Paradox in Paradise: Vanessa Baird Goes to Kerala in Search of the Radical Paradise She Has Been Told Exists There

By Baird, Vanessa | New Internationalist, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Paradox in Paradise: Vanessa Baird Goes to Kerala in Search of the Radical Paradise She Has Been Told Exists There


Baird, Vanessa, New Internationalist


THE plane takes a sudden dip. Then it follows the line where the thin band of amber sand meets the blue - brown waves of the Indian Ocean, lashed by the tail - end of the monsoon winds. Beyond the fringe of sand is a thick canopy of coconut trees that seems to stretch to infinity. This is Kerala, the small state right down on the south - western tip of India. It's known as 'land of the coconuts'. But it has also been called 'the red riddle', the 'problem state' and the 'Yenan of India' (in reference to Mao's Long March).

This was the first state in the world to actually elect a communist government. That was in 1957. What followed has been held up by many as a blueprint for Third World development.

Wealth was radically redistributed through land reform. Social programmes gave Keralites health, education and average life expectancy that is far better than that of any other Indians. Strong unions ensured better pay too.

Foreign aid agencies like Oxfam and Save the Children don't have programmes in Kerala -- it's not necessary, they say. And yet, paradoxically, Kerala remains one of the poorest states in the world if you go by all the usual means of measuring wealth.

What is the secret of Kerala's success? All the experts have their own pet theory: 'Communism'; 'the strong Christian influence'; 'the position of women in society'; 'a rich cultural mix'; 'communal harmony between the various religious groups'; 'a high level of political awareness'; 'militant unions and grassroots organizations'; 'natural resources'; and finally 'the resourcefulness of Keralites'. …

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