Progress of Literacy in India: What the Census 2001
(October 05, 2001)
Census is considered one of the most reliable sources of data on
socio-economic and demographic variables. India is one of the very few
countries in the world, which has the history of holding census every ten years
uninterruptedly since 1872.
collects and disseminates, basic counts on various characteristics of
population and also provides data on demographic, socio-cultural, economic,
migration and fertility aspects and various other characteristics.
The Census operation is one of the largest operations in the
world involving about 2
enumerators and supervisors. The Census of India 2001 was the 14th in the series that was
conducted during 9th to 28th February 2001 in two phases, namely, House listing
Operations and Population Enumeration. The entire population of the country was
enumerated on a full-count basis during this period. The data generated by the
Census of India 2001 provides benchmark statistics on the People of India at
the beginning of the millennium. The census statistics is used for assessing
the impact of the developmental programmes and identify new thrust areas for
focussing the efforts on improving the quality of life in the country.
Census operations were over on February 28 and the first set of results were
released with lightening speed, in less than one months’ time on March 26,
2001. However, only little data is yet
disseminated especially on educational variables. Population, its male and
female & rural and urban distribution, density of population, sex ratio and
literacy rates are made available both at the all-India and state levels.
Barring rural/urban distribution, all the data released, so far, is also
available for all the districts of the country. The rural/urban distribution of literacy rates in case of 15
states is also available through Paper-2 of Census 2001. Those who work in the
area of education are more interested in distribution of literates and literacy
rates in different age groups, educational attainments of literates’,
percentage of children of age group 5-14 attending schools and literacy rates
in case of Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes population. Census is the only source that presents data
on literacy on regular basis. However, the importance of data especially on
literacy is marred by the late dissemination. It took about 5 to 7 years to
release this set of data during 1991 Census because of which the same was
neither properly disseminated nor adequately utilised and analysed.
In view of the growing needs of the industrial, commercial and other
user agencies, the Census Organisation is considering a more proactive strategy
of data dissemination to meet the specific needs of the customers making them
available information from the huge Census database.
It is hoped that this set of data will be made available soon this time.
With the little set of data,
the Institute decided to conduct a seminar on Progress of Literacy in India:
What the Census 2001 Prevails. The Seminar was conducted on Friday, October
05, 2001 and was attended by more than 60 professionals, data users,
demographers and educationists.
Different aspects, such as, progress in literacy, regional and gender
disparities in literacy, spatial-temporal dimension, comparison of literacy
rates generated by NSSO and Census and contribution of primary education on
literacy were the themes around which papers were focused. The analysis was
carried out both at the all-India and State & District levels. All together
five papers covering different aspects of literacy were presented in the
seminar. Prof. Ashish Bose, Honorary Professor, Institute of Economic Growth,
Delhi inaugurated the seminar on October 05, 2001 at 10.00 am in the Lecture
Hall of the Institute. Prof. B. P. Khandelwal, Director, NIEPA Chaired the
The whole day was divided
into two sessions. In the pre-lunch session, presentations were made by Prof.
M. K. Premi on India’s’ Literacy Panorama and by Dr. Arun C. Mehta on Impact
of Primary Education on Literacy. Prof. Satya Bhushan, Former Director,
NIEPA Chaired this session. The post-lunch session that was chaired by Dr. Y.
P. Aggarwal, Senior Fellow, NIEPA had three presentations. One each by Prof. A.
B. L. Srivastava on Trends in Literacy in India, Dr. P. K. Bhargava
on Changes in the Sex-wise Literacy Rates and by Prof. Saraswati Raju and
Ms. Barnali Biswas on Spatial Temporal Disparities in Maharashtra. This session was followed by a brief
concluding session that was chaired by Prof. B. P. Khandelwal, Director, NIEPA.
Dr. S.M.I.A Zaidi, Dr. K. K.
Biswal, Dr. R. S. Tyagi and Dr. Neeru Snehi were the rapporteurs of various
sessions without their contributions it would not have been possible to bring
out this publication. Dr. Arun C. Mehta, Fellow, NIEPA coordinated the seminar
and it was conducted by the Sub-national Systems Unit of the Institute.
The detailed day-long
programme is presented in Annexure I and the list of delegates in Annexure
II. District-specific Census 2001
population and literacy data are also annexed.
opening session of the seminar started with a welcome address and introduction
of the seminar presented by Dr. Arun C. Mehta.
He welcomed the chief guest of the session and participants of the
seminar. He highlighted the need and
the objectives of the seminar. He said
that the first set of data for 2001 Census was disseminated in March 2001,
which is quite appreciable. However,
till date only a limited amount of data has been made available on literacy.
Dr. Mehta briefly highlighted the items on which the literacy data has already
been made available and the items on which the data is yet to be disseminated
by Office of the Registrar General of India.
Prof. B.P. Khandelwal, Director, NIEPA in his opening
remarks expressed gratitude to the delegates for attending the seminar and
extended a warm welcome to all of them as well as to the chief guest of the
session Prof. Ashish Bose. Highlighting
the importance of data collected in the census Prof. Khandelwal said that the
detailed household information is made available to the users through the
census. He informed that in the process
of formulation of the Tenth Plan preparation, Census data has been extensively
used for making projection for the next five years on various items related to
education. He highlighted the efforts initiated by the institute under the
District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) to develop the Educational
Management Information System, which is in operation in all the DPEP districts
of the country. He was of the view that
the deliberations and discussion in this seminar will be useful and help us to
utilise Census data in a better way for the purpose of not only research but also
for the planning and management of educational programmes.
The chief guest, Prof. Ashish Bose who had a long
association with the Census operation in the country presented introduction of
the Census exercises undertaken during 1961 to 2001. He said that a few organizations have already started working on
the data made available for the 2001 census and the first item on which the
analysis is undertaken is literacy.
Prof. Bose highlighted the need to form a multi-disciplinary team to
work for collation analysis, utilization and evaluation of census data.
Literacy being the most basic indicator of educational
development, according to Prof. Bose, is non-negotiable and discussion on how
literacy rates have increased over the last decade etc. are not much
meaningful. Even progress made during
the last ten years in elementary education also need not be a point of
discussion as universalisation of elementary education is also
non-negotiable. He said it would be
appropriate to talk of secondary education and analyse data related to
secondary education on items like enrolment ratio and retention rates. In the present scenario the key to Human
Resource Development is not literacy or elementary education but what is
important is the development of secondary education. It is the time that we should now talk of universalisation of
secondary education and ensure to achieve 100 per cent enrolment and retention
at this level of education. Prof. Bose
discussed the contents of all the five papers, which were to be presented
during the day-long seminar and offered comments on each of these papers.
Thereafter, Prof. Bose discussed the literacy data made
available in the Census 2001 and highlighted important points in this
regard. He said the gender disparity in
literacy is a malady that has been exhibited from the census figures. According to him the researchers need not
only be satisfied with the analysis of the data, as it is more important to
probe why this disparity is prevailing in our society. There is a need of
conducting sociological studies to understand the problem of women’s education
According to Prof. Bose, the data of 2001 census confirms
that Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are `BIMARU’ which
literally mean sick (educationally) states.
This is irrespective of the fact that except Rajasthan, the other three
states have been bifurcated. The
literacy data shows that these states are still backward states despite the
fact that faster progress has been made in literacy in these states especially
in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh as compared to earlier decades. While analyzing the literacy data, Prof.
Bose was of the view that inter-state comparison in many cases are not
meaningful e.g. we may not compare Kerala with Bihar or Uttar Pradesh as the
social condition in these states are quite different than the conditions in
Kerala. There is a need to look into
the social background of the states, which determine the educational
development of the area.
An analysis of literacy data, as presented by Prof. Bose
shows that Bihar has a net addition of 23,22,416 female illiterates in the
state in 2001 compared to 1991.
Similarly there are nine more states where number of female illiterates
has increased during 1991 and 2001.
These states are Jharkhand, Delhi, Gujarat, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal
Pradesh, Chandigarh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Sikkim. In rest of States/UTs, the number of female
illiterates has declined in 2001 as compared to 1991. There is a net decrease of 24.51 lakh female illiterates in
Andhra Pradesh, 20.12 lakh in Maharashtra, 18.85 lakh in Tamil Nadu, 12.12 lakh
in Madhya Pradesh and 11.31 lakh and 10.03 lakh in West Bengal and Chhatisgarh
respectively. Thus from the point of
view of female literates in absolute terms, Bihar is the most backward state in
Commenting upon the papers in which projections for
literacy have been made for various states the speaker said that destiny is not
the trend. Notwithstanding of what has
been the trend in the past we need to focus on discussing how to have dramatic
progress in literacy and education especially in the backward states. Substantiating his view Prof. Bose said that the green revolution in India has
shown that trends do not necessarily show the destiny for future.
There is a need to look at the sociological factors
responsible for poor literacy. Prof.
Bose cited example of three neighboring states from the North-India namely
Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana.
In Himachal Pradesh, all the girls attend schools whereas in Punjab and
Haryana despite being economically well off states, participation of girls in
education is quite disappointing. It
may be noted that non-participation of girl children in these two states is not
because of the financial problems but because of the social taboos. The speaker suggested that the organization
like NIEPA should conduct field studies to know the real causes of low female
literacy and low participation of girls in education especially in the
economically well off states. The
Census 2001 figures show that the gender disparity in literacy has not declined
substantially. There is a need to
conduct research studies to know the causes in this regard also.
A point of real concern is the decline in the sex ratio
of 0-6 population in the country as revealed by the Census 2001 data. Prof. Bose said that it is desired to
undertake extensive field studies and conduct research to probe the reasons for
this shocking adverse sex ratio in the 0-6 population. In this regard it is important to note that
Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, both being educationally advanced states, have adverse
sex ratio in 0-6 population which is quite disturbing. Even in Kerala the sex ratio of 0-6
population has gone down. According to
Prof. Bose, sociological explanations are needed to discuss such population
In his concluding remarks Prof. Bose suggested that NIEPA
being an apex educational institutional in the field of educational planning
and Management, it should undertake the following activities with respect to the
Collate all data related to not only literacy but also
on elementary, secondary and higher education.
Evaluate the quality of data collected/disseminated;
in-depth studies to know the causes of educational backwardness of states.
Pre-Lunch Session I: Chairperson: Prof. Satya Bhushan
(Rapporteur: Dr. K. K. Biswal)
Speaker: Prof. M. K. Premi
Formerly with J. N. University,
of Primary Education on Literacy: An Analysis of Census 2001 Preliminary
Dr. A. C. Mehta
Fellow, NIEPA, New Delhi
2.0 Literacy Panorama & Impact of Primary
Education on Literacy
In the 1st
session of the seminar, two papers entitled “India’s Literacy
Panorama” and “Impact of Primary Education on Literacy: An Analysis
of Census 2001 Preliminary Data” were presented by Prof. M.K. Premi and Dr.
Arun C. Mehta respectively. Prof. Premi in his presentation mainly focused on:
(i) literacy level and its growth pattern at state and district levels; (ii)
male-female differential in literacy rates; (iii) nature and distribution of
districts, where number of illiterates has gone up during the 1990s; and (iv)
factors responsible for a slow growth in literacy. Dr. Mehta broadly divided
his presentation into three parts. Part I & II of his presentation focused
on census definition of literates & possible errors in enumeration and
trends in growth of literacy respectively. In Part III of his presentation, Dr.
Mehta discussed in detail the contribution of formal as well as non-formal education
systems to growth of literacy in India. Prof. Satya Bhusan, former Director of
NIEPA, New Delhi chaired this session. In the following sections, an attempt
has been made to summarize the presentations as well as observations on them.
India’s Literacy Panorama
Growth in Literacy
According to Census 2001, India has made a significant progress in the
growth of literacy. Now, two-third of the population aged 7 and above and more
than half of the females (54.2 per cent) are literate. The male-female differential
in literacy rates has declined to 21.7 per cent as compared to 24.8 per cent in
1991. In absolute terms, the number of illiterate population aged 7 and above
decreased for the first time by 32 million (21.4 million among males and 10.5
million among females). However, in states/UTs like Bihar, Manipur, Nagaland,
Delhi, and Chandigarh, the number of illiterates has increased during the
In India, there
has been a slow increase in the crude literacy rate (i.e. literacy rate which
is estimated by taking total population as the denominator) after 1951. However, it was 16.7 per cent in 1951, which
increased to 55.3 per cent in 2001, an increase of more than three times. But the percentage change in crude literacy
rate during the last decade is only 12.5.
Over the years, increase in female literacy rate is relatively higher
than that of males thereby reducing the gender disparity in literacy rate. This can be explained partly in terms of
general expansion of education, policies of positive intervention followed in
favour of girls and implementation of externally funded education promotion
programmes such as District Primary Education Programme, Bihar Education
Project, Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Project, etc., literacy promotion programmes
through National Literacy Mission (NLM) and Adult Literacy Programme. In the 1990s, there has been a significant
increase in the net literacy rate for both males and females.
the national level, the literacy rate of population aged 7 and above has
improved from 52.2 per cent in 1991 to 65.5 per cent in 2001, an improvement of
13.3 percentage points during the decade.
However, the national level literacy rate conceals more than what it
reveals. In other words, inter-state
and intra-state disparities in literacy rates are very large in India. For example, among the states, Kerala has
the highest literacy rate of 90.9 per cent and Bihar has the lowest literacy
rate of 47.5 per cent in 2001. Other
than Kerala, Mizoram and Goa, only five union territories namely, Delhi,
Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep and Pondichery have
literacy rates more than 80 per cent.
Literacy Rates by Zones and States/UTs
of literacy rates by zones reveals that, in 2001, west zone (Gujarat, Maharashtra,
Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu) with 73.2 per cent literacy rate
tops the list; south zone (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu,
Lakshadeep, Pondichery and Goa) with 70.4 per cent the literacy rate takes the
2nd place; east zone (Bihar, Jharkhand, Sikkim, West Bengal, Orissa
and Andaman & Nicobar Islands) occupies the lowest rank (i.e. 6th
position with 58.9 per cent literacy rate); north zone (Haryana, Himachal
Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chandigarh and Delhi) with 66.5
per cent literacy rate takes the 3rd place; and north-east zone
(Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura)
and central zone (Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, including Uttaranchal) with
65.8 per cent and 60.1 per cent literacy rate respectively occupy 4th
and 5th position.
regards improvements in literacy rates during the last decade (i.e. 1991-2001),
all the states and union territories without exception have registered positive
growth. Rajasthan has recorded a
maximum increase of 22.5 per cent, followed by Chhatisgarh (22.3 per cent),
Madhya Pradesh (19.4 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (17.0 per cent) and Uttar
Pradesh (16.6 per cent). Bihar is the
only state having literacy rate below 50 per cent (i.e. 47.5 per cent) and it
has registered only 10 per cent increase in literacy rate during the last
decade. Regression analysis reveals
that urbanization rather than growth rate explains the increase in literacy
rates during the 1990s.
Gender Disparity in Literacy Rate
As per 2001 Census, 13 status and UTs have literacy rates below the
national average of 65.4 per cent. In
these states/UTs, the male-female differential in literacy rate is very large. In terms of male-female differential in
literacy rates, Rajasthan having 32.1 per cent differential tops the list,
followed by Jharkhand (28.6 per cent), Chhatisgarh (25.5 per cent), Orissa (25
per cent), Jammu and Kashmir (23.9 per cent) and Dadra & Nagar Haveli (30.3
per cent). Ranking of these states/UTs
in terms of gender gap in literacy rate has remained almost the same between
1991 and 2001. The states, where the
overall literacy rate is low and concentration of tribal population is
relatively high, continue to have large gender gaps in literacy rates even after
substantial increase in female literacy rate during the last decade.
Comparison of Census and NSS Literacy Rates
In 1997, the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) conducted a
special survey on literacy and educational attainment (53rd
round). Comparison of the findings of
the NSS (53rd round) with that of the 2001 census reveals that, at
the national level, the literacy rate of 65.5 per cent in 2001 is higher than
the literacy rate of 62 per cent recorded in the NSS. The difference in literacy rates as reported in census 2001 and
NSS (53rd round) can be explained in terms of time lag in their
implementation and the methodology adopted for collection of data and
information. For example, the gaps in
literacy rates as reported by census 2001 and NSS (53rd round) are
large in smaller states and UTs.
Probably, the NSS sample size in these states is not large enough to be
representative of the population to provide the actual literacy situation. This however needs further probing.
District Level Literacy Scenario
In India, even state level analysis of literacy rates does not tell the
whole story. It is therefore necessary to look into the intra-state variations
in growth of literacy rates during the 1990s. It may be mentioned here that
comparison of district level literacy data has been made after considering the
bifurcation of the districts during the nineties. Moreover, in
1991census, data were not available for 14 districts of J&K, where the
census could not be conducted. Similarly, in 2001 census, data on literacy are
not available for two districts namely Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh and Kachchh
has 594 districts, out of which 59 districts have literacy rate more than 80
per cent and 14 districts have literacy rate more than 90 per cent. However, it
may be necessary to evaluate data on literacy when the results of
post-enumeration check are available. Besides, literacy rates by age group
would also help analyze the pattern of growth of literacy during the last decade.
In 1991, there were 45 districts having literacy rates below 30 per cent and
most of these districts were in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh
and Rajasthan. In 2001, none of the districts has recorded literacy rate below
30 per cent. In 1991, female literacy rate was below 30 per cent in more than
one-third of the districts (i.e. 228 districts) and it was below 20 per cent in
103 districts. In 2001, the number of districts having female literacy rate
below 30 per cent has come down to 45 and only two districts namely Shravasti
in Uttar Pradesh and Kishanganj in Bihar are having female literacy rate below
20 per cent.
Analysis of the
literacy rates in top 20 districts of the country reveals that it varies
between 96.6 per cent (in Aizawl) and 86.6 per cent (in Mumbai). Out of 20 top
districts in the country, 11 are in Kerala, 4 in Mizoram, 2 in Maharashtra and
one each in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and Lakshadweep. Among the bottom 20
districts (i.e. in terms of overall literacy rate) in 2001, 8 are in Bihar, 4
each in Uttar Pradesh and Orissa, 2 in Jharkhand, and one each in Chhatisgarh
and Madhya Pradesh. Moreover, 13 districts out of bottom 20 districts of 1991
have not changed their relative position, i.e. they still continue to be in the
bottom 20 districts in 2001. In 2001, top 20 districts in terms of overall
literacy rate are the same as that of 1991 census. However, all the bottom 20
districts of 1991 census do not figure in the bottom 20 districts of 2001
In 1991, female
literacy rate in the bottom 20 districts was well below 15 per cent, and even 3
districts had female literacy rate below 10 per cent. In 2001, however, none of
the districts has female literacy rate below 15 per cent. As has already been
mentioned earlier, districts having low female literacy rate are found in
Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.
The Illiterate Population
In 2001, absolute number of illiterates in the country has for the first
time come down substantially. The major contributions to the decline in the number
of male illiterates come from Uttar Pradesh (19.5 per cent), Andhra Pradesh
(13.6 per cent), Rajasthan (12.4 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (11.4 per cent),
Maharashtra (9.2 per cent), Tamil Nadu (7.1 per cent), and West Bengal (7 per
cent), which account for around 80 per cent reduction in male illiterates.
Similarly, there has been major reduction in female illiterates in nineties in
Andhra Pradesh (23.3 per cent), Maharashtra (19.1 per cent), Tamil Nadu (17.9
per cent), West Bengal (10.8 per cent), Chhatisgarh (9.5 per cent) and
Rajasthan (9.5 per cent), which account for around 90 per cent. Bihar is the
only state, which has registered an increase of 2.31 million in the number of
female illiterates (i.e. around 22 per cent) during the last decade. During the
nineties, the number of illiterates has also increased in Gujarat, Jharkhand,
Manipur, Nagaland, Delhi and Chandigarh. In-migration of illiterate workers to
some of these states/UTs, to a large extent, explains the increase in
illiterate population. Analysis of illiterates by age group reveals that there
were 37.5 million illiterates in the age group 10-14 in 1981, which came down
to 30.8 million in 1991. It is expected that the number of illiterates in the
age group 10-14 would further come down in 2001. However, the number of adult
illiterates (i.e. in the age group 15-34) increased from1o7.2million in 1981 to
121.3 million in 1991, the increase was relatively more pronounced for females
(10 million). It is expected that, in 2001, there would be significant
reduction in the number of illiterates in both the age groups. An increasing
trend in adult illiterates over the census years however provides enough basis
for questioning the effectiveness of adult literacy programmes in the country.
In the 1990s, several education promotion programmes including externally
funded programmes were launched. Among them, prominent are: (i) Uttar Pradesh
Basic Education Project (UPBEP); (ii) Bihar Education Project (BEP); (iii)
Andhra Pradesh Primary Education Project (APPEP); (iv) Lok Jumbish (LJ);
(v) District Primary Education Programme (DPEP). During this period, the
DPEP covered around 250 districts having low female literacy rate. The DPEP
interventions to bring the out-of school children to schools and to retain them
in the system also contributed to growth of literacy in these districts. The
growth of literacy in these districts is relatively more compared to that of
the districts where such primary education promotion programmes have not been
implemented during the 1990s. One of the possible explanations is that, to
start with these districts were having low literacy rates, which provided more
scope for raising the literacy level. Moreover, the impact of planned
interventions during the nineties on primary education and literacy are obvious
in these districts. To sum up, implementation of these externally funded
projects have, to a large extent, contributed to the growth of literacy in the
country in general and in educationally backward pockets in particular.
analysis of the literacy scenario using provisional figures of 2001 census in
not sufficient enough to draw firm conclusions about the pattern of growth of
literacy during the 1990s and factors which have more or less contributed to
growth of literacy. Even then, such a trend in the growth of literacy calls for
intensifying efforts for effectively planning and implementing population
control programmes, and interventions aimed at raising the level of girls’
education. There is a need for effectively translating the National Population
Policy into concrete interventions in the coming years. Focused interventions
are required to reduce the gender disparity in literacy rate and the number of
illiterates in educationally backward pockets of the country. Literacy
programmes particularly in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa need to be
2.2 Impact of Primary Education on Literacy
2.2.1 Definition and Possible Errors in Enumeration
The UNESCO defines a literate person as “the one who has acquired all the
essential knowledge and skills which enable him/her to engage in all those
activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in his/her
group and community and those attaining in reading, writing and numeracy make
it possible to use these skills towards his/her own his/her community’s
development”. The National Literacy Mission (NLM) defines literacy as
“acquiring the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to
apply them to one’s day-to-day life”. According to NLM, the achievement of
functional literacy implies: (i) self-reliance in 3 R’s; (ii) becoming aware of
the causes of deprivation and moving towards amelioration of their condition by
participating in the process of development; (iii) acquiring skills to improve
their economic status and general well being; and (iv) imbibing values of
national integration, conservation of environment, women’s equality, observance
of small family norms, etc. Functional literacy once acquired should result in
empowerment and a definite improvement in the quality of life. The Census of
India has defined literacy as “reading and writing with ability in any Indian
may be mentioned here that, in Census 2001, no tests have been conducted by the
Enumerators to verify the literacy status of individual members of the
household. The household proforma used in 2001 Census also does not include any
specific guidelines to assess the literacy status of members of the household. In fact, as the respondents were mostly the
heads of the household, the Census Enumerators did not come in contact with
members of the household. The literacy
status of the members was therefore entirely based upon the response of the
head of the household. No specific procedure has been adopted in the Census
2001 to verify the response of the head of the household. There is no question about the integrity of
the heads of the households, but their perception of a literate person may vary
from one head of the household to another.
This is specifically true keeping in view that a large number of heads
of households themselves are illiterates.
of reasons discussed above, Census 2001 data on literacy status of population
may not be very reliable. There may
be errors in enumeration also, which
may be because of a number of reasons, particularly conceptual and
methodological. There is a need for checking of Census 2001 data on literacy on
a sample basis. The external evaluations conducted in the past (NLM, 1994) had
found discrepancy in the number of literates reported in the census
enumerations and the actual status of
persons. Often, when children are reported to be in schools, the Enumerators
(mostly teachers) unconsciously treat them as literates, which may not always
be true. For example, children of
grades I & II are treated as literates in 2001 census. Moreover, a 9 or 10-year old child, if
reported as enrolled in school, may
not necessarily be treated as
literate if he/she has entered the system laterally and studying in grade I or
II. Empirical evidences show that, in India, the grossness in enrolment at
primary level (Grades I-V) is around 22 per cent (NCERT, 1998a), and majority
of these children are over-aged. Many of these over-aged children are also
found enrolled in grade I or II. This
implies that if we include enrolment in the age group 7-11 in the category of
literates, then we are overestimating the literacy rate, because many of these
children may be enrolled in grade I or II, and hence not completed the minimum
years of schooling required to acquire the literacy skills. This supports the
argument that the number of literates and also the literacy rates reported in
2001 census are overestimated. However, availability of data on distribution of
literates by age group and educational attainment will help throw more light on
2.2.2 Growth Trends in Literacy
In this section, to avoid repetition, an attempt has been made to
summarize those findings on growth of literacy in the nineties, which have not
been reported in the earlier presentation.
According to 2001 census, three-fourth of India’s male population and a
little more than half of the female population are now literate and, at the same
time, nearly one-third of our population is illiterate. During the period
1991-2001, the overall literacy rate has improved by more than 13 percentage
points and female literacy rate improved by 14.87 per cent. However, the gender
disparity in literacy rate still continues at 22 per cent. In 2001, Kerala has the highest literacy
rate (90.92 per cent), followed by Mizoram (88.44 per cent), Lakshadweep (87.52
per cent), Goa (82.52 per cent), Delhi (81.82 per cent), and Dadra & Nagar
Haveli (81.08 per cent).
So far as the
ranking of states and union territories in terms of literacy rate is concerned,
it is found that Kerala, Mizoram and Lakshadweep have maintained their relative
position in 2001 census – i.e. they have respectively occupied the first three
positions. Rajasthan has improved its position from 33rd in 1991 to
29th in 2001. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have maintained their relative
position respectively at 31st and 34th, whereas the
position of Madhya Pradesh has improved from 26th in 1991 to 25th
in 2001. West Bengal has improved its position from 19th to 18th
in 2001, whereas Orissa and Andhra Pradesh have lost their relative position
respectively from 25thand 27th in 1991 to 26th
and 28th in 2001. Maharashtra has maintained its position in 2001 at
10, whereas Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have lost their earlier position in 1991
and occupy 22nd and 13th position respectively in 2001.
growth rate of literacy during the last decade, currently, 128.57 million
illiterates are found in four states namely Bihar (34.97 million), Madhya
Pradesh (17.86 million), Rajasthan (17.94 million), and Uttar Pradesh (57.8
million), which account for nearly 43 per cent of total illiterates in the
country. In 2001, around 31 per cent of total illiterates (93 million) in the
country are found in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In 2001, total number of
illiterates in the country is 296.21 million.
An attempt has
also been made to estimate the number of years required to achieve universal
literacy in various states and union territories
(Mehta, 2001). This projection exercise assumes current growth rate of literacy
in states/union territories and therefore does not envisage any major
intervention to improve literacy in the country. The findings of the projection
exercise reveal that Nagaland and Bihar will take 60 years and 58 years
respectively to achieve universal literacy. Besides, to reach the target of
universal literacy (i.e. 100 per cent literacy), maximum period will be
required in the union territory of Chandigarh (46 years), followed by Manipur
(35 years), Gujarat (35 years), Arunachal Pradesh (34 years), Assam (31 years), Karnataka (30 years), Delhi (28
years), Uttar Pradesh (27 years), Pondicherry (27 years), West Bengal (27
years), Punjab (26 years), Meghalaya (26 years), Goa (26 years), Orissa (25
years), Haryana (25 years), Tamil Nadu (25 years), Sikkim (24 years), Andhra
Pradesh (23 years), Andaman &
Nicobar Islands (23 years), Lakshadweep
(22 years), Dadra & Nagar Haveli
(21 years), and Tripura (20 years). In
all states/ union territories, relatively more years will be required to make
all the female population literate.
2.2.3 Impact of Primary
Education on Literacy
In 1991, total population in the age group 7+ was 686.57 million in
India, which increased to 858.22 million in 2001, showing an absolute growth of
171.65 million. The average annual growth rate of population in the age group
7+ was 2.2 per cent during 1991-2001. During the same period, the number of
literates in the country increased by 203.61 million from 358.4 million in 1991
to 526.01 million in 2001. The average annual growth rate of literates in the
country was 4.6 per cent during 1991-2001. This shows that, during the last
decade, the average annual growth rate of literates was almost double the
average annual growth rate of population in the age group 7+.
rate in India is computed for population in the age group 7+. This implies that, if the entry age to
formal school system is 6 years, only
children enrolled in Grade II are included in the category of literates. This further implies that only one year of
formal schooling is sufficient enough to develop required knowledge and skills
to categorize a person as literate.
However, NSSO (1991) data even suggest that a few children below 7 years
of age are also literate. At the same
time, high incidence of dropouts and low levels of learners’ achievement do not
suggest to treat Grade I children as literate (NCERT, 1998b). If the present level of learners’
achievements is taken into account, even children who have completed Grade II
cannot be treated as literate. Given
the definition of literacy, it is perhaps necessary to examine as to whether
children in the age group 7-8, who have either completed Grade I or II or are enrolled
in Grade II, should be treated as literate.
There is a need to debate on the issue, which may help resolve the
problem of overestimation of literacy rates, particularly in educationally
backward areas of the country where planned interventions have been made during
the 1990s to improve primary education.
However, attempt has been made to provide alternative estimates of
contribution of the formal education system to the growth of literacy in the
country during 1991-2001 (Mehta, 2001). In the first alternative, the number of
children enrolled in Grade II during 1991-2001 has been estimated and treated
as literate. In order to estimate total
enrolment in Grade III during the period 1991-2001, the average of the
enrolment in Grade III has been taken and then the same has been multiplied by 10. Total enrolment in Grade III thus comes out
to be 196.3 million during
1991-2001. Total enrolment in
Grade III during the last decade (i.e. 196.3 million) thus can be treated as
the contribution of the formal education system towards growth of literacy,
which is around 95 per cent of
additional literates during this period (i.e. 203.61 million). This implies that the contribution of the
National Literacy Mission (NLM) and other interventions for growth of literacy
during the 1990s is 7.31 million.
Besides, in absolute terms, the decline in illiterate population during
the last decade is 31.96 million. This
implies two possibilities: (i) the NLM may have contributed 7.31 million
towards the decline in illiterate population and the balance 24.65 million may
have been contributed by the formal education system; or (ii) the contribution
of the formal education system is less than 24.65 million. However, these can be verified only by
analyzing the increase in literates by age group during the last decade, data
for which are currently not available.
the contribution of the formal education system to the increase in literate
population during 1991-2001, it is
necessary to introduce correction factors by taking into account the dropout
rate, survival rate, etc., which is currently 40 per cent at primary level
(Grades I – V). If dropout rate is
taken into consideration and applied to Grade III enrolment, the contribution
of the formal system to growth of literacy will further go down.
Since the Grade III enrolment is gross in
nature, children of different age groups constitute total enrolment. As grade-wise survival rates are not
available, it is not possible to apply the same to enrolment in Grade III. Alternatively, it can be assumed that a
student of Grade IV can be considered as literate and accordingly the
contribution of formal education system can be assessed. Total enrolment in Grade IV during 1991-2001
is estimated as 170.4 million. After
adjusting for repetition rate (i.e. 5 per cent), the effective enrolment is
Grade IV during the last decade becomes 170 million. This may be treated as the contribution of the formal education
system to growth of literacy. The
contribution of the formal education system thus comes out to be 82.9 per cent
of additional literate population
during 1991-2001. As an alternative,
after taking into consideration the low level of learners’ achievement is Grade
IV, total enrolment in Grade V can be considered for estimating the
contribution of formal education system to growth of literacy. Accordingly, if children of Grade V are
considered as literate and total enrolment in Grade V is estimated, it comes
out to be 153.72 million, which is 75 per cent of additional literates during 1991-2001.
alternative estimates of the contribution of formal education system to growth
of literacy during the last decade suggest that, it ranges between 162 to 196
million. Even in the extreme case when
Grade V enrolment is taken into account, the contribution of the formal
education system to growth of literacy comes out to be 153 million, i.e.
one-third of the literates produced during 1991-2001.
presentations were followed by extensive discussions on various aspects of
growth of literacy in India during the 1990s, including the conceptual and
methodological issues. The following are some of the important observations and
There is a need for
conceptual clarification – i.e. who is a literate? There should be a common
acceptable definition of “literacy”, which may facilitate comparability of
data generated by different sources.
- Quality of available data on literacy is a major concern in the
country. For example, according to 2001 census, the growth rate of
literacy in five districts of Andhra Pradesh during 1991-2001 is less than
8 per cent, which may seem unacceptable.
If the female literacy
rate is more than 50 per cent in any district, there is a need to examine
the growth rate during the last decade.
In most of the states,
the growth of literate population in relatively more in districts covered
under the DPEP. These districts
may be eliminated while analyzing the overall literacy rate of the
funded primary education reform programmes were implemented during the
1990s. We need to assess the
contribution of these programmes to the growth of literacy in the country.
At this stage, when
disaggregated data on literacy are not available, it may not be possible
to isolate the contribution of NLM or formal education system or
alternative education system or any other intervention to growth of
literacy during the last decade.
Moreover, given the existing data gaps (viz. non-availability of
data on enrolment in alternative education system, unrecognized private
education sector, etc.), it is perhaps very difficult to estimate the
contribution of National Literacy Mission to the growth of enrolment in
While estimating the
contribution of NLM to growth of literacy, adjustments may be made by
taking into account the level of wastage in the formal education system,
enrolment in alternative system of education and in unrecognized private
primary schools. If these
correction factors are introduced, the contribution of NLM to growth of
literacy during 1991-2001 as reported in the presentation will further go
Given the nature and
type of available data, it is not possible to draw definite conclusions
about all aspects of growth of literacy in the country during
1991-2001. Census 2001 data on
literacy only help estimate the trends in growth of literacy by sex, state
and district. Moreover, these
analyses are based on unchecked data.
Sample studies can be undertaken to check the validity of census
2001 data on literacy.
The 2001 census figures
on literacy do not tell the whole story. They hide more than what they
tell. Therefore, one should not limit one’s analyses to 2001 census data
on literacy only, rather one needs to look for factors which are
responsible for growth or lack of growth of literacy in particular
demographic groups and geographical regions.
3.0 Post-Lunch Session II: Chairperson:
Dr.. Y. P. Aggarwal
(Rapporteurs: Dr. R. S. Tyagi & Dr. Neeru Snehi)
Trends in Literacy: Some Significant Features of
Literacy Data of the 2001 Census
A. B. L. Srivastava
Ed.CIL, New Delhi
Changes in Gender
Disparity in Literacy Rate During 1991-2001: District-wise Analysis
P. K. Bhargava
NIAE, New Delhi
A Socio-special Analysis of Literacy Trends With Special Reference to 2001 Census
Speaker: Prof. Saraswati Raju
Ms. Barnali Biswas
CSRD, J. N. U, New Delhi
3.1 Prof. A.B.L. Srivastava made his presentation on Trends in
Literacy. He indicated that the trends
in literacy has been faster (19.3% increase) during the decade 1991-2001 as
compared to the growth (8.6% increase) in 1981-1991. While highlighting his point, he said, that the number of non-literates declined for the first time
during he last decade (1991-2001). This
was particularly due to the rapid rise in the number of literates and some
slowing down of population growth rate during 1991-2001. During this period the number of literates increased by 56.8 per cent, while
decrease in non-literates was 9.7 per cent.
He observed that it is expected that the trend of decline in the number
of non-literates will continue and the size of non-literate population will
diminish substantially in the coming years.
Prof. Srivastava drew the attention of the participants regarding the
gender gap and mentioned that even three has been a greater increase in the
female literacy, the gender gap is still vary large since the number of female
illiterates is 189.6 million against 106.7 million male illiterates.
He linked the slower growth in female literacy to the
enrolment and dropout of children at the primary stage. While referring various reports like
National Family Health Survey and of MHRD, Government of India, he pointed out
that enrolment ratios of girls were lower and dropout rate at primary stage was
Prof. Srivastava while discussing state to state
variations in literacy rates mentioned that Bihar still has the lowest literacy
rate of 37.5% among all the states and union territories. He observed that there have been significant
increase in the literacy rate of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Andhra
Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. While
analyzing the progress of female literacy in different states he emphasized
that for bridging the gender gap the states require concerted efforts and the
enrolment and retention of girls in these states must increase. There is a need to give more emphasis on
The speaker also analyzed the past trends in literacy and
observed that the growth in literacy rate was almost linear between 1961 and
1991, however, there was a clear shift in the trend since 1991 on the one hand,
and the reduction in gender gap was slow, on the other. While mentioning the contribution of school
education to the progress of literacy he pointed out that literacy in the age
group 10-14 has increased from 42.3 per cent in 1960-61 to 68.5 in 1991 which
reflects the impact of various educational development programmes in the
country for achieving the universalisation of elementary education. However, he observed that there was no
desired impact of adult education programmes on the progress of overall
emphasized that the greater attention needs to be paid the adult literacy
programmes for the vast population of non-literate adult. While concluding his session he observed
that in the coming years, the programmes like District Primary Education
Programme and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan will play an important role in the
progress of literacy.
3.2 Dr. N. K. Bhargava while discussing the issues of gender
disparity in literacy observed that in spite of various efforts made by the
Government of India, female literacy has been a major challenge for the
country. He mentioned that it needs no
reiteration that female literacy is the they to all aspects of development; the
narrowing the gender gap is literacy therefore very much necessary.
While analyzing the provisional population figures he
sated that female literacy in the last 10 years has grown at a faster rate
(14.87 percentage points from 39.29 per cent in 1991 to 54.16 in 2001) as
compared to male literacy (11.69 percentage points from 64.13 per cent to 75.85
per cent) during the same period. Dr.
Bhargava, while mentioning the objective of his paper, indicated that there are
variations in overall literacy rate and female literacy rate across the
States/UTs and districts in the country.
Dr. Bhargava discussed the states-wise scenario of
literacy. He pointed out that Rajasthan has significant achievement in the
literacy which is 38.55% in 1991 and 61.01 and in 2001. On the other hand, Bihar still lagged behind
in the progress of literacy from 37.49 per cent to 47.53 per cent during the
same period. In terms of female
literacy, Rajasthan has achieved greater progress from 22.44 percent to 44.34%
percent. Similarly, Chhatisgarh where
overall literacy increased from 42.91 per cent to 65.18 per cent, female
literacy increased from 27.52 percent to 52.40 per cent.
He further mentioned that Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal
Pradesh and Jharkhand were in the range of 40-50 per cent of literacy in
1991. In 2001 all the three states are
placed in 50-60 per cent of literacy range.
He pointed out that 11 states and union territories had literacy rates
of 50 per cent and below with a share of 51 per cent of the country’s
population in 1991. Female literacy in
20 states and union territories in 1999 was 50 per cent or below which has come
down to six states in 2001. This has
helped reduction in the gender gap in literacy rates in almost all the states
in the country.
Bhargava mentioned that as far as the district-wise literacy in the country is
concerned, in 1991 there were 62 districts in the country with a literacy rate
of 70 pr cent and above. This number
with corresponding percentage has increased to 210 districts in 2001 which
accounts for 38 percent of countries population indicating a marked improvement
in the literacy position. While in case
of male literacy 71 districts were having literacy of 80 per cent and above in
1991 which increased to 225 districts in 2001 in case of female literacy, there
were 143 districts with 50 per cent and above literacy rate, this number has
increased to 335 districts in 2001. He
drew the attention of the participants
that there were 103 districts with a female literacy rate below 20 percent in
1999 which reduced to 2 districts only in 2001 indicating remarkable
achievement in the field of female literacy.
Dr. Bhargava mentioned the decade increase in the district-wise literacy
that during 1991-2001 out of 577 districts, in 69 districts the decade increase
in overall literacy was twenty percentage points or more.
Indicating the male female literacy gap, he said, that in
2001 out of the 5 states, namely, Uttaranchal,
Rajasthan has gender gap of 30 percentage points or more in spite of the
fact that both male and female literacy rates in Rajasthan are higher than
literacy rates of male and female in Bihar.
He said that in 1991, out of 577 districts 409 (71%) had gender gap in
literacy rate (below 30 percentage points) which has increased to 481 districts
in 2001 accounting 83 per cent of the total districts.
Dr. Bhargava also presented his analysis of literacy on
the basis of Index of Gender Disparity. He pointed out that value of the gender
disparity found to be more than 40 in two states namely Rajasthan and Bihar in
1991. In Rajasthan it has reduced from
46.79 in 1991 to 27.48 in 2001 whereas in Bihar it reduced from 40.92 to 29.38
during the same period.
3.3 Ms. Barnali Biswas did the presentation on literacy in India
for the period 1981-2001 with special focus on Maharashtra. In the discussion
initiated and shared by both the authors, they observed that India's Progress
in literacy has been tremendous during the last five decades. However, a large
disparity in literacy between different sections of populations, based on
gender and residence remains consistent.
They also observed that the
lower than the national average percentages in literacy, both in rural and
urban areas are in the proverbial BIMARU states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh,
Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Kerala on the other hand is ahead of all states in
literacy levels since 1981, Goa and Maharashtra maintained there second and
third position in terms of male literacy and showed lowest female literacy rate
(33.55 percent) in 2001. Rajasthan has improved in terms of female literacy
from 20.44 percent in 1991 to 44.34 percent in 2001. Moreover, despite changing absolute levels in literacy, the relative
positioning of various states have remained remarkably unchanged.
They have attempted to
explore if even in relatively advanced locale such as Maharashtra this
stability continues to prevail. They are particularly interested in
interrogating the historical embeddedness of the phenomena and the space and
gender interface in sex disparities in literacy.
They observed that-
state has experienced maximum increase in literacy in last decade.
numbers of literate are increasing much faster than the total population with
an increasing share of females in total literate compared to male counter part.
case of male literacy, maximum number of districts (25 out of 30) fall in the
literacy range of 60 to 80 percent in 1991 whereas in 2001 as many as 29
districts fall in percentage range of 60 to 90.
case of female literacy larger number of districts fall in lower category.
districts having higher literacy rates are mainly located in the western and
northeastern part of Maharashtra, while lower literacy districts in central
part of Maharashtra i.e. Marathwada region.
probe into the nature of sex disparity between male and female literacy also
reveals interesting regional patterns. The districts that exhibit disparities
more than the State average are concentrated in a belt located in the central
part of Maharashtra that includes the Marathwada region and part of Deccan
regional pattern is replicated in both rural and urban areas and strikingly the
relative position of the regions seems to be essentially the same over the
decade as revealed by the high and positive correlation of sex disparities.
districts the Marathwada region and part of Deccan plateau did not show decline
in the sex disparity vis-à-vis the decline for the State as a whole.
on these observations, it can be argued that the persistence of the high sex
disparity in literacy in the Marathwada region and parts of Deccan plateau is
not the question of rural and urban locations. Instead, as social indicator
literacy is an outcome of long-standing historical context in which the
districts are located.
his study of 1986 of regional patterns in literacy, Nuna had identified
districts that have consistently been above/below the national average in terms
of female literacy ever since the turn of the century i. e., 1901.
authors also noted that despite changes in absolute levels, the Marathwada
region and the districts of Chandrapur and Gadchiroli (part of Nuna’s below the
national average in female literacy ever since 1901) show exactly the same
pattern even in 1991.
2001, however, there is slight change and some of these districts have attained
literacy levels above the national average of 54.28 percent. But the increase
is not very much and the values are only within 2-4 percent points above the
national average. Also, the region still lags vis-à-vis the rest of
analysis further shows that the most industrialized and socio- political
regions of the western Maharashtra and the Nagpur-Vidharba region in the
northeast experienced the emergence of the Dalit
movement and recorded growth in literacy rate.
contrast, the Marathwada region was a part of princely Hyderabad State where
the predominantly Muslim population made the general literacy including that of
women levels low. Besides, social movements spearheaded by the
Dalits did not take off in the rural
a result, scheduled caste population in this region, by virtue of their
socially, economically and deprived status could not possibly attain much
In sum, the
authors’ analysis brings forth the significance of historically embedded
patterns in literacy that seems to continue persistently in even an otherwise
enhanced literacy achievement. She summarized that this “ exploratory analysis
brings forth the significance of historically embedded patterns in literacy
that seems to continue persistently in even an otherwise enhanced literacy
In the next
section Seminar papers are presented, which is followed by the Annexures.
Seminar on Progress of Literacy in
India: What the Census 2001 Prevails
(Friday, October 05, 2001)
Dr. S. M. I. A Zaidi)
Welcome & Introduction to Seminar
Dr. A. C. Mehta
- Prof. Ashish Bose
Economic Growth, Delhi
Prof. B. P. Khandelwal
1100 hrs. Tea Break
1115.hrs. Session I: Chairperson: Prof. Satya
Dr. K. K. Biswal)
Speaker: Prof. M. K.
Formerly at J. N. U, Dew Delhi
of Primary Education on Literacy: An Analysis of Census 2001 Preliminary
Speaker: Dr. A. C. Mehta
NIEPA, New Delhi
1300 hrs. Lunch
1345 hrs. Session II: Chairperson:
Prof. Y. P. Aggarwal
(Rapporteurs: Dr. R. S. Tyagi & Neeru
in Literacy: Some Significant Features of Literacy Data of the 2001 Census
Speaker: Dr. A. B. L.
Srivastava Ed.CIL, New
in Gender Disparity in Literacy Rate During 1991-2001: District-wise Analysis
Speaker: Dr. P. K. Bhargava
NIAE, New Delhi
A Socio-special Analysis of Literacy Trends With Special Reference to 2001
Speaker: Prof. Saraswati Raju
Ms. Barnali Biswas
CSRD, J. N. U, New Delhi
1545 hrs. Concluding Remarks
Prof. B. P. Khandelwal
Progress of Literacy in India: What the Census 2001 Prevails
(October 05, 2001)
Prof. Ashish Bose
Block – I/1777
C. R. Park
New Delhi – 100019
Delhi – 110045
Prof. M. K. Premi
1036, Sector D-1
New Delhi – 110070
Dr. A. B. L. Srivastava
Ed. CIL, New Delhi
B 10, I. P. Estate
Prof. M.S. Yadav
New Delhi – 110070
Ms. Allman Suznnee
UNICEF, 73, Lodhi Estate
New Delhi – 110003
Mr. Subash Misra
UNICEF, 73, Lodhi Estate
New Delhi – 110003
Ms. Suman Sachedeva
B/350D, Sushant Lok
Mr. A. K. Singh
Office of the Registrar General
2-A, Man Singh Road
New Delhi – 11 00 11
Dr. Aslam Mahmood
Delhi – 111157
Prof. Kuldip Kumar
207/ Block I
Phase I Extension
Dr. J. L.
New Delhi –
Delhi – 110092
P. K. Bhargava
B, I. P. Estate
Delhi – 110002
Dr. J.C. Goyal
Gaziabad - 201011
Dr. T. B. Mathur
B-11, S-2 Dilshad Garden
Delhi – 110095
Delhi – 110002
Dr. Kusum Premi
1036, Sector D-1
New Delhi – 110070
Green Park Extension
Delhi – 110016
Dr. Sumitra Chaudhary
13/4, Andrews Ganj
New Delhi – 110049
Dr. K.C. Nautiyal
132, Aravali Apartments
New Delhi – 110019
New Delhi –
Hussain Centre for
New Delhi –
Sciences, J. N. U.
New Delhi –
J. N. U.
New Delhi –
C. S. R. D
J. N. U
Delhi - 110067
New Delhi –
Mr. S. S.
Dr. T. C. Sharma
J. S. O
Dr. J. L.
New Delhi -
Prof. Neeraja Shukla
New Delhi - 110016
New Delhi -
Prof. B. P.
Prof. M. M.
Dr. Y. P.
Dr. S. M. I.
Dr. R. S.
Dr. K. K.
Dr. Neeru Snehi
& Training Associate
& Training Associate
Mr. N. Reddy
& Training Associate
Mr. V. P. S
& Training Associate
Dr. R. S.
Shri P. N.
Dr. Arun C.