India’s Literacy Panorama

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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 – 0.139×1 + 0.333×2

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 11.38 16.94
Karnataka DPEP districts 11.93 10.06 13.97
Remaining districts 10.36 8.32 12.52
Kerala DPEP districts 1.82 1.25 2.44
Remaining districts 0.58 0.08 1.13
Tamil Nadu DPEP districts 13.81 11.91 15.96
Remaining districts 9.90 7.57 12.39

Planning Implications

The above scenario based on a quick analysis of the provisional figures of 2001 regarding literacy rates can be taken as indicative of the changes that have been noticed in this regard. To arrive at some firm conclusions, one would need more detailed data and a more rigorous analysis than presented here. Based on trend analysis, it is, however, possible to draw some implications for future educational planning.

The gains in literacy rates have been quite good during the 1990s. Moreover, there has been a substantial reduction in the absolute number of illiterates in the country for the first time. But, still a lot of efforts have to be made to bring the country’s overall literacy rate above 90 percent and that of the females above 80 percent during the present decade. For, population control it is necessary to intensify our efforts particularly in raising the level of girls’ education. The National Population Policy has emphasized this aspect in very clear terms.

Though male-female disparities at the macro level have reduced, the literacy situation of females still has to be given priority. The state level situation indicates very significant improvement in both male and female literacy rate, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It would be important for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa to review their own literacy programmes and take necessary steps in this regard.

References

Premi, Mahendra K. 1991

India’s Population: Heading Towards a Billion. Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation.

Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India 2001

2001a Census of India 2001, Series 1, India, Provisional Population Totals, Paper 1 of 2001. Delhi: Controller of Publications.

Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India 2001

2001b Census of India 2001, Series 1, India, Provisional Population Totals, Paper 1 of 2001, Supplement: District Totals. Delhi: Controller of Publications.

# Professor of Demography, formerly at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-110067

Present address: 1036, Sector D-1, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi 110 070.