An Investigation Into Reasons Behind High Unemployment In Kerala

May 13, 2016 · 5 min read

Have you heard of the term ‘nokku kooli’? It’s a Malayali term that literally translates to ‘wage for spectating’. Most of you must not be familiar with the concept. In Kerala however it is extremely popular and I happen to hail from this Indian state, also known as God’s own country.

‘Nokku Kooli’/Wage for spectating — A fixed stipend paid to labourers registered with union (Can wear blue/orange/red shirts depending on their ranks in the union) for merely LOOKING on as the actual work is done by unregistered/private labourers or machines.

Let me just begin by saying that I love Kerala. One can’t help but fall in love with the amazing food, the scenery and the laid back atmosphere Kerala offers. When visiting Kerala I always stay beyond my intended visit duration. But of course that is for my alter ego, lazy self.

Coming to the point, during a recent election rally in Kerala, Modiji mentioned that unemployment in Kerala is 3 times that of national average. During the same rally he also used Somalia as a benchmark, soon after which #PoMoneModi (#GetLostModi) started trending. Malayalis took this as an opportunity to display their whimsical sense of humour.

There is a base of fact from which Modiji has made his comments. The first thing any sane Malayali would do before waxing eloquent on Kerala’s superiority, is to check the level of unemployment in Kerala. According to Wikipedia, this number stands at a staggering 73% in urban areas. The second thing the same sane Malayali would do is to google why this is the case despite the high literacy we claim to have. Since I consider myself a sane Malayali, I set out to do just that. I was disappointed to learn that there is not much information available on the same, except a few answers on Quora which I have elaborated below:

Rampant Strikes

Wikipedia states that there are about 100 hartals every year. Including weekends, that’s almost 1/3rd of the year when no work is done. For the lack of a word in Malayalam language we had to look elsewhere for a term to describe it. First, it was the English word ‘Strike’ which became unacceptable and was replaced by a more unacceptable Hindi word ‘Bandh’. Finally, we adopted a Gujarati word, ‘Hartal’. It is also interesting to note that, there’s a dedicated page on Facebook titled ‘Naale Hartal Aano’ (Is it a hartal tomorrow?) with a few thousand likes (I am sure they are organic).

Trade Unions

You will find a union for every kind of job. Teachers, labourers, lawyers, bus drivers, bus conductors, bus owners, fishermen, housewives….. name it and you shall find it.


The Economic model in Kerala even when the ruling party is non — communist is socialistic. Socialism in its true sense is economic equality. This philosophy is deeply ingrained into every malayali in Kerala, case in point being the practice of Nokku Kooli. Historically, the Government has built schools, hospitals and transport facilities and at the same time has shied away from industrial development. Even Marx did not anticipate the kind of worker’s’ paradise in Kerala. The philosophy manifests itself in different forms across all. When socialism failed all the world, Kerala still upholds it.


High literacy has resulted in a kind of situation where the educated refuses to start their career from a humble job. Everybody wants to kickstart their working life with what is socially acceptable. The concept of dignity of labor does not exist. There are literally no malayali individual wage labourers. Blue collar jobs are dominated by the a North Indian work force hailing from the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, UP and Chhattisgarh. ‘Menial jobs’ of ground staff, clerks, cook and office boys are despised and often left vacant.

Misused & Misrepresented statistics

The role of data in all industries has grown and so has its misuse and misrepresentation. Today speakers/politicians modify statistics unfairly to convince the audience. It is fair to assume that the average unemployed individual in Kerala would register his or her name in the unemployment index, causing unemployment numbers to inflate, something that this person’s counterpart in another state may not do. Thus the unemployment numbers again, may or may not be any more or any less that any other Indian state. According to current statistics, unemployment in Rajasthan and Gujarat are 18 and 22 respectively. However, an investigation on revealed that the employment and livelihood websites of both these states have negligible traffic.

My trips across the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh revealed the dangerous level of illiteracy and unemployment in these states. I got the opportunity to work for MKSS(Mazdoor Kisan Sakthi Sanghatan) a CBO(Community based organisation) that works for the people of Rajasthan from grassroot levels. People in some parts of Rajasthan are not aware of their basic rights. I have seen instances where MKSS members have tried to make a person understand that she can file an FIR for rape. The theory can be extended to crime rates and infant mortality as well. These rates in Kerala are amongst the highest in the country. One major cause for this is that high rates of literacy lead to more of these cases being reported and documented.

Some good reads on misuse of statistics:

Moreover, there are other reasons like pervasive corruption and brain drain which other states also face. Kerala is to be loved unconditionally because what it offers can far outweigh its negatives. It is a state where you rarely find a person begging or living in a kaccha house. From an Indian perspective, this is lightyears ahead of the country average from a qualitative angle.

But more importantly, Malayali hubris, if combined, can work against the people and their development as realised by Modiji. His comments in the Kasargode rally might cost BJP the only 3 seats they intend on winning. The only one that still looks minutely probable is the capital Thiruvananthapuram with Sreesanth as their candidate (Just kidding).

Edited by: Paulomi Mehta


Written by


Cool Nerd. Noob at Mosaic writing. @reachkg.

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