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Kerala of My Dreams

“Dreams find me quite incompetent

in doing the simplest things, repeating them

endlessly, like tying a knot that unravels

at the final pull, making me do it again

and when I speak to my wife, I am inchoate,

my words unformed and she exasperated,

looking for meaning and substance of the dream

and when I find none, I give up,

I dream! Therefore, I despair!”

I wrote this poem in 1992. We despair; therefore, we dream is perhaps truer, in the context of this article.

Prof. Babu Joseph of the Rajaji Forum asked me to write on “Kerala of my dreams”. I accepted with enthusiasm, but on starting to write, I realized the difficulty of saying something on such a broad topic without sounding too vague and simplistic; exactly like my state in the poem!

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Kerala rose to magnificent heights of selflessness and service during the floods: should we dream of a Kerala where this streak of altruism shines through at all times when each one of us feels the pain and concern of others at all times?

We hear of villages taking up a collection to enable a poor student to listen to online classes by providing a cheap TV set and internet connection. Should we envisage a Kerala where everyone’s needs are taken care of through shared empathy: A Universal Basic Source of Goods and Services!?

Our generation lamented that Kerala does not create wealth through industries; that people have to leave Kerala to find employment and prosperity. The reversal of this through the startup revolution of high technology industries is inspiring. Kerala Start-Up Mission has been heralding many programmes to accelerate the commercialization of innovation through ventures such as the Integrated Startup Complex in Kochi, spread over a large area with dedicated facilities for various tech sectors. Kerala of our dreams should be one where every youngster in every town or village who has an innovative idea is proffered help with management, financial and infrastructural resources like the one in Kochi.

The great universities of the west made us despair of their being out of reach except for the very rich. Though we can be proud of our record in achieving high levels of literacy, Kerala’s performance in developing Human Resources with the requisite skillsets in the emerging areas of the technological spectrum is rather weak. Emerging technologies like IoT, AI, Blockchain, Robotics and 3D printing will drive the emerging manufacturing and employment opportunities and make present skill sets obsolete. Should we dream of a Kerala with a few world-class universities which specialize in these and other areas of knowledge?

“What the world can learn from Kerala about how to fight covid-19,” wrote MIT’s Technology Review Magazine praising how the Pathanamthitta Collector P B Nooh responded to the Covid challenge. Nooh is an exception to a generally ambivalent, uncommitted beurocracy. Is the idea of a Kerala where every administrator is tech-savvy, networked and driven as this young IAS officer unrealistic?

In many developed countries “U3Age: University of the Third Age” conduct continuing academic programmes aimed at Senior Citizens. Can we hope for our universities to have the social commitment to continue educating the aged?

A YouTube video presents Homegrown Nursery, the world’s largest fruit orchard; the creation of Jose Jacob of Kanjirapally. Does a dream of a Kerala where every farmer becomes an entrepreneur and rules and regulations do not come in his way of planting what he likes, where he likes in an economically attractive manner make sense? A Kerala where we do not have to be fed by the neighbouring states with their poisoned farm produces.

Kerala’s de-centralized healthcare model is a key component of its success in providing affordable and accessible care. As the state’s population ages rapidly, a policy is already being generated to service this class of the population. Can we dream of a Kerala, where networked healthcare systems provide world-class healthcare from infancy to dotage?

According to the Social Watch Report on Performance of Panchayats in Kerala by the Institute for Sustainable Development and Governance Thiruvananthapuram, the State of Kerala is regarded as one among the forerunners in the process of decentralization in the country. The Kerala de-centralization experience is said to have sharpened people’s entitlements and capabilities. It also empowered local Panchayats. It has helped to frame new sets of orders, rules, guidelines, and legislations, which are landmarks in the jurisprudence of devolution and democratic decentralization. Could we hope that we achieve more success in de-centralization to enable Kerala to become an icon to be emulated by other states of India?

A New York Times article hailed Kudumbashree as “A Rare Government Success Story for Women’s Empowerment in Kerala”. In an environment that is often criticized as lacking commitment to women’s rights, the programme has been a shining example of successful women empowerment, both economically and socially. Microenterprises play a vital role in poverty alleviation and socio-economic development of the poor and help to bring about equitable and balanced economic development with a relatively low amount of capital investment. Many studies show that Kudumbashree Micro-enterprises have demonstrated indications of sustainability. Kudumbashree model manifests unique expertise in community development and poverty eradication, particularly among rural women, a UNIDO report says. We can dream that the idea is further extended to develop a pan Kerala network of Microenterprises to empower more women and unemployed youth.

Kerala has been claiming to promote ecotourism or balanced tourism and have reported substantial tourism earnings. The political ecology of tourism development in the state highlights the powerful nexus between bureaucracy, politicians and the accommodation industry. Claim that Kerala is, indeed, benefiting from tourism has to be balanced against the damage caused to the environment and the social cost of deculturization being a service provider. Environmental cost to delicate ecologies like the Vembanad lake and the hill areas like Munnar and Wayanad is substantial. Tourism employment makes families dependent on cash income from tourism and therefore less likely to participate in time-honoured work and social activities. This is a real problem in Kerala. The academic community has been largely insensitive to this problem and the State often pursues policies that aggravate tourism’s harmful impacts. I dream of a Kerala which takes the environmental and social costs of tourism seriously and does not sell itself to the world so desperately.

So there! A panoply of dreams on a strongly melded social structure embellished with enhanced empathy, on enabling gains to flow out of innovation, on the possibility of learning in the best settings, on being served by humane and committed public servants, on farms and orchards which enrich the land and the farmer, on achieving wellness through dedicated caregivers, of wielding political power at the grassroots, of empowered women and youth. Let us hope that all these dreams come true.

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