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In 1990, Kerala on the southwestern coast has India's lowest infant mortality, longest life expectancy and highest female literacy. India's 'problem state' of the 1950s has become 'the Kerala model'. The collapse of a matrilineal social structure and a rigid caste system contributed to widespread politicization. Women retained a circumscribed but influential position in social life. The result is an instructive analysis for students of politics, development policy and women's issues.