More Indian women gained literacy over the past decade than men, the 2011 census which was unveiled today showed — a first for India which is still grappling with rampant female infanticide and gender discrimination.
A total of 110 million additional women have become literate since 2001, as opposed to 107 million men over the same period. Never before have women outdone men in numbers gaining literacy over any decade.
India’s overall literacy rate has risen from 64.8 % in 2001 to 74.04% — but the surge in women literates means the gap between male and female literacy has shrunk.
While male literacy has increased from 75.2% in 2001 to 82%, female literacy has jumped from 53.6% to 65.4% over the same period.
The literacy increase — overall and for women — follows a decade in which successive governments have focused on school education like never before since Independence.
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan launched in 2001, along with the universalisation across government schools of the mid-day meal scheme, are credited by most experts as critical interventions that have helped India achieve near universal enrolment in primary education.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsary Education Act — popularly referred to as the right to education (RTE) Act, implemented from April 1 last year — for the first time provides a legal right to students between 6 and 14 to demand schooling.
“But we must remember that the RTE Act talks about every child receiving schooling from his enrolment through till the stage he completes primary schooling,” said educationist Vinod Raina, speaking in the context of the RTE act.
Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — traditional laggards in education — have shown maximum improvement both in improving overall literacy and in their female literacy rate.
Bihar’s overall literacy has gone up from 47% in 2001 to 63.8% in 2011, while UP’s overall literacy has risen from 42.2% to 59.3% over the same period. The female literacy rate of Bihar has jumped a startling 20% — from 33.1% in 2001 to 53.3% today. UP has a seen a rise from 42.2% to 59.3% in female literacy.
Kerala remains at the top of the pile in overall, male and female literacy.