Source: Business Standard


The gap between Bharat and India shows up in a host of economic and social indicators. Literacy rate, one of the most basic indicators, shows that there has been progress in reducing the disparity over the years. The urban-rural gap in literacy rates that stood at 34 percentage points in 1961 is now 16 percentage points.


The sixties and the seventies witnessed a very slow rise in literacy rates, while the eighties saw rural literacy jump by more than 10 percentage points. Rural literacy spread the most in the nineties, increasing by 14 percentage points. Over the last decade, the rise was to the tune of 10 percentage points. Even though urban literacy rates have grown much more slowly, the progress in rural India has not been sufficient to catch up; the rural literacy rate at 68.91 per cent in 2011 is comparable to urban literacy levels three decades ago.


A state-wise analysis shows that in 2001 and 2011, Kerala, Mizoram, Lakshadweep and Tripura ranked at the top in overall literacy, while Bihar remained at the bottom, despite an impressive 17 percentage point rise in overall literacy. Looking at the rural-urban disparity level, it is the least in Lakshadweep and Kerala, both with high literacy levels. However, despite Mizoram’s high literacy rate, the urban-rural differential is about 14 percentage points. (Click here for chart)


With literacy rates above 80 per cent, the rural-urban differential is less than 10 percentage points in Delhi, Goa, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Daman and Diu and Puducherry. At the other end of the table, the inequality between urban and rural segments in terms of literacy rates is highest in Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Among the states, the gap is highest in Arunachal Pradesh where the rural-urban differential is about 23 percentage points. Also, high rural-urban inequality is evident in Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Bihar.


Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that in many of these states, there has been a significant decline in the disparity since 2001. For instance, in states like Jharkhand, Bihar and Meghalaya, the rural-urban differential that was almost in the range of 28-30 percentage points in 2001 decreased to nine to 12 percentage points in 2011. In 2001, there were just 10 states with the rural-urban literacy gap of less than 10 percentage points. By 2011, the number of such states increased to 14. Similarly, the highest disparity is now less than 25 percentage points, while in 2001 there were four states with more than a 30 percentage point gap in rural-urban literacy levels. Rural literacy has spread the most in Bihar, Jharkhand and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, all recording an increase by more than 16 percentage points. All three had less than 50 per cent rural literacy in 2001 and are now above the 60 per cent mark.


Unfortunately, despite the launch of the Saakhshar Bharat Programme in 2009 and state government initiatives, India has a long way to go to attain universal literacy.