Syrian Christian of Kerala - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture remains the main occupation and nearly half of the population depends on agriculture, growing a variety of tropical vegetables, fruits, spices, and rice. Animal power is rarely used Except for plowing in some rice fields. Bullock carts have mostly been replaced by small and large motorized vehicles. Cattle, buffalo, goats, chickens, and ducks are found in most rural areas. The quality of cattle has improved through interbreeding with Jerseys, resulting in more milk production and better nutrition. With the introduction of white Leghorns (Mediterranean fowls), egg production has multiplied, producing higher income as well as improved nutrition. Christians are leaders in modern education that was introduced by European missionaries in nineteenth century. They also took advantage of the lead given by British planters in the nineteenth century and thus they continue to dominate the plantation economy, owning cardamom, coffee, rubber, and tea plantations. These cash crops have made many Christians affluent. Other communities are emulating the Christians and are also getting actively involved in education and new economic enterprises contributing to the increasing prosperity of Kerala. As there are not enough employment opportunities in Kerala some Christians have moved to other regions and overseas and taken jobs in all professions. Most noteworthy is the near-monopoly Christian women from Kerala have on the nursing profession throughout India. With the rapidly expanding economies of the Middle East oil-producing nations, many Christians discovered all sorts of opportunities. They have also found well-paying jobs in Western countries.


Industrial Arts. There are few large-scale industries in Kerala. However, there are factories (many Syrian Christian-owned) that manufacture tiles and coconut fiber (coir) and process cashew nuts and rubber.


Trade. Many Christians own a variety of small businesses in towns, such as textiles, groceries, stationery, hardware, restaurants, etc. Some bring their farm produce—for example, bananas, pineapples, mangoes, and other tropical fruits—to weekly markets in town. The rest of the cash crops, such as coconut and pepper, are sold through large-scale dealers located in towns. Cashews, cardamom, coffee, tea, and rubber are sold through marketing boards.


Division of Labor. In farming areas, Christians own land and the manual labor is usually done by low-caste Hindus, members of Scheduled Castes, and also a small number of Christians. Men as well as women work in the farming areas. Many work in factories, as laborers, as technicians, on plantations, and in shops in towns, while others work in civil Service. At home, men never get involved in household tasks because these are considered women's responsibility.


Land Tenure. Private ownership of land has been a special feature of the system of land tenure in Kerala from ancient times. Absolute ownership of land is known as the jenmom system. Tenancy rights vary depending on the terms and conditions of the lease. Due to the high population density, there is a great shortage of land for individual families. Thus, the Communist party-dominated state government (1957-1958) passed the Kerala Agrarian Relations Bill, fixing a ceiling of about 6 to 10 hectares on family holdings, depending on the size of the family. All excess land is surrendered to the government, which then sells it for a modest price to landless tenants; however, the large plantations are exempted, as large-scale landholdings provide economic advantages for the state. The government has been somewhat successful in redistributing land.

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