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Posted Online on Saturday, 26 August 2006
India Today's data on Muslim literacy questioned
Milli Gazette Online
Patna: It is shocking that it took so long for the prestigious magazine like India Today to see a great Muslim-non-Muslim divide in the field of education (A Shocking Divide, August 14, 2006). What the magazine called the 'exclusive' findings on the educational backwardness of the Muslims is in fact too old a story to be given notice of. Yet the magazine chose to make it a cover story. Reputed journalist like Omkar Goswami and Kabir Malik should be well aware that the figures given by the Census 2001 have been written and spoken about threadbare two years back. To be precise the Census report saw the light of the day on September 6, 2004 and there is nothing left to be highlighted in such a way. The Census 2001 report has been available in the market for Rs 150 since long. We can search it on the net and the CDs are also available.
I do not wish to allege that the purpose of highlighting this outdated issue is to increase the sale of India Today by a few more copies or to show Muslims in the bad light in the aftermath of the Mumbai serial blasts but what I can say is that it is another example of poor journalism for which media is repeatedly held responsible these days. What is more glaring is that the so-called exclusive story carried several factual errors.
How can these mistakes be overlooked by such an esteemed weekly is really surprising. Take the first example. The report said that only 55 per cent Muslim males and less than 41 per cent females are literate. One just need to browse through the Census 2001 to cross check the truth which says that 67.6 and 50.1 per cent Muslim males and females are literate. In fact the gender gap in literacy among the Muslims is much less than Hindus. It is 17.5 per cent against 23 per cent among Hindus. The national average of gender gap is 21.6 percentage point.
True in the higher education the Muslims really lag behind the Hindus but so far the literacy rate is concerned Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of. Their over all literacy rate is 59.1 per cent against the national average of 64.8 per cent. The figure of Hindus stand at 65.1 per cent. If the majority community accuses the Muslims of being less literate it would amount to kettle calling the pot black. After all the latter are not the beneficiaries of the various government schemes and literacy campaigns. Even most of the basic material available to make the people literate are available in Hindi, which is certainly not the mother tongue of the Muslims in a large part of north India. So if the majority community is only six per cent more literate and that too after spending millions of rupees throughout these years there is nothing for them to boast about. If the Muslims at the bottom level almost equal the majority community of the country almost without any government facility it is a sort of achievement because they had done it on their own. This notwithstanding the fact that the community is much poorer than Hindus.
Mr Goswami and Mr Malik wrote about the shortage of the Muslim NGOs and social workers. At the same time they held the madarsas responsible for the so-called "shocking divide". True, there is no denying the fact that if the Muslim literacy is surprisingly good it is because of the network of madarsas and maktabs spread all over the country, especially in the rural areas. True they are not producing highly educated professional graduates but are at least making the upcoming generation bare literate and something more. Since there is a general practice among the Muslims to impart religious education, most of the poor and underprivileged children manage to learn something in these maktabs and madarsas. Mr Goswami and Mr Malik can visit any village maktab and madarsa to find that the bearded and of late dreaded moulvis teaching counting, tables and basic arithmetic not only to Muslim but to poor Hindu children as well. These maktabs and madarsas may be obsolete and the whole method outdated but at least they are better than thousands of primary and middle schools which exist only on paper all over the country. In comparison to the latter they are doing a great service to the nation.
If the literacy rate of the burqa-clad backward-looking Muslim female is just three per cent less than the national average it is just because of the religious education which at least makes them literate. This facility is not available with other communities.
One fails to understand as to what the India Today report means when it says that "Far more serious was the percentage difference in literacy rates between Muslim females and their non-Muslim sisters--an 11 per cent disadvantage at the all India level increased to over 19 per cent in urban India." This is simply the figment of Mr Goswami's and Mr Malik's imagination as, according to the Census 2001 on which they have relied, the Muslim female literacy is 50.1 per cent against the national average of 53.7 per cent and Hindus 53.2 per cent. Thus the Muslim women are just
3.6 per cent less literate than their non-Muslim sisters and not 11 per cent.
If the Census department has released some really new data it should have been floated on its website and given to all the newspapers and television channels and not just privately to these two gentlemen. In this age of Right To Information people have the right to know as to from where these figures have come out.
It is true that Muslims have failed to translate their achievement in the field of literacy into higher education. The dropout rate is much higher and the number of Muslim graduates, professionals, academics etc is much less. This can also be attributed to political, social and economic factors.
It is not only Mr Goswami and Mr Malik who hold the madarasa and religion responsible for the poor literacy rate among the Muslims. Many Muslim intellectuals too hold the same view. The truth is that the Muslims start faltering at the middle and high school levels. The responsibility of the village maktabs end at this point. It is up to the society and the state to take the responsibility.
Similarly if the middle class Muslim youths are not faring as well as their Hindu counterparts, the madarsas and religion are not to be blamed. What is due to the Muslims must be given to them. After all the male-female ratio is better than Hindus and the infant mortality rate is much better than Hindus. At the time of the release of the Census two years back several sociologists attributed the poor infant and child mortality rate among Hindus to their preference to the boy child. After all Hindus do not treat their girl child when they fall ill, one of them said.