If we go by the recent findings of the Mumbai-based International Institute for Population Studies that illiterate females tend to have lower fertility rate; we will certainly wonder at how an ancient prophetic metaphor that was so cryptically depicted in a Greek myth came true.
Hades, the god of the dead, falls in love with Persephone, the goddess of fertility, when he sees her picking flowers in a Sicilian meadow. Hades abducts her and carries her with him in his chariot to the underworld. As long as she spends time with the lord of darkness in the netherworld, the whole of Sicily gets plunged into a barren, infertile island and only when she returns to the earth where there is sunlight, Sicilian crops and vegetation bloom with fertility.
Dark represents ignorance, which symbolises death whereas light denotes knowledge, which is life. Swami Vivekananda’s oft-quoted dictum, “Ignorance is death, knowledge life” also serendipitously corroborates the newly-discovered literal truth. Here again, ignorance is connoted by illiteracy, signifying death and knowledge is light indicating life. And this whole scenario has got an inconvenient relevance in the Indian context in view of the latest statistics, which reveal that the average Indian fertility rate is falling below the replacement rate.
This means that the number of new children being born is lower than the number of people who are dying. Therefore, it is inferred that the population of India, unlike the popular perception, will soon start to fall. This trend shows a direct correlation with the analysis of the Education Commission, a global education-promoting organisation in New York, which alerted India to its alarming female illiteracy.
Given the situation that the number of illiterate Indian females is much less than that of neighbouring Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh; there’s a serious concern growing not only in respect of female reproductive health but also with regard to the overall productive health of the Indian economy as illiteracy itself is the stumbling block to acquisition of modern skills.
According to a report of Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE), Bihar and Telangana figure at the lowest positions in the list of literacy rates among the 37 States and Union Territories of India. If at all there is anything that stands out as the prime cause for the perpetuation of social inequality in India that always defied the serious efforts of the reformers to remove the same, it is the indifference on the part of the state towards eradicating illiteracy. Recent statistics places literacy rate of India at around 75% implying that about 33 crore of the population are illiterate.
As the downtrodden masses have since ages been deprived of land and capital due to the unfortunate historical antecedents of India, their sole means of production for survival remains to be their physical labour alone. With the advent of modern technology and automation, manual labour is also gradually ceasing to be the existential potential.
Had the illiterate masses been educated in the past, they would have already moulded themselves at least into technologically productive human resources by now, if not creative inventors or technocrats. But in due course of time, the illiteracy-driven ignorance further drove them to be superstitious without the capacity for logical and rational thinking.
Western countries, on the other hand, took up constructive steps to promote literacy. While recounting the nature of natural law, Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman, said in the 17th century that those who toil more with labour and sweat should enjoy more. But what has happened over a long period was that those who hereditarily owned land and businesses doing no labour enjoyed all the comforts, which is against the natural law.
That’s where Karl Marx wanted that all natural resources should belong to everyone and everyone must enjoy the fruits of nature as per one’s need. But the capitalists in the western countries who succeeded through various means to own private property, resorted to the system of social security measures in order to survive the threat of communism.
Holland was one of the pioneers, which did immense research before embarking on minimum well-being to its citizens. The Dutch found that the dispensation of ample universal basic income to their jobless citizens brought more good to their economy than not dispensing the same. Because of this thoughtful decision and action, yet another striking benefit, which resulted was that the downtrodden masses were able to achieve literacy and knowledge to the extent of being socioeconomically and culturally productive to the nation.
Conversely, illiteracy wrecks people not only socially and economically but also politically. Honest politics empowers every citizen but people as such don’t decide issues directly in a democracy like India. People decide their representatives through vote in elections and these political masters decide the course of people’s lives.
And people don’t know whether these political leaders whom they have elected are good or bad. Only good leaders can bring good to the people. Then, the most enigmatic question is whether it is possible to find out who the good leaders are?
A study led by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of New York University hinted that it is possible only when the people become knowledgeable about fundamentals like what is good, what is bad, why it should be or should not be etc, and get wise enough to differentiate between the characters of leaders.
To make the people, who form the electorate, aware of such decisive elements, Dr Ambedkar had already shown the way to firstly educate the illiterate masses. Hence, there is an emphatic need that the public money be expended liberally on the eradication of illiteracy and ignorance.
Otherwise, the illiterates are left behind to fend for themselves so as to lead the same cursed life which they have been struggling with for millennia. And with the new research in place as an inopportune corollary; the illiteracy-induced genetic cataclysm hideously portends human extinction. Isn’t it?
(The author is former DG Cyber Crimes, Bhopal)