January February 2007 
Year 13    No.122

The Rajindar Sachar Committee Report


1. Introduction

The role of education in facilitating social and economic progress is well accepted today. The ability of a nation’s population to learn and perform in an environment where scientific and technological knowledge is changing rapidly is critical for its growth. While the importance of human capital and its augmentation for a nation’s development cannot be overemphasized, its micro economic consequences also need to be acknowledged. Improvements in the functional and analytical ability of children and youth through education open up opportunities leading to both individual and group entitlements. Improvements in education are not only expected to enhance efficiency (and therefore earnings) but also augment democratic participation, upgrade health and quality of life.

At the time of adopting the Constitution the Indian state had committed itself to provide elementary education under Article 45 of the Directive Principles of State policy. Article 45 stated that "The State shall endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years." In 1993, in a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to education is a fundamental right flowing from the Right to Life in Article 21 of the Constitution. Subsequently in 2002 education as a fundamental right was endorsed through the 86th amendment to the Constitution. Article 21-A states that "The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age six to fourteen years in such a way as the State may, by law, determine." The 86th Amendment also modified Article 45 which now reads as "The state shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of 6 years". However, despite this commitment the number of children in this age group who have remained out of school is alarmingly large.

The successive governments have vacillated on enacting the Right to Education Bill despite the fact that Article 21-A makes it the responsibility of the State to provide free and compulsory education to every child. Since education is a concurrent subject, both the State and Central governments are responsible for it. By not passing the required legislation for Right to Education, the Central governments have abdicated their responsibility. As a consequence the educational conditions of the children of India remain precarious.

This chapter provides a broad perspective on issues relating to the education of Muslims in India. It shows that Muslims are at a double disadvantage with low levels of education combined with low quality education; their deprivation increases manifold as the level of education rises. In some instances the relative share for Muslims is lower than even the SCs who are victims of a long-standing caste system.

2. Indicators of Educational Attainment

To measure differentials in attainments at various levels of education between Muslims and other SRCs the following indicators have been used:

Ø Literacy rates: Despite its inadequacies, literacy remains the most easily understood and widely used indicator of educational achievement. The Census measures literacy rates in terms of the percentage of persons aged 7 years and above, who can read and write.

Ø Proportion of population completing specified level of education: The proportion of the population that has completed at least graduation is used as an indicator of higher levels of educational achievement. Similarly, matriculation provides an indication of the intermediary level of education. Educational attainment for primary, middle and higher secondary levels has been similarly defined. In each case the number of persons is expressed as a percentage of the population in the relevant age group.

Ø Mean Years of Schooling: The average number of years a person has attended school during the relevant age span. This has been estimated for the age group 7 to 16 years corresponding to matriculation.

Ø Enrolment Rates: These are estimates of children who are currently enrolled in schools and attending classes.

3. Levels of Literacy

The most commonly used estimate of literacy is available in the Census. Just about 65% of India’s population is literate. Literacy levels are expectedly higher for males than for females — 75.3% against 53.7%. Literacy is also higher in urban areas (79.9%) than in rural areas (58.7%). This gap of about 20 percentage points between rural and urban areas and across gender has been a persistent feature of Indian society over the last two decades despite the increase in literacy levels during this period.

The low literacy level of Muslims and SCs/STs is well documented in research studies. In the mid 1960’s literacy levels of both these groups were low, and far lower than that of ‘All Others’. In many States however, the position of SCs/STs was worse than that of the Muslims. 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% and Muslims, are excluded, the remaining category of ‘All Others’ show a high literacy level of 70.8%. In urban areas, the gap between the literacy levels of Muslims (70.1%) and the national average is 11 percentage points and in relation to the ‘All Others’ category it is 15 percentage points. Although the levels of literacy are lower in rural areas (52.7% for Muslims), the gap between the compared categories is also narrower. It is important to note, however, that the SCs/STs are still the least literate group in both urban and rural India. Although the literacy levels of 64% and 68% amongst male SCs/STs and Muslims respectively are not low, they are far below the level for ‘All Others’ which is 81%. In contrast, Muslim women with a literacy level of 50% have been able to keep up with women of other communities and are much ahead of the SC/ST women in rural India.

However, there are states like Tamil Nadu where Muslims do better in all sub-groups and states like Kerala where the differences across SRCs are minimal. Since both place of residence (rural-urban) and gender (male-female) identities can be a focus of policy instruments, it is advisable to look at the disaggregated picture before taking decisions regarding allocation of financial resources.

3.1. Time Trends in Literacy Levels

Over time, there has been an improvement in the literacy levels of all communities, but the rates of progress have not been uniform. The all-India picture shows the presence of a significant gap between Muslims, SCs/STs and ‘All Others’ in the 1960s. The gap between Muslims and ‘All Others’ has decreased somewhat in urban areas but has remained the same in rural areas over this period. Literacy levels amongst SCs/STs have increased at a faster rate than for other SRCs. This enabled them to overtake Muslims at the all-India level by the mid-1990s, while reducing the gap with ‘All Others’. This trend is common to both males and females and in both urban and rural areas. Thus communities with a relatively high literacy level have continued to improve over the years but the SCs/STs too have also benefited from affirmative action in indirect ways. Muslims, on the other hand, have not been able to respond to the challenge of improving their educational status. Consequently, their gap vis-à-vis the group labelled ‘All Others’ (with initially high literacy levels) has increased further, particularly since the 1980s.

4. Enrolment Rates and Mean Years of Schooling

Years of schooling and current enrolment are intricately intertwined. Without enrolment and attendance students cannot benefit from schools. Lower enrolment and attendance would typically result in fewer years of schooling, on average.

4.1 Mean Years of Schooling

On an average a child (in India) goes to school for only four years. The MYS of Muslims is the lowest (about three years four months). A comparison across SRCs both by gender and by place of residence also reveals consistently lower levels of MYS for the Muslim community. The MYS of Muslim children is only 83% that of the MYS of all children and the disparity is highest in the case of rural boys (MYS of Muslims is only 78% that of all rural children), closely followed by rural girls. It is interesting to observe that the differential is higher among boys than among girls even with regard to urban children.

The poor performance of Muslims is also observed in almost all the states, particularly in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. In these two states, the MYS among Muslim children is the lowest among all SRCs. The MYS of Muslim children is lower than that of ‘All Others’ in almost all states. Only in Chattisgarh (with 2% Muslims) is the MYS for Muslims higher than that of ‘All Others’. There are considerable variations in the relative status of Muslims and SCs/STs. The MYS of Muslims is lowest in States like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Uttaranchal and Delhi. On the other hand, Muslim children remain in schools for a longer period than SCs/STs in states like Kerala, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

4.2 Enrolment Rates

From the data available it can be seen that there has been a significant increase in the current enrolment and attendance rates for all SRCs. But the increase has been the highest among SCs/STs (95 percent), followed by Muslims (65 percent). Though this substantial increase has not really changed the relative position of Muslims in terms of ranks, the gaps among SRCs have narrowed dramatically. In 1999-00, Muslims had the lowest enrolment rate among all SRCs except SCs/STs and this rate was 78% of the average enrolment rate for the population as a whole. In 2004-05 the Muslim enrolment rate was slightly higher than that of the OBCs but was somewhat lower than the average enrolment rate. This is a positive trend consistent with the increasing focus of the Muslim community on education reflected in various interactions with the Committee.

A state-wise analysis reveals reasonably high enrolment rates amongst Muslim children in most states. In Kerala, Karnataka, Delhi, Maharashtra and some other states the enrolment rates among Muslims are higher than the state average. On the other hand, in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal, enrolment rates are very low (below 70% of the state average). In fact, in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh, enrolment rates for Muslim children are lower than all other SRCs.

As many as 25 percent of Muslim children in the 6-14 year age group have either never attended school or have dropped out. This is higher than that of any other SRCs considered in this analysis. The incidence of dropouts is also high among Muslims and only SCs/STs have a marginally higher dropout rate than Muslims.

Overall, while the share of dropouts and children who have never attended school is still higher among Muslims than most other SRCs, enrolment rates have risen significantly in recent years. In a recent study it was found that apart from the economic circumstances of the households, school enrolment for different communities is significantly affected by the local level of development (e.g., availability of schools and other infrastructure) and the educational status of the parents. The study using 1993-94 data showed that higher levels of village development and parental education resulted in higher enrolment rates for all communities. Interestingly, once the children are placed in ‘more favourable’ circumstances (e.g., when parents, especially mothers are literate and infrastructural facilities are better), inter-community (Hindu/SC-ST/Muslims) differences in enrolment rates become insignificant. Moreover, differences in parental education were more important in explaining inter-community (especially Hindu-Muslim) differences in enrolment than regional development variables. In the light of these findings, the increase in enrolment rates in recent years is quite remarkable as one cannot expect a significant increase in parental education between 1999-2000 and 2004-05. Muslims seem to be overcoming barriers to enrolment arising out of parental illiteracy and other socio-economic constraints.

5. Differentials in Educational Attainment: School Education

Typically, the attainment levels of Muslims are close to or slightly higher than those of SCs/STs and much lower than those of other SRCs. However, in the aggregate, the attainment levels of Muslims in rural areas are often lower than those of SCs/STs. This is essentially because the educational attainments of Muslim women in rural areas are lower than those of SC/ST women. At the all-India level the educational attainment of Muslims worsens in relative terms as one moves from lower to higher levels of school education. The differentials can be seen according to both gender and place of residence. This can be seen at both middle and primary levels of education.

5.1 Time Trends in Educational Attainment: Matriculation

While 26% of those 17 years and above have completed matriculation, this percentage is only 17% amongst Muslims. As was the case for literacy, even at the matriculation level, expansion of educational opportunities since Independence has not led to a convergence of attainment levels between Muslims and ‘All Others’. Rather, the initial disparities between Muslims and ‘All Others’ have widened in all four groups disaggregated on the basis of place of residence and gender. The increase in disparity is most apparent in urban areas for females and amongst rural males. However, some degree of catching up can be seen for SCs/STs, especially in the case of urban males and females, and also for rural males. This transition seems to have started as early as the 1960s.

Detailed data suggests that these patterns exist even in states like Kerala. In spite of the achievements at lower levels of education, the inequality between Muslims and ‘All Others’ for both urban males and females in the state has increased significantly.

The transitions within school education — completing primary, middle, secondary and higher secondary education — are important insofar as they influence the economic and other opportunities available to an individual. The probability of completing different levels of school education (primary, middle, secondary etc.) has increased for all communities during 1983-2000. The sharpest rise has been in the probability of completing middle school for all communities, including Muslims. But differences still exist and the Muslims and SCs/STs are behind others. On an average based on four years of data, about 62% of the eligible children in the upper caste Hindu and other religious groups (excluding Muslims) are likely to complete primary education followed by Muslims (44%), SCs (39%) and STs (32%). However, once children complete primary education, the proportion of children completing middle school is the same (65%) for Muslims, STs and SCs but lower than ‘All Others’ (75%). The next transition also shows a similar pattern; about 50% of Muslim and SC/ST children who have completed middle school are likely to complete secondary school as well, which is lower than the ‘All Other’ group (62%). Interestingly, in the transition from secondary to college education, Muslims perform somewhat better than SCs and STs; while only 23% of the SC/ST students who complete secondary education are likely to complete college education, this percentage is 26% for Muslims and 34% for other groups. Given these estimates, while disparities exist at every level, completion of primary education seems to be the major hurdle for school education. Availability of good quality schools like Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas in rural areas was expected to partly relax the supply side constraints on good quality education but Muslim participation in these schools is not satisfactory.

6. Differentials in Educational Attainment: Higher Education

In India, a significant proportion of the relevant population still remains deprived of the benefits of higher education and the Muslims comprise an important category of the deprived communities. According to Census data, while only about 7 percent of the population aged 20 years and above are graduates or hold diplomas, this proportion is less than 4 percent amongst Muslims. Besides, those having technical education at the appropriate ages (18 years and above) are as low as one percent and amongst Muslims, that is almost non-existent.

Estimates from the Census 2001 data suggest that just about 38 million men and women above 20 years old have secured a graduation degree and beyond; and only 4 million have received a technical diploma/certificate. Overall this amounts to about 6% of the relevant population having completed graduation and just under one half percent having technical qualifications at the diploma/certificate level. In the case of Muslims the number is under 4 million graduates, which is about 3.6% of the appropriate population, and those technically qualified is a meagre 0.4%.

The NSSO 61st Round data (provisional) regarding graduate level education, furnished by the NSSO to the Committee, show that the SCs/STs and Muslims are the most disadvantaged as their respective shares are much lower than their share in the population. In the case of Muslims their share in graduates is 6% while their share in population aged 20 years and above is about double at over 11%.

Further disaggregated estimates according to gender, place of residence and SRCs show that the relative share of upper-caste Hindus is disproportionately high in all four segments, especially for males and in urban areas. The share of graduates among Hindu-OBCs is lower than their population share but the "deficit" (ratio of share among graduates and in the population) is much lower for this community than for Muslims and SCs/STs.

The proportion of technical graduates is important as it indicates the stock of technical skills available in the community/nation. While the pool of technical graduates is even lower with only about 2 in every 1000 persons being a technical graduate, the performance of Muslims is worse than all SRCs, except SCs/STs, with a sharp differential existing in urban areas and amongst males.

Diploma courses correspond to a lower level of education and skill formation but even at this low level of technical education the overall pattern remains the same with Muslims not doing very well amongst the SRCs, except when compared with the SCs/STs. The gap between Muslims and other SRCs is particularly relevant for such training as Muslims have a substantial presence in the artisanal activities and have the potential, with some technical training, to do well in a variety of emerging and economically viable activities.

6.1 Time Trends in Educational Attainment: Higher Education

The analysis of the age-specific proportion of graduates at the all-India level reveals that the overall proportion of graduates has increased over time. But there are two matters of concern: (a) that the proportion of graduates is still too low and (b) at even this low level the disparities amongst the SRCs are considerable. In the case of Muslims the attainment is less than half compared to ‘All Others’ and the gap is much more prominent in urban areas for both men and women.

The gap between Muslims and ‘All Others’ was relatively low at the time of Independence. Since then, however, it has widened steadily to a significantly high level. The disparity levels are currently as high as 15 percentage points in urban areas for both genders. The overall progress has been much less in rural areas, especially among women. But one does not yet find a significant widening of the gap between Muslims and ‘All Others’.

A comparison between Muslims and SCs/STs also reveals interesting results. Initially, Muslims had a marginally higher Graduation Attainment Rate (GAR) than SCs/STs. In the initial phases of planning, the SCs/STs had performed more slowly and this had led to a slight widening of the gap between them and the Muslims. In the 1970s, however, the GARs for SCs/STs grew at a faster rate than for Muslims.

State Level Patterns

The all-India trend of increasing disparities in GAR between Muslims and ‘All Others’ is found to be prevalent in all states. In urban areas, Muslims are falling behind not only vis-à-vis ‘All Others’, but also SCs/STs in several states. This trend can be observed among both males and females. The rural scenario is equally bad from the perspective of attainment levels of Muslims. In most states, the differential in GAR between Muslims and ‘All Others’ has increased. In quite a few, SCs/STs have reduced the differential with Muslims, or even overtaken them.

6.2 Participation in Institutions of Higher Learning

The proportion of graduate and postgraduate students in different SRCs pursuing higher education in well-known institutions of higher learning is very small.

Indian Institutes of Management and Indian Institutes of Technology

As a special case the Committee has considered the enrolment of Muslim students in two sets of elite institutions — the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Efforts were made to collect data on enrolments for recent years — 2004-5 and 2005-6.

About one out of three Muslim applicants is selected, which compares favourably with, in fact is somewhat better, than the success rate of other candidates. Despite a better success rate Muslims constitute only 1.3% of students studying in all courses in all IIMs in India, and in absolute number they were only 63 from out of 4743.

One needs to understand as to why a small number of Muslim students reached the interview stage. One possible factor could be low levels of achievement in the CAT examinations while another could be that although the achievement levels are similar across SRCs, not many Muslim candidates took the CAT examination in the first place. It needs to be re-emphasized that once the Muslim students reach the interview stage (which is essentially based on the scores obtained in a written admission test) their success rate is quite high.

In the case of the IITs, out of 27,161 students enrolled in the different programmes, there are only 894 Muslims. The break up of students according to different course levels is available; the share of Muslims in the postgraduate courses is just about 4% but it is even lower in undergraduate courses at 1.7%. Muslims’ share in PhD courses is somewhat better compared with other courses. It needs to be noted that while entry into the undergraduate programmes at IITs is only through the common test taken after leaving school, for postgraduate courses, graduate students from other educational institutions can also enter through another IIT-wide entrance examination. Apparently, Muslims are able to compete better in the examination taken after completing graduation. In terms of the demand for these courses the competition at this stage may be lower.

Participation in Premier Colleges in India

The Committee undertook a survey of students currently enrolled in some of the premier colleges offering streams of regular science, arts and commerce courses and the premier Medical Colleges. The enrolment of Muslims in the regular streams of science, arts and commerce courses is: Only one out of 25 students enrolled in Undergraduate (UG) courses and only one out of every 50 students in Postgraduate (PG) courses is a Muslim. The share of Muslims in all courses is low, particularly at the PG level, and marginal in the science stream. However, it is interesting that the enrolment ratio is higher among girls than boys in UG courses. At the PG level, however, this proportion falls - except in arts courses.

The Committee was able to obtain adequate responses from the top Management institutions (management colleges other than the IIMs). The share of Muslims enrolled in MBA courses was found to be only one percent among both boys and girls. While the data is not sufficient to come to any conclusion, it is consistent with the data collected from the IIMs.

The representation of Muslims in the top Medical colleges is only marginally better. It is about 4% of students enrolled in all courses. Most of them are studying at the UG level namely in MBBS, Dental, Nursing etc. The representation of Muslims in other courses is marginal. Except in PG Diploma courses, the percentage of Muslim girls is lower than Muslim boys in all courses.

University Enrolment

There are around 300 universities across India. Each of these universities manage exclusive departments and a large number of affiliated colleges. All universities were asked to provide data on the socio-religious background of students on roll both at the undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG) levels. A total of 129 universities and 84 colleges provided data. The "all-India" estimates generated from these data pertain to just over 1.3 million graduate (bachelors degree) and another 1.5 million postgraduates (masters degree and above).

Given that there are about 11.7 million students studying for an undergraduate degree, and about 4.3 million pursuing postgraduate education, the available data reflect only about 11% of undergraduates and about 38% of the postgraduates spread across India. As these data are partial the following analysis is only indicative. The total of 2.8 million students for whom data are available constitute about 19% of men and women studying in various colleges and universities all over India.

According to these estimates a considerable proportion of students, more than one third, are enrolled in the arts stream. Engineering and commerce are the other popular streams. Although the differences are not large the proportion of Muslim students in the UG courses is about 9%, lower than their share in the population. Muslims are more likely to be located in science and commerce streams followed by arts. Since the sample size of colleges is not large and representative, this conclusion needs to be evaluated on the basis of more detailed data. But, in each case, the share of Muslims is lower than their share in the population, and significantly below that of both the SCs/STs and the OBCs. The participation of Muslims in engineering and medical courses is particularly low.

The status of Muslims in PG courses is equally disappointing. Only about one out of 20 students (5%) is a Muslim. This is significantly below the share of OBCs (24%) and SCs/STs (13%). However, Muslim students typically tend to seek professional courses, followed by commerce; in terms of absolute numbers and relative share they are at the bottom amongst the SRCs.

7. Some Correlates of Educational Attainment

Overall, other things being equal, the chances of completing graduation for persons belonging to Hindu-Gen category were significantly higher than for persons of all other SRCs. There were, however, differences across other (excluding Hindu-Gen) SRCs and for males and females in rural and urban areas. The probability of Muslims and SCs/STs completing graduation were similar but lower than for all other SRCs. While these differences were not significant in rural areas, especially for females, Muslims/SCs/STs had significantly lower chances of completing graduation than persons belonging to OBCs and other minorities in urban areas. This was especially the case for males in urban areas. In other words, after controlling for other factors, as compared to other SRCs, being Muslim and SC/ST reduced the chances of completing graduation, especially in urban areas and for males.

The next relevant issue is whether the above-mentioned gaps are specific to graduate education or are a reflection of gaps that existed in earlier years of education.

While the chances of eligible (those who have completed higher secondary education) Muslims completing graduate studies are still significantly lower than those of eligible Hindu-Gen persons, the gap narrows down. Besides, in many situations the chances of eligible Muslims completing graduate education are not very different from those for eligible OBCs and other minorities. In other words, once the Muslims cross the hurdle of the minimum qualification and are placed in the same situation in terms of location, economic status etc., differences between Muslims and other SRCs narrow down and are often not very different.

Overall, this section reveals that though all the SRCs have been able to improve their status over time, the process has not been convergent. The gap between Muslims and ‘All Others’ has widened consistently at the all-India level and for all States - especially at the higher education levels. It is interesting to note that SCs/STs have been able to catch up with Muslims. This may be due to the targeting of SCs/STs households in special programmes that establish schools or improve infrastructure and provide incentives for enrolment. Job reservation, too, may have had an indirect effect, by providing the economic means to educate children and simultaneously increase the economic returns to education.

8. Choice of Educational Institutions: The Case of Madarsas

The type of educational institution in which children study is also an important marker of educational status. Both Muslim and ‘Other’ children mostly attend the inexpensive Government or Government-aided schools; about one third attend private schools. Many of the government-aided schools may effectively be privately run; an analysis of the proportion of children going to government versus government-aided schools would be instructive. A small proportion (4%) of Muslim children also attend Madarsas.

It is often believed that a large proportion of Muslim children study in Madarsas, mostly to get acquainted with the religious discourse and ensure the continuation of Islamic culture and social life. A persistent belief nurtured, in the absence of statistical data and evidence, is that Muslim parents have a preference for religious education leading to dependence on Madarsas. It is also argued that education in Madarsas often encourages religious fundamentalism and creates a sense of alienation from the mainstream. In actuality the number of Madarsa attending students is much less than commonly believed. For example, in West Bengal, where Muslims form 25% of the population, the number of Madarsa students at 3.41 lakhs is only about 4% of the 7-19 age group.

NCAER figures indicate that only about 4% of all Muslim students of the school going age group are enrolled in Madarsas. At the all-India level this works out to be about 3% of all Muslim children of school going age. The NCAER data is supported by estimates made from school level NCERT (provisional) data; which indicate a somewhat lower level of 2.3% of Muslim children aged 7-19 years who study in Madarsas. The proportions are higher in rural areas and amongst males.

The importance of Madarsas as a source of education is not high in any of the regions, except the Northern one. But even here, according to the higher NCAER estimate, less than 7% children of the school going age group attend Madarsas.

One reason for the misconception that the majority of Muslim children are enrolled in Madarsas is that people do not distinguish between Madarsas and Maktabs. While Madarsas provide education (religious and/or regular), Maktabs are neighbourhood schools, often attached to mosques, that provide religious education to children who attend other schools to get ‘mainstream’ education. Thus Maktabs provide part-time religious education and are complementary to the formal educational institutions.

The common belief that a high proportion of Muslim children study in Madarsas stems from the fact that they are actually enrolled in the local Maktabs. As emphasized, such local Maktabs provide not a substitute, but a supplementary educational service.

When modernization of Madarsas is planned, policy makers should be careful to distinguish between these two types of institutions. The Maktabs and residential Madarsas are necessarily traditional and meant only for religious education, because their social function is to carry on the Islamic tradition. On the other hand, it is the constitutional obligation (under Article 21-A) of the Government to provide education to the masses. Aided Madarsas are often the last recourse of Muslims especially those who lack the economic resources to bear the costs of schooling, or households located in areas where ‘mainstream’ educational institutions are inaccessible. The solution in such cases is not only to modernize Madarsas, but also to provide good quality, subsidized ‘mainstream’ education and create an adequate infrastructure for education.

Apart from the role Madarsas have played in providing religious education one needs to recognize their contribution towards the education of Muslims in the country. Very often one finds that Madarsas have indeed provided schooling to Muslim children where the State has failed them. Many children go to Madarsas and thereby acquire some level of literacy/education when there is no school in the neighbourhood. This effort needs to be recognized. This could be done by establishing ‘equivalence’ to Madarsa certificates for subsequent admission into government schools and universities. For this purpose, equivalence between the two systems of education will need to be established at different levels. Many Madarsas provide education that is similar to that provided in ‘mainstream’ schools.

9. Educational Attainment and the Issue of Language

The non-availability of education in the Urdu language is seen by some as one of the reasons for the low educational status of Muslims in India. A substantial number of the Urdu-speaking people in most States made this point during the Committee’s interaction with them.

9.1 The Context

The advantage of providing education (especially primary education) in the mother tongue is undisputed as it enables the child to understand and apply skills more easily. It was for this reason that the three language formula was adopted in the early 1960’s.

9.2 Urdu Medium Schools

Despite the positive recommendations of different Committees, in many states there is a dearth of facilities for teaching Urdu. The number of Urdu medium schools is very low in most States. This can be seen from the low percentage of children enrolled in Urdu medium.

In contradiction to the widely held belief, the Urdu-speaking population is not merely confined to the Indo-Gangetic plains. Urdu is also reported to be the mother tongue of a sizeable section of the populations of Karnataka (10%), Maharashtra (7.5%) and Andhra Pradesh (8.5%). Interestingly, in all these states, the percentage of Muslim population reporting Urdu as their mother tongue is substantially higher than the states in the Hindi-Urdu belt. In these states, the percentage of children enrolled in Urdu medium as a percentage of Muslim children in the school going age (6-14 years) is quite high. Surprisingly, the figures for enrolment in Urdu medium in Uttar Pradesh, in particular, is dismally low. It remains unsatisfactory in Bihar and Jharkhand too. Is it that Urdu is not considered as an option for Muslim children in Uttar Pradesh and other Northern states while it is preferred in the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh?

The importance given to Sanskrit in the educational framework in Delhi and many North Indian States has tended to sideline minority languages. Students have to opt for Sanskrit as there is no provision to teach Urdu (or any other regional language) in many schools. This, in effect, makes Sanskrit a compulsory subject.

Not surprisingly, the performance of Urdu medium students is very poor. This creates a vicious circle where the lack of facilities for learning in Urdu leads to poor results. This in turn reduces the functional worth of Urdu, lowers the demand for learning in Urdu and offers an excuse for downgrading facilities for teaching Urdu. The Committee recognizes that the Government’s objective is to improve the educational status of Muslim children, rather than increase the number of Urdu medium schools, per se. However, in view of the large proportion of Muslim children with Urdu as their mother tongue, the Committee feels steps should be taken to ensure that Urdu is taught, at least as an elective subject, in areas which have a substantial presence of Urdu speaking population.


Box 4.1: Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNVs)

The Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas were set up to provide high quality education for talented rural children, through ‘pace setting’ residential schools. The Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti was set up as an autonomous organization to establish and manage these vidyalayas. It was envisioned that there would be one JNV in every district of the country. At present there are 551 schools, in as many districts, with over 1.50 lakh students on roll.

JNVs are fully residential co-educational schools with classes VI to XII; they are affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and impart the CBSE curricula. The medium of instruction is the mother tongue or the regional language up to Class VIII. Thereafter, the common medium is Hindi for Social Studies and the Humanities and English for Mathematics and Science. Admission to the Vidyalayas is at the Class VI level through an open test conducted at the district level by the CBSE in 21 languages, including Urdu. Over 30,000 students are admitted every year. While education in the schools is free including boarding, lodging, uniforms and textbooks, a nominal fee of Rs. 200/- per month is levied from classes IX to XII. Candidates belonging to the SC/ST, the physically handicapped category and those from families below the poverty line are exempt from these fees.

Considering the aim in setting up the NVs — "the objective of excellence, coupled with equity and social justice" (National Policy on Education, 1986) – it would be pertinent to see to what extent this scheme has benefited the Muslim community, which was officially declared as educationally backward in the 1986 National Policy on Education. The setting up of good quality schools like Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas in rural areas was expected to somewhat relax the supply side constraints on good quality education but Muslim participation in these schools too is not satisfactory.

The proportion of Muslims among all children registering for, appearing in and being selected in the Jawahar Navodaya Selection Test (JNVST) is extremely low and far below their share in the population. It is interesting to observe the low coverage of Muslims even in JNV Regions like Lucknow (covering Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal) and Hyderabad (including Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Pondicherry, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakswadeep), which have a significant proportion of Muslims in their population. The performance of Muslim girls is poorer than that of boys.


[1] Hyderabad Region (Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Pondicherry, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakswadeep)

[2] Lucknow Region (Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal)

[3] Patna Region (Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal)

[4] Pune Region (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Dadar & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu)

Data Source: Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, New Delhi


[ Subscribe | Contact Us | Archives | Khoj | Aman ]
[ Letter to editor  ]

Copyrights © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.