Literacy and education are reasonably good indicators of development in a society. Increased levels of literacy are associated with modernization, urbanization, industrialization, communication, commerce and economic development. Improved levels of literacy also are pre-requisites for acquiring various skills.

It forms an important input in the overall development of societies. It enables people to realize their social, political and cultural environment better and respond to it aptly. Higher levels of literacy lead to a greater understanding and improvement of economic conditions.

It enhances the effects of development efforts like population control, health, hygiene, environmental degradation control, empowerment of women and upliftment of weaker sections of the society.

Literacy has not been the strong point of Indian population for various reasons. In the beginning, education was the prerogative of the higher casts and hence a lot of population was not permitted to read and write.


The importance of literacy became evident during the British rule and a large number of schools and higher education institutes were opened by the British Government and social organizations. Also the impact of caste system was on the decline hence the literacy started increasing. In the post- independence period, the literacy rate started increasing (Table 5).

The major increase has been due to the sharp increase in the female literacy. Not allowing females to study has its antecedents in our social history. The practices starting with brahminical discrimination against women were strengthened by the ‘purdah’ system introduced by Muslim rulers.

These factors along with the male hegemony cloistered the women and denied them the right to education. The liberalization started by many religious and social movements preaching equality of sexes gathered momentum.

The international movements such as emancipation of women and woman’s lib had an effect in the urban areas. The effects percolated down to the rural areas and literacy rates started increasing.


Another reason for increase in literacy has been the development of education system in the country and government policies formulated in the seventies of total literacy and 20-point program for the development of the nation. The quantum leap of more than double is marked from 29.45% in 1971 to 65.38% in 2001.

The Indian Censuses up to 1981, it was routine to work out the literacy rate taking into account the total population. Since literacy rate is more meaningful if the sub- population in the age group 0-6 is excluded from the total population, it was decided in 1991 to use the term literacy rate for the population relating to seven years and above.

The same concept has been continued in 2001 census. The literacy rate taking into account the total population in the denominator has now been termed as ‘crude literacy rate’.

Kerala, where literacy rate is 90.92 per cent, holds the first rank in States and Union territories according to the 2001 literacy rates (Table 6). It is followed by Mizoram (88.49 per cent) and Lakshadweep (87.52 per cent). Bihar with a literacy rate of 47.53 per cent, ranks last in the country preceded by Jharkhand (54.13 per cent) and Jammu and Kashmir (54.4 per cent).


Among states, Maharashtra comes next after Kerala with a literacy rate of 77.27 per cent, followed by Tamil Nadu with 73.47 per cent.

Kerala continues to occupy the top spot in the country both in male literacy with 94.20 per cent and female literacy with 87.86 per cent. On the contrary, Bihar has recorded the lowest literacy rates both in case of males (50.32 per cent) and females (33.57 per cent).

Seven states/union territories having less than fifty per cent female literacy rates are Rajasthan (44.34 per cent), Arunachal Pradesh (44.24 per cent), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (44.99 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (42.98 per cent), Jammu and Kashmir (41.82 per cent), Jharkhand (39.38 per cent) and Bihar (33.57 per cent).

The states and union territories with literacy rates below the national average are, Jammu and Kashmir in the north, Rajasthan and Dadra and Nagar Haveli in the west, Andhra Pradesh in the south, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh in the central; Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa in the east and Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya in the north-east parts of the country.


The states and union territories, which have literacy rates below the national average in respect of all the three categories i.e., persons, males and females are Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

The minimum gap in male-female literacy rates anywhere in the country has been observed for Mizoram, (4.56 percentage points). Mizoram, which had also reported the lowest differential in male-female literacy rates during 1991 with 7.01 percentage points, has further narrowed it down to 4.56 in 2001 to lead all the states/ union territories in the country In 1991, Mizoram was followed by Kerala (gap of 7.45 percentage points) and Meghalaya (gap of 8.27 percentage points).

In 2001, Meghalaya and Kerala have interchanged their positions; Meghalaya (gap of 5.73 percentage points), is followed by Kerala (gap of 6.34 percentage points). It is important to note that in case of Meghalaya, although the combined literacy rate of the state is below the national average, the difference between male and female literacy rates is very small.

The highest visible improvement in male literacy rate during 1991-2001, is for Rajasthan, where it has moved forward by 21.47 percentage points. It is followed by Chhattisgarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh which show an improvement of 19.79, 19.76, 18.26, 15.72, and 15.40 percentage points respectively. The minimum increase of 0.58 percentage points has taken place in Kerala since the state has almost reached the saturation point.


On the pattern of male literacy, the first two positions in decadal improvement in female literacy rates are claimed by Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. In case of female literacy, Chhattisgarh occupies the first place, recording a creditable increase of 24.87 per cent during 1991-2001, closely followed by Rajasthan with an upward movement of 23.90 percentage points.

The other states and union territories reporting significant improvement in female literacy rates during 1991-2001 are Madhya Pradesh (20.93 per cent), Uttaranchal (18.63 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (18-61 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (18.45 per cent), Orissa (16.29 per cent) and Dadra and Nagar Haveli (16.01 per cent).

As in case of males and for the same reasons, Kerala has also shown the least increase of 1.69 percentage points in female literacy rates. The female literacy rates have increased at faster rate than male literacy rates in all the states and union territories except Dadra and Nagar Haveli during 1991-2001.