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Demographic transition: the Kerala scenario

KERALA'S DEMOGRAPHIC TRANSITION - DETERMINANTS AND CONSEQUENCES: K. C. Zachariah, S. Irudaya Rajan-Editors; Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., M. 32, Market, Greater Kailash, New Delhi- 110048. Rs. 450.

THE LATE E.M.S. Namboodiripad wrote the foreword to the book under review as the president of the International Congress on Kerala Studies, which had a session on demographic transition. This volume is a collection of the papers presented there. Namboodiripad pointed out ``One of the new challenges was Kerala's dismal record in the industrial and agricultural productive sectors at a time when the State did remarkably well in most social sectors - education, health and family planning in particular.'' The editors add employment generation in the list of failures. Dealing with demographic transition since Independence, P. N. Mari Bhat and S. Irudaya Rajan examine ``some of the competing hypothesis put forward to explain the decline in birth and death rates.'' The conclusion is that ``Female literacy emerges as the single most important factor in explaining the demographic transition in Kerala.''

To the question why Kerala has advanced in female literacy, the authors give three answers. One is ``the promotion of mass education by the erstwhile monarchy and democratically elected governments of Kerala.'' Monarchy ruled only half of Kerala. Women's education had started long before democratic governments came up at least in the other half of Kerala. The second answer is ``a high proportion of Christians in the population.'' Total population of Christians is only about 20 per cent. What really contributed as far as the Malabar area was concerned was the Christian missionary schools that catered for non-Christian students as well as Christians. The third reason given is ``high population density that increases accessibility to schools.'' Kerala is one big village with no clear-cut no-man's land between villages and towns. The essay recommends that the State moves away from heavily subsidised primary and secondary school education. Now the post-secondary school education also is free. The Centre had announced all higher education for women to be free. Encouraging ``socially and educationally backward'' people is all right, but this kind of populist vote gathering policy may not be appreciated, and is a loss to the government. The rich must pay.

In the section ``Demographic transition, a response to official policies and programmes'', K. C. Zachariah's in-depth study mentions how Kerala's population growth rate has declined from 2.2 per cent per year to under 1 per cent. The number of years required to double the population has increased from 30 to 70. Discussing the role of the government in family planning in the 1990s, now perhaps in the new century, the author recommends ``entrusting the delivery of temporary family planning methods to the NGOs, an area in which the government's track record is not very commendable in any case.'' P. S. Nair quotes evidence from ``The National Family Health Survey'' that ``Knowledge of family planning is universal in Kerala''.

Discussing the question ``Can poverty determine fertility with particular reference to agricultural labourers'', K. S. James says ``generally agricultural labourers are found to have large families. Kerala's fertility decline triggered off much enthusiasm because of its diffusion even into the lower strata of society like agricultural labourers.'' Hence he concludes that ``Fertility transition in Kerala does not show any sign of a poverty induced nature.''

However the agricultural labourer is not the person who needs a large family to help him. He needs a small family to feed. It is the agricultural land owner, who ploughs his own field, and has to live on the produce that needs more hands and has to have more children. Does Kerala have a large population of that category? Perhaps a study of the Christian migrants from South Kerala who have come to the north and cultivated forest lands could find an answer. You have also to go to the tribal people, forgotten, neglected, and victims of planned exploitation. Even though the population is very small, their treatment by the government and the society is unjustifiable. Here is a rich field for research on all the points discussed in this book. Government institutions, organised and paid for such works, apparently did not take part in this exhaustive deliberation. The link between education and fertility is the theme of D. Radha Devi's article. The Madhya Pradesh situation has been compared to Kerala. It has been quoted that ``The history of educational development in Kerala can be traced back to the 19th century.'' Modern education, yes. But did not Malabar have the basis of education during the Buddhist era? A detailed study of this aspect is perhaps necessary.

Matriarchal system is cited (it is matrilineal) as having given women a status and freedom. The conclusion is that ``There is a greater role of the social, economic and cultural milieu in which a person lives over-riding the individual educational characteristics in determining fertility.''

Discussing ``Life tale analysis of the labour force'', Sulaja and Suresh Kumar recommend that ``Where birth and death rates are low without adequate economic prosperity, policy makers should evolve methods to utilise actual labour force fully for the economic progress of the State.'' There are roughly six to seven lakhs of labourers from outside the State who have been brought here to work, while Kerala's unemployed is quite a few lakhs. The Keralite is mainly interested in white collar jobs. While the list in the employment exchange register lengthens, the immigration also is increasing. As one who has experienced what has happened in Assam, Kerala has to face up to this multi- faceted problem sooner than later.

``Population ageing, cause and consequences'' has been written by S. Irudaya Rajan and U.S. Mishra. ``Kerala has more institutions for the elderly than any other State in India.'' This may be true of cities and large towns. As far as the rural people and small towns are concerned for which study has not been made, the situation for such homes has not yet become necessary. Homes for the sick and the destitutes have been started by NGOs and churches in rural areas. They have been extremely useful. The culture of neglecting the aged does not seem to have yet permeated to the rural population.

``Inter-regional comparison of demographic conditions'' by P. Mohan Chandran Nair, comparing North Malabar districts and the princely state of Travancore-Cochin starts off with a controversial statement. ``Over the 40 years much input has gone into the less developed areas of the north.'' No person living in North Malabar would accept this statement in toto. However, after detailed study the conclusion is ``Two areas differ in respect to certain characteristics'' and this is enumerated. The author adds ``Some changes are occurring in the northern districts. They will be on par with the rest of the state in the near future.'' The people of the north feel that there is neglect, particularly in the infrastructure. An objective detailed study will give the truth.

The final section on migration first deals with intra-state migrations from Travancore to Malabar. K. V. Joseph has gone into the problem of migration from Travancore to the hill region of Malabar. Full credit must be given to the hard working peasant who staked his all, by selling his land and moving with his family to an unknown malaria infested land though only 300 to 400 kms away. They have changed the area into a garden of cash crops. What the author has not given is the story of the tribal people of that area who have lost their land. To save them an anti-land alienation act was passed unanimously by the Assembly in 1975. This was never gazetted though it received the assent of the President and was included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. Why? Attempts are being made to rectify the situation all these 25 years.

The economics of Gulf migration has been gone into by T.M. Thomas Isac. ``Inflow of remittances is one of the most important factors that has influenced the course of economic development of Kerala during the recent decades.'' Would you call it economic development?'' The author adds ``Migration has contributed to defusing a potentially explosive situation in the state'' and also that ``the seriousness of the economic situation has been camouflaged by the remittance inflows and rising levels of consumption.'' What is happening is that there is no incentive for production in Kerala which has become a consumer State. Gulf money, brought by hardworking youngmen, sets the trend for prices of consumer goods. As the author concludes ``Emigration and remittance alone cannot break down the structures of under development and the State will have to keep a watch on prospects of employment in Gulf countries.''

Leela Gulati, after studying ``The social consequences of international migration, case studies of women left behind'', says ``It is remarkable how well women have coped with the situation created by the long absence abroad of husbands and sons.'' She concludes quite rightly that women left behind, if properly enpowered in the ordinary course of things in the sense of education, healthcare, work participation and sharing responsibilities, they would be more than capable of dealing with the tasks from which men have normally excluded them. Would selfish men do it?

A very useful collection of papers prepared after in-depth study of the problem in its varied aspects. They would lead to more research in particular aspects. To avoid the reader or research scholar getting an impression that some of the papers were concentrating mainly on the erstwhile Travancore state, a detailed and objective study of Malabar has to be included. Another aspect is the influence of the contact of far off foreign lands from ancient times on the lifestyle of the people. A couple of pounds of pepper in those days was sufficient to maintain a whole family which purchased imported rice. From ancient times, Malabar does not seem to have produced enough rice. The way people live in isolated houses may have developed individuality, and a pride in one's identity. Whether this has brought in labour problem and affected industrial development has to be studied. What the research scholars have completely ignored is the most unfortunate minority, the tribal people. Perhaps this is a blot on the much advertised ``Kerala Model''. The life of Cholanaikans who continue to live as they did thousands of years ago, may also be a matter of study. Then only we can be satisfied that in 50 years, government policy and implementation have touched the poorest of the poor. Altogether a useful publication which invites more research and study.


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