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Syrian Christians are in a class of their own

By Our Staff Reporter

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, AUG. 12. The Syrian Christian community in Kerala has reached the top-most rung in the socio-economic ladder in the State and this achievement has been attributed to the progress it has made in the field of education.

A study on the `Demographic history of the Syrian Christians of Kerala', undertaken by Dr. K.C. Zachariah of the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, throws light on the origin, development through the centuries and the present status of this community. The yet-to-be-released study suggests measures by which the community can maintain its supremacy in different areas.

In recent years, the Syrian Christians have been ahead of the other communities with respect to education. To some extent, this has been due to their closer association with the Europeans, the ruling English community. However, they could not have achieved the level of education they have reached now, without their own perseverance and initiative.

At present, the Christians constitute 18.6 per cent of the population of Kerala. It was from 1961 that the proportion of the Christians began to follow a declining trend and this has been attributed to factors like the State reorganisation of 1956, the relatively faster decline in fertility among Christians in the recent decades, higher rate of migration of Christians out of Kerala and the absence of any statistically significant conversion to Christianity.

The Christian community in Kerala had the lowest age at marriage and the highest fertility rate before 1950, but now they have the highest age at marriage, (among women), the highest family planning user rate (mainly sterilisation) and the lowest fertility rates. They could also have the highest abortion rate, but statistical evidences are lacking in this regard.

The sex ratio among the Syrian Christians is 1,036 females to 1,000 males. However, fewer of the Syrian Christian families are headed by females than in any other community in Kerala.

Migration has been a major factor by which the Syrian Christian community has adjusted to the demographic pressure, which they experienced after the 1940s. The migration rate among them was higher than that among any other community in the State. Now, the Syrian Christians are only second to Muslims with respect to external migration.

However, when it comes to emigration to the U.S., the Syrian Christians, accounting for two-thirds of the total emigrants, outshine all other communities. The average remittances per household are the highest among the Muslims and remittance per emigrant is the highest among Latin Christians. The Syrian Christian emigrants seem to be not sending as much money back home as their Latino or Nair brethren.

Even though Syrian Christians have been faring better than all other communities in the area of educational achievements, they are not the number one with respect to the level of employment. With regard to employment in the private sector, the Syrian Christians lead all other communities. No other community in Kerala has as many of their members engaged in self- employment.

The Syrian Christians rank lower than Nairs and Muslims, but higher than Latinos and Ezhavas with respect to male unemployment rate. It is only among the Latino and Ezhava women that unemployment rate is significantly lower than that among the Syrian Christians.

This community leads all the others with respect to ownership of land, 123 cents per household. The members of this community have better housing than all the other communities. The per cent of Syrian Christian households possessing `luxurious' or `very good house' is 22, compared with 21 per cent among Nairs and nine among Latinos. With regard to possession of household consumer goods, the Syrian Christians stand very much above the other communities.

The study has identified several areas of concern, the major ones being the diminishing absolute and relative size of the community, the emerging structural changes in the Syrian Christian population and the lack of a broader understanding of the problems ahead. In the emerging demographic trends, `an extra push' is warranted in all spheres, the study maintains.

The Syrian Christians are `notoriously lethargic' in developing and maintaining basic information about the community, the study observes. For the community to survive in the 21st century, its members should come together in the emerging era of demographic crises and jointly invest more of their resources in areas that matter the most, especially in the development of human resources, the study suggests.

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