Dalit dilemma: Education rises, not prosperity

Subodh Varma, 8 Dec, 2006 TIMES NEWS NETWORK

NEW DELHI: Dalit anger seems to be on the boil. Suddenly, there is a rash of violent protests across the country. What is the trigger? What are the reasons for Dalit anger to cross the tipping point now when they are steadily gaining political clout?

While there’s bound to be a complex combination of factors for a category of people to vent their ire violently, a study of Dalit education patterns, seen against their actual socio-economic standing, provides significant pointers to what might have heightened a sense of frustration.

Here are some telling figures. In 1961 barely 10% of India’s 64.4 million scheduled caste (SC) population could read and write. By 2001, 45% of SCs were literate, a 4.5 times growth in 40 years. In the same period, for the population as a whole, literacy went up from 24.5% to about 54% — just over two times.

Among Dalit women, the spread of literacy was even more remarkable — about ten-fold — in this period, while for Indian women as a whole, it grew about three times.

There’s an obvious story is these figures. Dalits have been looking at education to break out of the oppressive mould and find a way for upward social mobility. Hence the focus on education. And this effort has been relentless; it’s going on for 40 years.

Now look at some other figures relating to Dalits’ economic status. As many as 36% of Dalits in rural areas and 38% in urban areas are below the poverty line. Against this, 23% of rural India as a whole and 27% of urban India are below the poverty line.

Now look at these figures. About 27% of Dalits gets work for less than six months a year, compared to about 20% among the non-SC/ST population. Over 45% of Dalits are landless agricultural workers, while among the non SC/ST population only 20% are landless workers.

In short, despite their determined effort to secure education for bettering their lot, Dalits don’t seem to be making much headway. It seems there’s no escaping their misery. In turn, this could be sufficient reason for an increased sense of frustration among Dalits finding expression in periodic anger.

 In fact, the surge for literacy among Dalits would have looked still more remarkable had some parts of the country, like UP and Bihar, not dragged down the Dalit national average.

UP has an effective literacy rate (ELR) — the proportion of the population aged seven years or more that is literate — of 46.3% among Dalits, while the figure for Bihar is 28.5% against the national average of 54.7%.

The point is reinforced by enrollment data. Between 1995 and 2003, total enrollment in primary classes increased by about 14% for the population as a whole as also for Dalits.

At the secondary and senior secondary levels, enrollment increased by 45% for the whole population, but a shining 60% among Dalits.

In higher education, the growth in enrollment of Dalit students is stunning — it grew by over 106%, as against 42% among the total population.

In short, equipped with education, Dalits are seeking a better deal. If they still don’t get it, there will be more trouble ahead.

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