Kerala is supposed to be a socialist paradise with the best social and gender indicators, frowning on economic growth and globalisation. But a look at the latest crime data suggests that even Kerala’s image as a civilised paradise for women is much exaggerated.
Of all states, Kerala has the highest crime rate of 455.8 per lakh people, over twice the national rate of 196.7. India’s crime capital is Kochi (817.9) followed by Kollam (637.3).
Now, crimes are underreported in India, especially in the north. So, Kerala’s high crime figures represent, in part, proper recording of crimes. Even so, the figures look uncomfortably high.
Crimes Against Women
Kerala has the highest female-male ratio (1084:1000 against the national 940:1000) and the highest female literacy rate (92%). This is attributed to a historical lead in education, matrilineality and enlightened gender attitudes.
Yet crimes against women in Kerala are shockingly high. The rape rate in Kerala (2.9) is almost one and a half times the national rate (2.1). The rate of assault on women with intent to outrage their modesty is 10.7 in Kerala, thrice as high as the national average (3.7). The rate of insults related to the modesty of women is 1.4, against the national 0.8.
Kerala does far better than India overall in dowry deaths: its rate 0.1 against the national 0.7. Yet cruelty to women comes in at the rate of 15 per lakh population, almost double the national 8.8.
The highest rates for cruelty are in two other Marxist strongholds — Tripura (23.4) and Bengal (21.9). Can this be attributed entirely to Marxist transparency in reporting? Nobody will believe the very low rate of 3.7 in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who are clearly guilty of gross under-reporting.
Kerala has a relatively low rate of murder and theft, but its cheating rate is almost double the national average. It is the champion in criminal rioting (31.4 against the national 6.2). This may explain the state’s extraordinarily high rate of criminal hurt (60.7 against the national 27.7) and arson (1.6 against 1.0). We need more research on these subjects.
Crime data are an additional reason to rethink the famed Kerala model of socialist development. For decades, Amartya Sen and Mahbub ul Haq (creator of the Human Development Index) lavished praise on Kerala for achieving high social indicators through government intervention while being poor and growing slowly. New research shows this to be substantially illusory.
Rethinking the Model
Despite land reform and Marxist pretensions, the state is virtually the most unequal in India (with a Gini coefficient of 0.392 against the national 0.336). True, it has the highest Human Development Index, life expectancy and literacy, and the lowest fertility and infant mortality rate. But these have not arisen by emphasising welfare over GDP or economic growth.
Kerala has been among the richest five states (measured by per capita income) since 1980-81. It has the highest per capita spend in rural and urban areas. It is among the fastest-growing states, with a peak growth rate of 10.4% in 2007-08. This owes a lot to rising remittances from overseas Keralites, which now account for 32% of state GDP. So, Kerala’s high social indicators are correlated not with poverty or lack of economic growth, but with rising Mammonisation.
Markets, Not Marx
Its leaders mouth anti-globalisation slogans, yet its economy represents a triumph of globalisation through remittances and exports of agricultural goods. Land reform may have helped, yet Kerala’s rice yields are lower than in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Kerala is very lucky in its agroclimate: it is the only state that gets copious rains from both the South West and North East monsoons.
This enables it to specialise in plantation crops — coconuts, arecanuts, cashew, rubber, tea coffee, spices — yielding up to 10 times the income per acre as rice.
Kerala has since Roman times been among India’s most globalised states, exporting spices and other farm products. Its high Muslim population is explained by the influence of trade with the Gulf, not Islamic conquest (as in North India).
Kerala’s early lead in education began under enlightened maharajas in the 1800s, supplemented by Christian missionaries and Nair and Ezhava movements. Kerala has the highest proportion of students in private rural schools (53%). Its educational success is based on private, not state provision (though the state finances private schools).
In health, Kerala has the highest private spending. In 2004-05, private health spending in Kerala wasRs 2,663 per capita, more than double that of its nearest rival Punjab (Rs 1,112).
By contrast, public health spending per capita in Kerala was just Rs 280. In sum, Kerala is not a success of welfare socialism. Rather, it is a success of globalisation, private provision of education and health, and rapid economic growth — along with the associated high inequality. And high crime.