Tales of Deprivation Underneath Records of Success: the multi-faceted complexities involved in human development initiatives – a case from Kerala, India

Verghese, Bindu P (2009). "Tales of Deprivation Underneath Records of Success: the multi-faceted complexities involved in human development initiatives – a case from Kerala, India" Paper presented at the 6th annual conference of the HDCA, 10-12 September 2009, Lima, Peru.

This paper is an attempt to critically analyse and bring into foci the problems involved in the much celebrated Kerala development model from a human development perspective. It raises concerns over not only the development pattern adopted by the state but also identifies the opaqueness of empirical data assigned with the task of unveiling the state’s achievements. The situation of tribes in Kerala is explored here from the perspective of their capableness to participate in the mainstream social and political life in order to identify areas of serious disparity in a comparative perspective with that of the wider society. An in depth analysis of empirical data pertaining to the condition of tribes is undertaken to examine the effectualness of the general approach assumed from within a theoretical account of human development and to locate the inherent problems associated with such an approach. The nature of problems may vary, depending upon the context, from methods adopted while implementing the welfare programs to the nature of the programmes as such from a broader perspective taking into consideration the social, cultural, traditional and geographical factors and differences specific to the target community. The conventional social indicators of education, health, employment and other livelihood opportunities are significant to the extent they can provide useful insights concerning the overall situation and particularly the reasons, causes and other factors involved in the marginalisation, if any, of a particular community. These are precisely the indicators that are crucial to substantiate and to make a community capable of participating in the larger decision making process. With respect to tribes in Kerala attainments in this regard together with relevant background details provides one with a dismal portrait that has resulted from lack of a perspective to sufficiently consider the specificities associated with these backward groups. The paper discusses these issues with the support of primary and secondary data and field observations pertaining to the living conditions of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes1 in Thrissur district, in the central part of Kerala. The disparities embedded within the mainstream approaches towards capability building/empowerment initiatives cutting across differences of sex (gender) and race (tribes) is the focal point here. Hence the issues raised in this paper cuts across the geographical parameters irrespective of confining the discussion here to the glaring ‘Kerala model for social and human development’. Kerala has received worldwide attention for its remarkable achievements in literacy, life expectancy, fertility level and other social indicators of development with relatively low per capita income (Centre for Development Studies 1975; Jeffrey 1992; Patnaik 1995). This ‘high profile performance’ of the state in terms of living standards owes to several factors that are specific to its history and culture. Government policies pertaining to land reforms, health and education and their successful implementation have played very crucial roles in framing conditions that are conducive to such a remarkable growth in the domain of human development (Oomen 1979; Panikar and Soman 1984; Kurien 1995; Ramachandran 1996). Public investment in human capital and its efficient utilization have also been other major sources behind this achievement which in turn has provided useful lessons for other states (Raj 1998). Against the back ground of this ‘central tendency’ of the Kerala experience, where human development is considered to be very high in general, there exist some ‘outliers’ in development whose living standard is far below the general standard of living in Kerala. The fishing community constitutes one such instance of an ‘outlier’ where the apparent specificity of the Kerala development experience i.e., low income and high standards of life is starkly absent and the general and positive relationship between low income and poor living conditions again recur amidst celebrations in the name of the former (Kurien, 1995). There are other marginalized groups to whom the benefits of development have hardly trickled down. Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes consist of majority of this deprived section in the state. The social and economic condition of the people belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes has been a source of major concern of the Indian political and social movements even before Independence. Article 46 of the constitution lays down that “the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.” Low level of living among a major section of people belonging to these groups have been, and still continues to be, a pre dominant concern and a subject matter for intense discussions and debates since early 1960s. (Kattakayam 1983; Luiz 1962; Kunhaman 1982; and Lal 2000).
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