ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Remembering M Kunhaman (1949–2023)

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Approaching a subject of models and equations through systematically studying them and then teaching it to others is a major exercise undertaken by economists. In this exercise, there are very few who dare to bring in the question of caste. B R Ambedkar was one such figure, who is no more with us; then, we had M Kunhaman, who leaves behind a legacy of his own, which none of us can dare to imitate. This is a short reflection that tries to delve into the life and works of Kunhaman who continues to teach and mould a bunch of economists despite his physical departure from this world. Most importantly, what Kunhaman sir (although he hated people calling him “sir,” especially students) leaves behind is the need of dissent in a world where voices are made voiceless.

In a highly penetrating study titled “The Tribal Economy of Kerala: An Intra-Regional Analysis” (EPW, 16 March 1985), Kunhaman talks about the dialectics of change that was then happening to the tribal economy, and alleges economic planners and economists of using tribals just for their anthropological and sociological study without really understanding the dynamics of the tribal economy. Through his study on intra-regional variations in the levels of socio-economic development of the hill tribes of Kerala, Kunhaman opens a larger economy to the world of economists who otherwise continue to enjoy the privilege of armchair intellectualism. He starts his study by informing his readers about the history of economic evolution of the hill tribes in Kerala that shows significant regional variations. He finds that in Travancore, the course of evolution took a different turn from that of either Malabar or Kochi, largely due to different protective policy measures.

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