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In Malappuram computers are in, veils out

Once upon a time Malappuram was one of the most backward districts, indeed one of the 90 "problematic" districts in India.

india Updated: May 04, 2006 11:04 IST

 There was a time when the very name of Malappuram in Kerala's Malabar region ignited impressions of a conservative and economically backward Muslim-majority district.

Today, Malappuram has become a byword for development, boasting of high quality roads (many of which will put New Delhi to shame), a strong healthcare system, thriving educational institutions, an exploding car boom and marble houses.

Even the mosques across the district, in both towns and villages, are built with style and elegance even while retaining the old ethnic charm. To cap it all, Malappuram has recorded a steep decline in population growth. From 28.87 per cent growth in 1981-91, it has plunged to 11.65 per cent in 1991-2001, becoming an envious object of research worldwide.

Muslims constitute two-thirds of Malappuram's 3.6 million people. But there are hardly any burqa-clad women on the streets. All one can see are chirpy, pleasant and colourfully dressed women, young and old. Many, however, cover their heads.

Apart from the rich and evergreen forests, the breathtakingly beautiful district is known for ravines, hills and dales, rivers and brooks, sandy surfs and palm fringed coasts.

The people are friendly -- and soft-spoken too.

Most of them may not be fluent in English but almost all - including elderly women - know how to send email to their family members working in the Gulf. The district has about 350,000 people, mostly men, employed in the Gulf region.

Malappuram registered the fastest growth rate in vehicular population in Kerala last year. The number of vehicles on the roads has increased by 6.29 times in 12 years, says a report from the state planning board.

The latest swanky cars are easy to spot in Malappuram. Every family boasts of modern kitchen gadgets.

And of course it is a football crazy district - like much of Kerala. But it is only in Malappuram that one can already see huge hoardings and flashboards hailing Brazilian stars Ronaldinho and Roberto.

Locals attribute much of the district's all-round success to the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a major constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). The IUML dominates Malappuram's politics.

The achievements have come about after decades of struggle.

Once upon a time Malappuram was one of the most backward districts, indeed one of the 90 "problematic" districts in India.

"It was the effort of the local bodies and social organisations that helped Malappuram to achieve a significant change in the social scenario," VP Ummer, the municipal councilor in Tirur town, said.

Muslims here have taken to family planning in a big way. The district has also made considerable progress on the education front.

"Earlier we were against learning English because of the influence of anti-colonialism," Ummer said. "But our children, especially girls, excel everyone."

It is Malappuram students who scored the highest marks in different courses in Calicut University.

The 3,550-sq km district is home to four post-graduation colleges, seven first grade colleges, six Oriental colleges (religious institutions) and 18 high schools.

The government-sponsored Akshaya (Bridging the digital divide) project in Malappuram has made the district 80 percent e-literate, becoming a model for the overwhelmingly Muslim Malaysia.

Within just a year, close to half a million of the district's population became e-literate up to a basic level, learning through computer games.

"We are the first district in Asia to establish a 'taluk' area hospital with people's participation. It is coming up in Tirur town," Ummer said.

A Malappuram businessman, Aboobakker, stated proudly: "You cannot find a single street urchin or beggar here. The social organisations here got together and opened a 'yatheem khana' (orphanage) to take care of them. The poor kids are provided the best education and other material there."