The Real Kerala Story

By Dr Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

Any film -also called a movie, or motion picture- is basically made to provide entertainment and communicates ideas, stories, perceptions, feelings, beauty, or atmosphere and simultaneously influences the mindset of people in a positive and constructive way by instilling love, affection, empathy, compassion, and magnanimity.
It is stated that “The Kerala Story” is a movie that depicts the heart-wrenching reality of forced conversion and human trafficking. The film revolves around the conversion of 32,000 women in Kerala and how they were illegally transported to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But this is not true. Actually, critics think that “The Kerala Story” film is deliberately prepared to demonize the Muslim community, denigrate the Kerala government, and disparage, and demean the Kerala people.
According to the US State Department report titled ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2020: India’, “There were 66 known Indian-origin fighters affiliated with ISIS, as of November” (2020). The question is: Has the Kerala government allowed such activities unfettered or it is a failure of the Central government which enacted draconian demonetization to fight terrorism but has failed?
But according to official figures for the year 2020, more people from Christians and Muslims have been converted to Hindu in Kerala contrary to what is publicized. As per the rule, people who officially change their religion, including minors, have to advertise it in the gazette. People who embraced Hinduism constituted 47 percent of religious conversions in Kerala during the one-year period under reference.
Of the total 506 people who registered their change of religion with the government, 241 were those who converted from Christianity or Islam to Hinduism. A total of 144 persons adopted Islam whereas Christianity received 119 new believers in the year, shows the data. It means, the Kerala state government is cent percent secular and neutral to all religions and religious practices as per the constitution and there is cent percent religious freedom. However, the Kerala government should take precautions to prevent such things.
But the question is our country and each Indian state are plagued by numerous problems, but why Kerala is targeted for such emotional issues? This is one type of human trafficking that is prevalent everywhere. This is happening in each and every part of the country and world. The US Department of State in its “2022 Trafficking in Persons’ report has stated that India does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking which comprises labour trafficking, including bonded labour and sex trafficking.
Almost 80 lakh people — roughly the entire population of New York City-are trapped in human trafficking in India. While half of those affected by modern slavery are in forced labour, the second most prevalent type of trafficking is sex trafficking. (Forced marriage, forced begging, and forced criminal activity are other forms of human trafficking found in India. Around 7 in 10 human trafficking victims are women and girls.
Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and UP accounted for the majority of bonded labour victims identified in 2020. Some traffickers kidnap children from public places, including railway stations, entice girls with drugs, and force girls as young as 5 years old to take hormone injections to appear older for sex trafficking.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, 41,621 women went missing in Gujarat during the period 2016-20. Women go missing due to family disputes, elopement, failure in examinations, etc. India recorded 22.8 lakh crimes against women between 2016 to 2021, Cruelty by husbands and their relatives makes up one-third of crimes against women in India. NCRB data shows an over 15% rise in crime against women in 2021.
The film might have been a part of a surreptitious campaign to disrupt religious harmony and trigger communal polarisation, spreading hate propaganda, and creating insecurity about the existence of Hindus so that Hindus will develop hatred against Muslims and BJP can take advantage of the situation and make inroads in Kerala where it has never ruled where 27% of Kerala’s 3.3 crore people are Muslims and 18% are Christians, according to the last census in 2011.
Had it not been so, there were no concrete reasons why some BJP-ruled state governments made the screening of films tax-free. Even Prime Minister Modi went on praising the Film. According to BBC News, the Kerala Story has drawn comparisons with The Kashmir Files, another sharply polarising movie.
However, the real Kerala story can be unravelled if we analyze its development and compare it with BJP’s most trumpeted double-engine (BJP ruling both Centre and states) states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. Odisha can be compared where non-BJP governments like BJD is ruling since 2000, through 9 years with BJP.
With spectacular beaches and lush backwaters, temples, and palaces, Kerala is known as “God’s own country” for good reason (Times, JULY 12, 2022). Kerala’s efforts to put its pandemic-hit tourism back on track got a boost with the State featured in TIME magazine’s 50 extraordinary destinations to explore in 2022. The New York Times has recommended 52 places to visit in 2023, and Kerala has been featured on the list, adding another accolade to the southern state’s tourism. Kerala has been ranked 13th in the list, which lauds the “Responsible Tourism” initiatives of Kerala Tourism.
Kerala is the most developed state and has topped various indexes. The larger the size of the population of any state, the higher likely to be GSDP. Hence, we can draw erroneous conclusion if compares with states in terms of GSDP. But in terms of NSDP per capita (Current Prices) Kerala occupied the 6th position with a per capita income of Rs 205,067 whereas Gujarat with a per capita income of Rs 2,12,821 occupies the 4th position. But UP rank at 20th with a per capita income of Rs 64,600 out of 21 big states
Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite index that takes into consideration (1) health, (2) Education, and (3) per capita income. This is considered a better alternative for GDP growth to measure development. In the HDI as of 2021, among 34 Indian states and union territories, Kerala occupies the first position while Gujarat is ranked abysmally at 23rd position. Uttar Pradesh is ranked third -worst with a rank of 32 just ahead of Jharkhand and Bihar.
Niti Aayog’s first Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report. Is calculated considering three equally weighted dimensions – health, education, and standard of living which are represented by 12 indicators. As per the index, Kerala has the lowest poverty ratio of 0.71 % while Gujarat is the 13th poorest state with a poverty ratio of 14.10%. Uttar Pradesh with a poverty ratio of 37.79% is the third poorest country In India.
The Niti Aayog’s Sustainable goals index 2020-21 was released on June 3, 2021. The Index evaluates the progress of states and Union Territories on various parameters including health, education, gender, economic growth, institutions, climate change, and environment. Among 28 states, Kerala retained its rank as the top state while Gujarat placed in 10th position. Uttar Pradesh ranked 25th out of 28 states just ahead of Assam, Jharkhand, and Bihar.
Similarly, according to Niti Aayog’s Health Index Report 2021, Kerala was ranked as the best performer on top among 21 large states, whereas Gujarat ranked 4th. UP ranked lowest at 21. The health index is essentially a composite score of 24 indicators under three domains — health outcomes, governance and information; and key inputs and processes.
The latest Public Affairs Index, released in November 2021, is a measure of states’ governance prepared by the Bengaluru-based think-tank Public Affairs Centre, which assesses the delivery of economic, political, and social justice in the states. The index is a composite score for three broad factors — growth, equity, and sustainability — which are based on 43 indicators. Kerala has been ranked as the best-governed state in the Public Affairs Index while Gujarat ranked 5th. Uttar Pradesh has scored the last rank (18) for the quality of its governance.
Kerala is the most educated state in India. The report on ‘Household Social Consumption: Education in India as part of 75th round of National Sample Survey – from July 2017 to June 2018’ provides state-wise detail of literacy rate among persons aged seven years and above. According to the report, with 96.2 %, literacy, Kerala has once again emerged as the most literate state in the country. Out of 22 big states, Uttar Pradesh with 73%, the literacy rate is behind 17 states and paced at 18th rank. While Gujarat with a literacy rate of 82.4 %, ranked in 8th position.
The India Justice Report was prepared by the Tata Trusts along with others and has been published annually since 2019 with the third edition in 2022 focussing on comparisons between the structural and financial capacity of the states to deliver justice using the latest available government data. The rankings of states are made based on 53 indicators mainly ranking across police, prisons, judiciary, and legal aid, among others, reflecting the overall delivery of justice. According to the Report released in April 2023, among 18 large States in the delivery of justice, Gujarat is ranked 4th, and Kerala sixth while Uttar Pradesh is ranked lowest at 18.
According to the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, the life expectancy at birth of the average Indian increased. to 69.7 years in the period 2015-19. Kerala has the second-best life expectancy of 75.2 just behind Delhi’s 75.9, but much ahead of Gujarat’s 70.2 years, Odisha’s 69.8, and Uttar Pradesh’s 65.6 years. Uttar Pradesh occupies the second worst position in the country.
Kerala ranks first in Asia in Affordable Talent in the Global Startup Ecosystem Report. It has also secured first rank for the Single Window System for delivery of e-services, as per the report of the National e-Services Delivery Assessment. Kerala has the lowest positive population growth rate in India and the highest sex ratio. Kerala is a pioneer in implementing the universal health care program. Kerala’s 13.3 % prevalence of low birth weight is higher than that of many first-world nations.
Maternal mortality, Infant and neonatal mortalities, and the prevalence of stunting among under-five children are the lowest in Kerala and primary enrolment rates in schools are the highest in the country. Uttar Pradesh is in the second worst position in India in terms of maternal mortality and has the worst ratio in the country in terms of infant mortality. At the same time, the number of underweight children had increased marginally in Gujarat. This signals that undernourishment is rising in Gujarat alongside high economic growth. Unemployment, low wages, and lack of social security are driving laborers toward suicide
Kerala is the state with the lowest salaries for MLAs while they have the highest minimum wages for labourers. A rural worker (men in the non-agricultural segment) in Kerala earned an average of Rs 677.6 daily for 2020-21, taking the top position among the states, according to statistics released by the Reserve Bank of India. In UP, the minimum wage is around Rs271 only.
Achievements in the health sector are the main reason for the decline in infant mortality in Kerala. Kerala has a very high female literacy rate and adequate health facilities are available for both mothers and children. UP spends Rs 452 per capita on health, 70% less than the Indian average. UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) designated Kerala the world’s first “baby-friendly state” because of its effective promotion of breastfeeding over formulas. Over 95% of Keralite births are hospital delivered. The third National Family Health Survey ranks Kerala first in “Institutional Delivery” with cent percent of births in medical facilities.
Kerala is one of the pioneer states in India for initiating pro-poor policies and social protection programs for children and women in the most marginalized communities. The state introduced progressive legislations and schemes such as social security measures, expansion of health, nutrition, WASH and education systems, and public distribution system. In terms of development, it is the number one state in India. Instead of calumniating Kerala, other state governments should emulate its development model of Kerala.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.
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