For yet another year Keralites have welcomed their mythological benevolent king, Mahabali, by paying obeisance to none other than Bacchus. So fervent were the festivities that over 34 million Malayalees living in the small southern state splurged no less than Rs. 300 crore on Onam that fell on August 29 this year.
Legend has it that when Mahabali ruled the state all men were equal. There was no hunger and shortage. It was supposed to be the golden era in Kerala’s history. Mahabali arguably could be termed as the father of communism in Kerala.
But today the state known worldwide as ‘god’s own country’ is in the pits, socially and morally. The rate of suicides in Kerala is almost 2.3 times India’s average. On a given day, at least 23 people take their lives, 16 men and seven women. Suicide incidence went up by 17% between 1995 and 2002. Almost 80% suicides take place among the age group of 15-59 years. Among these as many as 65% are children below 14 years; suicide proneness among older men, too, is quite high.
Another matter of concern is the increasing number of divorces. This has prompted the Kerala government to set up 16 special courts to deal with divorce cases. According to reports, about eight to 10 cases are filed in each of these courts daily. From 8,456 divorce cases in 2005-06 to 11,600 in 2009-10, the number of broken families in Kerala is on the rise. The state accounts for 1.96 lakh of the nation’s 23.43 lakh divorced or separated women. As for murders, political or otherwise, the less said the better. The Kerala high court had recently ordered a full-scale probe into political killings both in the past and present. The brutal murder of TP Chandrashekaran, a dissident CPI(M) leader last May, has opened many a wound. There are ‘quotation gangs’ (Kerala’s term for supari killers) galore. From anything to everything there are mafias — land and women being the foremost.
One can say that the root cause for many of these ills lies in liquor. Kerala is the most indebted state in the country. Almost the entire state budget is eaten up by salaries and pensions. Thomas Isaac, the finance minister in the previous Left Front government, found an easy way of raising funds in allotting liquor outlet licences left, right and centre. The ratio of hard to soft liquor volumes consumed in Kerala would be among the highest in the world.
But credit must also go to the Malayalee. Nowhere else will you see such disciplined queues as in front of any beverage corporation (State-owned) shop which runs into miles beginning as early as 5 am. Here, Mahabali’s ideal state of ‘equality for all’ prevails. Thank god for small mercies.
Santosh Kumar is a Delhi-based senior journalist
The views expressed by the author are personal