Bhrigu's question

कभी जो याद भी आता हूँ मैं तो कहते हैं के आज बज़्म में कुछ फ़ित्ना-ओ-फ़साद नहीं - मिर्ज़ा ग़ालिब

Location: the valley, California, United States

Bay Area, Strategy Manager, Haas- U. C. Berkeley, Marathons

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

India and China

The Economist has an interesting set of articles on China. As expected, there are comparisons with India. An important statistic is the literacy rate - China stands at 87% while India languishes in the 60% percent mark.

The 2001 census in India highlighted interesting facts about the literacy rate in India vis-a-vis the spread across various regions & disparities due to gender.

I. Literacy rate of males is 75.85% while that of females is 54.16%.

  1. the rate of growth of female literacy over the past decade is heartening. Karnataka grew from 45% literate (females) in 1991 to 54% in 2001. While males grew less spectacularly from 67% to 75%.
  2. Urban is better than rural. Urban areas have almost 20% greater literacy rates. The urban poor, miserable as they seem, are better off than their rural brethren. To give an example: Bangalore-Urban in 2001 had total literacy of 83.91% (88% male, 79% female), while Bangalore-Rural had 65% (74% male, 55% female). Clearly, urbanisation bodes well for reducing the gender-equality gap.

II. The disparity between states although well known, is still staggering. Bihar is the equivalent of sub-Saharan Africa in terms of statistics on development and its associated benefits. The literacy rate is a dismal 47% (60% male, 33% female). In other words, Bihar is half-as literate as western, northern or southern parts of India. Moreoever, its women have it worse. Roughly 20 million of Bihari women are illiterate. For comparison purposes that's like stating that the whole of Iraq (pop 25M) is illiterate.

  1. Even in Bihar, urbanisation has helped. Patna has a literacy level of 63% (73% male, 52% female). i.e. a 20% jump for females when compared to the state avg.

III. The 5 best states/UT to be, for a girl child, vis-a-vis literacy rates:
  • Kerala - 87%
  • Lakshadweep - 81%
  • Chandigarh - 76%
  • Andaman & Nic - 75%
  • Goa/Delhi - 75%
    The 5 worst
    • Bihar - 33%
    • Jharkhand - 39%
    • Dadra &NH - 42%
    • UP - 42%
    • Arunachal - 44%

    IV. As shocking as it may seem, slums in urban India have a higher literacy rate than (regular) rural India. [The govt is rechecking stats for Patna and Lucknow since the reported stats are dubious. Officially, only 1500 persons live in slums in Patna and no one in Lucknow!]

    The nation does have a long road ahead of it. Clearly, access to education in and of itself is not the sole factor. There are other factors at play: feudalism, non-urbanization (evidenced in the Economist articles as well) that is prolonged by agro-subsidies, supersition, and gender inequality. For instance, the high stats of Kerala could possibly be attributed to the benefits of a matriarchal society.

    The timing of the two census (censi?) is very relevant. While 1991 was the fag-end of a more-or-less closed economy, 2001 had the post-satellite tv generation. It would be interesting to determine if there is a correlation between that and education (largely as a causal factor attributable to increased aspiration levels).

    1. Census of India 2001.
    2. GIS maps on literacy, pop and other demographics
    3.Provisional literacy by state


    Blogger Suhail said...

    hamein kya pataa aap bhi sher-o-shayari ke shauqeen hai :) Came here via yr comments on Dilip's blog. So let me add my 2 bits to this.

    I am no expert on commenting on such census studies. But I usually tend to view such numbers with a tinge of skepticism for several reasons:
    1) If you have ever been a subject of such surveys, you'd know it leaves a lot to question abt the methods used to obtain these numbers. As someone said "The very act of (conscious) observation alters that which is being observed". On being asked abt a 8th Std. dropout girl, more often than not her parents would report her as SSC pass. For a boy they would report him as HSC-passed. And the govt. teacher who gets 1 Re per census form, would promptly note that number down. You get the drift ?

    2) Even if we assume that the plusses-n-minusses even out and that these numbers do represent to some extent the situation they portray(in the sense they always over-report but they catch the trend percentages correct), there is generally no correlation to it's positive/negative fallouts on society. eg. you'd remember just some months back there was a survey on female foetus abortions and the worst states with boy:girl ratio were the North Indian heartland(almost 4:3 in upper-class Noida, Chandigarh; and stories of buying brides frm neighbouring villages in wheat-rich Punjab farmlands). Community wise, Muslim community, which has one of the worse literacy rates, had one of the best female foetus protection numbers. So apparently (just)high literacy rates don't necessarily translate to +ve results on ground. And as far as life of girl child in Delhi is concerned, just ask any thoroughbred Delhi girl abt how easy it is for her to walk frm her house to nearby bus-stop (without being whistled/teased). Or how is it for them to take the DU-specials. We all know this prob for long, but personally I realised the gravity of the situation when it took one such office colleague of mine atleast 2 months in Pune to be really convinced that not ALL guys out there on the streets are giving her that male gaze.
    If it continues at this rate, then it's not impossible to imagine in the near future a town full of PhD dads and JNU moms, and none of these so-called highly literate parents giving a stick to their son, for whistling to the neighbour's daughter and passing snide comments. Asking to respect female colleagues would be too much.

    3) And lastly; this is my pet theory. If literacy was really that elixir of a solution, then Nairs wouldn't still weigh their Dubai returned sons in kgs of gold, or US-stamped softie guys frm India wouldn't see their stock go up in marriage mkt by a gazillion points. Bangalore wouldn't have ranked high in suicide rates and overall dowry deaths(under-reported) in India wouldn't increase as fast (if not faster) as literacy rates.

    On a parallel front, neither does higher learning ensures better ethics in business. Enron & the likes were mged by smart Wharton/Harvard types who dined with Anderseen accountants at the high table. So with all this "better education" they didn't mind guzzling in a few illegal billion dollars in their pockets. So what, if an illiterate population in a distant village of some 3rd world country has to sweat it out to make their pipe dreams come true? It's all considered par for the course. As long as they have a Congress or a Thakrey as their ally in nefarious crimes, the world is all bright and shining. And we all know, these aren't just a few isolated cases.

    Don't get me wrong. I am all for more, better, higher education. But that's the word. EDUCATION. Currently the scene in India is, we might be becoming a more literate nation(Ofcourse with a nation like ours of billion+ & increasing, all numbers are bound to show an increase). But, if 20 yrs of grad-schooling and earning frequent-flyer miles, doesn't teach a thing or two to otherwise smart patent-filing engineers before putting their souls up for sale, I don't know what else can. What's more shocking, some of these guys I have spoken to, really(and I mean it) REALLY, do not carry any sense of guilt in such practices at all! It's almost to the point that you secretly start sympathising with them for the lack of value education.

    To admit that sometimes I get frustrated over these things would be understating. So lets not get worked up with these numbers.

    ps:As an afterthought, even if we were to hold up these literacy numbers to task for what they literally stand; and check out, say the communication skills of some of our well-heeled, we'd know that schools and colleges are not doing a good job. eg. Some people start all sentences with an "Actually.." and others keep repeating "..and all" as their favourite conjunction phrase. Many start their official mails with "Hai ABC,". Many simply refuse to realise that in a common gathering, suddenly switching to your mother tongue with yr same-state-colleague when a 3rd person in the gathering doesn't understand that language, is not just bad etiquettes but also rude. But then, we are asking too much from our engineers and doctors, aren't we? The only communication protocols we know are TCPIP, X.25, and the only practices we follow are best practices in putting curly braces in our C-code.

    If this isn't in some ways a failure of the system generating these increasing literacy numbers, what is ?

    As Ghaalib said:
    pehle aati thii haal-e-dil pe hansi
    ab kisi baat par nahin aati.
    hum wahaan hain, jahaan se hamein
    khud hamaari kuch khabar nahin aati.

    God save us from ourselves !

    12:36 AM  
    Anonymous Ravi said...

    Hi. Here from Gowri's blog. Perhaps there is some light at the end of a long tunner for Indians. However we have so much to catch up with so many countries..even in S. E asia that I get depressed very soon and very often.....

    8:43 AM  
    Blogger Quizman said...

    Thanks for your comments..

    Suhail - my elaboration on statistics was merely to point out that even very basic education is not available to many Indians. Regardless of morality, values and other tangibles, literacy, at the very least, does offer the tools for a person to read the document they are signing. That's why it matters. But we could've done much better. As Faiz said,

    ye daaG daaG ujaalaa, ye shab_gaziidaa sahar
    wo intazaar thaa jis kaa, ye wo sahar to nahii.n

    Ravi - the thing to remember is that India by itself is a continent and it will take time.

    12:57 PM  
    Blogger Suhail said...

    I do not contradict your inferences from these figures. What I am really implying is the separation between LITERACY and EDUCATION, and that these literacy figures should not lead us into the complacency alley.

    Agreed, literacy replaces thumb impressions with signatures. But that's about the only thing it does. And my ps: section was an argument that even those bare LITERACY(reading/writing skills) are not upto the satisfactory mark in many cases.

    Finally, to cite a wrong example(I am just being mischeivious here) : US has moved to finger prints for visa stampings - which makes two of us go round-n-round. And I digress ;)

    Do drop by my blog. Would be interesting to have your comments. And btw, I have punched it with some shers too :)

    Don't get disheartened man. We all go through such cycles of crests and troughs.

    3:47 PM  

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