Indian Muslims and higher education
Those who are against reservations for Muslims in jobs and educational institutions can hardly contain their glee at the news that Muslims are after all – not backward educationally (article). This has been brought to everyone’s notice by a former JNU demographer, Prof Mahendra Premi in his book, ‘Population of India in New Millennium: Census 2001’. His revelations apparently contradict the Sachar Committee Report on the socio-economic conditions of Muslims which says that Muslims are educationally behind the other communities. Prof. Premi says that the 2001 Census shows that Muslims (both male and female) are actually faring better educationally than their Hindu counterparts in as many as seven states.
So what is the confusion?
Well, according to Prof Premi (and based on the 2001 census data) Muslims in the seven states of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are far better off than Hindus. On an average across these states 6% more Muslim men are literate as compared to Hindu men. The percentage difference ranges from 1.3% (Karnataka) to 13.7% (Chattisgarh). And the data for women is revealing. On an average across these states around 13% more Muslim women are literate as compared to their Hindu sisters. The figures range from 7.7 % (Karnataka) to 23.2% (Chattisgarh). True, the 2001 census also says that while 65.3% of Indians (both men and women) are literate, only 59.1% of Muslims are.
But if Muslims are backward educationally, it is so only in some states. Making sweeping generalisations of the kind that the Sachar committee made are misleading.
The harsher reality
The Wiki says that literacy is ‘…reading and writing at a level adequate for communication, or at a level that enables one to successfully comprehend and communicate in print society.’
Are Indian literates able to do this? A website called Spincycle quotes a study by ORG-CSR (2003) conducted in rural areas of five states—Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. This study says that “Faced with a square block of Hindi text printed centered on a square piece of paper with no other graphical indicators of beginning, ending, or page orientation, as many as 37.4% literates could not hold the printed matter in the proper orientation for reading. After this was shown (or known), 42.5% could not point to the end of text. Half the sample could not move their finger to delineate the left to right direction of print and a nearly equal proportion could not move from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line immediately below.”
There’s more. “Only 37.5% could write their full name correctly, 15.1% could write it partially or with mistakes, and 47.4% could not write it at all.” Few of these ‘literates’ could read a simple bus board, and more than half could not read a newspaper or letters, leave alone write them.” !!
Many of us have experienced this in real life. A maid or a worker who is fifth standard pass is unlikely to possess the skills that literate people are supposed to possess. A driver for examply may be unable to remember simple names of roads and or decipher longer road names. Indian school drop-outs face an additional problem – poor quality municipal schools. But the government is not bothered. As long as it can ensure that a large number of children enroll in school it’s goals can be met. Never mind if the kids drop out later on…it will not affect the statistics.
Higher education is important
So what am I trying to say? Firstly, that ‘literacy’ figures are misleading and do not reflect the state of our nation. Perhaps the figures available for higher education are more telling. According to the Milligazette, an Indian Muslim newspaper, only one out of 25 under-graduate students and one out of 50 post-graduate students is a Muslim in premier Indian colleges. Considering that Muslims in India make up 13.4% (BBC article) of the total population, these figures are very low. This is the real reality check.
Update: (Nov 08] An article quoting the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) in 1990-2000 and 2004-05 has shown that Muslims have a problem being recruited even if they are educated. trends of employment still show much lower opportunities, even for educated Muslims. These are just trends which need to be confirmed but it seems to show that in rural areas 7 percent of Hindu graduates were unemployed, but as many as 15 percent of Muslims were, which is more than double. In urban areas the figures were 5 percent and 10 percent. The unemployment rate gap was far less amongst those who were less educated. For example those who had studied till school level, 9 percent of Hindus were unemployment and 14 percent Muslims. In Urband areas the there was no difference at all, with both communities facing unemployment of 7 percent each. For Post graduate level also the difference/gap was far less, with the rate of unemployment for Hindus being 4 percent and 6 percent of Muslims – in rural areas. In urban areas the gap was that of onl one percentage point…4 percent for Muslims and 5 percent of Hindus.
There was a gap in employment rates of Diploma holders as well, with 7 percent of Hindus in rural areas being unemployed, but as many as 11 percent of Muslims. In urban areas too there was a gap, with 5 percent of Hindus being unemployed as compared to 8 percent Muslims.
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