Syed Ubaidur Rahman

While Muslims in many states are doing a lot better than other communities when it comes to education, in much of North India, where the bulk of Muslims reside, the ground reality remains very disappointing.

Muslims in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chattisgarh and even in Jharkhand are doing as well as people from other communities or even lead them when it comes to education and enrolment in primary education.

Nonetheless, in large north Indian states including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam, the education levels and economic conditions of Muslims is worse than that of other communities.

A majority of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, the states that contribute a large chunk of the overall Muslim population in the country, are battling poverty and backwardness. In some parts of Bihar and West Bengal, the poverty is so extreme that they can’t think beyond anything except two square meals a day.

A recent National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) survey presents a bleak picture of enrolment of Muslims in educational institutions. While the survey doesn’t give the true picture of enrolment levels at the primary and the secondary level, nevertheless the data shows that Muslims have a lot of catching up to do with other communities when it comes to education.

The 71st round of this NSSO survey, which was conducted between January and June 2014, says that around half of Muslim population in the country in the age group of 5-29 years doesn’t attend schools or colleges.

The NSSO says that as many as 50.4 per cent of Muslims in this age group were not enrolled anywhere for education. The findings of the survey suggest that only around 48.2 per cent Muslims in the country were enrolled and attended educational institutions.

The NSSO said that despite the fact that Muslims did worse than other communities in the enrolment level in the age group of 5-29 years, there was a marked improvement when compared to another survey conducted during 2007 and 20008. The enrolment, according to the NSSO survey, during the previous round was 44.7 per cent.

While many people continue to talk about Sachar Committee Report while talking about the literacy among Muslims, things seem to have improved substantially since the year 2006 when the report was published.

“The literacy rate among Muslims in 2001 was 59.1%. This is far below the national average (65.1%). If the SCs/STs, with an even lower literacy level of 52.2 percent and Muslims are excluded, the remaining category of ‘All Others’ show a higher literacy level of 70.8%. In urban areas, the gap between the literacy level of Muslims (70.1%) and the national average is 11 percentage points and in relation to the ‘All others’ category is 15 percentage points. Although the level of literacy are lower in rural areas (52.7% for Muslims), the gap between the compared categories is also narrower,” said the Sachar Report.

Things seem to have improved substantially as far as literacy rate alone is concerned. The Indian Muslim community seems to be improving faster and catching up with other communities. The gap between the national average and the Muslim average in literacy rates in rural areas was 6 percentage points and in urban areas 10 percentage points in 2001. This has narrowed substantially to 3.5 percent in rural areas and marginally to 8.5 percent in urban areas.

There is another aspect that gives hope and shows improvement as far as mere literacy levels are concerned.

A NSSO report says that in the year 2011-12 around 75 per cent of the total population aged 7 years and above was literate. The same NSSO survey also says that literacy rate among the same age group for Muslims had gone up to 72 per cent. This means that in crude literacy terms Muslims were merely 3 points behind the all Indian literacy level.

Nonetheless when it comes to higher education, Muslims still have a lot of catching up to do when compared to other communities in the country. While there is substantial improvement on this count and the dropout rate has gone down, Muslims perform abysmally as far as higher education is concerned.

A survey conducted by the All India Survey on Higher Education in the year 2014-15 suggests that the Indian Muslim community accounts for merely 4.4 per cent of students enrolled in higher education despite comprising more than 14 percent of the population.

Despite Muslims lagging behind others in terms of enrolment in higher education, the enrolment has trebled in the decade ending 2010 from 5.2 per cent to 13.8 percent. The enrolment of Muslims in higher education is still much lower than the national average of 23.6 per cent, OBC 22.1 per cent and even scheduled castes that stands at 18.5 per cent.

The community seems to have benefited in states where Muslims have been given reservation in educational institutions. In states where there is no provision of such reservations, Muslim community activists and leaders need to come out with a broad-based planning to improve enrollment of the kids from community in secondary and higher education level.