India’s literacy rate increased six times since 1947, but has world’s largest number of illiterates

literacyBy Sadhan Mukherjee*

India is a country of myriad contradictions. Excellent, good, bad, indifferent, crude, antediluvian – every nomenclature fits in here. There is no uniform pattern in our societies, our civilisations, our administrations, our cultures or any other walk of life. Perhaps that is what makes us unique; and we thus become a blend of what Bengali composer Atul Prasad sang as “great commonality within varieties” ( vividher majhe dekho milano mahan) or what Pandit Nehru described as “unity in diversity!”

This uniqueness also hides our failures. If the British selectively chose its cadres from among our educated elites and middle classes to help rule India, in 68 years of independence we have further developed the lop-sided growth that has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. There is no doubt that some progress has been made in several fields. But our female components of society continue to remain mired in the age-old social morass.

Where else can you find as many as five PhDs in one family in a village while the neighbouring house is an abode of illiterates? The Times of India (September 10) has reported that starting with a less than modest salary of Rs 165 in 1978, Bhagwandas and his wife, a Dalit family of Ahirwar community of Jhansi, decided they would provide the best education to their five children. They have achieved a rare distinction — all five children are PhD degree holders!

Three of them are girls. The youngest child, Sohini, who completed her PhD from IIT Roorkee is an assistant professor in Lucknow. Her sisters are equally successful — Ragini, is also an assistant professor, while Mohini works as a senior research scholar in Singapore. Two sons have charted successful careers too: Mukesh in a steady government job and Anil as an assistant professor. The proud father, who retired as an assistant clerk and had studied up to class XII, now teaches street children for free.

This is only one side of the story. On the other side, where else can you find that a family pours acid on the stomach of an expectant daughter-in-law as she was supposedly carrying a female child second time in her womb predicted by an astrologer? This has happened in Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh a few days ago. The daughter in law is fighting for her life in a hospital.

This is also a country where female progenies are still killed as these families want male child. The slogan of Beti baachao, beti padao (save girls, educate them) is as yet just a slogan.

In which country in 21st century can one find some 20 million girls out of 39 million worldwide without any schooling? According to an Oxfam survey in 2015 nearly 48% out of school children are girls. In the next census they will be calculated as illiterate women, which would then have a ripple effect on the education of their children.

Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh are amongst the bottom five states in terms of literacy of Dalits. India’s literacy rate has increased six times since the end of the British rule — from 12% to 74% in 2011, yet, India has the world’s largest population of illiterates. 92% government schools are yet to fully implement the Right to Education (RTE) Act. India is ranked 123rd out of 135 countries in female literacy rate.

Yet India’s prestige at the Rio Olympics was saved by four female Olympians – three in the regular Olympics and one in the Paralympics. If the regular Olympians have given us two medals, the physically handicapped Paralympians have given us four. We are a country of 1.3 billion and we sent a team of 118 men and women to compete at the Rio regular Olympics. But look at the pathetic result we have had.

We have noted women doctors, authors, scientists, mathematicians, educationists, pilots including fighter pilots, engineers and so on. But they are still a few and can be counted as exceptions among the many deprived of education. Much of our problems, like population, blind faith, dependence on godmen, and so on can be eliminated if our illiterate girl child is educated.

In India there is no dearth of laws. The problem is with the implementation. In 2002 the Constitution was amended making right to education a fundamental right. A new article was inserted as Article 21A which declared that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children from six to 14 years of age. Another proviso underlines that the parent or guarding has to provide opportunities for education of the child who is between six and 14 years of age.

Almost 14 years are gone but hardly any progress has been made, particularly in the rural areas.

Like many other rights of citizen, this right too is not implemented in its right spirit, especially in the case of girl child. Furthermore, even if the parent is willing where is the school for primary and secondary education to send his child?

*Veteran journalist

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