Inclinations in Literacy Rates and Schooling among the Scheduled Tribe Women in India

By Rathore, Kamal Singh | Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Inclinations in Literacy Rates and Schooling among the Scheduled Tribe Women in India


Rathore, Kamal Singh, Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences


The paper is aimed to highlight the differences in literacy and schooling attainment among the Scheduled Tribe women in India. The data used in the paper are the Census of India, Department of Education in India, and National Human Development Report prepared by the Government of India. The high status of women among the tribal groups in the northeastern states has important effects on the literacy rates, enrollment ratios and dropout rates of girls in that region. High poverty rates proved to be significant obstacles in attaining literacy and education among tribal women in India. However, large differences in literacy rates in the various states in India show that social and cultural norms, proximity to the mainstream Hindu culture, and the role of women are also important determinants in achieving literacy among tribal women. Literacy is considered to be an important tool for improving the status of women among the Scheduled Tribes. Aggregate statistics often paint a dismal picture of the low literacy rates and schooling among the Scheduled Tribe women. This paper shows that such statistics fail to capture the different trends in literacy rates and value placed in schooling among the various tribal groups in India. Differences in economic, social, and cultural backgrounds among the various tribes need to be emphasised in order to understand the differential nature of investments in literacy rates and schooling among tribal women in India.

Introduction

The Scheduled Tribe population represents one of the most socially and economically impoverished and marginalised groups in India. Although Scheduled Tribes are a minority, they constitute about 8.2% of the total population in India (Census of India, 2001), or 85 million people in absolute number. The Scheduled Tribes are not discriminated against in the same way by the mainstream Hindu population as the Scheduled Caste population in India. While the latter group belongs to the lowest hierarchy of social order and is often considered impure or unclean, the Scheduled Tribes have, for the most part, been socially distanced and living outside the mainstream Hindu society. The areas inhabited by the tribal population constitute a significant part of the underdeveloped areas of the country. About 93% of the tribal people live in rural areas (Census of India, 1981) and are engaged in agricultural pursuits.

There are more than 400 tribal groups among the scheduled tribe population, each with their distinct cultures, social practices, religions, dialects, and occupations. Thus, the different tribal groups are highly heterogeneous, and their differences are a function of the environment in which they live, the degree of exposure to the mainstream Hindu population, government involvement in their daily lives, their economic status, and past history. The tribes are scattered in all States and Union Territories in India except for the states of Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, and Chandigarh. The tribes are heavily concentrated in the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland although they constitute a small percentage of the total tribal population in India. Literacy and educational attainment are powerful indicators of social and economic development among the backward groups in India. During the British rule there was no organised method to educate the tribal communities except for the work undertaken by Christian missionary organisations in some regions in India. Currently, the tribes lag behind not only the general population but also the Scheduled Caste population in literacy and educational attainment. This disparity is even more marked among Scheduled Tribe women, who have the lowest literacy rates in the country (Maharatna, 2005). The male-female gap in literacy and educational attainment among the Scheduled Tribes is significant although this is a common trend among both the Scheduled Castes and the general population. This trend reflects the social and cultural trends and degrees of gender inequality in India. …

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