K. Saradamoni, 1928-2021


K. Saradamoni sometime in 2020. Source: Facebook page of K. Rajan, Revenue MInister Of Kerala, State Executive Member Of Communist Party Of India
K. Saradamoni sometime in 2020. Source: Facebook page of K. Rajan, Revenue MInister Of Kerala, State Executive Member Of Communist Party Of India

We at Dollars & Sense close out 2021 by belatedly noting the passing of Dr. K. (Kunjulekshmi) Saradamoni, economist, feminist, and pioneer in gender studies/women’s studies and in Dalit studies. Dr. Saradamoni was author of numerous books, the most famous being her 1980 book Emergence of a Slave Caste: Pulayas of Kerala, which was based on her 1971 dissertation entitled Changements économiques et sociaux au Kerala: la caste des Pulayas depuis 1800which she completed at University of Paris VII under the supervision of the anthropologist Louis Dumont. Before her doctoral studies, she had studied at the Government College for Women and University College in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, according to her obituary in The Hindu. She also received an M. Litt. degree in economics from Madras University in 1957. She began her career as an economist at the Bureau of Economic and Statistical Studies in Kerala, and she joined the Indian Statistical Institute in New Delhi in 1961 and taught there until 1988.  Dr. Saradamoni died on May 26 at her house in Kowdiar, Thiruvananthapuram. She was 93.

Dr. Saradamoni was described as “respected social scientist, economist, writer and an inspiration to generations of feminists in Kerala” by The News Minute. The Wire remembered that she “tore into every piece of received wisdom on whatever subject she spoke about provoking and engaging everyone around,” and elaborated thus: 

Even those who thought she belonged to their camp would often be stunned by her merciless exercises in introspection. And when she was only a listener, she would invariably be on her feet after every speech to shoot off a volley of hard-hitting questions at the speaker.

The same piece in The Wire also explained what was so explosive about Dr. Saradamoni’s research on gender and caste in Kerala: 

She was a path-breaker in many ways. Attaining education and health on par with men has long been the conventional indicator of women’s empowerment and lauded as a proud achievement of the celebrated Kerala model of development. However, since the 1980s, the model has come under critical scrutiny for its many limitations and flip sides.

Prominent among them was the continuing forms of discrimination faced by the Kerala women despite advances in education and health prompting scholars in Women Studies to ponder over the “glum behind the glitz” and the “enigma of the Kerala woman”. Most discussed was the “invisible Kerala woman”and  her conspicuous absence from positions of power. She barely had a marginal presence in the legislature, the leadership of even supposedly progressive political parties, she ran much behind men in job participation, and atrocities against her too were no less in Kerala than in the ‘BIMARU’ badlands.

It was then that one particular woman stood vindicated for having crying hoarse about this paradox for many years often upsetting her own comrades in the Left, the unsuspecting champions of the Kerala model. Surprisingly, even as a young student in the 1950s, Saradamoni had written about the need for women to go beyond education and health to attain real empowerment and the need to fight for justice within the families. This was almost a decade before Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, the American theorist of Intersectionality, was even born.

A list (albeit incomplete) of her many, many publications on a wide range of topics can be found at WorldCat

Dr. Saradamoni was in touch with heterodox economist in the United States, and attended the summer conference of the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) in 1997. She was also a long-time subscriber to and supporter of Dollars & Sense. In 2003, she published a volume of articles from Dollars & Sense that she had translated into Malayalam, the language spoken by some 38 million people in the state of Kerala. The book anthology was published under the title “Marunna Lokam Mattunnatare?” (“The Changing World, Who Changes It?”) by Prabhatham Printing & Publishing Co. in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

Here are the covers of the book, and the inscription from Dr. Saradamoni in the copy that her daughter, Asha Gopinathan, brought by the D&S office in 2012:

"Marunna Lokam Mattunnatare?" ("Do You Want to Change the World?") by K. Saradamoni

And here is the English-language table of contents of the anthology:

"Marunna Lokam Mattunnatare?" ("Do You Want to Change the World?") Table of Contents

We are lucky to have had the solidarity and support of such an important scholar and activist as K. Saradamoni, who most certainly herself changed the world, for the better.

We offer our deepest condolences to her family.

November/December 2021 Issue

Cover of Nov/Dec 2021 issue

Our November/December 2021 issue is being printed, and e-subscribers have received their digital copies!  (Not a subscriber? Subscribe now, here!)

You can find the table of contents of the new issue here, and here is the p. 2 editors’ note:

Why Quit Now?

It should come as no surprise that the group home industry, the focus of this issue’s cover story by John Summers, is one of the parts of the economy where there is a labor shortage. In mid-July, David Kassel of COFAR blog (cofarblog.com), reported on staffing shortages in group homes, and attributed them to the pandemic, but also to “the low pay provided to direct care workers” compared with “high salaries provided to executives managing the nonprofits operating most of the group homes.”

What’s happening to group homes is happening across the economy: Workers are quitting on a mass scale—a record 2.9% of the workforce, or 4.3 million resignations, in August alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sonali Kolhatkar’s article in this issue helps explain the phenomenon, which has been dubbed the “Great Resignation.” Kolhatkar cites a Harris poll of currently employed workers, half of whom said they intend to make a career change because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The poll, which was commissioned by Catalyst (a nonprofit focused on women and the workplace) and CNBC, found that 76% of respondents said they “want their company to make work permanently flexible in terms of things like schedule and/or location.” Kolhatkar relates the mass exodus from the labor market to the recent uptick in strikes, with more than 100,000 workers across a range of industries currently striking or threatening to strike. Kolhatkar writes that “taken together with mass resignations, such worker strikes reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of American work that has been decades in the making.”

So why now? The answer is surely related to the pandemic and its effects on working conditions and labor relations, and the opportunity to think about where you work afforded by federal government relief, no matter how meager and temporary. Women appear to be at the forefront of the Great Resignation, and childcare issues—the lack of availability of affordable daycare, and the dangers posed to kids by the pandemic—is another factor driving people to quit. And older workers, concerned about Covid-19 risks in the workplace (and flush with increasing asset values in homes and stocks), are retiring at a faster clip, according to Fed economist Miguel Faria e Castro.

One factor that does not appear to be contributing much to resignations, retirements, and strikes is vaccine mandates. A poll commissioned by The Conversation showed that very few people have quit their jobs in response to mandates. And as Jeff Schuhrke pointed out in In These Times, some media observers claiming that labor unions are opposed to vaccine mandates are confusing collective bargaining demands about how vaccine mandates are implemented with opposition to mandates altogether. Two-fifths of respondants in the Catalyst/CNBC Harris poll said they considered quitting because their boss “has not cared about their concerns during the pandemic,” and a recent Gallup poll showed a sizeable majority of Americans favor workplace vaccine mandates.

Also in this issue: Peru’s new president, how climate change is affecting farmworkers, a review of a book on why you hate your job, why we must address social justice and climate change at the same time, and more!