Kerala, a tiny southern state of India, has drawn both international and national attention due to its impressive performance in social development and demographic transition. Its human development indicators are the best in India and compare with some of the developed countries. Its achievement of demographic transition is rather unique and has earned worldwide accolades for Kerala. Its population development model is ideal for developing countries who are struggling with issues of population and poverty. Kerala amazes Western demographers because it achieved demographic transition despite poor economic development. It is nothing surprising because for a Western mind everything must correlate with economic development or money!
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Kerala is the Female/Male sex ratio: According to the 2011 census, Kerala has 1084 females (up by 26 since 2001) for 1000 male against the national average of 940. In past hundred years, this has steadily improved. Even the most economically advanced states like Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra don’t match Kerala in female-friendliness and women empowerment.
In the past decade, all districts of Kerala have shown improvement in the sex ratio. As per the 2011 data, the top 3 districts are Kannur (1133), Pathanamthitta (1129) and Kollam (1113) and even the worst districts have better figures: Idukki (1006), Ernakulam (1028), and Wayanad (1035).
Kerala has been setting an example of potentials of human development over last several decades. This beautiful tiny state has emerged far ahead in human development indicators, leaving behind even the economically advanced states like Gujarat and Maharashtra. It also has the lowest rate of population growth, achieved without coercive sterilization policies of family planning ministry. Kerala has the lowest crude death rate (around 6 per thousand), lowest infant mortality (around 10 per 1000 live births), highest life expectancy at birth (75 years) and highest male literacy rate (94 percent) as well as female literacy (92%) compared with the national average of 74% (Male 82%, female 65.5%).
The state is also ahead in the demographic transition curve. It is already nearing zero-population growth and is aging like Japan and Europe.
Many experts wonder: What is Kerala’s model of development?
The answer is simple: Kerala focused on its people and improving their quality of life, a human development model. Although this is pure commonsense but is totally opposite to Western lifestyle which puts GDP growth at the center-stage and then tries to make sense of everything. It is surprising if you talk of putting people at the center of development and make economy subordinate. In the Western world, economy and technology are “developed”, not people who are mere tools to achieve the goal. They are uncomfortable if the spot light is focused on people.
People like Nobel laureate Amartya Sen always remind that people’s well-being depends on many things other than economic growth. While financial strength is always good but things like family and community relations, cultural and spiritual practices, freedom to participate and influence social and political processes, easy access to quality health services, freedom from all forms of insecurities, clean environment, are sufficient leisure time are also important. In this aspect, the tiny Himalayan kingdom Bhutan shows the real path to development. Bhutan is the only country in the world that does not measure its progress by GDP numbers; instead, it uses the holistic ideology of gross national happiness (GNH). It gives equal importance to Sustainable and Equitable Socio-Economic Development, Preservation of Culture, Preservation and Enhancement of Environment, and Good Governance.
Kerala’s people development model has amazed development experts around the world. It offers the right model of other developing countries to follow.
Continue reading: Population Development: What Kerala can teach India and China