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February 23, 1998


Just how literate is the Indian electorate?

Ninety per cent of the women voters in 26 of India's 543 Lok Sabha constituencies are illiterate -- and two-thirds of its male electorate unlettered in 48 constituencies!

All this, of course, in the world's largest democracy!

This unsavoury phenomenon is further worsened by the fact that in a mere 20 constituencies, two-thirds of female voters are literate while there are just 49 constituencies with high male literacy.

The only silver lining is that there are also 99 constituencies spread across the country where two-thirds of voters, both males and females, are literate. Kerala accounts for the highest number: 20. Of the top 20 seats with high female literacy, the state accounts for 18 while Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have one each.

In Kerala, the constituencies of Alleppey, Mavelikara, Kottayam and Trichur have a female literacy rate of more than 80 per cent. Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu and Udupi in Karnataka are the other two constituencies which fall in the category.

An interesting factor in all the constituencies with high female literacy is that Christians form a major chunk of the electorate.

Of the 26 seats where female voters are mostly illiterate, 12 are in Rajasthan, five in Madhya Pradesh, four each in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and one in Orissa. Jodhpur, Barmer, Churu and Nagaur are among the 'top' Rajasthan constituencies in this category.

The Jhabua constituency in Madhya Pradesh has the highest female illiteracy -- 95 per cent. The other four constituencies in the state are Guna (93 per cent), Rajgarh (92), Sidhi (91) and Bastar (91).

In Bihar, the female illiteracy is more than 90 per cent in Bettiah, Motihari, Araria and Giridih; in Uttar Pradesh, Badaun and Bahraich have the dubious distinction of having the highest female illiteracy with 94 per cent each, followed by Balrampur (92) and Pilibhit (91).

Of the 49 seats where more than two-thirds of male voters are literate, 20 are in Kerala while Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra account for eight each, West Bengal three, Karnataka and Gujarat two each, and Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Chandigarh one each.

The high male literacy constituencies in Kerala include Kasargod (78 per cent), Mavelikara (84), Alleppey (83), Trichur (82), Ernakulam (83), Kottayam (85), Thiruvananthapuram (80), Kollam (79) and Kozhikode (80).

The other constituencies in this category are Shimla (75 per cent) in Himachal Pradesh, Udupi (74) and Bangalore north (68) in Karnataka; Nagercoil (71), Madras north (71), Madras central (71), Madras south (71, Tiruchirapalli (71) and Cuddalore (77) in Tamil Nadu: Almora (71) in Uttar Pradesh, Calcutta north-west (70), Calcutta north-east (70) and Calcutta south (70) in West Bengal; Bhubaneswar (70) in Orissa and Chandigarh (68).

An interesting feature of the high literacy areas in Kerala like Trichur, Idukki and Alleppey is that Christians form a major chunk of the electorate. This is also true in constituencies like Udupi, Panaji and Nagercoil.

Of the 48 seats which has high male illiteracy, Bihar accounts for 14, followed by 11 in Uttar Pradesh, nine in Madhya Pradesh, six in Andhra Pradesh, five in Rajasthan, two in Orissa and one in Arunachal Pradesh.

In Bihar, Araraia and Rajmahal top the list of male illiteracy with 73 per cent, followed by Kishanganj (72), Bettiah (71), Motihari (70) and Madhepura (70).

In Uttar Pradesh, Sambhal, Badayun, Aonla, Bahraich and Balrampur are the constituencies where the percentage is 70 or more.

Among the other high male illiteracy constituencies are Koraput and Nowrangpur in Orissa, Banswara, Jalore, Barmer and Chittorgarh in Rajasthan and Nagarkurnool, Mehboobnagar, Medak and Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh.

In Madhya Pradesh, Jhabua tops the list with 84 per cent while Sarguja has a male illiteracy rate of 71, Bastar 76 and Sidhi 69. Arunachal west in Arunachal Pradesh has 67 per cent of its male voters as illiterate.

In quite a few constituencies of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where male illiteracy is rampant, Muslims account for a sizeable portion. Thus, the constituencies like Bagha, Bettiah, Kishanganj, Purnea and Katihar in Bihar, and Bahraich and Badaun in Uttar Pradesh have a high Muslim presence.

Similarly, in Madhya Pradesh, some of these constituencies are those where scheduled tribes and scheduled castes are in a majority. One instance is the tribal-dominated Bastar constituency, where 76 per cent of voters are illiterate.

Of the 99 seats where more than two-thirds of voters are literate, 20 are in Kerala, followed by Tamil Nadu with 15, Maharashtra 11, West Bengal 10, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat and Bihar five each, and Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh with four.


Elections '98

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