Poverty in Kerala: Is it different than anywhere else? In Trviandrum, I haven’t seen the desperate poverty I was expecting to see. In spite of a very low per capita income, Kerala very high quality of life indicators. Because of this high Human Development Index (HDI) in Kerala, Shylijan, a seasoned architect with Costford explained that you won’t typically see the desperate poverty. People are educated (90% literate), there is the longest life expectancy in the nation and lowest infant mortality. A lecture by an economist reminded us that GDP is only an instrument, a means, not an ending to quality of life.
Modern Kerala is considered from the 1950s on, shortly following indepencdence, when a number of famous government reforms took place (land redistribution as a legal right for all; social reforms, such as women wearing upper clothes regardless of caste; political reforms, the presence of leftist, communist parties; education was accessible to all). The Indian psyche this economist, Dr. Kannan, impressed was one that protects its people and struggles against inequities.
The Kerala Development Model has been painted in broad strokes to our class so far. But basically, the goal is to reach high HDI levels with little government spending. How does the gov’t do this? I’m guessing through a history of volunteerism and community involvment. When we visited the Karimadon slum last week, the level of community involvement that created the affordable housing solutions we see is almost inconceivable to my Western eyes. Somewhere along the way, western culture forgot this part of democracy and is only just remembering again how to help people help themselves through participation and empowerment.
Today we are traveling up to Cochin, a city of ten million, on the coast and below sea level in parts. Will poverty look different there? I imagine the driving will be even more stimulating. Trivandrum and Cochin are 140 km apart from each other and yet it will take us 5-6 hours to get there on our bus.