Literacy Under Indian Democracy
25 May, 2005
By A. J. Malik
India is often called "the world largest democracy" by the West. Western notion of democracy (Westminster model) is that it is government of the people (masses, not classes), for the people and by the people. Is the Indian democracy in name only or in substance also?
Universal literacy is an indispensable sine qua non of democracy. It is axiomatic that a literate population will elect values-driven leaders who will make socio-economic policies in the national interest, not their own puerile interest. Failure to universalise literacy in India has created a vicious circle of myopic Lilliputian leaders with no vision to carve out policies and pass laws in long-term national interest.
India's literacy rate of 65% remains considerably below the literacy rates of other Asian countries that were under colonial rule. India's most literate state of Kerala just about equals Vietnam's 1999 census figure. Literacy rates of some Asian countries are: Vietnam 92% Sri Lanka 90%, Malaysia 84%, Indonesia 84%, Myanmar 74%, and Brazil 82. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has projected that Bangladesh's literacy ratio of 39 per cent will soon rise to 65%. Government spending on education (as a percentage of public expenditure) in Malaysia is at 15.4 per cent, Indonesia 9 per cent and Philippines 15.7 per cent - all significantly higher than education spending in India.
It is important to note that Government spending on education (as a percentage of public expenditure) in Malaysia is at 15.4 per cent, Indonesia 9 per cent and Philippines 15.7 per cent - all significantly higher than education spending in India (Financial Express, February 22, 2001).Gender inequity continues to remain a serious problem in India. Female literacy, 54% in India, trails male literacy in India (76%) by over 20 per cent.
India's defence budget for the year 2004-05 provides outlay of $16.79 billion as against $14.15 billion in the previous year. The outlay consumes constitutes 16.1% year's total budget of $103.87 billion. The defence budget provides $7.27 for the acquisition of weapons and equipment in the current project which is nearly 60% increase from the previous year's procurement budget of $4.5 billion.
Little money is left to raise literacy level and for other social-services project. The defence budget is heavily oriented to defence purchases.
Procurement outlay of $7.2 billion in India's current defence budget includes $5.6 billion for the past defence contracts signed by the previous national democratic alliance government. These contracts include: $1.6 billion for Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and 16 MiG-29 K naval attack aircraft, $1.1 billion for purchase of Phalcon radar from Israel for three AWACS aircraft, $1.7 billion for purchase of 66 Hawk-100 Y Advanced Jet Trainers from British Aerospace, $600 million for purchase of five Legacy executive jets from Embrer of Brazil for Indian Air Force VIP Squadron.
Besides, the past contracts, fresh defence contracts worth around $4 billion are likely to be finalised this year. The envisaged procurement includes: purchase of 280 Self propelled howitzer guns, purchase of 36 Smerch multi barrel rocket launcher systems from Russia, purchase of 34 Searcher-II and Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles from Israel, purchase of six Scorpene Submarines from France, 200 Barak Missiles form Israel, 100 Beyond Visual range air-to-air missiles from France and Israel.
In view of the ambitious purchases programme, most of the procurement budget is likely to be spent by October this year and the defence ministry will approach the finance ministry for additional funds to finalise fresh defence contracts.
Let us have a glimpse of ambitious procurement outlays of the three services. The Indian Air Force has been given $2.8 billion for the expansion of its combat Aircraft fleet and Aero engines which is almost twice the previous year's allocation of $1.24 billion. This budget allocation is exclusively meant for making part payment for the purchase of 66 Hawk trainers from British Aerospace, U.K; Phalcon deal with Israel, payments towards purchase of Sukhoi aircraft from Russia in 1996, payment towards last instalments of 10 Mirage 2000-H ordered in 2001, six IL 78 mid air refuelers from Uzbekistan ordered in 2003, and upgradation of the ongoing MiG21 - bis, MiG 27, and Jaguars in India.
Indian navy's budget for new acquisition stands at $1.6 billion The navy's budget is meant for modernisation of ship repair facilities at naval dockyards, building of stealth frigates & Air Defence ship, payment towards purchase of Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier & MiG 29 K aircraft from Russia, purchase of Bharat missiles, purchase of Advanced Light Helicopters and mid life update of Sea Harrier aircraft and Sea King ASW helicopters.
The procurement budget for the Army has been nearly doubled at $1.6 billion this year compare to $960 billion in the previous year. The Army intends to purchase Agni1 missiles from Defence Research and Development Organization, Eaves from Israel, Smerch Multibarrel Rocket Launchers from Russia, Infantry Systems from Israel, South Africa and France, purchase of 155mm towed self propelled guns, modernization of T- 72 tanks and BMP-2 vehicles, purchase of multi utility helicopters and the new generation ammunition for the Infantry system.
Muslims are economically and educationally the most backward community in India. India's central budget includes no special funds to raise Muslims' literacy ratio. Most of the Muslims cannot afford to send their children to private schools. They are content to send their children to Quranic or religious seminaries.
Unless India allocates funds to raise literacy ratio of the minorities, Indian democracy will remain a democracy in name.