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Inequalities in Literacy in Jammu and Kashmir

Regional disparities in literacy levels were rightly emphasised in the recent Jammu and Kashmir Finance Commission report, with Jammu having achieved a literacy rate of 73% and Kashmir only 65%. However, this note argues that differences between districts and education zones, and more importantly, between different socio-economic groups are more real and sizeable. These can be traced to high dropout rates among schoolchildren, owing to the numerous direct and indirect effects of over two decades of conflict.


Inequalities in Literacy in Jammu and Kashmir

Tanveer Ahmad Dar, Shumila Khaki

is important, but before reaching any hard conclusions, understanding regional disparities, processes and developments is imperative. However, this understanding should not result in regional politics and polarisation. Any overemphasis of regional disparities in socio-economic

Regional disparities in literacy levels were rightly emphasised in the recent Jammu and Kashmir Finance Commission report, with Jammu having achieved a literacy rate of 73% and Kashmir only 65%. However, this note argues that differences between districts and education zones, and more importantly, between different socio-economic groups are more real and sizeable. These can be traced to high dropout rates among schoolchildren, owing to the numerous direct and indirect effects of over two decades of conflict.

Special thanks to Frances Smith for help in editing and Yasir Hamid for his invaluable suggestions and comments. We are grateful to Shantha Sinha, Venkat Reddy and Wakar Amin for encouraging us to write on this issue. We would also like to thank Harsh Mander, Dipa Sinha, Biraj Patnaik and Ritu Priya for their advice and guidance. Thanks are also due to Vikas Bhaskar, Swapnali Patil and Rafia Farooq. The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own.

Tanveer Ahmad Dar (tanveerdar.tanveer@ is at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and Shumila Khaki is at the department of social work, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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n a promising move in 2007, the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government constituted a Finance Commission, through the State Finance Commission Act of 2006, to study regional disparities between Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh and recommend measures for improvement.1 The commission included a threemember team headed by Mehmood-ur-Rehman, a former home commissioner of the state (Ali 2010).2 The background to this commission was the huge outcry in the state about inter-regional disparities in socio-economic and political development among the three regions.

The constitution of the Finance Commission can therefore be seen as a positive move, if that is, the intention was to pursue it with commitment and honesty. This Finance Commission was to submit its report within a year of its appointment but as is the practice with all commissions and committees in Jammu and Kashmir (henceforth J&K), the commission was delayed. It finally submitted its bulky report, consisting of seven volumes and more than 1,000 pages (Ali 2010), to the chief minister in November 2010. The report highlights many important issues but raises more questions than those it answers.

Education was one of the areas that the Finance Commission considered in depth. The report made headlines and was featured on the front pages of a few daily newspapers for several months. The impression created by the state media was that there were serious disparities in educational performance in the state, with Jammu region performing much better than Kashmir. The dramatic increase in the number of schools in the Jammu region over the last few decades compared with Kashmir suggested a regional bias in educational development.

Achieving equitable socio-economic and political development for all regions

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and political development could have serious implications in J&K, where people of different regions have voiced feelings of alienation, in recent years.

This article attempts to provide insight into the disparities in educational achievement between different regions, districts and socio-economic groups in the state. More importantly, it seeks to highlight other serious political forms of disparities, which tend to be neglected. At the same time, it explores why inequalities of any nature exist, and why the J&K School Education Act 2002 has failed to achieve its objectives.

Inter-regional versus Inter-district Disparities

Census data on literacy rates suggests an urgent need to look more closely at disparities beyond the regional level. In 2001, J&K had only a 55.52% literacy rate, a 9.3% difference with the Indian level, which stood at 64.84% (Census 2001 data in Government of J&K 2008-09).3 Recent provisional figures from the 2011 Census continue to show this pattern. A 5.3% difference remains between J&K (68.7%) and India (74%) in literacy rates (Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India 2011). The Finance Commission report rightly emphasised a concern with regional disparities. The Jammu region achieved a literacy rate of 73% while Kashmir achieved only 65% (Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India 2011).

However, more serious than the state and regional disparities are those between districts within regions. For instance, the literacy rate in Bandipora and Budgam districts is about 58% and in Ramban, it is 57%, compared to 84% in Jammu, 80% in Leh and 71% in Srinagar district (Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India 2011). Further disaggregation within districts shows even more serious differences. For instance, in


Kalaroos and Sogam educational zones of the district of Kupwara, the literacy rate is only about 29%.4

Why is there a low literacy in Ramban even though Jammu region has a 73% literacy rate? Why do Kalaroos and Sogam educational zones have literacy rates lower than 30%, not even half of the literacy rate in Kashmir? These are questions that cannot be ignored.

Interestingly, simple calculations using 2011 Census literacy data tell us more about issues beyond regional disparities. If we just remove two districts – Jammu and Samba – from the 10 districts of Jammu region, the performance of the other eight districts is just a little better than Kashmir. These eight districts of Jammu region together have achieved only a 67% literacy rate, compared to 65% in Kashmir. Where do the actual disparities lie then? Just two of these districts have been able to achieve the highest literacy rates in the state – Jammu at 84% and Samba at 82%. These two were one district (and one of the two biggest cities in the state, the other one being Srinagar) until 2006, when Samba was carved out into a separate district. Kathua is another better performing district in Jammu region, achieving a 73.5% literacy rate. In Kashmir region, Srinagar district has a 71% literacy rate, very close to that of Kathua. This suggests that, though striking, the key issue is not the regional disparity, but is rather interdistrict disparity.

In fact, cities and economically high performing districts of the state perform well on literacy. When we examine poorer districts, we find that literacy rates are drastically lower. For instance, according to the latest publicly available figures, the per capita income (PCI) for 2004-05 in Srinagar was Rs 24,459, the highest in the Kashmir; PCI in Budgam was Rs 17,250, almost 30% less than Srinagar. Together with Bandipore, Budgam is one of the districts with the lowest literacy rates in Kashmir, and Srinagar has one of the highest.

Similarly, severe disparities also exist in the PCI among districts in Jammu region. The PCI for the districts with highest literacy rates in Jammu region was Rs 23,298 (Jammu) and Rs 21,946 (Kathua). But for Doda, it was Rs 15,194, almost 35% less than Jammu and 31% lower than Kathua (Government of J&K 2009).5 Notably, Ramban with the lowest literacy rate in Jammu region was carved out of Doda in 2006.

Budgam and Ramban are relatively rural and hilly districts, whereas Srinagar and Jammu are the most prominent cities. Could it be that these poor, faroff, hilly and economically backward districts are given second-class treatment in development activity and service delivery within the state, impacting educational outcomes?

Access to Schools

Also compelling are regional disparities viewed in terms of the number of schools functioning in the Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh regions. The Finance Commission report has shown that the number of schools in Jammu increased from 4,953 in 1980 to 8,285 in 2007 (a 67% increase). In Ladakh, the number rose from 411 to 729 (a 77% increase). The corresponding increase in Kashmir was far lower, from 4,901 to 6,844 (only 40%) (Ali 2011). The increase in the number of schools in Jammu region would certainly have been an important factor in achieving the higher levels of literacy.

However, the existence of schools is not the only factor in ensuring that children attend regularly. The schools available must also be socially and economically accessible for all children. A number of other factors play a crucial role in determining whether a child will be able to attend and continue his/her studies. Even at the village level, some children attend school regularly but their next-door neighbours do not, even when there is a government-run school open to everyone. Children’s ability to attend school is not only an outcome of infrastructure but depends on other factors as well.

Macro figures show a high dropout ratio of 53.75% in 2004-05 in the state (Government of J&K 2008). This implies that children have been able to enrol but cease to attend, not because there are no schools, but because of other reasons. The ability of children to attend school is directly related to the socio-economic

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situation of their families and the political situation of the region. That is the reason why the literacy rate among lower socioeconomic groups is much lower, an issue that receives very little attention in J&K. For instance, the literacy rate among the scheduled tribe (ST) population is just 37.5%, while for the total population, the literacy rate is 55.5% (Census 2001 data in Government of India 2005).

The authors visited a few villages in Bandipora (Acham, Inder koot and Now gam villages), Kupwara (Zachaldara, Yemlar and Khanpur villages) and Kulgam (Bonigam and Yarhol villages) districts in Kashmir in May-August 2011 and interacted with parents individually and in groups, as well as with local teachers, panchayat members, self-help groups (SHGs) and non-governmental organisation (NGO) activists. What was clear was that there was high school dropout rates in most of these villages.

The high costs of admission fees, printing charges, uniforms, school bags, shoes, notebooks and other stationary throughout the year and tuition during winter vacations (of two to three months) can be difficult for parents to afford. These amounted to more than Rs 500 per month, on an average, throughout the year for a child in primary and upper primary classes, according to the respondents we interviewed during May-August 2011. These are hidden costs not recognised by the state, which claims that it provides free and compulsory education. If parents cannot afford these costs, the children drop out.

In focus group discussions, almost 40 to 50 parents in these villages reported that they had some of their children going to school while the others dropped out and were engaged in the carpet industry or other work. Many parents explained that these children worked to pay for the education of the others. These are not the stories of a few families but the saga of thousands of villages and families, and could explain the high dropout rate in the state of about 53.75% in 2004-05.

These are the reasons why lower socioeconomic groups such as STs in the state, as well as in Kashmir, have lower literacy levels than the general population, and

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why the relatively poor districts of Bandipora, Budgam, Kupwara and Ganderbal have lower literacy rates. This also explains why cities – Jammu and Srinagar

– have higher literacy rates than other districts, because they are relatively rich districts.

Born and Brought Up in Conflict?

Also, one should not forget that the Kashmir Valley has witnessed different phases of conflict over the last two decades and more. A number of studies reveal that the long conflict has taken a heavy toll. Although the numbers vary across sources, even conservative estimates suggest that tens of thousands of people have been killed in the valley in the last 20 years, leaving many children orphaned and women widowed. Education was another casualty for children during times of escalated violence and unrest. In fact, during conflict, education and schooling have an even more important role to play than during peaceful times, as schooling can represent a state of normalcy with the potential of providing “safe zones” for children.

However, like in other parts of the world, in Kashmir, many schools were specifically targeted during the years of conflict. The Indian security forces occupied a number of schools. Although in the last few years, many schools have been evacuated, a good number are still occupied or surrounded by the Indian security forces. In a region of less deve loped infrastructure, the occupation of schools for other purposes has taken a heavy toll on their accessibility and availability.

In fact, there are many other direct and indirect effects from the conflict in Kashmir that have implications for children’s ability to attend school. A study of children conducted by a psychiatric hospital in Kashmir reported that almost 36% (37 out of a sample of 103) displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress dis order (Dasgupta 2008). Mental stress, anxiety and depression have a direct effect on children’s ability to attend school regularly and to perform well in their studies.

While these are the direct effects, conflict has affected children’s lives through many indirect means such as increased economic uncertainty, loss of

Economic & Political Weekly

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adult protection and so on. According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimate, the number of orphans goes up to one lakh. The majority of orphans in the valley are living miserable lives because of the fear, depression, destitution, negligence and discrimination (Dar and Khaki 2011).

The ongoing conflict in Kashmir also had an impact on people’s ability to work, particularly for those who are dependent on daily wage work, the tourist and handicraft sectors and those who migrate to towns and cities on a daily or on a longterm basis. The 62nd round of the NSSO (2005-06) has shown a high unemployment rate of 5.21% in the state against the Indian national rate of 3.09% (Office of the Commissioners et al 2009). Loss of employment has serious repercussions on the upbringing of children. The loss of bread-earners in many families due to conflict-related incidents and the inability of many families to work, especially in the tourist and handloom sectors, forced many parents to withdraw their children from school and send them to work to supplement meagre family incomes.

Studies have found that children who were out of school were engaged in child labour in a range of activities, from carpet weaving and construction to working in tea stalls, mechanic shops and the transport industry. Domestic child labour is also a serious issue in the state and very little spoken of, even in the state secretariat, because an absolute ban would lead to a crisis for the elite.

State-level macro figures reflect this dismal picture. The state had 70,489 child labourers in 1971, which increased to 1,75,630 in 2011, an increase of 149%. Comparable figures for the whole of India show that there were 1,07,53,985 child labourers in 1971 and that this increased to 1,26,66,377 in 2001, an increase of just 17.7% (Census 1971 and 2001 data in National Commission for Protection of Child Rights nd). Unofficial sources give even higher estimates. Fayaz Ahmad Nika, in his book Child Labour in Jammu and Kashmir, estimated that there were around 2,40,000 child workers in Jammu and Kashmir (Khalid 2011). More worrying is the fact that such children face high levels of exploitation in Kashmir, are forced

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to work for long hours and paid meagre wages. A study by Save the Children (United Kingdom (UK)), conducted in 2003, revealed that the prevalence of child labour has increased in the past decade due to conflict in the Valley.

The political situation in over two decades in Kashmir has seriously affected all aspects of life in Kashmir. The unstable political situation has created a lack of accountability amongst officials, and strikes and protests provide them with an alibi to not perform their duties. These political reasons must be considered in any analysis of the developmental performance of Kashmir.

Institutional Blockades

The state implemented the J&K School Education Act in 2002, which makes it obligatory for the government to provide free and compulsory education for children up to class eight, and to achieve universalisation of elementary education throughout the state within 10 years. The government assumes responsibility through the Act for establishing and maintaining schools. The Act mostly relies on the Local Area Establishment Committees (LAEC), which were to be constituted at the level of each panchayat halqa, town area, notified area and municipal ward for the Act’s implementation. The Act places an obligation on the parents to send their children to school and to ensure that they complete at least elementary education. The responsibility for ensuring that parents are sending their children to school lies with the LAEC.

However, the state government seemed to be far more concerned with permitting and regulating private schools through this legislation, may be because the children of the upper and middle classes go to these supposedly better private schools. In almost the ninth year since the commencement of the Act, reports and the 2011 Census data show that literacy rates are still compromised, and dropout rates remain high, demonstrating that the Act has failed to meet its promises. The reasons for its failure seem primarily to lie in the fact that the Act has failed to raise fundamental questions. Assuming a homogeneous society, it has also failed to respond to institutional problems, to the


fundamental socio-economic structures in different areas, and to different socioeconomic groups. The assumption is that failure to attend school is due to ignorance, carelessness and negligence on the part of parents, and not because of socioeconomic conditions. However, if one dares to look into the lives of the common people, it becomes clear that the armchair speculations and assumptions behind the Act do not hold merit.

During discussions by the authors in the villages of Bandipora, Kupwara and Kulgam in May-August 2011, it became clear that the reasons for non-attendance at school and drop out are multiple and were mostly institutional. These include charging of school fees, compulsory uniform and shoes, the inability of the state government to meet other educational expenses, the low socio-economic conditions of families, and therefore the engagement of children in farming and carpet weaving, low quality education which leads to children failing, no remedial or special teaching/coaching to children who have failed, a failure to implement other government schemes such as providing means of livelihood and work to people.

Most importantly, the state government does not appear to have any builtin mechanism for tracking the education of each child. This negligence by officials has resulted in many problems, including a lack of effective planning at block and district levels. The defective education system has not been able to create demand and mobilise people to ensure that all children are sent to school. There is no interface between parents and the education department. The Village Education Committees, on which the implementation of the Act mostly relies, are almost all dysfunctional, have been politically hijacked, and not democratically elected.

In conclusion, the debate on interregional disparities should not distract us from the inter-district disparities in the state, with poor and backward districts like Ramban, Budgam, Kishtwar, Ganderbal, Reasi and Bandipora falling at the lower end of the literacy scale. Equally important to consider are the inter-zonal disparities within districts, for example, Kalaroos and Sogam education zones have achieved literacy rates of 29%, while Trehgam and Langate education zones have achieved literacy rates of 45% and 43% respectively in the same Kupwara district. The state government should not have to set up a new District Finance Commission Act to look into interdistrict disparities.

The debate must focus on the literacy rates of lower socio-economic groups like STs, who have a literacy rate of just 37.5%, just about two-thirds of the literacy rate of the state overall. The population of STs is substantial, about 11% of the total population,6 and should make us think about their exclusion not only from development activities and from education, but also from the development discourse among stakeholders such as government, NGOs, academics, civil society and the people.

The new Indian Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2010 (RtE) provides for free schooling without any annual fees, as well as free textbooks, notebooks and uniforms, all of which have emerged as obstacles to regular school attendance for a large proportion of children in Kashmir. The findings of the Finance Commission and the 2011 Census on low literacy levels and striking disparities between the districts, blocks and socio-economic groups should be taken as an urgent call for introducing legislation in J&K on par with the Indian RtE, if we are to ensure equitable educational development across all regions, districts and socio-economic groups.


1 The other terms of reference of the Commission were identification of backward districts and their development at the micro level, equitable distribution of resources for development, matters related to the employment backlog, strengthening of local bodies, the state of finances, augmentation of resources, matters related to expenditure and debt, mapping of regions and subregions and governance reforms with reference to decentralisation.

2 The other two members of the Commission were Nisar Ali, former head of department of economics, University of Kashmir and Swami Raj Sharma, former bureaucrat and now a politician.

3 Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India (2001): “Census Data Online – Socio-Cultural Aspects”, viewed on 30 January 2012: http:// Census_Data_Online/Social_and_cultural.html

4 An educational zone may or may not overlap with a block depending upon the topography and population of the block. Disaggregated data at the education zone level is not usually available

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through the census or state sources. It is available in most cases with district administration only. Data was retrieved for the authors from the District Administration of Kupwara in 2011 by the organisation G D Memorial Welfare Society of Handwara.

5 Data on PCI is not presented for Ramban, Samba, Bandipore and Ganderbal districts since these district were created in 2006 and data on PCI was not available in 2004-05.

6 Data retrieved from Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India (2001): “Census Data Online – Population”. Viewed on 3 February 2012:


Ali, Muddasir (2010): “Finance Commission to Submit Report Today”, Greater Kashmir, 30 November, accessed 30 January 2012:

– (2011): “Kashmir Facing Educational Deprivation: Commission”, Greater Kashmir, 1 July, accessed 30 January 2012: http://www.greaterkashmir. com/news/2011/Jul/1/kashmir-facing-educational-deprivation-commission-69.asp.

Dasgupta, Chandrani (2008): “Political Violence in Kashmir: Experiences from Kashmir” in M Singh and D P Singh (ed.), Violence: Impact and Intervention (New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers), pp 201-12.

Dar, T A and S Khaki (2011): “Born in Conflict, Brought up on Margins – The Sorry State of Kashmir’s Children”, Epilogue, 5(8): 28-31.

Government of J&K (2008): Socio-Economic Profile of Jammu and Kashmir 2008, Srinagar, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Jammu and Kashmir.

  • (2008-09): Economic Survey 2008-09, Srinagar, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • (2009): State Domestic Product of Jammu & Kashmir 1999-2000 to 2007-08, Srinagar, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Government of India (2005): Report of the Task Group on Development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, New Delhi, Planning Commission, Government of India.

    Khalid, Wasim (2011): “2.4 Lakh Child Labourers in J&K: Study”, Greater Kashmir, 4 February, accessed 31 January 2012: labourers-in-j-k-study-39.asp.

    National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) (nd): “State-wise Distribution of Working Children according to 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 Census in the Age Group 5-14 Years”, Data on Child Labour Census 1971 to 2001, accessed 25 August 2011: http://www.ncpcr. _1971_to_2001.pdf.

    Office of the Commissioners of the Supreme Court, Human Rights Law Network and University of Kashmir Department of Social Work (2009): Hunger in the Valley: A Study of the Implementation of Food and Livelihood Schemes of Government in Kashmir, New Delhi, Office of the Commissioners of the Supreme Court. Accessed 31 January 2012: http://www.sccommissioners. org/Reports/commissioners.html

    Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India (2011): “Provisional Population Totals Paper 1 of 2011 (India and States/Union Territories)”, viewed on 16 April 2011: paper1.html.

    Save the Children UK (2003): Adphail Gulab [Unbloomed Roses], Srinagar, Save the Children UK.

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