Kerala students                                                            

Background

It is high time to unravel the myth of the Kerala model, which as a State is actually bankrupt and highly unstable. In the following I aim to underscore this reality which is sought to be glossed over by ideological irrelevancies propagated in the interests of narrow power politics.

The enigma of Kerala is created as well as historically sanctioned. The formation of the present administrative unit on the basis of Malayalam language in 1956 was immediately followed by an interesting episode, namely, the coming to political power of the Communist Party of India through a peaceful constitutionally provided democratic election process based on adult franchise. This party had existed and led struggles of the subalterns for quite some time and after the withdrawal of the Telangana armed struggle in 1951 had unconditionally embraced constitutionalism, surrendered all arms, and entered mainstream parliamentary politics. It was not only in Kerala that they won the assembly elections; they made an impressive show in Andhra Pradesh too. The transformation of the CP was symbolised by abandonment of the program of a revolutionary overthrow of the status quo and the installation of a reformist economic program in its place. This stream had always been very strong in the party, especially among the central leadership. This formal changeover followed the shift in the class nature of the state post-1947.

By no means did the Communist Party led State government in Kerala attempt any major radical measures undermining the given socio-economic structure; it only tried to implement certain reforms advocated and promised by the Indian National Congress, the ruling party of the country as a whole. But even this little was a bit too much for the entrenched dominant interests and they staged a ‘liberation’ struggle and ousted the State government. This ousting of the democratically elected government failed to generate rethinking about the nature of the politico-economic system and the strategy of working within it. On and off the Constitutional communists, also called Official communists, have been coming to power in Kerala and over a period of several decades they themselves have become an established socio-economic power to be reckoned with in the State. Thereby, many characteristics of the social system like the caste dynamics have found their way into the operational mechanism of the various groups/parties labelled communist. This is part of the enigma.

The Social Democrats initiated several welfare measures and coined the phrase “Kerala model of development”. Politically, it amounted to self praise. The gist of this model propagated for emulation by others was that it is possible to achieve higher levels of development and even progress, if there is a political will to bypass the linear model of development of productive forces. Distributive equity/progressive policies can bring about a higher quality of life without the usually required growth of productive forces. What exactly there is to be distributed and among whom was not seriously thought about.

Higher quality of life was identified and achieved with higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality, universal literacy and general education, better communication facilities, near total electrification, near total primary health coverage, and so on. However, soon after propounding this ‘model’ unsavoury characteristics like large per capita debt and the phenomenon of accumulating new debts to service old debt, which shows bankruptcy, came out in the open. But this did not stop the ‘model’ propagation business. Now it was the “tourism model of development” that began to be propagated. This model is certainly not original to Kerala, but had been in operation in many regions of the country ever since the advent of “flower children” in places like Goa and large parts of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir from the early 1960s onwards. In Kerala, where it started as a spill-over from Goan and Sri Lankan beaches during the mid-1960s as beach tourism, it was soon adopted by the entire political leadership as most suited to the fast development of the State. As the State is fully a Western Ghats region the land is green and hilly, is generously sprinkled with water bodies including a large number of rivers and has a long coastline with extensive lagoons, tourism as a development strategy was generalised. It is eulogised as a hundred percent environmentally safe “smokeless industry”, but this is subject to doubt. The negative fallout of the corona pandemic is considered only as strictly temporary.

Likewise, there are many more components to the projected image of Kerala. We shall examine some of them:

Changes in the Labour Processes in the State

Earlier it was often said that Kerala remains backward in terms of growth of industrial capitalism because the workers are not disciplined and are prone to disrupt production. This behaviour was awarded to the influence of communist ideas, which dissuades prospective investors from investing. Now scarcity of labour is given as a reason for lack of investment. This scarcity is due to the phenomenon of large-scale out-migration of skilled, semi-skilled, and manual workers to the Arabian Gulf countries attracted by relatively higher wages. Now this out-migration has reached its limits. This migration of hundreds of thousands of productive youth has given rise to a large flow of overseas remittances which injects economic buoyancy mainly of the variety of enhanced consumption both durable and transient. Land has assumed rising monetary/speculative value due to the construction boom largely accounted for by remittances. This has also meant decreasing productive use value of land. Conversion of wet land to dry land has gained momentum contributing to a drastic reduction in food production and increasingly chronic dependency for basic food needs on outside regions. Labour for the burgeoning construction sector mainly comes from outside the State and is paid well. It is interesting to note that just as the Malayalee worker went to the Gulf for higher wages now workers from Eastern India are coming to Kerala for the same reason. A skilled Malayalee carpenter or mason can now earn more by instructing and managing the migrant youth than by working for wages. They  cannot be viewed as workers in the real sense of the term, rather they are now petty bourgeois overseers exploiting the migrant workers and living a middle class life through surplus extraction from the actual workers.

This tendency already existed earlier. The astounding phenomenon of “nokku kooly”, i.e., wages for simply looking on, had already become standard practice among the unionised head-load workers. They are not supervisors or overseers but only lookers-on assured of money for work they are not doing. Sometimes their union membership is rented to other workers, at other times the employer may want to hire others for reasons of quality of work. The employer is ‘free’ to hire others provided he pays the local union members for allowing this. This is perhaps unheard of in the history of working class anywhere in the world. And they are a powerful lumpen force in the whole State. Though  known as workers, they live as non-working parasites by means of organised intimidation of the middle classes. Of course, such a tactic does not work in organised industry or large-scale construction projects.

It is also noted that for any small-scale construction work like that of a single house at least 60% of the total cost is accounted for by direct wages. This is inordinately high on all accounts. Along with this distortion add the callous irresponsibility rampant among the Malayalee ‘workers,’ which invariably pushes up the cost further. This irresponsibility is perhaps a by-product of basic scarcity of labour power. But it can equally be the result of an anti-work parasitic culture nurtured by the possibilities of easy living, its attendant psychology and all-pervading consumer culture. It has nothing to do with class consciousness or class struggle, though simple-minded social democrats may say that it is all class assertion and class power. Anti-work culture and parasitism is certainly not a characteristic of a producing working class, it is the characteristic of those who live by the labour of others. In this context it is worthwhile to note that on an all-India level the bulk of wealth production is done by the unorganised labour force, and even in modern large-scale industries like metallurgy, ad-hoc conditions of labour employment is the dominant trend since quite some time and the organised, unionised workers, who enjoy security of employment, higher wages and a number of perks are often a small minority in such industries. This trend has percolated into the education ‘industry’ also. The worker aristocrats are often the worst enemies of the insecure casual workers when they try to raise any demands for the improvement of living and working conditions. The reason is that any broad basing of worker welfare will reduce and spread thin the corpus for the worker aristocracy. This is the argument of the owners of capital which the trade unionists have swallowed in full.

The basic argument is that labour and labour processes existing here are to be redefined as they are incompatible with the prevalent conceptualisations of working class and its social and political role.

Food and Agriculture in Kerala

Production of essential food is grossly deficient in Kerala. Rice, the staple diet, is mostly imported from other States; so are vegetables and meat. Of late, even fish has started to come from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This has many serious implications for the people as a whole irrespective of classes. Food security/insecurity is not only an economic variable but also a highly potent political one especially in an overall system where even the watered-down federalism that is in place is on the waning side with centralisation of economic and political power in the ascendency. Differences between neighbouring States like sharing of the waters of inter-State rivers, which could be resolved among themselves, often result in economic blockades and the Centre assumes arbitrary powers. In Kerala’s case the public food distribution system has come to play a decisive role in the food security of the people and the open market is dominated by imports from neighbouring States. Food dependency is near total and hitherto largely self-sufficient areas are fast becoming dependent ones.

This gross dependency in items of daily consumption has a serious health dimension too. Whatever food is grown here in the State involves the same problem, which is that of chemical poisons in the food consumed. Available studies, which are not comprehensive at all, show that many of the deadly health problems like different types of cancer are linked to the excessive presence of carcinogenic elements in the production process and consumption basket. Of course, the situation is greatly advantageous to the global big business health industry, but greatly disadvantageous and painful to the people, especially those who are economically vulnerable.

The most visible change that has happened in Keralan agriculture during the last half century is the drastic reduction of acreage under food crops, especially that under paddy. The most often heard reason for this reduction is the shortage and high cost of labour power; and paddy cultivation is a labour intensive affair. Farmers who shift to other crops or let the fields lie fallow often talk about paddy cultivation as an economic loss. This is certainly not in any absolute sense of loss and profit, the term “loss” here is only in a relative sense. Even that is doubtful. The fact is that a good number of agriculturists are only nominal agriculturists. They may own paddy land but professionally they are not agriculturists. They would prefer to lease out the fields or alternately allow them to lie fallow. They may also allow the land to be destroyed entirely by leasing it out for brick kilns. It is a common sight to see uncultivated paddy fields. It is even more common to see paddy fields converted to cash crop land. These cash crops are generally ginger and bananas, both exclusively for the market. This sort of conversion to intensive chemicals-based crops has tremendous short- and long-term consequences. This conversion is entirely based on anticipated higher rate of profits, which may or may not work out in reality. In other words, speculation enters the scene.

Another trend in land utilization pattern is the conversion of wet to dry land, a direct result of the increased availability of disposable money, a contributory factor of which is the increased flow of remittances from abroad. The migration of labour is the single biggest factor facilitating this flow. As a sizable section of migrants and their families are landless or marginal landowners and as the utilization of cash inflow automatically gives a boost to construction activities, mainly of the variety of residential and service sector facilities, the land market has got inflated beyond all reason. This reached its peak in the 1980s and ‘90s and since then the rate of increase has got somewhat stabilized. The entire State was hit by this boom in the land market, though in some areas, generally known as ‘Gulf pockets,’ the impact was more than in others. Except for the landless agricultural workers, who are mainly Dalits and Adivasis, all other sections of society are affected by this spectacular boom. Their condition remains more or less unchanged. In fact, it has even deteriorated in an absolute sense. The fact is that the total built-up area in the State is more than sufficient to comfortably accommodate all the people while large numbers still lack decent shelter.

The wet lands became the casualty to this greed for dry land. To make them dry they have to be raised, which needs soil. The conversion process, therefore, necessarily leads to geographical distortions in some other lands. On the one side, wet lands cease to be water storages, and on the other, hillocks become flat. In fact, buying soil becomes a significant item in the cost of construction of a house. Moreover, construction needs an enormous amount of rock mining which becomes seriously debilitating to the stability of the whole place. Thus we see that the multiplier effect becomes all- encompassing with sure-fire consequences for the structural stability of the land itself with the result that disaster management has emerged as the newest industry. Devastating floods can immediately be succeeded by apparently irrational droughts. During the last floods nobody knows where all the water went. Vast flood water lakes transformed themselves overnight into parched, cracked fields! The construction boom is spectacular, so is the bizarre game nature plays. The utter foolishness of ‘development’ is nowhere more telltale than in this amazingly beautiful land. The distortion of nature after all is not so simple. The destruction of paddy fields will have to be paid for. Laws were instituted to prevent this slaughter but they remained on paper only; now they are ceasing to exist even on paper.

The built-up space in the State is estimated to be more than what is required and the amount of built-up space lying vacant is also significant. This means that the investment that went into it is dead. The anticipated high monetary return from real estate is not really working out and the re-sale value is at best stagnant. Since quite some time this stagnancy has become obvious, which means that investment based on loans that are often taken on the security of land by falsely classifying them as agricultural loans has turned wholly negative. In areas earmarked as a touristic commodity, like Wayanad district, such a situation can easily lead to suicides. It is happening too. The earlier wave of suicides was mainly due to a collapse of the cash crops market; a real estate market collapse can lead to a similar wave. As far as food production is concerned, diversion to cash crops and speculative real estate development are the prime reasons behind its steep decline.

Cash crops

Many of the cash crops currently grown in the State were found in the wild and the collection was being done by the peasants or Adivasis. Linked to the ports through a chain of intermediaries using the inland waterways they were exported by Arab, Syrian, and Jewish traders concentrated in the then sea ports on the Arabian Sea coast. The local chieftains derived incomes through taxes on this export. The British introduced organised plantations after clearing forests and also established big plantations of tea and coffee, the growing of which soon percolated to local small growers too. While tea remained confined to big plantations in Kerala coffee became a predominantly small grower crop. The list of cash crops grown in Kerala is quite large and it keeps on growing, vanilla and cocoa being the latest additions. A few herbs are also grown commercially now, a direct result of large-scale commercialisation of Ayurveda partly triggered by the growth of medical tourism. Among the cash crop food items are ginger, banana, black pepper and coconut. All cash crops are eminently suited for a variety of value adding processes to which new ones can be added.

The market/money value of cash crop products constantly fluctuates. These money values are determined by a variety of factors among which export-import policies play a crucial role. The cost of production which includes cost of labour power, energy, and chemical inputs are ever on the increasing scale. This creates a basic disequilibrium between costs and returns and hence vitally affects the economic well-being of the growers. The same is the case for food crops grown for the market. In other words, this inequality in the market is a common denominator for the entire market-oriented agriculture and has been generating social, economic and political contradictions and conflicts ever since the stabilization of the market structure, i.e., ever since the growers got integrated into the market structure. In any discussion about the crisis in agriculture it must be kept in mind that the market structure is at the root. Any resolution of the crisis implies restructuring the market, i.e., overturning the economic balance of power, which certainly implies serious political changes too. Alleviatory measures like debt relief or time-bound moratorium on debt recovery can at best achieve purely temporary results like decline in suicides, while leaving the mechanism that generates indebtedness and helplessness intact. Economically enabling the primary producers on a permanent basis, which means creating an economy of permanence, ought to be the basic goal.

Geographical Division of Labour and Value-Adding Processes 

As such the slot of Kerala in the general scheme of the geographical division of labour is as primary producer and as producer of labour power. The tragedy is that labour power is mainly exported on an all-India and global level, and primary production has grown at the expense of basic self-sufficiency while simultaneously functioning as a conduit for super-profit making by corporate businesses. Surplus is thus extracted to outside interests and areas. Both function as stunting factors for the economy while consumption sans production is indicative of parasitic economic dynamics.  Consumption which means expenditure on durable and non durable goods and services further widens the scope of surplus extraction to the corporate interests. Superfluous consumption in the form of unwanted construction of ugly palatial houses and super bazaars can only be termed as dead investment. Psychologically speaking, it is a spreading illness. Consumption and production are terribly disjointed. Society is based on bubble economics where the economic structure is highly unstable and crucially dependent on all counts on external factors like remittances from vulnerable places and thoroughly unpredictable, often devastating, vicissitudes of the cash crops market conditions.

There is growing thinking in Kerala about the need for stable economic conditions. Ultimately this means breaking out of the present slot of labour power exporter and primary producer. Developing value-adding processes and finding local, all-India and global markets for the value-added products is the challenge. It entails taking a confrontationist posture towards corporate interests that currently hold the economy in their octopus grip. More than anything this is a political question strongly hinging on the content of federal economics and Centre-State economic relations. This certainly needs absolute clarity on the nature of the ruling classes or the character of the state. Macro-economic policies that shape the direction of the flow of surplus unmistakably show that it is the Indian and global corporates that are calling the tunes, which directly connotes that any federal unit striving for an independent pattern of growth and development is bound to confront the entrenched market structure that will not hesitate to employ all its coercive power to defeat any venturing away from the beaten track. Though there is growing awareness on the subject the requisite political will for such progress is still lacking.

Every cash crop grown in the State is suitable for value-added diverse products and the home market itself is big enough to begin with. The quality of products is important and poison free products can be the catch word. Organic farming and life-style changes can weaken the grip of the corporates, protect the environment and ecology, assure a healthy living and decent death, and free people to a large extent from killer diseases like varieties of cancer, and create non-parasitic productive employment for the working population.

Distortions in the Finance Capital Market

When we take the availability of banking facilities it can be seen that Kerala rates number one in the entire country. It is a pioneer in cooperative banking apart from having the highest density of normal commercial banking establishments. Mainly due to the heavy inflow of remittances the amount of deposits is high but the same cannot be said about the amount of credit advanced by the banks. In fact, for a long time the credit-deposit ratio was abysmally low and even now it has only marginally improved. When we look at the all-India picture there are incredible differences between different regions of the country. It is high in the Gujarat-Maharashtra belt while in Kerala it is low, even though the State has a higher density of banking and per capita deposits. This means that the banking system is working as a very efficient conduit for suction of investible surplus from Kerala.

Kerala is well-recognised as a good foreign exchange earner. Overseas remittances, export of primary products like spices, earnings from international tourism industry are the main components of these foreign exchange earnings. Of course, these sources hike the money circulation in the place and increase income levels in rupee terms. But how and who expends these hard currency deposits does not come within the State’s economic rights. The utilization of dollar or any other hard currency deposits is decided at the Centre and the States have no effective voice in such decisions. In a globalised economic order this is certainly a severe handicap to the federating units particularly if they develop their own priorities that may conflict with the all-India corporate vested interests. In Kerala’s specific context, lack of control over the use of foreign exchange can be particularly problematic because it is a leading component of its income. As such, the banking system as a whole is biased against the federating units precisely because it denies autonomy in this key aspect of financial exchange relations.

When thousands of primary producers killed themselves in the cash crops belt of Kerala due to being caught in a debt trap the farmers organised themselves to demand a debt moratorium. Mainly leading public sector banks were targeted. In Wayanad—the hub of the agitation—the concerned lead bank even threatened to wind up its operations in retaliation. Apparently the logic of the banks conforms to sound banking principles; it is that they are not responsible for un-remunerative prices of agricultural commodities, and credit is a commodity with its own costs on which the viability of the banking system itself is based. However, this logic, when it comes to actual practice becomes blatantly one-sided and discriminatory. Erstwhile profit-making public sector banks are now in doldrums not because of agricultural loans but corporate loans and even outright theft by corporates. The outstanding dead loans by corporates amounting to lakhs of crores (the apex bank is always finicky about publicising details on the banks’ losses/’non performing assets’) are currently threatening the operational viability of many banks. Many of the defaulters have siphoned off money to international tax havens and they themselves are absconders. This is nothing but the old colonial drain under neo-colonialism. The actual dimensions and responsibilities of the massive bad debts of banks remain shrouded in mystery, while farmers commit suicide when banks force them to be homeless and property less. The corporates get away with this loot with the connivance of the political executive.  Not just individual banks, the entire banking system is heavily loaded against the common man.

The credit market is only one of the components of the complex market structure that is squeezing the agricultural sector as a whole. The products’ market is another sordid story that is entirely out of the primary producers’ control. The demands for “remunerative prices” or MSP become the rallying cry for the farmers’ movements. The complexity of the market in totality has to be laid bare for gaining a realistic understanding of the society and economics of Kerala specifically.

Consumption and Production

The dependency of the State for basic goods and services on outside areas and peoples is all prevalent. Paradoxically the State is a big exporter of labour power to other areas resulting in a high level of remittances and high liquidity, while it is simultaneously a big importer of skilled/semi-skilled labour power for the most essential services. This is explained by the differential wages. For the hundreds of thousands of migrants flocking to the State, the place is their Gulf. This is true enough in a general sense but not in the particulars. The consumption basket of the migrant workers in Kerala is composed of the bare minimum necessities and the major chunk of their earnings is regularly remitted home. This is a drain from the liquidity pool of the State, which does not mean that it is a drain from investible surplus. It is more like a drain from the consumption funds which ultimately is no drain from the economy unlike drains through the stock markets and similar institutions which are drains from investible surplus to the coffers of corporate businesses that are predominantly based outside the State. In any case the consumption package of Malayalees consists principally of goods from outside which means that institutions like stock markets or even the banking system as a whole acts absolutely complementary to the consumption pattern entrenched in the State. This means that the drain is a multi-channel and institutionalised feature of this grossly dependent economy contributing mightily to perpetuating the vicious chain.

One of the most visible after-effects of the consumption spree is the difficulty of disposing both inorganic and organic waste. When we look at popular struggles, often localised, we find they mostly relate to environmental issues and among them the maximum relate to unscientific waste disposal. Dumping waste from urban areas into the rural areas is commonly reported and several such struggles are long-drawn-out attracting the attention of the entire people. Reports of waste being transported in trucks to the neighbouring States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu under cover of night and dumping it on the roadside in those States inviting hostile reactions is also common. Disposal of waste is quite a messy problem facing the whole State, especially the urban areas. There is simply no space and infrastructure to dispose the waste generated safely without creating environmental hazards. The fact that the quantum of waste generated is much beyond the carrying capacity of the place points the finger squarely at the superfluity of consumption too.

Another visible aspect of consumption in the State is the medical industry. The health industry thrives in the State with a very large number of privately owned hospitals and allied health services in every nook and corner of the State. Hospitals are invariably multi-crore businesses with all kinds of necessary and unnecessary equipments, often imported, which dazzle the customers. Even before the doctor conducts a preliminary examination of the patient half a dozen tests are routinely ordered. Of course, the hospital gets a hefty commission from the laboratory, if it happens not to be part of the hospital. The hospital is constrained to make a minimum amount of money every month whether there are a sufficient number of patients or not. Unethical practices abound like insisting on surgery even when not really required, prescribing unnecessary medicines, or insisting on admitting the patient when it is least necessary. Sensitised doctors are candid about why the health industry is such a thriving affair. Most of the diseases on which the industry thrives are those that are produced by overconsumption, particularly protein rich food, the cure of which is simple reduction of quantity and change in food and lifestyle habits into health promoting ones. The same is applicable to alcoholic drinks related health problems. Kerala also abounds in zoonotic diseases like Nipah, H1N1, leptospirosis, rabies, swine flu and now Covid not least due to unbridled globalisation. Combined with the as yet unspecified and uncontrolled levels of carcinogenic pesticide and insecticide contents in the commonly consumed food the health problems confronting the Malayalees are actually and potentially frightening. Self-sufficiency or near self-sufficiency in uncontaminated basic food items produced on an agro-ecological basis is a crying need.

When we talk about self-sufficiency and self-reliance it should not be mistaken for isolationist autarchy. Exchange of goods and services is unavoidable and very often desirable under given conditions. But exchange on what basis is the crucial point. Different regions have different geographical, natural features which are suitable to produce certain things and not others and the advantages may be overwhelming in many cases. Equality in trade relations or non exploitative terms of trade between economic sectors as well as different economies only can assure a peaceful world and equitable development. Under colonialism the terms of trade between the colonial overlords and colonies was regressive to the extreme and under neo-colonialism too equal values are not exchanged to mutual advantage but unequal values are exchanged to the advantage of one against the other. In an age when giant multinational corporations control the products market there can be no equality between trading partners. To call it partnership is nothing but sham. Two examples will suffice to illustrate the point with relation to Kerala.

The State grows fairly good quality coffee. A variety of finished products like instant coffee can be made that do not involve inaccessible technology or mega capital outlays. But the production of instant coffee is controlled by a couple of multinational companies out of which Nestle is the foremost. Coffee bean prices can be made to fluctuate to the great advantage of the multinational. This sort of contrived volatility has driven many a coffee grower to kill himself. The price of the principal ingredient can become uneconomic, but any downward movement of the price of instant coffee powder is unheard of. This sort of market conditions by themselves explains the grossly unequal nature of the coffee market as a whole.

Or, let us take the example of one of the main food crops which is paddy. Before the invasion by the hybrid seed agriculture technology Kerala had a large variety of indigenous varieties many of them being fragrant types like Jeerakashala and Gandhakashala grown in the lower Western Ghats region. Now the cultivation is less than in earlier days but these varieties are still cultivated. It is a local crop and the grains are used on special occasions like marriages. It is considered ideal for preparing the fabled Malabar Biriyani. From superlative front page advertisements in the prominent local newspapers for this rice, it is found that the product is owned and marketed by an agro corporation operating from beyond Kolkata, more than three thousand kms from where it is grown. Whose is the patent right? Where are the interests of farmers who grow this paddy? In this case it is not even a raw material that is used by the corporate business to produce a finished product, but a finished product produced by disparate farmers, who are often small ones.

 Kalpavriksh and Mining 

Every part of the coconut tree that abundantly grows in Kerala can be put to human use. Its oil is used for cooking purposes. The coir industry is based on the fibre extracted from its husk. Tender coconut water and fresh palm toddy (Nira) are wonderful health drinks. Toddy can be used for making value-added products like jaggery. The mature tree yields hard wood and the leaves provide excellent roofing material. Little wonder that it is known as a wish fulfilment tree.

Toddy can be used to produce hard liquor as well. Liquor is a State subject, which perennially cash starved State governments find convenient to ruthlessly farm. It is a fairly inelastic commodity in relation to price changes; whatever the price, demand is more or less assured, and it is this characteristic that is exploited to the hilt. The contracts/licenses to operate the shops for a certain time are auctioned to the highest bidder. Kerala, a chronically debt-ridden State, depends on excise revenue from liquor even for the day-to-day working of the government. This has been the condition of State finances since many years with no alternative to this source of revenue. Under such conditions the liquor lobby enjoys growing economic and political power in the State. In relation to toddy another factor should also be kept in mind. It is a State where communists turned social democrats enjoy governmental power often and the toddy sector is one area where they had built up their organisational power from the 1940s. The sector is marked by militant trade unions based on economism. As a result of their long history of economic struggles the workers in this sector enjoy comparatively greater security and higher wage levels. Moreover, workers’ cooperatives function as trader businesses. These factors have played a significant contributory role in the tragic poisoning of toddy consumed by the common man. Now toddy is mercilessly adulterated by contractors who are also include workers.

The adulteration is so much that consumer taste itself has metamorphosed to the extent that if by chance a consumer is offered genuine toddy he may probably denounce it as adulterated. The profits percentage is in terms of thousands and the impact on the consumers is both long- and short-term mental and physical debilitation. There is no correlation between the toddy sold through the shops and the actual amount tapped, the former being always much larger than the latter. We can safely surmise that marketed toddy has ceased to have any wholesome organic linkage with the coconut tree. Some sort of research has also gone into this science of adulteration so that the poison liquor will have some sort of toddy smell.

Related to this is the adulteration of tender coconut water. It is a drink that has great cooling effect apart from medicinal properties. Up to recent times it was considered impossible to adulterate. But now the story is the opposite. It has now emerged as one of the most adulterated soft drinks available in the market.

Another story is that of the massive market manipulation in the 1980s to kill coconut oil as a cooking medium. The effort succeeded too at least in the short run in Kerala. Suddenly there was a spurt of literature in the popular print media about the dangerous character of coconut oil authored apparently by health and nutrition experts. The propaganda was concerted and alarmist that the use of coconut as an edible oil drastically increases the cholesterol content in the human body directly leading to serious health hazards involving the heart. People got scared and dropped their favourite cooking oil. Prices reached rock bottom. The stocks were purchased by companies like Tata Oils, who use it mainly for manufacturing goods like soaps, shampoos, hair oil etc. The tree yields for a long time and the slump meant thousands of crores of yearly loss for the growers and corresponding gains for companies like Tata Oils. The situation continued like this until the time when studies came out from coconut-growing countries like the Philippines and Thailand denouncing the propaganda as a conspiracy against the tree and its growers by the corporate sector and crediting the oil to be one of the safest and healthiest ones.

However, the market conditions have not returned to what can be called fully normal or the pre-crisis stability level. The hundreds of thousands of growers have learned to live with the uneconomic tree. The research and promotional institutions set up at public cost do not have the motivation or the capability to solve the problems besetting the tree. They are there for the sake of employment and income for ‘experts’.

Considerable stretches of the coast in southern Kerala are of black sand, which is the ore for monazite and limonite, two minerals of great strategic and commercial value in the global market. They are collected in large quantities, subjected to primary processing, and shipped to rich countries to be further processed and used in their electronics, armaments and/or nuclear industries. The natural radiation levels in the mining areas are high and this is greatly augmented by the mining and primary processing. Large numbers of inhabitants are plagued with wasting diseases for which there is no cure. Deformed babies are born. In fact, the area has all the features of a place subjected to a nuclear catastrophe. To add to this there is also the constantly increasing coastline erosion due to large-scale mining seriously endangering many coastal fishing villages, which were already losing livelihood means due to the mining. This mining lobby is quite powerful enjoying the support of the trade union bureaucracy as well as state capitalist/social democratic political groups.

Of late, granite mining has become a sensitive topic in Kerala. Kerala has extensive granite formations beneath a not very thick but fertile top soil. For the past few decades this granite is being recklessly mined particularly in the hilly regions. It is a high profit business but the area of mining becomes totally useless once the mining is over. Fertile land is taken over from impoverished farmers, mined at great speed and abandoned. All over the State one can see such gaping, ugly craters and in many places entire hills have been clean shaved off changing the topography beyond recognition. This is, of course, a very serious matter concerning the total environmental and ecological balance of the place. Prof. Madhav Gadgil prepared a highly educative report on the entire Western Ghats which paid particular attention to this aspect of destruction of the Ghats. Two consecutive monsoon related floods in the State devastated the State and Prof Gadgil had warned precisely of such catastrophes if indiscriminate construction, mining and encroachments on the Ghats are not curtailed.

The granite sector, which includes the famed blue-black Krishna Shila, remains an extremely backward one in Kerala while the demand is great due to the construction boom. This is what makes it yield super profits. But the sector as a whole is marked by low wages and dismal working conditions. Its destructive role is immense, though it is actually a rich resource that needs to be handled very carefully and frugally. But its current way of exploitation is outrightly criminal.

Patriarchy, Dalits, and Adivasis

The approach to women is universally acknowledged as an index of the progressiveness of a society. The attitude to women clearly visible on the streets and in the media, particularly mainstream Malayalam cinema, is complementary to the crime data. The picture is dismal indeed.

The attitude to women shows no religious and community bias in Kerala. The upper caste Hindus both traditional and co-opted, the casteist Christians, and Muslims display a similar character when it comes to women. Casteism is also common to all of them. Only the Adivasis, and to a lesser extent the Dalits, are exempt from this reactionary approach.

Dalits were in the forefront of the communist movement. And they paid the maximum price too. The famous Vayalar struggle is enough evidence for this assertion. Their earlier status was one of serf-like agricultural labour with great expertise in agricultural production processes, particularly paddy cultivation. The communists organised the Dalits with the catchy slogan of “land to the tiller”. The much eulogised land reforms in Kerala sidelined the agricultural workers entirely when tenants were recognised as tillers. Land reforms were a historic betrayal of Dalits in Kerala. They were given five to ten cents of land to erect their huts which is utterly meaningless as cultivable land. True, feudalism was ended but the oppressed peasantry were not the beneficiaries. They remained essentially in the same condition as earlier. At the same time, the reform movement led by Ayyankali and other Dalit leaders instilled self respect and militancy in them which made the more obnoxious forms of extra economic oppression difficult to be practised. As far as the key question of land is concerned Dalits remain as impoverished as ever. It was this fact that was brought to the limelight by the Chengara struggle during 2007-8 which was protracted and militant. It also exposed the pro oppressor caste and anti-Dalit character of the social democrats.

Adivasis constitute around one per cent of the total population, but there are more than thirty distinct communities mainly concentrated in three districts. They have survived expropriation of livelihood means over a very long period and it can be stated without any doubt that they constitute the most destitute section of society in the State. Their struggle against expropriation also has a long history. Some of their struggles like the Kurichiar rebellion against the British colonialists were uncompromising glorious ones and during more recent times too their struggles are remarkable. Their role in history often goes unmentioned because others consider them as disposable people and Kerala is no exception to this all-India approach of the dominant classes/castes. Their expropriation by the colonial predators has been continued by the post-colonial rulers to date.

T.G.Jacob  is a freelance Journalist and a  Social Analyst


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