Why don't Kerala buses have stained glass windows

Success model Kerala

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The Indian state could be an example of social progress in a developing country - if it weren't for India's central government and the political influences of globalization

By Gerhard Klas *

Despite slow economic growth in Kerala, the state is extraordinarily successful in key sectors: literacy, life expectancy, and death rates. The Indian government should try to emulate this experiment from Kerala, ”says Amartya Sen. The Indian economist received the Nobel Prize in his discipline in 1998 and has been following developments in Kerala since the 1960s.

Kerala is the state on the southwestern end of the Indian subcontinent. 32 million people live there. Red flags of the ruling Left Front line many streets in the capital, Tiruvananthapuram. Begging cripples, old people, mothers and street children, who are a common sight at the intersections in the big cities of the other 27 states, are seldom seen there.

Political decision-making in Kerala is based on what Sen calls "public action." It is the interplay between the social movement, parties, trade unions, cooperatives and science.

Exemplary school system

A project day is taking place at the Nemom primary school in the suburb of the same name in Tiruvananthapuram. One-story school buildings are lined up around the schoolyard. The windows are not glazed because it is never cold in Kerala. The free lunch for the students is prepared in a kitchen.

The project day was organized by the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad movement, or KSSP for short, in all schools in Kerala. With 40,000 members, the KSSP is the largest non-union movement in Kerala. Its members volunteer for health, environmental, social and, above all, educational issues. "We can influence government policy, because all the programs and models that we have developed in recent years have helped the poor a lot and improved their living conditions," said Harilal Vasuderan, District Secretary of the KSSP in Tiruvananthapuram.

The organization is currently working on reforming the education system. From the first to the eighth grade, all children are taught in one school. More than 80 percent of them are still in high school through tenth grade. A quarter, about 200,000 per year, then go to high school, and many go on to study at one of the state's nine universities or technical colleges. The state and state-sponsored educational institutions are free of charge. As early as the 1970s, thanks in part to the KSSP, one hundred percent of all children in Kerala were able to go to school.

The day of the project is not about the classic subjects such as arithmetic, reading, and English, but the KSSP wants the students to observe their environment and thus gain knowledge and understanding - without pressure to perform and grades. About 40 seventh grade students sit at simple desks and stools in a room at the Nemom School. Today's project day is about television consumption in the families. The nationwide supply of almost all households with a television set is only a few years old in Kerala. The 40-year-old Harilal Vasuderan wants to know from the students what is being watched, when and why, and questions the often penetrating advertising for superfluous products. Avoiding waste is also an issue. The pupils learn how to make bags out of old newspaper - as a replacement for the plastic bags that spoil the landscape in Kerala. In 2007, following campaigns by the KSSP and other environmental groups, the government banned plastic bags. At the beginning of the 1990s, the KSSP had developed an energy-efficient wood stove and later obtained nationwide funding from the government. In other environmental projects, the organization had to assert itself against the ruling left-wing front, e.g. when it mobilized against a hydroelectric power station in the »Silent Valley« nature reserve, which it, together with many other movements, was ultimately able to prevent successfully.

In 1996 the KSSP received the alternative Nobel Prize. "With their help," said the jury, "the state of Kerala has become a global model for sustainable development." The then President of the KSSP and founding member, chemistry professor Pallath Kumaran Raveendran, accepted the award on behalf of the organization. "A prerequisite for social change is access to advances in science and technology." Advances that are otherwise mainly used by the small group of the wealthy, says Raveendran. The KSSP calls this "Science for Social Revolution".

Risk from market opening

But the »Kerala« development model is threatened. Since the opening of the Indian market, the conflicts between Kerala and the central government in New Delhi, which focus on free market economy and competition, have been increasing. Lea Laulitha Devi, 38-year-old English teacher at Nemom School, is concerned about private schools, for example, whose influence has grown dramatically under the last Congress Party-led government in Kerala. But together with her teachers' union she does not want to give up early: "We will fight, because we need the public sector."

Fighting, which means demonstrating in front of the seat of government in Kerala, occupations, vigils and strikes. Hardly a month goes by without a general strike: all shops are closed, there are no buses, taxis or motor rickshaws, and school is canceled. Not even ten percent of the strikes are of a collective bargaining nature, almost always political strikes aimed at promoting or preventing legislative proposals.

This attitude, which has always been an important basis of the Kerala development model, makes the KSSP activist Raveendran optimistic. It is fortunate that "the population has such a developed political consciousness." Since the first elections in 1957, the government has changed almost every five years between the Left Front - an alliance of the leading Communist Party of India (Marxist) with the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc - and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the Congress Party, but the people placed great emphasis on public promotion of education, health, and food supplies. "Even the right-wing governments under the leadership of the Congress Party are not in a position to change that," states Raveendran and is confident of victory. "This government spending will continue to exist because the public schools and other facilities are the backbone of the Kerala development model."

But the opening of the market not only changes the economic situation, it also brings a new mentality into Kerala. The Technopark, a special economic zone on the outskirts of the capital, is symbolic. "Technopark - Work in harmony" is written on the entrance signs. 15,000 engineers, bank managers and IT specialists work there, among others. for a subsidiary of the German Allianz AG, the US company Ernst & Young, the Indian software giant Infosys and its US competitor Novell. In the rest of Kerala, unions are actually represented in every company. They are a foreign word in the Technopark. "There are no unions in the software industry," explains the young manager Ajith Pillai, a native of Keralite who works for the Indian TATA group. "We're all in a good mood here," explains Pillai, "whoever works for TATA works for an idea, an idea of ​​change - for us this is more than just a job."

Many of the companies in the Technopark manufacture highly sensitive products. The area is fenced and guarded by security personnel. You can only get into most buildings if you have passed at least one security gate. The companies enjoy generous tax rebates and preferential treatment for the supply of infrastructure such as energy, water and roads. The health and safety laws are no longer in force. If strikes take place somewhere in Tiruvananthapuram, the employees are picked up by bus and safely chauffeured to the Technopark by police escort.

Threat to traditional fishing

Nahini Nayak works in a small side street in the center of Tiruvananthapuram in the office of the Self Employed Womens Association, or SEWA for short. More than a thousand women in Kerala are active members. SEWA is a mixture of a union and a self-help group. The association organizes z. B. Women who work as street vendors also offer various services themselves: childcare, office cleaning and domestic help. Nahini Nayak, social scientist, is one of the founders of SEWA in Kerala. Like the activists of the KSSP, their work is voluntary. “Having a job and being socially active at the same time has a long tradition in Kerala,” she says, “that is how the social movements were built here; In Kerala it has always been good form not to take any money for one's social mobilization work. ”So also in her case. In order to earn a living, she sometimes works as a nursing assistant, sometimes as a scientist. She always did her time-consuming work for SEWA in addition.

Nahini Nayak welcomes the achievements of a public health and education sector. "But many women from the informal sector did not benefit, which is why we founded SEWA." She criticizes the blind faith in progress that the governments in Kerala, for example in the fisheries sector, adhered to. "Above all, the women, whose livelihood was natural resources, have been marginalized and robbed of their livelihood, whether in the fishing sector or in forestry." In the name of development, Kerala introduced industrial fishing with large ships, and thereby the Fish resources diminished. “That went hand in hand with the construction of ports and the centralization of fisheries. So the women finally lost control of the fish trade. "

On the beach of Valiathura in Tiruvananthapuram, fishermen put their boats in the water in the late afternoon to go out to sea overnight. More than three dozen boats are on the sandy beach, not even half of them are motorized fiberglass boats. Most are simple catamarans built from four logs. They do not have a motor, but are driven by oars and sails. They are not located in harbors, but operate directly from the beach, mostly in the immediate vicinity of the fishermen's houses and villages. Sixty percent of the roughly one million fishermen in Kerala still work this way today. The men do the hard work at sea and have to haul in the nets, which sometimes weigh several hundred pounds. The women take the fish as soon as it comes ashore and sell it. With the industrialization of fishing, many of them lost their jobs and thousands emigrated to the Gulf States.

The governments paid no attention to fishermen who worked with traditional methods. "We said that this production is also important and valuable and deserves support, but that was not important for the Communist Party," says Nayak. The party was against the introduction of machines in coconut fiber processing, where it had organized many workers, "but in fishing and agriculture it focused on industrialization and modernization."

Problems with central government

This is how Kerala became a state of the "Green Revolution". The "Green Revolution" began in Kerala in the 1960s and 1970s. With pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and commercial seeds, the crop yields of farmers who could afford these investments should be increased. The use of these funds has ruined many smallholders and has also left ecological traces: dried up, depleted soils, polluted groundwater and monocultures. Globalization only exacerbates the problem.

For the past two hundred years, agriculture in Kerala has specialized in commercial varieties: coconut as the most important, followed by rubber, tea, coffee and pepper. "We achieved good prices for it and have planted more and more of them," said the state's incumbent Treasury Secretary, Thomas Isaac. "Fields in which grain is planted for our food are seldom seen today," continues Isaac, "we only produce 20 percent of our grain needs ourselves." Most of the agricultural products are exported and the vital grain has to be bought. "Globalization has meant that the prices for our agricultural exports have plummeted and at the same time the prices for grain have skyrocketed," explains the finance minister. At the same time, the central government in New Delhi is cutting subsidies and thus endangering public food aid. "We are in the midst of a serious crisis," says Isaac. "As far as I can remember, farmers in Kerala committed suicide for the first time. Between 1999 and 2004 alone, 1,500 committed suicide."

There is an organic market in the Kawdiar district of Tiruvananthapuram. Every two weeks, smallholders who practice organic farming come together here. "I sell bananas, aubergines, papayas, coconuts and cucumbers here, and for the farmers in my neighborhood I also sell elephant tuber, spinach, various types of beans, herbs and fruits," says the farmer Shaji Kumari, describing her range. “Once you start chemistry in agriculture you have to spend more and more money, keep buying new pesticides and stuff like that. And that does not mean that the harvest also increases. So more and more expenses and less and less income. That has already driven some farmers to suicide, "she explains," in any case, organic farming is much cheaper, you have enough to eat and you also earn some money. "

The left-front government has also drawn conclusions from the peasant suicides and is in the process of converting one district of Kerala completely to organic farming, the other thirteen are to follow within a few years. The old government under the Congress Party had even chosen three districts, but did not implement any of its projects. “If anything is to be implemented in Kerala,” says Kumari, “you have to fight for it. But in principle you can implement the government's plan, only more farmers have to participate. "

Last summer, the US multinational Monsanto wanted to conduct its first trials with genetically modified rice. This immediately sparked a public debate. After a television discussion with environmental activists, Kerala's agriculture minister relented because he too feared the effects on biodiversity and farmers in the state. He banned cultivation and declared Kerala a GMO-free zone. This makes the state one of the largest such regions in the world.

"The development experiment in Kerala shows that even with the current state of development, a basic supply of all citizens is possible, with schooling, health facilities, an apartment, sufficient food and drinking water," emphasizes Isaac. All of this is withheld from the majority of the poor in the Third World. “Kerala proves that there is another way - if there is the political will. But globalization presents us with new challenges. "

In particular, the central government in New Delhi is putting pressure on the economy in Kerala by reducing the financial allocations, among other things. conditional on reducing public spending and opening the doors even wider to private investors. Isaac does not want to give in to this pressure. Kerala spends a third of the state budget on education and health. In total, more than half of the annual budget goes into human development, if you add other social benefits and public sector support.

Isaac, who does his work in the traditional lungi, a calf-length cloth tied around his waist, ironically describes himself as the "accountant of the central government". New Delhi intervenes more and more in the economy of Kerala. After the income and corporate tax, it would have had sole access to the service tax since the end of the 1980s and thus of all things to the most important growth market in Kerala. Although the state makes up approximately three percent of the Indian population, the central government only allocates about 1.5 percent of the state budget to it. Many in Kerala suspect political reasons behind this.

* Gerhard Klas lives as a freelance journalist in Cologne

From: Junge Welt, May 15, 2008

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