This examination of the several considerations and factors that influence the schooling of Muslim girls is the first of its kind, based on first hand information from interviews, documents and reports, and empirical studies. It argues that state policies and initiatives on education, regional location, social and economic compulsions, as well as changing community perceptions are critical to our understanding of why the educational attainment of Muslim girls education, based on data collected across the country, to present a macro consideration of the complex factors that influence Muslim girls experience of five distinct locations Delhi, Aligarh, Calcutta, Hyderabad and analysis of these factors, identifying some critical elements that determine their educational status. By doing so they succeed in dispelling prevalent misperceptions regarding community conservation and resistance to change and advocate more proactive affirmative action by the state.
Zoya Hasan is professor at the centre for political studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi. She has published widely in academic journals and periodicals and is the author of dominance & mobilization: rural politics in western Uttar Pradesh (1989) and quest for power: oppositional movements and post with ritu menon she is co editor with her of in a minority essays on Muslim women in India (2005).
Ritu Menon is a publisher and writer she is co-author of borders and boundaries: women in India’s partition and unequal citizens: a study of Muslim women in india; and editor, no women’s land: women from Pakistan, india and Bangladesh write on the partition of india. She has also dited severeral anthologies of stories by Indian women.
If development is about more than numbers, and empowerment not merely a struggle for representation in public and private domains; if economic growth is to be people-centric, just and humane, then it is important for us to focus attention on empowerment through education, or what some have called education for equality. In a developing society like India, only the state can make available the scale of investment required for the universalisation of education. For this to happen, the state and other organizations that claim to represent the underprivileged must recognise the connection between universal education and social justice; in other words, investment in education is a means of social empowerment and creating capabilities. At the same time, the state must recognise disparities in educational attainment and availability across regions, communities and genders. One critical issue that needs to be addressed is the role of the state in the promotion of minority education, especially that of Muslim girls, to enable them to overcome those barriers that systematically prevent their social and economic betterment.
The constitutional promise of universal primary education by the 1960s has, over 50 years later, remained stubbornly elusive for the majority of Indian women. Decadal censuses since the 1950s have tracked educational shortfalls, gains, improvements and, importantly, gender disparities by state and region. The educational status of girls in India has improved, but very slowly, and till the 2001 census enumeration, available data reported overall, rather than community disaggregated, data. Other surveys like the National Sample Survey and the National Family Health Survey 1st and 2nd rounds) did process their findings by community, and the latter co-related them with other variables such as class, age at marriage, and so on. Despite these, however, and notwithstanding the fact that scattered micro studies on the educational attainment of Muslim girls have been attempted, a more sustained enquiry into their persistently low educational status seemed called for. An enquiry that would combine empirical and statistical information; study regional variations; look at important differences between, and within, castes and communities; at educational infrastructure and the accessibility or otherwise of schools; at government initiatives and affirmative action; at social and economic compulsions; at gender differences; at trends and changes, and the role of community initiative in influencing educational outcomes.
To this end, we undertook a nationwide survey of 10,000 Muslim and Hindu women in 2000-2001, in 42 districts of India, with the objective of determining their actual status by community, class and region. The Survey (henceforth Muslim Women's Surveyor MWS) covered ten major areas of concern: socio-economic status of households; education; work; marriage; mobility; decision-making; violence; political participation; access to welfare; and access to media. The findings and analysis are presented in our book, Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India. The MWS found that close to 60 per cent of Muslim women self-reported themselves to be illiterate - lower than scheduled castes and tribes but higher than other backward castes (OBCS). In the rural north, this figure rises to 85 per cent but at the other end of the spectrum is the urban south, where illiteracy is only 22 percent. In other words, Muslim women in rural north and urban south are so differently situated on the educational scale partly because they are differently located, regionally. Their regional location is again significant for levels of illiteracy in the rural east and west of India, where the patterns are similar to those at the national level. Other major differences reported were between urban and rural, and Hindu and Muslim women. Overall, illiteracy is much lower in the urban north than rural north; but community differences are striking 75 per cent of Muslim com- pared to 26 per cent of Hindu women (or three times as many) is illiterate. Broadly speaking, urban and rural south India report high literacy for Muslim women; rural north, east and west, the lowest.
As far as enrolment and educational attainment are concerned, the MWS indicates that schooling is poor for Muslim girls. Their enrolment rate is 40.6 per cent, well below that of Hindu upper caste women - 63.2 per cent, but higher than that of the scheduled castes, at 30.2 per cent. Community differences apart, the sharpest disparities are regional: rural and urban north report 13.5 and 23.1 per cent, respectively, while rural and urban south are an impressive 75 and 77.2 percent - or higher than the national average for all women. The third area of real difference is in the respondents' socioeconomic status: the poorer the household, the less likely the chances of daughters acquiring a formal education. The found that only 16.1 per cent of girls from poor households attended school, compared to more that 70 per cent of those from high SES ones. But here, too, the south is an exception, with minor differences in enrolment being reported only between socio-economic classes. Among those who ever attended school, 98 per cent Muslim women went to government or private schools, and only two per cent to madrasas - the majority of these being from very poor families.
Less than 17 per cent of Muslim girls completed the minimum of eight years of schooling; and less than 10 per cent finished their higher secondary. Here again their educational attainment in the north is abysmal for middle and high school 4.5 and 4.75 percent, respectively, compared to the national average of 17.8 and 11.4 per cent respectively. The average number of years of schooling that Indian women receive is distressingly low: 2.7 years for Muslim women and 3.8 years for Hindus; for Muslims, this figure is lower than that of scheduled castes at the regional and national levels, and indicates high dropout rates among them, certainly in the north where the number of years in school is again half that of the south. Our attempt in this monograph is to relate the macro data from our Survey to micro experiences on the ground, by undertaking a comparative study of five cities located in significantly diverse historical, regional and socio-political contexts, in order to afford a meaningful comparison. The five cities are: Delhi, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Calcutta and Calicut. In order to explain the rationale for this choice of cities and our enquiry and methodology against the backdrop of our Survey findings, a brief discussion of Muslim women's education in the colonial and post-colonial periods may be desirable.
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