCs/STs 11 among the 20 I would also like to note here that the mate magnitude of social transformation, large states of India. Incidentally, the only disparity in the socio-economic condition one cannot causally link social transfor-other state with similar regime type is of the largest religious minority in India, mation with regime type. Tripura which ranks eighth out of the nine namely, Muslims and the Hindus, is

The second methodological device is to smaller states about which rankings are much more in the case of West Bengal as compare two societies with similar regime provided in the report

Table 2: Estimates of Very Poor and Poor in the Rural Areas and Urban Areastype. If the magnitude of their social under reference. There- in 1993-94 (in percentage to population)*

Rural Urban

transformation is more or less the same, fore, it can be concluded

State Very Poor Poor Total Very Poor Poor Total

then one can legitimately attribute it to unequivocally that the

India 15.26 37.23 52.49 14.85 32.28 47.13

the regime type. The only state other than three states with similar

Kerala 9.42 25.68 35.10 10.08 24.50 34.58

Kerala in India with a strong (in fact, regime type – Kerala,

Tamil Nadu 12.67 32.55 45.32 18.67 39.78 58.45 stronger) Leftist movement and an unin-West Bengal and Tripura West Bengal 13.62 40.87 54.49 7.51 22.38 29.89 terrupted Leftist regime since 1977, i e, for – vary vastly in the * Taken from Mehta and Shepherd, ed. (2006), p 276.

the past three decades, is West Bengal. m agnitude and quality

Table 3: Hindu-Muslim Disparities*

Logically, the magnitude and the quality of social transformation Rural MPCE 2004-05 Urban MPCE 2004-05 Kerala Tamil Nadu West Bengal Kerala Tamil Nadu West Bengal

of social transformation in West Bengal achieved by them. If so

Hindus 970 597 610 1,363 1,166 1,214

should be much bigger and better as com-one has to look outside

Muslims 968 724 501 1,081 1,020 748

pared with that of Kerala, if regime type is the ambit of regime type

Rural Literacy Levels (%) Urban Literacy Levels (%)

the causal factor. to understand the mag-

Hindus 89 65 67 93 82 84

Keeping these considerations in mind, nificent achievement of

Muslims 89 79 56 91 84 66 let me bring to your attention the rankings Kerala with regard to the MPCE: Monthly Per Capita Consumption Expenditure

*Data presented are adapted from Government of India, 2006.

obtained by the south Indian states as re-human or social developported in India: Social Development Report ment indices. But before I do that let me compared with that of Tamil Nadu and 2008. Kerala ranks one with regard to rural make a couple of general comments. Kerala as is evident from a recent report of areas, scheduled castes (SCs) and sched-The data presented in Table 1 refers to the government of India. uled tribes (STs) and non-SCs/STs and two rural-urban spaces irrespective of social The data presented in Table 3 reveal that for urban areas for the whole of India. categories. Of the three states compared, there is hardly any disparity with regard to Tamil Nadu comes second among the south rural-urban disparity is the least in the case monthly per capita consumption expendi-Indian states and its rankings are four for of Kerala, it is the most in the case of West ture and literacy levels between Hindus

28 march 28, 2009 vol xliv no 13


and Muslims in Kerala. As for Tamil Nadu the condition of Muslims is a shade better than that of Hindus. In contrast, the Hindu-Muslim disparity is considerable in West Bengal. Given this clinching evidence with regard to the r ural poor, SCs, STs and Muslims in West Bengal, one can conclude that there is no relationship between regime type and the welfare of weaker sections in society. Incidentally, the empirical evidence also contradicts the familiar argument that stability of regime type is a prerequisite for rapid economic development in a particular direction. While West Bengal had stable regime type for the past three decades, Kerala’s regime type varied intermittently. This being so it is necessary to explain the Kerala exceptionalism.

3 Social Transformation in Kerala

Kerala is widely acclaimed for its high quality of life, measured in terms of a few select human/social development indices. Even if one endorses the description as correct the causal explanation is faulty. If Left movements and the Left governments are accepted as the prime movers of social transformation one cannot explain why West Bengal and Tripura are lagging behind in terms of the indicators of human/ social development? Similarly, available evidence does not support the frequently made claim that the Left movement initiated people’s protest, making inroads into the caste-feudal structure of Kerala society. In fact, the first set of popular protests were rooted in identity politics and not class politics, the bulwark of Left politics.

The Ezhava Memorial of 1896, the formation of Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalanam in 1903 and the Sahodara Prasthanam initiated in 1917 were all revolutionary stirrings of Ezhavas, who were groaning under the oppressive caste system. That there was a small elite among them was a facilitating factor. Thus Ramakrishna P illai, widely hailed as a political rebel of Kerala, who incessantly interrogated the style of functioning of the Travancore monarchy, wrote in Keralan, the Malayalam journal, in 1904 supporting the demand for the a dmission of Ezhava children into the state-run schools thus: “The disabilities faced by Ezhavas, who make a substantial contribution to the economy of the state, should be reduced to the extent it is the responsibility of the government. It is our considered opinion that those castes (read Ezhavas), which have the requisite cleanliness, etc, should be taught along with

o thers (read ritually clean caste Hindus) as per government rules (cited in Raghavan 1979). That is, Ramakrishna Pillai, a Nair by caste, supported the admission of E zahva children because of the economic standing and ritual cleanliness of that caste. In contrast, he opposed the admission of untouchable children into schools through his writing on 2 March 1910 in Swadeshabhimani, the journal he edited, “To mix those castes which were cultivating their intellect for generations and those castes who were cultivating fields for centuries, is like yoking together the horse and the buffalo” (cited in Chentharasseri 1979: 73).

It is also of great importance to recall here that the first revolt by agricultural

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    workers was organised in 1907-08 in the Travancore region by Ayyankali (18631941) who belonged to the untouchable Pulaya caste much before the Leftist movement crystallised. It should be underlined that (a) the strike was organised by the Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham, an association of depressed castes to fight for the eradication of untouchability; (b) those who participated in the strike were demanding the right of admission for untouchable children in government schools and not demanding better wages, stipulated working hours, etc, the usual demands of agrarian proletariat; and (c) the then existed caste-class congruence meant that agricultural workers were drawn a lmost entirely from the ex-untouchables.

    The purpose of referring to Ramakrishna Pillai’s opposition to untouchable children’s entry into schools is to highlight the fact that even political radicals of those days were socially conservative. While one cannot ignore the sterling contributions made by him to fight against monarchy and for the depressed castes, the anticolonial movement paled into significance because of the social stigmatisation they were subjected to. Understandably, the celebrated Ezhava poet, Kumaran Asan, pertinently remarked in 1920 “It was social oppression that the people of this state (i e, Travancore) experienced more than political oppression” (cited in Balram 1973: 39).

    The points I want to make at this juncture are the following. One, given the vice grip of caste in the Kerala society of early 20th century a cultural revolt was a prerequisite for the political mobilisation of the depressed classes. Two, that cultural revolt in Kerala was initiated by the Ezhavas and Pulayas, two numerically large depressed castes. Three, although economic exploitation was rampant as the exploiters were drawn predominantly from the upper castes, crystallisation of class consciousness did not occur. Four, the cultural revolts by lower castes were a prerequisite for the initiation and success of Leftist movements (see, Oommen 1985) in Kerala. This being so to attribute the transformation of Kerala’s caste-feudal structures to Leftist movements and governments alone is an unsustainable retreat into the present. Kerala’s social history is at variance with this claim.

    Having acknowledged the achievements of Kerala as compared with other states with similar regime type (for example, West Bengal and Tripura) it is necessary to identify the specificities which can explain Kerala’s high human/social development indices. It is well known that Kerala ranks at the top among the Indian states based on sex-ratio, level of literacy, life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, maternity mortality rate and the like. As I have already noted, West Bengal with the same regime type is precariously proximate to the Bimaru states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh), the states with the lowest human development index (HDI) ratings. This being so the “political” ex planation does not help. Some suggest that Kerala’s low level of economic development in spite of high HDI is due to the insufficient supply of local industrial entrepreneurs or the inability to attract outsiders to invest in Kerala because of the persisting labour unrest. But Gujarat which provides a high proportion of India’s entrepreneurs had 39% of its population below the poverty line in 2001, the corresponding figure for Kerala being 31%. Therefore, the economic explanation also does not help understand the better performance of Kerala.

    The Kerala model is flaunted around the world in the name of quality of life which actually is a conjoint product of s everal factors and forces. But let me also administer a caution here. Those who are familiar with the history of measuring quality of life know that there are three interrelated dimensions: (1) HDI, (2) human freedom index (HFI), and (3) human distress profile (HDP). When one surveys the contemporary world situation in terms of quality of life, one can see a strong correlation between HDI and HFI. But there seems to be an inverse relationship between these two on the one hand, and HDP on the other (see, Oommen 1992: 141-72). This is true of Kerala too. For example, in spite of an appreciable HDI, Kerala’s rates of suicide, crime, drug addiction, missing persons, unemployment, etc, are high as compared with other Indian states. A realistic claim for high quality of life should register high HDI, maximum HFI and minimum HDP. It is necessary to work towards this complex objective, if Kerala wants to sustain an authentic claim for high quality life. Be that as it may, how can we account for Kerala’s achievements?

    I suggest that the unique development experience of Kerala should be located in its specificities. I shall list nine of them (I dare not make them 10!) for the benefit of those who are enthralled about the Kerala development model. The conjoint impact of these specificities of Kerala c oupled with the pressure exerted on p olitical p arties in power a ccount for the state’s achievements.

    Kerala’s linguistic homogeneity is a great facilitator of the spread of school e ducation; 98% of the residents of Kerala are native speakers of Malayalam. This makes the spread of literacy easy and

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    c ommunication smooth which are imperatives for development.

    Although unilingual, Kerala is utterly multi-religions. But the fact that Christianity in Kerala is pre-colonial and Islam preconquest, these religions do not lend themselves for easy stigmatisation as transplants of colonialism and conquest, respectively, a tendency in vogue, particularly in north I ndia. This facilitates their participation in the process of development and accrue l egitimate share of benefits.

    The early establishment of institutions of education and health by Christian missionaries had a demonstration effect on other groups. Witness the enthusiasm of Nairs, Ezhavas and Muslims to establish such institutions. Kerala’s communal and caste groups have pursued competitive politics to achieve secular goals.

    The absence of the Vaishya element in Kerala’s varna-jati system rendered entrepreneurship a caste-neutral phenomenon, prompting Syrian Christians, Nairs and Ezhavas to enter the fields of industry, trade and commerce.

    The proverbial rural-urban dichotomy between Anglostan and Hindustan, also christened as India and Bharat, is totally absent in Kerala. The rural-urban continuum of Kerala facilitates appropriate location and optimum utilisation of infrastructural facilities.

    The proclivity of Malayalee for spatial mobility and the inclination to settle down in different parts of India and the world, coupled with the habit of repatriating one’s savings back home is an important source of capital for Kerala. Truly, Kerala’s is a substantial “post-office economy”.

    The ubiquitous presence of the printed word and the press, lately reinforced by the electronic medium in Kerala is almost unparalleled in the social history of India; for example, Malayala Manorama newspaper and its magazines have the highest circulation among the Indian language publications although Malayalam is only the ninth major language of India. The role played by drama and Harikatha e arlier and socially sensitive literature and cinema now needs to be highlighted in Kerala’s social transformation.

    The crystallisation of two firm “secular” political blocks provides the much needed political equilibrium for democracy in Kerala.

    Economic & Political Weekly

    march 28, 2009

    This checks excesses and prompts innova

    tions on the part of both the blocks which is

    in sharp contrast to the situation in West Ben

    gal. Therefore, the proclivity to attribute the

    success of Kerala exclusively to one of the

    p olitical blocks is unsustainable.

    Finally, and perhaps, most importantly,

    Kerala had and continues to have a move

    ment society par excellence; not only

    p olitical, but also social, cultural and en

    vironmental movements. I have already

    referred to the cultural revolts by de

    pressed castes in early 20th century which

    were precursors for class mobilisations

    later. Also, recall mobilisations for spread

    of literacy, library, scientific temper and

    the stalling of the Silent Valley Project,

    perhaps the first successful movement in

    India for the protection of environment.

    The rights of low caste women to cover

    their breasts, the low caste men to keep

    moustaches, hutments for agricultural

    workers just to mention a few, were all

    won through protests and mobilisations.

    4 Conclusion

    I want to conclude this paper by providing a

    quick and short explanation as to why facile

    claims remain unchallenged in I ndian social

    science. It has to do with the question: who

    produces and disseminates knowledge and

    for whose benefit? Gender and class bias in

    the production and dissemination of social

    scientific knowledge is widely recognised.

    But ideological p rejudice is not readily ac

    knowledged b ecause each ideological camp

    steadfastly holds that it is the upholder of

    ultimate truth. The very idea of objectivity

    is stigmatised in contemporary social sci

    ence. I am not referring to value-neutrality

    at all; it is absolutely necessary that our dis

    course should be value-informed. Objectivi

    ty in social science can only mean intra-sub

    jectivity or inter-subjectivity which can only

    lead to what I have designated as “parti

    cularising objectivity” as against “generalis

    ing objectivity” in material and life s ciences

    (see, Oommen 2007: 8-12). There are also

    biases based on our disciplines; we are all

    victims of what T Veblen evocatively phrased

    as “trained incapacity”.

    But there is a problem specific to India. In

    our hallowed tradition, brahmin males were

    the only accredited producers and commu

    nicators of knowledge; the kshatriyas and

    vaishyas could be consumers of knowledge

    vol xliv no 13

    but the vast majority of the population, including upper caste women, was proscribed from even consuming knowledge. In spite of all the changes that occurred in Indian society, the vice grip of tradition continues with regard to the production of knowledge resulting in a cognitive blackout of the wretched of the Indian Earth. The view from above should be supplemented with a perspective from below (ibid: 94-108) which would at least partly remedy the prevailing distorted understanding of Indian social reality. That is, we need to overcome gender, class, ideological, disciplinary, communal and caste biases to equip ourselves with the capacity to produce authentic knowledge.


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