Plagued by chronic unemployment, more Keralites than ever work abroad, often at sun-scorched jobs in the Persian Gulf that pay about $1 an hour and keep them from their families for years. The cash flowing home now helps support nearly one Kerala resident in three. That has some local scholars rewriting the Kerala story: far from escaping capitalism, they say, this celebrated corner of the developing world is painfully dependent on it.
''Remittances from global capitalism are carrying the whole Kerala economy,'' said S. Irudaya Rajan, a demographer at the Center for Development Studies, a local research group. ''There would have been starvation deaths in Kerala if there had been no migration. The Kerala model is good to read about but not practically applicable to any part of the world, including Kerala.''
Local lessons would matter less if this were a section of Mexico or Manila -- places known for the hardships that make migrants flee. But Kerala's standing as the other way -- the benevolent path to development, a retort to globalization -- makes the travails of its 1.8 million globalizing migrants especially resonant. The debate about Kerala is a debate about future strategies across the impoverished world.
''So many educated people are here, but we have no jobs,'' Ms. Mohan added. ''That is a big problem, a really big problem.''
But Kerala's life expectancy is nearly 74 years -- 11 years longer than the Indian average and approaching the American average of 77 years. Its literacy rate, 91 percent, compares to an Indian average of 65 percent, and an American rate the United Nations estimates at 99 percent.
Kerala spends 36 percent more on education than the average Indian state and 46 percent more on health.
The number of overseas workers doubled in the 1980s, and then tripled in the 1990s. In a state of 32 million where unemployment approaches 20 percent, one Keralite worker in six now works overseas. The largest number work at taxing construction jobs, outdoors in the Arabian sun, though high literacy allows some Keralites to land office work.
The $5 billion that Keralite migrants send home augment the state's economic output by nearly 25 percent. Migrants' families are three times as likely as those of nonmigrants to live in superior housing, and about twice as likely to have telephones, refrigerators and cars.
Yet the suicide rate in Kerala is four times the national average, and there are also families like that of Shirley Justus, 45, who struggled to raise three daughters by herself while her husband drove trucks in Muscat and Dubai.
With nearly a quarter of the money migrants send home being spent on education, some Keralites experience a painful cycle: migration buys education, which leads to more migration. Educated Keralites, more choosy about jobs, are more likely to be unemployed.
Title:Jobs abroad underwriting 'model' state.(Foreign Desk)(BORDER CROSSINGS).
Source:The New York Times (Sept 7, 2007): pA1(L). (1672 words)
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Source Citation:Deparle, Jason. "Jobs abroad underwriting 'model' state.(Foreign Desk)(BORDER CROSSINGS)." The New York Times (Sept 7, 2007): A1(L). Academic OneFile. Gale. Boston Univ, Mugar Memorial Library. 20 Mar. 2009
Gale Document Number:A168417277