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  • Writer's pictureThe JSBF Report

The Spectrum of Diversity in Progress and Equality in India

By Aalhya Sabharwal


As students, one of the earliest lessons about India was spoken through the tales of its diversity. Our fingers padded across the glossy pages of our textbooks, adorned with images of people coming together to celebrate festivals of all religions, of women choosing different drapes in accordance with their cultures, of the assortment of staple food people ate across the country, to name a few. Yet underlying this beautiful amalgamation of cultures, traditions, and coexistence of individuals with different identities in our secular nation is the enormous disparity in economic, health and education outcomes.

Through this article, we attempt to document the evolution of some these economic, health and education outcomes for different groups of people over a span of more than a decade. Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze’s classic text ‘The Uncertain Glory’, discusses this very progress made by Indian States on selected health, education and poverty based social indicators. The numbers are primarily based on the National Family Health Survey 3 and the Tendulkar Committee Report of 2006 giving us statistics till 2005. Maintaining consistency of the sources, we extend this analysis for approximately the next 15 years till 2021, analyzing why some states are faring relatively better than the others.

Education Related Indicators

India has been victim to the historical stigma surrounding female education which drove the disparity between the literacy of females and males. To counter it, government schemes, policies and institutions have served as catalysts. Female literacy rate continues to be an important indicator of the progress of a state on the education front.

Although, all have seen an increase in the percentage of female literacy over the decade after 2005, the growth at which they have increased varies. Most states which have started with a relatively lower base have seen higher growth rates due to the ‘low base effect’. Jharkhand out of all the states had the biggest jump in increasing literacy from 2005 to 2015, even though it started with grim figures, one of the reasons could be attributed to the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya set up in 2005 aimed to bridge the gap between educational learnings of boys and girls. Similarly, Rajasthan began with the lowest literacy rate but improved by a significant margin. It still has a long way to go with its literacy rate at 64% today. The ‘Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School’, recently, has gained acclamation primarily for its sustainable architecture, this school will serve as a center for holistic education for females below the poverty line, in a few years its expansion could improve the female literacy rate of Rajasthan. Shifting towards the states which are overachieving, Kerala today has almost a 100% female literacy rate beyond what a lot of developed nations have been able to achieve.

This table displays, that the three states with the lowest base have remained in similar positions even after significant improvements. The states performing the best have also maintained their order. Therefore, the order has approximately remained the same even if the growth rates had major disparities. Some states like Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat have had relatively bigger changes in their order- Haryana having moved up the order in 2019-21 and Gujarat and Punjab having moved down.

With respect to this indicator, most of the states since the beginning have had their proportion of children attending school above 50% since 2005. The states who have had the lowest proportions have made significant improvements in increasing their attendance percentages today. Most of the states today have reached over 90% attendance rates. However, the fact remains that although attendance might be the first step to achieving literacy, it solely cannot lead to a productive human resource. It is important to take into account the quality of education inculcated into the students, therefore, ASER conducts reading tests to reflect on the quality of education in each state.

When newspapers highlighted stories of the pandemic in 2020-21, embedded amidst them were voices of children especially in rural areas who were forced to drop out on account of several reasons ranging from an abrupt discontinuation of regular income due to unemployment or a void in education created by the absence of digital facilities to access remote learning. These could be the reasons behind the attendance rates dropping for various states in the 2019-21 data.

For the order of states in this category, while the best performing states have maintained their order, states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have significantly improved their rank within this list from 2005-06 to 2019-21. Whereas, Haryana, Gujrat and Madhya Pradesh have had the opposite effect by moving down in order.

Health Related Indicators

This indicator primarily sheds light on the health status of mothers and children, their nutrition and how well the state handles maternal and infant care. Most of the states started off with extremely high mortality rates. Uttar Pradesh in 2005 had the highest mortality rate with about 10% of children below the age of 5 not surviving. What is interesting is how over the years they have dropped this number by almost by 40% but still have a significantly higher number than Kerela, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, and Uttarakhand did in 2005.

Kerala since 2005 has maintained its order has the state performing the best in under 5 mortality rate indicators. Although for the most part the order has remained the same, some states such as West Bengal have improved their position among the others, whereas states like Uttarakhand have had a setback in their position.

For this indicator some states such as Rajasthan have over 120% improvement in numbers (primarily due to the ‘low base effect’) and although most states today have been able to achieve over 70% full immunization of children, Odisha has achieved 90% full immunization.

Rajasthan is one state which started off with the lowest proportion of young children immunized and has significantly increased the percentage improving its position among other states as well. Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have dropped in the order by a huge amount as well and Odisha has improved to be the state with the highest immunization percentage.

Most states have had dramatic drops in reducing their population of women with low BMI between 2005 and 2015. Bihar started off with the highest percentage which although has dropped by almost 43% still has a higher number of women with a low BMI than Kerala and Punjab did in 2005. Similarly, a lot of the on the list have not been able to achieve Kerala’s percentage from 2005 even today.

For most of the states in this indicator, the positions have remained the same besides West Bengal and Assam who have improved their position by a significant margin. While Maharashtra has dropped below its initial position from 2005-06.

Poverty related indicators

Poverty indicators in India serve as benchmarks, not only shedding light on the economic well-being of the nation but also the policies and strategies aimed at narrowing the socio-economic divide between the underprivileged and the affluent.

The Tendulkar Committee Reports for the proportion of population below the poverty line have a comparison between 2004-05 and 2011-12, wherein some states have been able to drastically impact their poverty levels, while some have struggled with it. Kerala has the least number of people living below the poverty line in 2005 and has managed to reduce that by 60% in the last 6 years’ time. Assam has had very little improvement whereas Andhra Pradesh has had the biggest drop. States have adopted different policy strategies to grapple with the issue of poverty. Some have pursued a more holistic approach, seeking to enhance the overall Human Development Index (HDI), while others have concentrated on specific measures like land reforms. These diverse policy choices may be the reason behind the variations in poverty statistics

Order of States (lowest to highest)

Within the position of states as compared to each other, Rajasthan has improved its position by a significant margin as opposed to Assam which has gone down in its position. Besides that most of the states have maintained their position.

While the poverty line measures the concentration of income of individuals, the wealth index covers the broader asset ownership of the population.

The graph addresses a very important question and depicts the diversity in its biggest essence. Not just the statistics of the states in isolation but their trajectory over the 3 reports as well. States like Kerala, Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh have very few people living in the lowest wealth quintile. What is interesting is how some states like Andhra Pradesh have managed to drop these numbers by 50% in 2015, while states like Bihar have had an 80% increase. Due to the diversity of these numbers, India’s proportion with this indicator has remained at a constant 20% over the years despite the drastic improvements made by several states.

Order of States (lowest to highest)

In the states' positioning for this indicator, Gujarat, Assam, and Bihar have dropped in their position from 2005-06 to 2019-21 relative to other states whereas Chhattisgarh has improved.

Over the span of these 15 years, there have been significant improvements in female literacy rates with most of the states having above 70% female literacy rates. Under 5 mortality rates have improved by a huge margin as well, the immunization rates for children have improved a lot for few states, while some have struggled with improving their percentages. Certain states like Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Tamil Nadu are seen to be performing the best for all indicators whereas states like Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh are seen to be performing the worst.

Visualizing this data over the years, helps us understand the extent to which these state specific statistics impact the overall country’s social indicators. A single approach to tackling these issues would overlook the inherent diversity of the states whereas a state-based approach causes them to vary greatly which can be seen through the statistics today.

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