Mainuddin 82
Asia Pacific Journal of Social Sciences, Vol.II(2), June-Dec 2010, pp.82-104
ISSN 0975 – 5942
Vol.II(2), July-December 2010, pp.82-104
© International Society for Asia-Pacific Studies (ISAPS),
Understanding Reality: Population Growth,
Distribution and Educational Status of Indian Muslims
Md. Mainuddin
Research Fellow, Department of Sociology
Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Population is a dynamic phenomenon that varies spatio-
temporally. Rapid growth of population over the past hundred years
results from the gap between birth rate and death rate. Population
growth becomes a threat to socio-economic well-being of human
beings, and is more vulnerable where the group is already socio-
economically underprivileged. Though, population growth has its
positive impact on economic development. West Bengal occupies the
third position among states of the country in terms of percentage of
Muslim population (i.e. 25%). The present study aims to analyse the
population distribution and educational status of the community in
the districts of West Bengal. The analysed data show that Muslims
are not uniformly distributed in all districts of the state. Moreover,
Muslims of West Bengal are largely rural community in comparison
to their coreligionists in other parts of the country. This means that
Muslims of West Bengal are less urbanized. There are only two
districts where Muslims constitute more than fifty percent
population. Lower literacy rate and educational attainment is the
overall characteristic of the Muslim in India in general and Muslim
of West Bengal in particular. The paper proves with the percentage
of Muslim population increases in a district the literacy and
educational attainment decreases. Finally, the estimates of
population growth, population distribution and educational
attainment computed in this paper will contribute in providing an
empirical basis to the debates in this regard objectively.
Keywords: Muslims, Population, Distribution, Educational
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Asia Pacific Journal of Social Sciences, Vol.II(2), June-Dec 2010, pp.82-104
The 21
century has been seen unprecedented growth of
human population on this planet. Population growth is one of the
problems in present society and most of the groups propagate the
population growth. In the history of human demography, it has been
seen that in earlier time high population growth is a natural
phenomenon due to low level of technological advancement and high
mortality leads to high fertility. But with the technological
advancement population growth is declining world over and in India
as well. In recent past Muslim population growth became an issue of
national debate in India. Muslims constitute the largest minority
community in India with 14 per cent population at the end of 2001
census. They are not only the largest minority community, but their
presence is visible in all the states and union territories. This largest
minority community has been relegated to the lowest socio-economic
stratum in the post-independent India. Though India in recent year
has achieved economic development but influence of this economic
development is not uniformly distributed across the religious
community and across region. According to Marxian theory
economy is an important factor which influence on the other factor
and education is one of them. Education is both an indicators and an
instrument of development. Education plays a crucial role in
increasing labour productivity in both urban and rural areas.
Economic returns to investment in education are typically high has
been documented by Human Capital School (Schultz, 1961).
Muslims economic backwardness has profound impact on their
education. Whereas, West Bengal occupies third position among
various states and union territories of the country in terms of
percentage of Muslim population (i.e. 25 per cent) after Jammu &
Kashmir (67 per cent) and Assam (30 per cent). Instead of this large
number of Muslim population in West Bengal they are
educationally most backward, economically poor and politically
a powerless community (Mainuddin, 2008). This social,
economic and educational backwardness of Muslims is not merely
confirmed by the individual researchers and surveys of voluntary
organizations but also by Committees of Government. The High
Power Panel under the chairmanship of Dr. Gopal Singh, set up by
the Ministry of Home Affairs in the early 1980 to enquire into social
and economic conditions of the Indian minorities, they found
Muslims are backward (GOI, 1983). After 25 years, again this is
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Asia Pacific Journal of Social Sciences, Vol.II(2), June-Dec 2010, pp.82-104
evident from the findings of the Prime Minister’s High Level
Committee under the chairmanship of Justice Rajinder Sachar,
constituted to enquire into socio-economic and educational status of
Muslims (Sachar, 2006). Even where Muslims constitute more than
half of the district population, they are educationally most backward
community. The reports also identified the failure of the state to
provide adequate educational infrastructure in Muslim dominated
areas as a supply side constraint to improving educational status of
The main focus of the study is on West Bengal, India, since
(a) West Bengal is the third largest Muslim majority states in the
country, (b) Politically a secular state is maintained by the Left Front
Government from last more than 3 decades with its electoral
manifesto emphasizes upliftment of excluded section of the
population. The main objectives of the study are
i) examine the trend of Muslim population growth and related
ii) estimate distribution of Muslim population in the districts and
across the residence
iii) to measure the literacy rate in Muslim concentration districts
iv) calculate district wise literacy rate and educational attainment
Data and Methodology
The paper used only the districts and state religious data of
census of India 2001. Standard statistical techniques have been used
to analyze the secondary information obtained from census of India
2001 and other available sources. Simple percentage method has
been used to show decennial growth rate of population and share of
community wise population in the study area. Literacy rate and
educational attainment is also calculated. To show the relation
between population concentration and literacy rate of Substantial
Muslim Population (SMP) districts has been sorted.
Census of India 2001, reports 80, 22,171 million population
and area of 88, 752 sq. km of West Bengal. Thus the population
density in the state is 904 persons per sq. km. Out of its total
population 41,465,985 (51.72%) million are male and 38,710,212
(48.28%) are female. Hence the average sex ratio of the state is 934,
one point more than national average. West Bengal is predominantly
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Asia Pacific Journal of Social Sciences, Vol.II(2), June-Dec 2010, pp.82-104
a state of villages since 57,748,946 (71.98%) million population is
living in rural areas whereas remaining dwell in cities and towns.
Religion Wise Distribution of Population in West Bengal
Out of the total state population 5,81,04,835 (72.47%) million are
Hindus; While Muslims constitutes 2,02,40,543 (25.24%) million
population of the state. Hence, remaining population of 18,30,819
(2.28%) million is constituted by other religious communities like
Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Others and Religion not stated.
Population Growth: Myth and Reality
The census has generally enjoyed an excellent reputation because for
the first time census of India 2001 provides religion data in post-
independent India. But they did an elementary mistake in computing
growth rates across religious communities generated a bit flutter in
political arena. The debate centered on Hindu-Muslim population
growth in relative terms is misleading without using the religion
crudely as an explanatory variable across religion (Jeffery & Jeffery,
2000). Whereas this was the crisis for the one community many of
the communal political leaders and communal organisation take the
issue to make their right vote bank and use the issue to instigate the
ideology of communal hatredness which is undemocratic in the
largest democracy of the world. Communal violence is sometime is
the result of retaining this type of ideology. In a press release of
census data on religion on September 6, 2004, it was reported very
high growth rate among Muslims for the decade 1991-2001. Use of
the 1991 population figures, without Jammu and Kashmir, where the
1991 census was not conducted, in conjunction with the 2001
population figures for the entire country, including Jammu and
Kashmir, created an impression of an unusually high growth, 36 per
cent, among Muslims, against 20.3 per cent for Hindus, as shown in
the census tables (Registrar General 2004: statement 1a).
Correspondingly, the percentage share of the Hindu population
appeared to have declined sharply through the decade, from 82 per
cent in 1991 to 80.5 per cent in 2001 and that of the Muslim
population to have risen from 12.1 per cent to 13.4 per cent. The
census organisation soon presented ‘adjusted’ figures after excluding
Assam (where the 1981 Census was not conducted) and Jammu and
Kashmir, and these showed that the growth for Muslims was 29.3 per
cent and not 36 per cent. In this regard, Kulkarni and Premi
calculated the data and reported that in India the 1991-2001 growth
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for Muslims was 29.5 per cent (and not 36 per cent) and for Hindus,
19.9 per cent. They further added that the share of Muslims increased
by less than one percentage point, 12.6 per cent of total population to
13.4 per cent. Clearly, though the growth rate of the Muslim
population has been higher than that of the Hindu (as well as
average) population, the gap is not as large as initially noted…among
the major communities, Muslims have been growing at a higher rate
than average and, especially since 1971, the growth rate of the
Muslim population has been higher than that of all other major
religions of India (Kulkarni & Manoj, 2005, Premi, 2004).
It is evident that population growth is higher for Muslims in
India. But this growth becomes a problem of a community if the
community is already socio- economically backward. This trend of
population growth pushes the community in more poverty and brings
many other problems. But rate of population growth is declining in
the intervening period gives some relief to the community as it
prevents majority to appease the Muslims. One of the remarkable
features of the census figures in West Bengal for 2001 is the widely
varying population growth rate over the past decade.
Table-1: Religion Wise Population growth Rate in West Bengal
Source: Census of India 2001
Note: Computed by the author
Buddhist Christian Hindu Jain Muslim Sikh
2001 80176197 243364 515150 58104835 55223 20240543 66391 895796
1991 68077965 203578 383477 50866624 34355 16075836 55392 452403
1981 54580647 156296 319670 42007159 38663 11743259 49054 263414
1971 44312011 121504 251752 34611864 32203 9064338 35084 194126
1961 34926279 112253 204530 27523358 26940 6985287 34184 38610
1951 24810308 81576 175021 19462706 19116 4925496 29864 114910
Decadal Growth Rate
2001 17.77 19.54 34.34 14.23 60.74 25.91 19.86 98.01
1991 24.73 30.25 19.96 21.09 -11.14 36.89 12.92 71.75
1981 23.17 28.63 26.98 21.37 20.06 29.55 39.82 35.69
1971 26.87 8.24 23.09 25.75 19.54 29.76 2.63 402.79
1961 40.77 37.61 16.86 41.42 40.93 41.82 14.47 -66.40
1951 - - - - - - - -
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Asia Pacific Journal of Social Sciences, Vol.II(2), June-Dec 2010, pp.82-104
Table 1 gives religion wise population growth from 1951 to
2001. In the year 1991-2001, the highest population growth is found
among the Jains (60.74%) and lowest among Hindus (14.23%).
Among the Muslims the population growth rate is 25.91%in the year
1991-2001 but the interesting fact is that the trend is declining as
compare to the Muslim population growth in between 1981-1991 that
was 36.86%. This important finding denies the allegations of high
population growth among Muslims as a whole. In West Bengal
though it is relatively high but the trend of population growth is
declining. In many other states also Muslim population growth rate is
declining. Moreover, Premi found that the ‘decline is evident in large
number of states. It is noteworthy that it was below 20 per cent in
Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu during the 1990s. It seems
that this has been largely due to adoption of family planning
measures. The growth rate has, however, been high in Bihar,
Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. This might be
due to large-scale migration of Muslims to these areas. This
hypothesis needs detailed probing especially with district level
migration data. With Muslim growth rate of more than 80 per cent
during the past 20 years in Delhi, one has to look at the possibility of
large- scale Bangladeshi migration into the capital’ (Premi, 2004:
4299). In summary the above study attribute that in many Indian
state Muslim population growth is declining especially in South
India. The study also finds the use of contraception and adoption of
the family planning among the Muslims at large.
Population growth of the community is not always the result
of their intention to have a larger family size rather it is the result of
poor socio-economic condition, poverty, illiteracy etc. Orthodox
religious faith not to use contraceptive as a birth control measure in
the society some time leads to high fertility. In addition, the existing
poverty within the community results in higher population growth
not only within the Muslim community but also among the other
communities in India. Education is another determining factor of
population growth. As education level increases the family size
decreases, there is inverse relationship between education and family
size. In other words as the education level increases the fertility rate
decreases. As education among Muslim women is low hence the
family size increases. Another argument is that most of the Muslims
living in rural areas in West Bengal as well as in India and it is a
reason for low level of family planning acceptors. But recently there
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Asia Pacific Journal of Social Sciences, Vol.II(2), June-Dec 2010, pp.82-104
is positive change in the morphology of family planning as there is
increase in the contraceptive use. Low level of autonomy among
Muslim women is one of the most important obstacles to access the
family planning methods but the scenario is changing in past few
decades. Among all the states in India, West Bengal ranks second
only to Himachal Pradesh in contraceptive use (NFHS-3, 2005-06,
p7). Of course being a largest minority (25%) group in the state,
Muslims role in achieving this rank could not be neglected. In West
Bengal ‘contraceptive prevalence in urban areas (76%) is 6
percentage points higher than in rural areas (70%). Muslim women
are less likely to use contraception (61%) than Hindu women (75%).
Although contraceptive use varies little by education, it increases
with wealth from 65 percent among women in the lowest wealth
quintile to 78 percent among women in the highest wealth quintile
(NFHS-3, 2005-06: 7-8). NFHS data proves that education and
wealth are important determinant of frequency of contraceptive use.
While both education and wealth among Muslim women in West
Bengal is low. Instead of these odds Muslims population growth
shows declining trend in the state. In addition to it they are largely
rural community in West Bengal unlike their counterparts in rest of
the country. The above set of factors justifies less use of
contraception among the Muslims.
Distribution of Muslim Population
West Bengal occupies third position among various states and
union territories of the country in terms of percentage of Muslim
population. The largest percentage of Muslim population is found in
Jammu and Kashmir (67%) followed by Assam (30%). However,
Muslims are not evenly distributed in all the districts of the state.
There are ten districts of state in which Muslims have million plus
population. Districts of the state are arranged in descending order in
terms of the percentage of Muslim population. This is presented in
the following table 2.
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Table-2: Districts are arranged in Terms of Descending Order of
Muslim Population
S.No Districts Total Population Muslim Per cent (%)
West Bengal 80176197 2021171 25.23
1 Murshidabad 5866569 3735380 63.67
2 Maldah 3290468 1636171 49.72
3 Uttar Dinajpur 2441794 1156503 47.36
4 Birbhum 3015422 1057861 35.08
5 South 24 parganas 6906689 2295967 33.24
6 Nadia 4604827 1170282 25.41
7 Haora 4273099 1044383 24.44
8 Koch Bihar 2479155 600911 24.23
9 Noth 24 parganas 8934286 2164058 24.22
10 Dakshin Dinajpur 1503178 361047 23.93
11 Kolkata 4572876 926769 20.05
12 Bardhaman 6895514 1364133 19.78
13 Hugli 5041976 763471 15.14
14 Medinipur 9610788 1088618 11.35
15 Jalpaiguri 3401173 369195 10.85
16 Bankura 3192695 239722 7.5
17 Purulia 2536516 180694 7.12
18 Darjeeling 1609172 85378 5.3
Source: Census of India, 2001
Note: Calculated by author
It is evident from the above table that the highest
concentration of Muslim population is found in the district of
Murshidabad and their lowest percentage in the district of Darjeeling.
Out of 18 districts (19
district was created after census of India 2001
i.e., Mednipur was divided into two districts East Mednipur and West
Mednipur) there are six districts in which percentage of Muslim
population is more than the state average (25.24%). These districts
are Murshidabad, Malda, Uttar Dinajpur, Birbhum, South 24
Parganas and Nadia. In rest of the districts where Muslims form 5%
or more but less than the state average are Haora, Kuch Bihar, North
24 Parganas, Dakshin Dinajpur, Kolkata, Bardhaman, Hugli,
Mednipur, Jalpaiguri, Bankura, Purilia and Darjeeling. The table
also indicates that there are three districts namely Murshidabad,
Malda and Uttar Dinajpur may be called ‘Muslim Concentration
District’ as they constitute about half of the Muslim population of the
districts. This data give us the impression that Muslims are unevenly
distributed in various districts of the state.
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Rural-Urban Population
Unlike other parts of the country percentage of Muslim
population in the state is more in villages than towns and cities. Of
the total Muslim population in the state 83.22% are living in villages.
If we compare percentage of rural Muslims with that of Hindus in the
state we find Hindus are more urbanized or less rural than Muslims
because of 67.82% Hindu population of the state are living in rural
Distribution of rural-urban Muslim population in the district
of W.B is presented in the following table 3.
Table-3: District Wise Distribution of Rural/Urban Muslim
population in West Bengal
Rural % Urban % Total
West Bengal 16845034 83.22 3395509 16.78 20240543
1 Darjeeling 59808 70.05 25570 29.95 85378
2 Jalpaiguri 337324 91.37 31871 8.63 369195
3 Koch Bihar 580777 96.65 20134 3.35 600911
Dinajpur 1132025 97.88 24478 2.12 1156503
Dinajpur 359482 99.57 1565 0.43 361047
6 Malda 1609596 98.38 26575 1.62 1636171
7 Murshidabad 3424659 91.68 310721 8.32 3735380
8 Birbhum 1012468 95.71 45393 4.29 1057861
9 Bardhaman 1019138 74.71 344995 25.29 1364133
10 Nadia 1124308 96.07 45974 3.93 1170282
North 24
Parganas 1711861 79.1 452197 20.9 2164058
12 Hugli 582518 76.3 180953 23.7 763471
13 Bankura 228827 95.46 10895 4.54 239722
14 Purulia 154137 85.3 26557 14.7 180694
15 Mednipur 964441 88.59 124177 11.41 1088618
16 Haora 549687 52.63 494696 47.37 1044383
17 kolkata 0 0 926769 100 926769
South 24
Parganas 1993978 86.85 301989 13.15 2295967
Source: Census of India, 2001
Note: Computed by the author
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The above table reveals that there are nine districts where the
highest concentration of rural Muslim is found and its percentage lies
in between 90-100%. These districts are Jalpaiguri, Koch Bihar,
Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Birbhum,
Nadia and Bankura. Out of remaining 9 districts, there are three
districts having rural Muslim population in between 80-90% and
these districts are South 24 Parganas, Mednipur and Purulia. Another
four districts where the rural population constitutes in ranges
between 70-80% and these districts are Darjeeling, Bardhaman,
North 24 Parganas and Hugli. In Haora the percentage of rural
Muslim population is 52% is lowest among all the districts. Whereas
the percentage of rural population in Kolkata is 0% as it is a
metropolitan city of the state.
Of the total Muslim population, 33,95,509 lakh or 16.78%
lives in urban areas. While 18,697,851 lakh or 32.18% Hindus are
living in urban areas. It is also evident from the above table that out
of 18 districts they have not significant urban population in any one
of these districts. In all districts their urban percentage is less than
30%. The highest urban concentration of Muslims is in the district of
Kolkata i.e. 100% and lowest in Dakshin Dinajpur i.e. 0.43%. There
are four districts in which their percentage lies in between 20-30%
and these districts are Darjeeling, Bardhaman, Norh 24 Parganas and
Hugli. In remaining twelve districts their urban population is less
than 20% and these districts are Jalpaiguri, Koch Bihar, Uttar
Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Birbhum, Nadia, Bankura, Purulia,
Mednipur and South 24 Parganas.
Though Muslims constitute 16% population in urban areas of
West Bengal they are largely concentrated in slums areas and
engaged in menial works. In this regard M.K.A. Siddiqui notes that
“a comparatively higher percentage of Muslims in urban areas may
be explained on the basis of their culture allowing mobility and less
inhibited contact as also the ‘push’ factor, but despite the fact that
they constitute the back bone of urban economy, their share in
prosperity remains marginal” (Siddiqui, 1998: 1).
This is not at all a positive indicator for the proper
presentation of rural-urban Muslims in West Bengal. It can be
inferred from the preceding discussion that urbanization rate of
Muslims in West Bengal is very low. This is contrary to the trend
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which is found among Muslims in other parts of the country. Since
the rural areas of West Bengal are not properly developed, socio-
economic condition of Muslims in West Bengal is bound to be poor.
Hence, Muslims in West Bengal are largely engaged in agricultural
activities and they did not found education for their children fruitful
because their poor socio-economic condition.
Educational Status
The educational lag among Indian Muslims is well
documented in various research studies and government reports.
Muslims in India are educationally backward instead of the
provisions to impart education among citizen of India across ethno-
religious lines as enshrined in the land of law. National Human
Development Report 2001 spells out importance of education. It
states that “Education, in the present day context, is perhaps the
single most important means for individuals to improve personal
endowments, build capability levels, overcome constraints and, in the
process, enlarge their available set of opportunities and choices for a
sustained improvement in well-being. It is not only a means to
enhance human capital, productivity and, hence, the compensation to
labour, but it is equally important for enabling the process of
acquisition, assimilation and communication of information and
knowledge, all of which augments a person’s quality of life.
Education is important not merely as means to other ends, but it is an
attribute that is valued in itself, by most individuals. More
importantly, it is a critical invasive instrument for bringing about
social, economic and political inclusion and a durable integration of
people, particularly those ‘excluded’, from the mainstream of any
society” (NHDR 2001: 48).
The educational level among the people of all segments in the
society is not equal. There is a remarkable gap in education among
various groups in Indian society. Muslims of India is most
educationally backward community and it has been analyzed by
various commission formed by the government of India from time to
time. In 1980s a high powered panel headed by Dr. Gopal Singh was
appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India,
reported that two of the religious groups of the country i.e. Muslims
and Neo-Buddhists are found most educationally backward at
national level (GOI, 1983). After 25 years, Muslims are again found
to be the most educationally backward community of the country by
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the Prime Minister’s High Level Committee under the chairmanship
of Justice Rajinder Sachar. Few findings of the Committee are worth
important to be quoted here:
“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.
Such relative deprivation calls for a significant policy shift, in
the recognition of the problem and in devising corrective
measures, as well as in the allocation of resources” (Sachar,
2006: 50-51).
Out of the several indicators used to see the level of
educational development of any area or any group of population, the
literacy rate (the Census measures literacy rates in terms of the
percentage of persons aged 7 years and above, who can read and
write) is the most basic indicator. Since religion wise data on any
other educational indicator are not available, so it is the literacy rate
that has been widely used to see the level of educational level of
Muslims and other religious community in India.
The percentage of literates belonging to all religious
communities is 64.85% as per census 2001 at national level. The
literacy level is higher for males i.e. 75.3% as compare to females i.e.
53.7%. In urban areas also literacy level is higher than rural areas i.e.
79.9% against 58.7%. After more than 60 years of independence of
India still we can’t minimize the gap across gender and rural and
urban areas. These gaps are still constant at national level as well as
in state level. In this regard various hypotheses have been put
forward by various scholars. Zaidi (2007) analyzed literacy figures of
Census 2001 and reached to conclusion that in most of the districts
and states Muslims are educationally most backward. Also it varies
from one state to another and from one district to another with few
exceptions. He found Muslims are educationally most backward in
Haryana, Punjab and Assam. However Muslims’ literacy is a serious
concern in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir and
Bihar. Hussain (2005: 137p) studied Muslims of Kolkata and found
that ‘situation is especially piquant as less than 200 years ago,
Muslims constituted a politically, economically and culturally
dominant section of India’s population. Yet, within the intervening
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period, they have gradually fallen behind the rest of society. A low
level of education is both a cause and a manifestation of this
backwardness, especially among low income Muslims. In such
groups, lack of education and overall socio-economic backwardness
has combined to reduce their capability set; this has resulted in
vulnerability and a tendency towards antisocial and criminal
activities. Hence a study of the low incidence of education amongst
Muslims is important in understanding the reasons for the
backwardness of Muslim society’.
Literacy in West Bengal
Literacy rate in West Bengal is not so bad and it is higher than the
national average. Moreover, according to 2001 census West Bengal
ranked 12
position in literacy rate among various states in India.
The literacy rate in West Bengal is 68.64% against the national
average 64.85%. Male literacy rate is 77.02% against national
average 76% and female literacy rate is 51.61% against national
average 54%. There is also inter-religious inequality in literacy level.
Hence, it would be apt to examine where the different minority group
stand in terms of literacy (Waheed, 2007 & Jawaid, 2007). The
following table 4 presented literacy rate of various religious
communities in West Bengal.
TABLE: 4 Literacy Rate among the various Religious communities in West Bengal
Persons Male Female
All Religions 68.64 77.02 51.61
Hindus 72.44 81.12 63.09
Muslims 57.47 64.61 49.75
Christians 69.72 77.20 62.30
Sikhs 87.19 91.37 81.98
Buddhists 74.73 83.09 66.22
Jains 92.81 96.46 88.87
Others 51.53 68.63 34.24
Religion not stated 63.75 71.52 54.82
Source: Census of India 2001
The data presented in table 4 shows that the literacy rate of
Muslims is the lowest (i.e. 57.47%) among the six religious groups in
West Bengal while that of the Jains the highest i.e. 92.81%. Sikhs
occupy the second position with literacy rate of 87.19% and third
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Asia Pacific Journal of Social Sciences, Vol.II(2), June-Dec 2010, pp.82-104
position by Buddhists with literacy rate of 74.73%. While the
Hindus, the largest religious group occupies fourth position with
72.44% literacy rate. Christians occupy the fifth position with
literacy rate of 69.72%, more than state average. From the above
discussion it is very clear that Muslims are the most educationally
backward community in the state. Another dimension of the literacy
rate of Muslims must be mentioned here. The gap in literacy level
between males and females is lowest among Muslims than among the
Hindus where the gap is sizeable. This very fact denies the common
perception that Muslims women were discouraged for education by
their male counterpart.
Literacy rate among Muslims differs from one district to
another. The following table 5 presented the district wise literacy rate
of Muslims in West Bengal in descending order.
TABLE-5: District Wise Literacy Rate of Muslims in W.B
S.No Districts Literacy Rate (%)
W.B 57.47
1 Hugli 73.50
2 Bardhaman 68.79
3 Kolkata 68.06
4 Haora 67.80
5 Dakshin Dinajpur 67.21
6 Noth 24 parganas 65.05
7 Medinipur 64.97
8 Bankura 59.91
9 Birbhum 59.86
10 South 24 parganas 59.83
11 Koch Bihar 56.07
12 Jalpaiguri 55.34
13 Purulia 53.44
14 Darjeeling 50.38
15 Nadia 49.41
16 Murshidabad 48.63
17 Maldah 45.30
18 Uttar Dinajpur 36.04
Source: Census of India 2001
The above table 5 shows that Muslims have lower literacy
rate than the state average in most of the districts. In Hugli there is
highest level of literacy rate i.e. 73.50% and lowest literacy rate is
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found in the district of Uttar Dinajpur i.e 36.04%. While Bardhaman
occupies the second highest position in terms of literacy rate. In both
the districts Hugli and Bardhaman the Muslims literacy rate is higher
than the state average. In remaining districts the literacy rate of
Muslims is less than the state average 68.64%.
The districts like Kolkata, Haora, Dakshin Dinajpur, North 24
Parganas and Mednipur have literacy rate less than state average but
more than 60%. In above mentioned districts the literacy rate of
Muslims is though more than 60% but the important dimension is
that in Hugli which have the highest literacy rate of Muslims
constitute only 15.08% of Muslim population and Haora with
24.34% of Muslim population show literacy rate little less than state
average. While in rest of the districts the literacy rate is not so good
and these districts are Bankura, Birbhum, South 24 Parganas, Koch
Bihar, Jalpaiguri, Purulia, and Darjeeling, with literacy rate in
between 50-60%. The literacy rate in three districts namely Nadia,
Murshidabad and Malda is low and it lies between 40% to 50%.
While Uttar Dinajpur occupies third position with 47% Muslim
Population in the district, only 36.04% Muslims are literate. Out of
these four districts three districts that is Murshidabad and Malda
constituted more than 50% and Uttar Dinajpur about 50% Muslim
population but lowest literacy rate. It is because of this unique
combination (of high Muslims population and low Muslims literacy
rate), we can conclude that as the concentration of Muslim
population increases in the districts, the literacy rate decreases. This
is one of the negative capabilities for the socio-economic
development of any community as emphasized in Human
Development Report, 2004 (Human Development Report 2004: 127;
Barthwal 2006: 170).
Literacy Rate in SMP Districts
Having examined the 2001 census data on the distribution of
population by religious communities in all the 18 districts of the
state, 5 districts have been sorted out where the Muslim population is
more than 30 per cent of the total district population. These districts
are called as SMP districts to denote ‘Substantial Muslim population’
(Bose, 2005). The table 6 gives the distribution of Muslim population
and literacy rate in SMP districts of the state.
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Table-6: Literacy rate in SMP districts
1 Murshidabad 5866569 3735380 63.67 48.63
2 Maldah 3290468 1636171 49.72 45.3
3 Uttar Dinajpur 2441794 1156503 47.36 36.04
4 Birbhum 3015422 1057861 35.08 59.86
5 South 24 parganas 6906689 2295967 33.24 59.83
Source: Census of India 2001
The data gives us the impression that the districts with more
Muslim population having the low literacy rate and those districts
with lower percentage of Muslim population shows better literacy
rate. In other words, we can say that as we move towards the districts
with higher concentration of Muslim population the literacy
decreases sharply. For example, in Murshidabad Muslims constitute
63.67% of the district population and 48.63% of literacy rate, while
South 24 Parganas constitute 33.24 % of population but 59.83 % of
literacy rate among all 5 SMP districts. As far as Hindus are
concerned their population in the entire district is more than 30%,
and their literacy rate is higher than Muslims in all districts except
Dakshin Dinajpur. The data reveals that as the concentration of
Muslims in the district increases their literacy rate decreases. It can
be inferred from the above fact that the infrastructure of education is
not well established in these Muslims dominated districts and hence
they are alienated from the educational right. This situation needs
more in depth study to come out with rationale of this situation.
Educational Level
Educational level of a society or a community within a
society cannot be judge from its literacy rate, though it is important
indicator for making a distinction between literate and non-literate. A
literate person is not define on the basis of his/her educational
attainment but only on the basis of knowledge of reading or writing
any of the language. Observed Prime Minister High Level
Committee “External evaluations indicate that many so-called
literates did not have the ability to apply their reading and writing
skills to real-life situations, and often a substantial proportion
reverted to illiteracy within 4-5 years after leaving school”. This
aspect is not taken into account by the census definition. In contrast,
the definition of the National Literacy Mission focuses on acquiring
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the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to apply
them to one’s day-to-day life” (Sachar, 2006: 50-51).
Thus, it is important to analyze educational attainment of
population. Educational attainment refers to acquiring education in a
systematic way through formal and informal education. There are
various levels of education like below primary, Primary, Middle,
Matric, Higher secondary, Technical, Non-Technical, Graduate and
Though census of India 2001 for the first time after
Independence provides age wise educational level data of religious
communities, educational level has been analysed in the age group 7
and above. For example, percentage of below primary level
education is computed with total population of the state or a
community. This is presented in the following table 7.
It must be noted here that total population of the state in the
age group of 7 and above is 6,87,61,975. Hindus comprises
5,07,29,812 crore while Muslims constitute 1,64,64,543 crore.
Table-7: Distribution of Literates by Educational Level, Religious
Primary Middle
16347698 11449999 8050643 4859685 2287115 3186374 5196 95799
Hindus 11470789 8719791 6671953 4181271 2048622 2932968 3435 90024
Muslims 4541597 2494842 1198591 570473 192216 195192 1628 4145
Percentage to total population
23.77 16.65 11.71 7.07 3.33 4.63 0.01 0.14
Hindus 22.61 17.19 13.15 8.24 3.53 5.05 0.01 0.18
Muslims 27.58 15.15 7.28 3.46 1.17 1.19 0.01 0.03
Note: *Literate includes unclassified educational levels
**Total (All religious communities) includes 'Religion not stated'.
Source: Census of India, 2001
It is evident from the above table 7 that the average state
percentage of people who have attained below primary level
education is 23.77% and Hindus having 1 percentage points less than
state level. While Muslims show 27.58% share in this category which
is higher than state and Hindus. In below primary school education
Muslims’s share is not higher only in West Bengal. Many studies
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reveal that in this category Madrasa and Maktabs are included and
Muslims are used to prefer to send their children in these institutions.
This does not mean they are not interested to send their children in
modern schools but most of the time due to poverty or unavailability
of schools in the neighbourhood.
At primary level the state average is 16.65% and Hindus
show more proportion than the state level with 17.19% share. While
Muslims (15.15%) are less than Hindus. At middle level, the state
average is 11.71% and Hindus having 13.15% which is more than
state level. Muslims share in middle level education is 7.28% which
is just half of Hindus.
At matric level, state average is 7.07%. Comparing to state
level Hindus having higher percentage i.e.8.24%. Muslims show
much lower percentage with only 3.46% in this category.
At higher secondary level the state average is 3.33%. Here
also Hindus share is 3.53% which is higher than state average. While
Muslims show poor share with only 1.17%.
In graduate level, the state average is 4.63 per cent. Hindus
having 5.05% which is more than state level and also 4 percentage
points higher than Muslims (1.19%).
The proportion of non- technical graduates is insignificant in
the state. While technical graduates is important as it indicates the
stock of technical skills available in the community or in any nation.
While the pool of technical graduates is even lower with only about
0.14%, the performance of Muslims (0.03%) is worse than Hindus
(0.18%), with a sharp differential existing between them. From the
above discussion it is clear that as the education level increases the
educational attainment of Muslims decreases. While Hindus have
higher educational achievement as compare to state as well as
Muslims in all educational level except below primary level. The
above data do point out the disparate level in educational
attainment of Muslims as compare to other groups. Differences
in educational attainment across various sections of society is
because of their differing level of socio-economic status, which
in turn impacts the (social) demand for education across social
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classes (Alam & Raju, 2007). This lead to conclude that it is
evident that Muslims of West Bengal are socio-economically
marginalized hence the demand of education among them is
It is pertinent to note here that Muslims are educationally
most excluded community in West Bengal and far behind the other
religious group. This empirical finding of Muslims educational
alienation was supported in pre-independent India (1857-1947) by
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and other protagonists found that
educationally Muslims sharply lag behind the other community.
Later on, “Revisionist scholarship on education in colonial India has
demonstrated that Muslims did not lag behind other communities as
sharply as was maintained by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and other
protagonists of Aligarh movement. In the light of quantitative and
qualitative data gathered by scholars like Anil Seal, Aparna Basu,
Paul Brass, David Lelyved, and Hafiz Malik it can be generalized
that the Muslim student population in modern high school was
generally proportionate to the Muslim numerical strength in the
provinces of India, except Bengal”. This means that in pre-
independence period, Muslims were educationally backward in
Bengal. This was also supported by an important work about
Muslims by William Wilson Hunter’s famous work, The Indian
Musalmans, published in 1871 whose findings about Muslims
educational lag was true only for Bengal (Khalidi, 1995).
After 62 years of independence by the various research
studies and government reports from time to time reported their
educational backwardness. For example, the notably feature of the
Bengal Muslim educational problem is their abnormally low share at
higher levels of education. The higher the education the rare is the
share of Muslims (Mondal, 1994). There are various factors those are
responsible for Muslims educational backwardness in West Bengal.
Generally, Very high rural poverty and high concentration of
Muslims in rural areas is an important factor in the low educational
status of Muslims. The situation has been exacerbated with the
steady decline of industry in West Bengal, but continued migration
into it from east UP and Bihar. Thus, Muslims are almost totally
dependent on the state for education, and this has made for some
unexpected and poignant outcomes (Hasan & Menon, 2005).
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Muslims are most educationally backward community as
compare to other religious communities in the state as well as in
India. Though they constitute more than 25% of state population
their literacy rate are 57% which is 11 percentage points less than
state average (68.64%). Though, population growth rate is relatively
high but not highest across all the religious communities. It is a myth
that Muslims population growth rate is highest and increasing as a
whole. Rather the above discussion shows that in some states
including West Bengal the population growth is declining and at
national level it is also follows the downward graph. Prevalence of
low education level and wealth among Muslim women is largely
responsible for the high fertility rate and ultimately leads to high
population growth. Here, is the need of the policies to educate the
community as a whole and minimize the influence of those factors
responsible for high growth rate. Moreover, the Muslims are not
uniformly distributed in all the districts in the state. In some districts
their population size is small. Unequal distribution of Muslim
population encourages discrimination in implementing various
governmental plans and programmes. But the major concern is that
these districts are economically under developed. The analysed data
reveals that Muslims are largely rural community as 83% Muslims
live in the country and don’t have access to education and other basic
amenities. The data also shows that literacy rate of Muslims are
decreasing as concentration of Muslims increase in the districts. The
data also reveals that in SMP districts Muslims literacy is very low.
As the population concentration is increases in the district the
Muslim literacy rate is decreases. It needs further empirical research
to find out such type of anomaly. With regard to educational
achievement, the condition of Muslims is one of grave concern. The
data clearly indicates that while the overall levels of education in
West Bengal measured through various indicators, is still below
universally acceptable standards, the educational status of the
Muslim community in particular is a matter of great concern.
Furthermore we can say that as the level of education increases the
rate of participation of Muslims in education decreases sharply.
Educational condition of Muslims has not improved in comparison to
other minority groups.
The study finds that Muslims are educationally alienated even
in those districts where their concentration is more than the majority
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community (Hindus). This needs to further elaborate study to find
out why there is an anomaly exists in the state as well as in the
The broad conclusions have important policy implications for
effectively managing issues arising out of religious diversity in the
country. It is hoped that the findings related to Muslims population
growth, population distribution and educational status in this paper
will contribute debates in this regard objectively. I also hoped that
this paper will stimulate research towards states specific studies
seeking to explain reasons underlying declining trend of fertility
growth, unequal distribution of Muslim population and low
educational status in Muslim concentrated areas.
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