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Seminar on progress of literacy in india: what the Census 2001 preveals

NIEPA, New Delhi, October 05, 2002

INDIA’S LITERACY PANORAMA

(Mahendra K. Premi#)

Growth in Literacy

            With almost two-thirds of India’s population aged 7 years of age and above now literate, India has made very significant progress in this direction.  An important finding of the 2001 census count is that more than half of the females are now literate and male-female differential has narrowed down to 21.7 percent from 24.8 percent in 1991.  The other important finding of the 2001 census is that, in the country, the absolute number of illiterates in population aged 7 + has declined for the first time by almost 32 million (21.4 million among males and 10.5 million among females).  The earlier data from 1961 to 1991 indicated that the absolute number of illiterates was increasing from one decade to another.  There are, however, states – Bihar, Manipur and Nagaland – and the union territories of Delhi and Chandigarh - where the number of illiterates has increased further during the 1990s.

This paper discusses the literacy level and its growth pattern at the state and district level.  The male-female differentials in literacy rates are examined in some details.  The status of the top 20 districts in terms of literacy rates in 1991 census is considered as of 2001 census as to how many have maintained their position and how many have slid down and the factors accounting for the same. Similarly, the position of those 20 districts that had the lowest literacy rates in 1991 is examined in the 2001 census particularly looking at their present position.  Considering the decline in the number of illiterates in the country for the first time, the paper examines the nature of changes that have taken place as also the distribution of the districts where the number of illiterates has still increased.  Their statewise distribution and the factors responsible for a slow growth in literacy therein would be considered. 

 

Trends in Literacy Rates

            It may be noted at the outset that, prior to the 1991 census, the Indian census was excluding only children aged 0-4 years in counting the literate population.  The literacy rates were computed by taking the total population in the denominator.  On the eve of the 1991 census it was decided that all children in the 0-6 age group will be treated as illiterate by definition and literacy rates would be computed for population aged 7 years and above.  In comparison to such (net) literacy rates, those computed by taking the total population in the denominator are called “crude literacy rates.”  As it is not feasible to work out net literacy rates right from 1901 onward, Table 1 gives crude literacy rates for India for the past one century, from 1901 to 2001.

Table 1: Crude literacy rates by sex, India, 1901-2001

 

Census year

Crude literacy rates

Decadal change (in percentage points)

Persons

Males

Females

Persons

Males

Females

1901

5.4

9.8

0.6

--

--

--

1911

5.9

10.6

1.0

0.5

0.8

0.4

1921

7.2

12.2

1.8

1.3

1.6

0.8

1931

9.5

15.6

2.9

2.3

3.4

1.1

1941

16.1

24.9

7.3

6.6

9.3

4.4

1951

16.7

25.0

7.9

0.6

0.1

0.6

1961

24.0

34.4

13.0

7.3

9.4

5.1

1971

29.4

39.4

18.7

5.4

5.0

5.7

1981

36.2

45.9

24.8

6.8

6.5

6.1

1991

42.8

52.7

32.2

6.6

7.8

7.4

2001

55.3

64.1

45.8

12.5

11.4

13.6

Source: RGCCI 2001: (2001a: 114)

Note:  1.    Figures from 1901 to 1941 are for undivided India.

2.       Figures for 1981 exclude Assam and those for 1991 exclude Jammu and Kashmir as no census could be conducted in Assam in 1981 and in Jammu and Kashmir in 1991.

    3.   Figures for 2001 exclude the entire Kachchh district; Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and Wankaner         talukas of Rajkot district; Jodiya taluka of Jamnagar district of Gujarat state, and entire Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh where 2001 census enumeration could not be held due to natural calamities.

 

The crude literacy rates in various censuses from 1901 onward show an increase for both males and females.  The rates were very low till 1931 but there was a sudden jump in 1941, from 9.5 percent to 16.1 percent.  It, however, remained almost stationary at 16.7 percent in 1951.  This may be due to the fact that earlier figures were for undivided India and, secondly, after the partition of the country into India and Pakistan in 1947, almost eight million people came to the Indian Union from newly created Pakistan, and around six to seven million Muslims went from India (Premi 1995: 628).   It is almost impossible to assign reasons for the observed figures.

There has been a monotonous increase of 5 to 8 percent in the literacy rates after 1951, it becoming 12.5 percent in the 1991-2001 decade.  Thus the literacy rate has become more than three times during the past half-a-century.

It is noteworthy that, in recent years, the increase in female literacy rate has been higher than in male literacy rate narrowing the male-female gap particularly during the 1980s and 1990s.  This can be explained partly by the general expansion of education, partly by the present policies of positive intervention followed in favour of girls and by implementation of programmes like DPEP, literacy promotion programmes through NLM and Adult Literacy Programme etc.

Net Literacy Rates

            Literacy rates for the population aged 7 years and above presented in Table 2 indicate a very significant increase for both males and females particularly during the 1990s.  As of 2001 census, almost two-thirds of India’s population is now literate, the male literacy rate has risen to three-fourths while females literacy rate at 54.2 percent indicates that more than half the female population in the country is now literate, that is, has the ability to read and write with understanding.  An important finding of Table 2 is the reduction of gap in male and female literacy rates from 26.6 percent in 1981 to 21.7 percent in 2001.

 

Table 2: Literacy Rates by sex, India, 1981-2001

 

Year

Literacy rate

Male –female

Person

Male

Female

Gap

1981

43.6

56.4

29.8

26.6

1991

52.2

64.1

39.3

24.8

2001

65.4

75.8

54.2

21.6

 

        Source: RGCCI 2001 (2001a: 115)

        Note:

1         Figures for 1981 exclude Assam and those for 1991 exclude Jammu and Kashmir as no census could be conducted in Assam in 1981 and in Jammu and Kashmir in 1991.

 

2     Figures for 2001 do not include the entire Kachchh district; Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and     Wankaner talukas of Rajkot district;  Jodiya taluka of Jamnagar district of Gujarat state, and entire Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh where 2001 census enumeration could not be held due to natural calamities.

 

Literacy Rates by Zones and States

The national level literacy rate for persons aged 7 years above conceals more than what it reveals as there are great statewide disparities. For example, Kerala with literacy rate of 90.9 percent has secured first rank closely followed by Mizoram.  Among the other six states/UTs with more than 80 percent literacy rate, the five are union territories and Goa is the only state in this category.

Improvement in Literacy Rates

            At the national level the literacy rate in population 7+ improved from 52.2 percent in 1991 to 65.5 percent in 2001, an improvement of 13.3 percentage points during the decade.  It is only Kerala and Goa in the south, Mizoram in the northeast, Himachal Pradesh in the north and Maharashtra in the west zone that recorded literacy rates of more than 75 percent in 2001.  All the UTs except Dadra and Nagar Haveli have also recorded literacy rate of more than 80 percent (Table 3).  In 1991, among the major states (with population above 10 million), Tamil Nadu secured second rank in literacy rate, while it has slipped to the third rank now.

Table 3: Percentage of Literates to Population age 7 Years and above by

Zones and States, 1991 and 2001

 

Zone/State and Union Territory

1991

2001

Gains in literacy rates           (LR 2001-LR 1991)

 

P

M

F

  P

M

F

P

M

F

  INDIA

52.2

64.1

39.3

65.2

75.6

54.0

13.0

11.5

14.7

NORTH ZONE

51.2 

63.8

36.9 

66.5 

77.6 

54.1 

15.3

13.8

17.2

Haryana

55.9

96.1

40.5

68.6

79.3

56.3

12.7

10.2

15.8

Himachal Pradesh

63.9

75.4

52.1

77.1

86.0

68.1

13.2

10.6

16.0

Jammu & Kashmir

51.5

63.3

38.8

65.4

75.9

54.2

13.9

12.6

15.4

Punjab

58.5

65.7

50.4

70.0

75.6

63.6

11.5

9.9

13.2

Rajasthan

38.6

55.0

20.4

61.0

76.5

44.3

22.4

21.5

23.9

Chandigarh (UT)

77.8

82.0

72.3

81.8

85.7

76.7

4.0

3.7

4.4

Delhi (UT)

75.3

82.0

67.0

81.8

87.4

75.0

6.5

5.4

8.0

EAST ZONE

47.6

60.1

33.9

59.0

70.1

47.0

11.4

10.0

13.1

Bihar

37.5

51.4

22.0

47.5

60.3

33.6

10.0

8.9

11.6

Sikkim

56.9

65.7

46.8

69.7

76.7

61.5

12.8

11.0

14.7

West Bengal

57.7

67.8

46.6

69.2

77.6

60.2

11.5

9.8

13.6

Orissa

49.1

63.1

34.7

63.6

76.0

51.0

14.5

12.9

16.3

A & N Islands (UT)

73.0

79.0

65.5

81.2

86.1

75.3

8.2

7.1

9.8

NORTH EAST

54.5

63.2

44.1

65.8

73.0

58.0

11.3

9.8

13.9

Assam

52.9

61.9

43.0

64.3

71.9

56.0

11.4

10.0

13.0

Arunachal Pradesh*

41.6

51.5

29.7

54.7

64.1

44.2

13.1

12.6

14.5

Manipur

59.9

71.6

47.6

68.9

77.9

59.7

9.0

6.3

12.1

Meghalaya

49.1

53.1

44.9

63.3

66.1

60.4

14.2

13.0

15.5

Mizoram

82.3

85.6

78.6

88.5

90.7

86.1

6.2

5.1

7.5

Nagaland

61.7

67.6

54.8

67.1

71.8

61.9

5.4

4.2

7.1

Tripura

60.4

70.6

49.7

73.7

81.5

65.4

13.3

10.9

15.7

CENTRAL ZONE

42.4

56.6

26.5

60.1

72.8

46.2

17.7

16.2

19.7

Madhya Pradesh

44.7

58.5

29.4

64.1

76.8

50.3

19.4

18.3

20.9

Uttar Pradesh

40.7

54.8

24.4

57.4

70.2

43.0

16.7

15.4

18.6

WEST ZONE

63.6

75.4

51.0

73.5

82.9

63.4

9.9

7.5

12.4

Gujarat

61.3

73.1

48.6

70.0

80.5

58.6

8.7

7.4

10.0

Maharashtra

64.9

76.6

52.3

77.3

86.3

67.5

12.4

9.7

15.2

D & N Haveli (UT)

40.7

53.6

27.0

60.0

73.3

43.0

19.3

19.7

16.0

Daman & Diu (UT)

71.2

82.7

59.4

81.1

88.4

70.4

9.9

5.7

11.0

SOUTHERN ZONE

59.3

69.1

49.2

70.4

78.7

62.0

11.1

9.6

12.8

Andhra Pradesh

44.1

55.1

32.7

61.1

70.9

51.2

17.0

15.8

18.5

Goa

75.5

83.6

67.1

82.3

88.9

75.5

6.8

5.3

8.4

Karnataka

56.0

67.3

44.3

67.0

76.3

57.5

11.0

9.0

13.2

Kerala

89.8

93.6

86.2

90.9

94.2

87.9

1.1

0.6

1.7

Tamil Nadu

62.7

73.8

51.3

73.5

82.3

64.6

10.8

8.5

13.3

Lakshadweep (UT)

81.8

90.2

72.9

87.5

93.2

81.6

5.7

3.0

8.7

Pondicherry (UT)

74.7

83.7

65.6

81.5

88.9

74.1

6.8

5.2

8.5

 

Source: RGCCI 2001 (2001a: 123-27)

 

At the zonal level, in 2001 it is the west zone that has reported the highest literacy rates well above the south zone.  This is because both Gujarat and Maharashtra have registered literacy rates higher than Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka that fall in the south zone.  Although central zone is constituted by erstwhile Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, both regarded as low literacy states, it is the east zone that is marked by lowest literacy rate primarily because of very low literacy rate in Bihar and Orissa (Table 3).

As regards the gains in literacy rates between 1991 and 2001, all the states and union territories without exception have registered positive increase. Rajasthan recorded a maximum increase of 22.5 percent followed by Chhatisgarh (22.3 percent), Madhya Pradesh (19.4 percent), Andhra Pradesh (17 percent) and Uttar Pradesh (16.6 percent) (Table 3).  Thus, among the so called BIMARU states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh including Chhatisgarh, and Uttar Pradesh have made significant progress in their literacy drives. Detailed literacy rates by age groups would indicate whether the increment in literacy rates is largely contributed by the adult males and females or by the children in the school going age.  The first factor would mean that efforts of the National Literacy Mission (NLM) and Adult Literacy Mission (ALM) and other related programmes have succeeded while the second may suggest success of the DPEP and other projects like Lok Jumbish in Rajasthan have helped in reduction in school dropouts.  Both these aspects are meaningful from societal perspective and need more detailed examination.

 Among the states and union territories that had literacy rates below 50 percent in 1991, Bihar at 47.5 percent is the only state falling in this category in 2001 as well.  Further, it has recorded the minimum increase of just 10 percent during 1991-2001.

            Regression analysis conducted with literacy rate (y) as the dependent variable and population growth rate during 1991-2001 decade (x1) and urbanisation rate in 2001 (x2) as explanatory variables indicate that growth rate has no correlation with literacy rate.  Urbanisation rate, however, has strong correlation with literacy rate and is highly significant.  The regression equation in this case works out as

                        y = 63.167 – 0.139x1 + 0.333x2     

 

Male-Female Difference in Literacy Rate

            It is heartening to note that, at the national level, male-female difference in literacy rate has declined from 24.8 percent in 1991 to 21.7 percent in 2001 due to faster increase in female literacy rate than male literacy rate during the 1990s.  Consequently, the male-female gap in literacy rate declined in all the states and union territories except Dadra & Nagar Haveli during this period.

An examination of the decadal difference in literacy rates by gender for 1991 and 2001, however, indicates that out of 13 states and UTs where the literacy rates are below the national average of 65.4 percent, nine occupy the first nine positions in male-female gap.  These states are Rajasthan (a gap of 32.1 percentage points), Jharkhand (28.6 percent), Uttar Pradesh (27.2 percent), Bihar (26.7 percent), Madhya Pradesh (26.5 percent), Chhatisgarh (25.5 percent), Orissa (25 percent), Jammu and Kashmir (23.9 percent) and the UT of Dadra and Nagar Haveli (30.3 percent).  Their ranking in terms of the gap in male-female literacy rate has remained almost the same between 1991 and 2001 (Table 4).  In contrast, male-female gap in literacy rate in 2001 is less than ten percent only in the states of Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and the union territory of Chandigarh. These are the states where females have high status in their respective societies. 

Looking at the data in Table 4, one may conclude that the states where the overall literacy rate is low, they continue to have large gap in male female literacy rates even after substantial improvement in female literacy.  It also seems that low urbanisation and low density of population also influence the gap in male-female literacy rates.  One may also say that status of women continues to remain low in those states.

Table 4: Literacy rates by sex and their decadal differences between

1991 and 2001, India and States/Union Territories

 

 

India/State/Union Territory/zone

1991

Gap in M-F literacy

rate

2001

Gap in literacy

Rate

Decadal difference in literacy rates

Males

Females

Males

Females

Males

Females

(1)

(2)

(3)

(4)

(5)

(6)

(7)

(8)

(9)

INDIA

64.1

39.3

24.8

76.0

54.3

21.7

11.8

15.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North zone

63.8

36.9

26.9

77.6

54.1

23.5

13.8

17.2

Jammu & Kashmir

N.A.

N.A.

N.A.

65.8

41.8

23.9

N.A.

N.A.

Himachal Pradesh

75.4

52.3

23.2

86.0

68.1

17.9

10.6

15.8

Punjab

65.7

50.4

15.3

75.6

63.6

12.0

10.0

13.1

Chandigarh*

82.0

72.3

9.7

85.6

76.6

9.0

3.6

4.3

Haryana

69.1

40.5

28.6

79.2

56.3

22.9

10.2

15.8

Delhi*

82.0

67.0

15.0

87.4

75.0

12.4

5.4

8.0

Rajasthan

55.0

20.4

34.6

76.5

44.3

32.1

21.5

23.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central zone

56.6

26.5

30.1

72.8

46.2

26.6

16.2

19.7

Chhatisgarh

58.1

27.5

30.5

77.9

52.4

25.5

19.8

24.9

Madhya Pradesh

58.5

29.4

29.2

76.8

50.3

26.5

18.3

20.9

Uttar Pradesh

54.8

24.4

30.5

70.2

43.0

27.2

15.4

18.6

Uttaranchal           

72.8

41.6

31.2

84.0

60.3

23.7

11.2

18.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East zone

60.1

33.9

26.2

70.1

47.0

13.1

10.0

13.1

Bihar

51.4

22.0

29.4

60.3

33.6

26.7

9.0

11.6

Jharkhand

55.8

25.5

30.3

67.9

39.4

28.6

12.1

13.9

Orissa

63.1

34.7

28.4

76.0

51.0

25.0

12.9

16.3

Sikkim

65.7

46.8

18.9

76.7

61.5

15.2

11.0

14.7

West Bengal

67.8

46.6

21.2

77.6

60.2

17.4

9.8

13.7

A. & N, Islands

79.0

65.5

13.5

86.1

75.3

10.8

7.1

9.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North-Eastern zone

63.2

44.1

19.1

73.0

58.0

15.0

9.8

13.9

Arunachal Pradesh

51.4

29.7

21.7

64.1

44.2

19.9

12.6

14.5

Assam

61.9

43.0

18.9

71.9

56.0

15.9

10.1

13.0

Manipur

71.6

47.6

24.0

77.9

59.7

18.2

6.2

12.1

Meghalaya

53.1

44.8

8.3

66.1

60.4

5.7

13.0

15.6

Mizoram

85.6

78.6

7.0

90.7

86.1

4.6

5.1

7.5

Nagaland

67.6

54.8

12.8

71.8

61.9

9.9

4.2

7.2

Tripura

70.6

49.6

21.0

81.5

65.4

16.1

10.8

15.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West zone

75.4

51.0

24.4

82.9

63.4

19.5

7.5

12.4

Gujarat

73.4

48.9

24.5

80.5

58.6

21.9

7.1

9.7

Maharashtra

76.6

52.3

24.3

86.3

67.5

18.8

9.7

15.2

D & N Haveli*

53.6

27.0

26.6

73.3

43.0

30.3

19.8

16.0

Daman & Diu*

82.7

59.4

23.3

88.4

70.4

18.0

5.7

11.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South zone

69.1

49.2

19.9

78.7

62.0

16.7

9.6

12.8

Andhra Pradesh

55.1

32.7

22.4

70.8

51.2

19.6

15.7

18.4

Goa

83.6

67.1

16.5

88.9

75.5

13.4

5.2

8.4

Karnataka

67.3

44.3

23.0

76.3

57.4

18.9

9.0

13.1

Kerala

93.6

86.2

7.4

94.2

87.9

6.3

0.6

1.7

Tamil Nadu

73.8

51.3

22.5

82.3

64.6

17.7

8.6

13.2

Lakshadweep*

90.2

72.9

17.3

93.2

81.6

11.6

3.0

8.7

Pondicherry*

83.7

65.6

18.1

88.9

74.1

14.8

5.2

8.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: RGCCI (2001a: 126 f.)

Notes:

1.       The literacy rates for India for 1991 Census in col. (3) and (4) exclude Jammu and Kashmir where 1991 census could not be conducted. Similarly, to make the data comparable the 1991 rates against India exclude entire Kachchh district; Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and Wankaner talukas of Rajkot district; Jodiya taluka of Jamnagar district of Gujarat state, and entire Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh where 2001 census enumeration could not be held due to natural calamities.  Further, the literacy rates for India for 2001 exclude entire state of Jammu and Kashmir. and the entire Kachchh district; Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and Wankaner talukas of Rajkot district; Jodiya taluka of Jamnagar district of Gujarat state, and entire Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh for the above reasons.

2.       The literacy rates for Himachal Pradesh in for 1991 exclude entire district of Kinnaur to make data comparable with the literacy rate of the 2001 census of the state.

3.        The literacy rates shown against Gujarat in col. (2), (3), (5) and (6) for 1991 and 2001 respectively exclude the entire Kachchh district; Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and Wankaner talukas of Rajkot district; Jodiya taluka of Jamnagar district where the 2001 census enumeration could not be held due to natural calamities.

4.       N.A. stands for ‘not available.’

 

Comparison of Census and NSS Literacy Rates

            The NSS had conducted a special survey on literacy and educational attainment in its 53rd round (January-December 1997).  It would be useful to compare the literacy rates as obtained in the census with those of the NSS even though there is a gap of almost four years between the two sets of figures.  The census literacy rate of 65.5 percent is higher than 62 percent recorded in the NSS.  This may be partly due to the difference in the two time points for which the data relate.  Of the 32 states and union territories (as of the 1991 census or in the NSS) 17 recorded a lower literacy rate in 2001 census than in the 53rd round of the NSS (Table 5).

Table 5: Literacy rates by sex in the 2001 census and in the

National Sample Survey (53rd round, Jan-Dec 1997)

 

India/State/Union Territory

Literacy rate

Difference between

2001 Census

National Sample Survey

2001 census & NSS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INDIA

65

76

54

62

73

50

3

3

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andhra Pradesh

61

71

51

54

64

43

7

7

8

Arunachal Pradesh

55

64

44

60

69

48

-5

-5

-4

Assam

64

72

56

75

82

66

-11

-10

-10

Bihar &  Jharkhand

49

62

35

489

62

34

0

0

1

Goa

82

89

76

86

93

79

-4

-4

-3

Gujarat

70

80

59

68

80

57

2

0

2

Haryana

69

79

56

65

76

52

4

3

4

Himachal Pradesh

77

86

68

77

87

70

0

-1

-2

Jammu and Kashmir

54

66

42

59

71

48

-5

-5

-6

Karnataka

67

76

57

58

66

50

9

10

7

Kerala

91

94

88

93

96

90

-2

-2

-2

Madhya Pradesh & Chhatisgarh

64

77

51

56

70

41

8

7

10

Manipur

69

78

60

76

86

66

-7

-8

-6

Meghalaya

63

66

60

77

79

74

-14

-13

-14

Mizoram

88

91

86

95

96

95

-7

-5

-9

Nagaland

67

72

62

84

91

77

-17

-19

-15

Orissa

64

76

51

51

64

38

13

12

13

Punjab

70

76

64

67

72

62

3

4

2

Rajasthan

61

76

44

55

73

35

6

3

9

Sikkim

70

77

61

79

86

72

-9

-9

-11

Tamil Nadu

73

82

65

70

80

60

3

2

5

Tripura

74

81

65

73

79

67

1

2

-2

Uttar Pradesh & Uttaranchal

58

71

44

56

69

41

2

2

3

West Bengal

69

78

60

72

81

63

-3

-3

-3

Union Territories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A & N Islands

80

86

75

97

100

94

-16

-14

-19

Chandigarh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dadra & Nagar Haveli

60

73

43

49

66

30

11

7

13

Daman and Diu

81

788

70

86

95

73

-5

-7

-3

Delhi

82

87

75

85

91

76

-3

-4

-1

Lakshadweep

88

93

82

96

98

93

-8

-5

-11

Pondicherry

81

89

74

90

94

86

-9

-5

-12

Source: RGCCI (2001a: 121f)

Notes:

1.The literacy rates for India have been worked out by excluding entire Kachchh district; Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and Wankaner talukas of Rajkot district; Jodiya taluka of Jamnagar district of Gujarat state, and entire Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh where 2001 census enumeration could not be held due to natural calamities.  The literacy rates for Himachal Pradesh in for 1991 exclude entire district of Kinnaur to make data comparable with the literacy rate of the 2001 census of the state.

 

2. The literacy rates for Himachal Pradesh for 2001 exclude entire Kinnaur district where 2001 census enumeration could not be held due to natural calamities. 

 

3.       The literacy rates shown against Gujarat exclude the entire Kachchh district; Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and Wankaner talukas of Rajkot district; Jodiya taluka of Jamnagar district where the 2001 census enumeration could not be held due to natural calamities.

 

Among the major states Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, erstwhile Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and erstwhile Uttar Pradesh have recorded higher literacy rates than reported in the NSS by varying percentage points. Increase in literacy rate of Orissa by 13 percentage points is very significant and needs probing.   It is, however, noteworthy that all the northeastern states, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Sikkim, West Bengal and the UTs of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Delhi, Lakshadweep and Pondicherry have recorded lower literacy rates in the census than what was found in the NSS for 1997. The gaps in smaller states and some of the UTs have been quite large and need explanation.  Probably the NSS sample size in those states is not large enough but this needs to be examined further.

It is satisfying to note that the states that have registered higher literacy rates in the census compared to the NSS had recorded appreciable rise in literacy rates between 1991 and 2001.  It is, however, surprising that Assam and West Bengal that have reported 11.4 and 11.5 percentage points increase in their literacy rates during the 1990s slid behind in comparison to the NSS.  This would need some probing.

 

The Illiterate Population

Despite the rise in literacy both among males and females, there has been an increase in absolute number of illiterates (in the total population) in the country in each of the censuses up till 1991 (Table 6). The number of illiterates increased from 334 million in 1961 to 479 million in 1991.  The 2001 census has, however, indicated a decline in their numbers, more so among males, even though the 1991-2001 growth in literacy rate has been higher among females.

 

 

Table 6: Number of illiterates in India by sex in different censuses

                                                                                                   (Figures in millions)

Year

Persons

Males

Females

1961

333.9

148.5

135.4

1971

386.5

171.9

214.6

1981

424.2

182.6

241.6

1991

479.2

205.6

273.6

2001

454.1

188.6

265.5

                Source: Premi (1991: 68)

The major contribution to the decline in the number of male illiterates came from Uttar Pradesh (19.5 percent), Andhra Pradesh (13.6 percent), Rajasthan (12.4 percent), Madhya Pradesh (11.4 percent), Maharashtra (9.2 percent), Tamil Nadu (7.1 percent), and West Bengal    (7 percent) that accounted for a total of 80 percent reduction in male illiterates.  Similarly, the major reduction in the number of female illiterates during the 1990s came from Andhra Pradesh (23.3 percent), Maharashtra (19.1 percent), Tamil Nadu (17.9 percent), West Bengal (10.8 percent) and Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan (each accounting for 9.5 percent).  Bihar, however registered an increase of 2.31 million in the number of female illiterates (22 percent) during the 1990s.  Other states and UTs that have shown an increase in the number of illiterates are Gujarat, Jharkhand, Manipur, Nagaland and the UTs of Delhi and Chandigarh.  In-migration of illiterate workers from other states can, to a large extent, explain the increase of illiterates in the population of Delhi, Chandigarh, and Gujarat.  It is, however, difficult to explain the increase in the number of illiterates in Bihar, it is quite likely that the education system in that state has come to a grinding halt; the other explanation can be large immigration of illiterate persons from Nepal and Bangladesh.

As the data on illiterate by age of the 2001 census would take time the pattern of illiterates in the age group 10-14 and 15-34 has been examined here from 1961 to 1991 (Table 7).  A reduction in the number of illiterates in the age group 10-14 indicates the impact of the drive for formal and non-formal education, and that in 15-34 age group indicates the impact of adult literacy programme along with that of school education. 

 

Table 7: Number of illiterates aged 10-14 and 15-34, India, 1961, 1971, 1981 and 1991

(Figures in million)

 

Sex

10-14

15-34

1961

1971

1981

1991

1961

1971

1981

1991

Persons

28.5

34.7

37.5

30.8

85.7

97.1

107.2

121.3

Males

12.0

14.7

15.1

12.0

28.5

37.0

39.8

43.9

Females

16.5

20.0

22.4

18.8

57.2

60.1

67.4

77.4

Source: Premi (1991: 68)

 

 

It is noteworthy that the number of illiterates in the age group 10-14 declined substantially after increasing between 1961 and 1981.  It is hoped that the 2001 census would show further decline in the absolute number of illiterates in this age group.  It is a matter of concern that the number of adult illiterates in the country remained increasing monotonically from 1961 to 1991, that is, the Adult Literacy Programme was not very successful in the country during the 1980s. As there is a reduction in the absolute number of illiterates in the country between 1991 and 2001, it is expected that there would be significant reduction in the number of illiterates in both the above age groups in 2001.

 

District Level Scenario

In the Indian context even state is too big a unit for any meaningful analysis or policy intervention in respect of literacy.  District is both an administrative unit as well as a culturally and socially homogenous unit.  Within a state one finds great diversities among its districts.  On the other hand, a cluster of districts bordering two or more states can be more homogenous than far and in-between districts in the same state.  District has, therefore, been recognised as a viable unit for decentralised planning and policy making.  Table 8 presents frequency distribution of the districts of the 1991 and 2001 censuses by their literacy rates.  The Census Organisation has already recast the 1991 district level data according to new boundaries of the districts as of the

 

Table 8: Frequency distribution of districts according to

total and female literacy rates, 1991 and 2001

Percent literacy rate

1991

2001

Persons

Females

Persons

Females

Greater than 90

11

5

13

7

80-90

14

11

46

16

70-80

37

17

152

59

60-70

100

37

174

119

50-60

119

73

126

138

40-50

144

87

55

127

30-40

110

122

26

81

20-30

42

125

0

43

Less than and equal to 20

3

103

0

2

TOTAL

580

580

592

592

Note (a) Literacy rates for the districts of Jammu and Kashmir for 1991 are not available as no census could by conducted there at that time.

(b)    Figures for 2001 do not include the entire Kachchh district; Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and Wankaner talukas of Rajkot district; Jodiya taluka of Jamnagar district of Gujarat state, and entire Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh where 2001 census enumeration could not be held due to natural calamities.

        Source: RGCCI 2001 (2001b: 118-49)

 

2001 census.  There are now 594 districts in the country; 1991 data are not available for 14 districts of Jammu and Kashmir where the census could not be conducted at that time.  Similarly, 2001 literacy data are not available for two districts, Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh and Kachchh in Gujarat.

There were 25 districts in the country in 1991 where the literacy rate of persons was above 80 percent; of these 11 districts had recorded literacy rate of more than 90 percent.  In the 2001 census one finds 59 districts with literacy rate of persons above 80 percent with 13 districts recording literacy rate above 90 percent.  Since literacy rates are computed for population aged 7 and above, a rate of more than 90 percent implies that all children above 7 are literate, many of them might have been able to read and write with understanding before being 7 years old.  Similarly, among the older people, almost every one is regarded as literate even if they have crossed the age of 75 or 80 years.  It would be useful to understand the patterns with the help of age specific literacy rates that have led to the observed figures; it may also be necessary to evaluate these data when the results of Post Enumeration Check become available. 

There were 45 districts in 1991 where the overall literacy rate was below 30 percent.  Most of these districts were in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.  It is heartening to note that in the 2001 census, none of the 592 districts has recorded literacy rate below 30 percent.  Further, there were 228 districts (more than one-third) where the female literacy rate in 1991 was below 30 percent; of those 103 districts recorded female literacy rate of less than 20 percent.  In the 2001 census, the number of districts wherein the female literacy rate is below 30 percent declined to just 45, and there are only two districts – Shravasti in Uttar Pradesh and Kishanganj in Bihar – that registered female literacy rate below 20 percent.

An examination of the top 20 districts in respect of literacy rate of persons indicates that it varied from 96.6 percent in Aizwal to 86.8 percent in Mumbai.  Aizwal is the capital of Mizoram while Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra.  Of the 14 districts of Kerala, 11 are among the first twenty.  Of the remaining nine districts among the top twenty, four are from Mizoram, two from Maharashtra and one each from Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and Lakshadweep. 

On the other end of the scale, among the bottom twenty districts eight belong to Bihar, while four each are in Uttar Pradesh and Orissa, two are in Jharkhand, and one each from Chhatisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. There are 13 districts out of the bottom 20 districts of 1991 that have continued in this category even in 2001.  In 1991, there were only three districts in Bihar falling in bottom 20 districts category but, in 2001, there are eight districts in this category.  The three districts of Rajasthan- Banswara, Jalor and Barmer – that were in bottom 20 districts, have all improved their literacy rates substantially and there is no district now in this category from that state.

Female literacy rate among the bottom twenty districts in 1991 was well below 15 percent and three districts had it below 10 percent.  In 2001, there was no district with female literacy rates below 15 percent and only two districts, as indicated above, had literacy rate below 20 percent.  The statewise distribution of these districts is just the same as for the literacy rates of all persons, and the districts are also the same except Sheohar in Bihar and Sahibganj in Jharkhand. When the situation is compared with 1991, all the five districts of Rajasthan that fell among bottom 20 districts have moved out of this category in 2001.  Further, there was only Kishanganj in Bihar in 1991 that fell among the bottom 20 districts; in 2001, there are eight districts from that state falling in this category.  The districts identified above along with the remaining districts in Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh need very special attention in the years to come as part of the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan to very substantially raise both male and female literacy levels.           

As stated earlier, there are wide variations in literacy rates of different districts within the same state.  Table 9 gives the highest and lowest literacy rate districts of all the states except Goa for 1991 and 2001.  In 1991 the differences in literacy rates between the highest and lowest districts are given according to the district boundaries as of 2001.

Of the 27 states for which the data are presented in Table 9, the districts with highest and lowest literacy rates are the same in 1991 and 2001 in 13 states.  The difference in highest and lowest literacy rate declined in 15 states while the same increased in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Tripura, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh (Table 9).  In the remaining six states the change is only marginal within one to two percent points.  It is noteworthy that the gap in the literacy rate of the districts with highest and lowest values was more than 40 percent even in 2001 in Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.  All the four major states are educationally backward.

The district level literacy rates for the 14 districts of Kerala in 2001 varied from 95.9 percent in Kottayam to 84.3 percent in Palakkad (Table 9).  In contrast, the literacy rates among the 70 districts of Uttar Pradesh varied from a high of 77.6 percent in Kanpur Nagar to a low of 34.2 percent in Shravasti.  Similarly, among the 45 districts of Madhya Pradesh, the literacy rate in 2001 has varied from 78.3 percent in Narasimhapur to a low of 36.9 percent in Jhabua. Neither Kanpur Nagar nor Narsimhapur has reached even the lowest level of Kerala’s literacy rate.

 

Impact of DPEP and Other Education Promotion Programmes

Ever since the formulation of National Policy on Education (1986) and its updating in 1992, concerted efforts have been made by the national and state governments to improve the enrolment of children and increase the literacy level of adults.  To give impetus to adult education programmes, the government of India launched a “National Literacy Mission in May 1988.   This programme along with the Adult Literacy Programme made some headway during the late 1980s and early 1990s.  In 1994, the Government of India introduced a new District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) with funding from the World Bank as soft loan.  This programme was introduced in the first instance in 42 districts in seven states – Assam, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.  In the second stage 94 districts were added, some in the already covered states and more in the new states.  Thus, the first and second phase have coved 136 districts in the country.  A third phase of the project started in 1998 and covered only 27 districts, that too in Bihar alone.  There have been several NGOs like Lok Jumbish in Rajasthan that are working in the field of primary education and have changed the scenario substantially in their area of operation.

By the time of the 2001 census, as the first and second phase had run in the country for at least five years, it is felt that there should be significant improvement in both boys and girls enrolment at least in the selected districts and, consequently, an improvement in literacy rate.   Keeping in view the scope of the present paper, here the changes in literacy level in the DPEP districts in comparison to the non-DPEP districts is presented in Table 10.  Here one should not assume that it is only the DPEP that has brought change in literacy rate since other efforts have always been there and have been helping in raising literacy rates.

An examination of Table 10 indicates that, by all large, most of the states have recorded substantially higher gains in literacy rates between 1991 and 2001, gains have been marginal in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Orissa and Karnataka.  The gain in literacy rate in Kerala could not been very much as the literacy rate is above 90 percent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 9: Districts with maximum and minimum values

of literacy rate, States, 1991 and 2001

 

 

1991

2001

Sl. No.

State

District with maximum LR

LR

District with minimum LR

LR

Gap

District with maximum LR

LR

District with minimum LR

LR

Gap

1

Jammu and Kashmir

N.A.

N.A.

N.A.

N.A.

N.A.

Jammu

77.3

Badgam

39.5

37.8

2

Himachal Pradesh

Hamirpur

74.9

Chamba

54.7

20.2

Hamirpur

83.2

Chamba

63.7

19.5

3

Punjab

Hoshiarpur

72.1

Mansa

37.2

34.9

Hoshiarpur

81.4

Mansa

52.5

28.9

4

Uttaranchal

Dehradun

69.5

Uttarkashi

47.2

22.3

Nainital

79.6

Hardwar

64.6

15.0

5

Haryana

Ambala

66.6

Kaithal

42.8

23.8

Panchkula

76.5

Fatehabad

58.2

18.3

6

Rajasthan

Kota

55.2

Barmer

23.0

32.2

Kota

74.4

Banswara

44.2

30.2

7

Uttar Pradesh

Kanpur Nagar

64.0

Bahraich

22.7

41.3

Kanpur Nagar

77.6

Shravasti

34.2

43.4

8

Bihar

Patna

56.3

Kishanganj

22.2

34.1

Patna

63.8

Kishanganj

31.0

32.8

9

Sikkim

East

65.1

West

45.6

19.5

East

75.6

West

59.3

16.3

10

Arunachal Pradesh

Papum Pare

55.1

East Kameng

26.2

28.9

Papum Pare

70.9

East Kameng

40.9

30.0

11

Nagaland

Mokokchung

77.8

Mon

36.0

41.8

Mokokchung

84.3

Mon

42.2

42.1

12

Manipur

Imphal West

73.0

Senapati

46.0

27.0

Imphal West

80.6

Senapati

50.5

30.1

13

Mizoram

Aizwal

93.1

Lawngtlai

42.7

50.4

Aizwal

96.6

Lawngtlai

56.4

40.2

14

Tripura

West Tripura

65.8

South Tripura

53.0

12.8

West Tripura

77.8

Dhalai

61.6

16.2

15

Meghalaya

East Khasi Hills

64.6

Jaintia Hills

35.3

29.3

East Khasi Hills

77.0

West Garo Hills

51.0

26.0

16

Assam

Jorhat

65.5

Dhubri

38.4

27.1

Jorhat

77.9

Dhobri

49.9

28.0

17

West Bengal

Kolkata

77.6

Uttar Dinajpur

34.6

43.0

Kolkata

81.3

Uttar Dinajpur

48.6

32.7

18

Jharkhand

Purbi Singhbhum

59.0

Pakaur

24.0

35.0

Purbi Singhbhum

69.4

Pakaur

30.5

38.9

19

Orissa

Khordha

67.7

Nabarangapur

18.6

49.1

Khordha

80.2

Malkangiri

31.3

48.9

20

Chhatisgarh

Durg

58.7

Dantewala

16.5

42.2

Rajnandgaon

77.6

Dantewala

30.0

47.6

21

Madhya Pradesh

Indore

66.3

Jhabua

19.0

47.3

Narsimhapur

78.3

Jhabua

36.9

41.4

22

Gujarat

Gandhinagar

73.8

Dohad

35.8

38.0

Ahmedabad

79.9

Dohad

45.6

34.3

23

Maharashtra

Mumbai

83.6

Gadchiroli

42.9

40.7

Mumbai (Suburban)

87.1

Nandurbar

56.1

31.0

24

Andhra Pradesh

Hyderabad

71.5

Mahboobnagar

29.6

41.9

Hyderabad

79.0

Mahboobnagar

45.5

33.5

25

Karnataka

Dakshina Kannada

76.7

Raichur

34.3

42.4

Bangalore

83.9

Raichur

49.5

34.4

26

Kerala

Kottayam

95.7

Palakkad

81.3

14.4

Kottayam

95.9

Palakkad

84.3

11.6

27

Tamil Nadu

Kanyakumari

82.1

Dharmapuri

46.0

36.1

Kanyakumari

88.1

Dharmapuri

59.2

28.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: RGCCI  2001(2001b: 59, 118-149).

 

Table 10: Comparative improvement in literacy rates between 1991 and 2001

in DPEP districts with that in non-DPEP districts in different  States

 

 India/States

 

DPEP/non-DPEP districts

Persons

Males

Females

INDIA

 

DPEP districts

16.51

15.23

18.13

 

 

Remaining districts

12.06

10.61

13.77

Himachal Pradesh

DPEP districts

18.29

14.92

22.30

 

 

Remaining districts

10.76

8.53

12.77

Haryana

 

DPEP districts

14.37

11.84

17.51

 

 

Remaining districts

11.79

9.16

14.87

Uttar Pradesh

DPEP districts

16.62

16.84

16.87

 

 

Remaining districts

16.66

14.92

19.21

Assam

 

DPEP districts

12.38

11.34

13.62

 

 

Remaining districts

10.75

9.24

12.60

West Bengal

DPEP districts

15.73

13.73

17.99

 

 

Remaining districts

9.90

8.24

12.00

Orissa

 

DPEP districts

14.45

13.51

15.56

 

 

Remaining districts

14.55

12.62

16.55

. Madhya Pradesh inc

DPEP districts

22.72

21.29

24.52

Chhatisgarh

Remaining districts

17.35

15.77

19.16

Gujarat

 

DPEP districts

12.12

11.33

13.10

 

 

Remaining districts

8.21

6.83

9.53

Maharashtra

DPEP districts

18.26

14.71

22.00

 

 

Remaining districts

10.37

7.98

12.83

Andhra Pradesh

DPEP districts

17.62

16.65

18.77

 

 

Remaining districts

14.22