By Pavitar Singh: Kerala has a cosmopolitan and composite culture. It is an integral part of Indian culture. The rich cultural heritage of Kerala is a synthesis of Aryan and Dravidian cultures developed over millennia under the influence from other parts of India and abroad. Kerala’s culture is a practical example and an embodiment of tolerance being practiced throughout the state.
Different communities and religious groups live in complete harmony and proper mutual understanding for centuries, assimilating the good things of one another in an eclectic approach as a part of their continuous socialization process and ever evolving rich culture. This unifying phenomenon of blend of tradition and modernity is a living example of tolerating and respecting each other, proving the fact of unity in diversity of highest order.
Hinduism is practised by more than half of the population followed by Islam and Christianity. In comparison with rest of India, Kerala experiences relatively little sectarianism and communalism. Kerala is one of the few places in India where there is no communal disharmony between the different food types. People of all religions share similar culinary habits. Rice is the dominant staple that is eaten at all times of day, being supplemented by various vegetarian and non -vegetarian dishes. The name Kerala (Keralam) is thought to have been derived from Kera (Coconut palm tree) + alam (land or location).
Unlike in many other states the urban-rural divide is not visible in Kerala. People in Kerala are in tune not only with one another but also with Mother Nature helping maintaining the ecological balance, improving and strengthening environment protection implementing the slogan “Pollute and Perish, Conserve and Flourish” in letter and spirit. People in Kerala have a big civic sense. They are highly hygienic in their personal and social life. They are not only highly educated, well cultured but also very well alert and vigilant to the highest level politically, socially, culturally and economically, fully conscious of their rights and duties as citizens of the country. Generally people are avid readers and highly exposed to media specially newspapers.
Democracy is at its best in Kerala so far as the devolution of powers, well knit infrastructure and its functioning is concerned at grassroots level. Forty percent of the budget is directly provided to the Gram Panchayats by the state government for development activities to be taken up as per their decision and choice. MPs and MLAs have no role to play in this direct funding for development activities decided locally by the Gram Panchayats. Others states in India regard Kerala’s decentralization in high esteem. Local Self Government Institutions (LSGIs) have a big and significant role to play in the overall development of the region not only ensuring direct public participation in a transparent manner but also making the people’s representatives more responsible, accountable and objective to the core, observing utmost care and caution in their public dealings. Massive capacity building activities were started under the leadership of Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), Thrissur – the nodal institution in this regard. Kerala has a three- tier structure of Panchayats. There are 1209 LSGs in Kerala spread over 14 Districts having 14 District Panchayats, 152 Block Panchayats and 978 Gram Panchayats for rural areas and 60 Municipal councils and 05 Municipal corporations for urban areas.
Production of pepper and natural rubber in Kerala contributes significantly to the total national output. In the agricultural sector, coconut, tea, coffee, cashew and spices are important. Spices grown in Kerala include pepper, clove, cardamom (small), nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cassia and vanilla. Kerala’s coastline extends for 595 kilometres. It experiences the humid equatorial tropic climate and is still referred as ‘Garden of Spices’ or ‘Spice Garden of India’. Kochi based Coconut Development Board is playing a significant role in making India a global leader in coconut production and Spices Board India in spice trade.
In 1986, the Government of Kerala declared tourism an important industry and it was the first state in India to do so. Kerala became the first state to implement various e-governance initiatives. In 1991, Kerala became the first state in India to be recognized as a completely literate state, though the effective literacy rate at that time was only 90%. According to 2011 Census, Kerala has 93.91% literacy compared to national literacy rate of 74.04%.
Kerala has made phenomenal progress in the Information Technology sector having 100% mobile density, 75% e- literacy, maximum digital banking, broadband connections, e- district project in all 14 Districts linking Aadhar card and bank account have laid a strong foundation for digital Kerala. Based on these indicators, Kerala has been declared to be a completely digital state. Kerala is known to be the land of India’s largest software infrastructure parks.
Kerala is poised to become a total Ayurveda state with the start of Ayurvedic Treatment Centres in all Panchayats. Seventy Seven new permanent centres were started and 68 Ayurveda hospitals were renovated. 110 Homeopathic dispensaries have been started. Quality standard of food items is high in Kerala and “Save Food for Good Health” project is a model for the country. Information is power. In Kerala, people are well informed and updated on almost everything. Kerala really shows the way, it is a light house of development having strong avenues of development and a socially and economically empowered society.
Kerala, best known as “God’s Own Country”, may be termed as a land of loving daughters. Daughters outnumber the sons and it has the highest sex ratio in India being the only state to have the ratio in favour of women at 1084 women per 1000 men as per the 2011 Census. Birth of a girl child is considered to be auspicious and God’s gift in Kerala. In fact, Kerala is the real example of realization of dreams and the embodiment of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (BBBP) campaign launched by the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi on January 22, 2015 at the historical place of Panipat in Haryana.
As a leading state of India, Kerala has achieved remarkable progress, especially in protecting and strengthening of the democratic system and its foundations based on the principles of secularism, gender equality, empowerment of women and children. The state has the highest literacy rate of 93.91% and highest life expectancy of 74 years. The state also has the highest media exposure in India with newspapers being published in nine different languages, mainly in English and Malyalam.
Owing to the former matrilineal system, women in Kerala enjoy a high social status. Birth of a girl is not considered to be a burden in Kerala compared to the general preference for male child prevalent in other parts of the country, leading to skewed sex ratio all over the country. Birth and survival rate, as well as education of girls are at the highest pedestal in Kerala in almost all the communities in the state irrespective of caste, creed, religion or region.
Kerala is the number one state so far as “Save Daughter, Educate Daughter” (Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao) campaign is concerned. Kerala has really progressed and this is visible in all the fields of socio-economic and cultural development.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) have designated Kerala the World’s first ‘baby friendly state’ because of its effective promotion of breast feeding over formula milk preparations. Over 95% of births are hospital delivered and the state also has lowest infant mortality rate in the country. Kerala has been ranked first in ‘institutional deliveries’ with 100% births under medical facilities.
The ‘Kerala phenomenon’ or Kerala Model of Development needs to be emulated and replicated by other states in India. It is assured that with public participation Kerala will be in the forefront of the nation in each and every sector. Kerala is a model state of India in many respects for others to be emulated specially in the fields of women empowerment, high literacy rate and strengthening of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) at grassroots level through direct funding of 40% from state’s budget. People of Kerala have already been practicing recently introduced government development schemes in routine, which are being propagated elsewhere with big effort for balanced and total development of all the sections and regions of different states throughout the country.
*Pavitar Singh is Deputy Director (Media & Communication), Press Information Bureau, Chandigarh who conducted a Kerala Press Tour from Chandigarh.