Launch of Maulana Azad Taleem-e-Balighan

Ministry of HRD

Remarks by Dr. Shashi Tharoor

Hon’ble Minister of State for HRD

New Delhi, 18th February, 2014


Shri R. Bhattacharya, Secretary (SE & L), Shri Jagmohan Singh Raju, JS (AE)& DG (NLMA) who works with such dedication for adult literacy, Dr. Mohinder Singh, Member, National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, Maulana Fazlur Rehim Mujaddidi, Fr. Dominic Emmanual, Ms. Sanjukta Mudgal, and the eminent educationists and social activists present, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great privilege for me to be with you all at the launch of the Maulana Azad Taleem-e-Balighan programme under the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA). I take this opportunity to congratulate all our colleagues behind this innovative and exciting effort. This initiative reiterates our continuous striving to enhance adult education in our country with a special focus on groups that have been untouched by the enabling promise of education.  

The Taleem-e-Balighan initiative is aptly named after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a stalwart of the freedom struggle and the first Education Minister of Independent India. His contribution as a thinker about education with a universal vision and a secular humanist outlook, and the role he played in setting up the national education system, are amongst his most enduring legacies.

Literacy, as a human right, a development indicator, and a catalyst of equality, is at the forefront of national and international social policy today. It is important to recognise that literacy is not only the ability to read and write, but also the exposure to learning of a high quality, and the enabling of capacity so that it becomes a way towards equal opportunity, empowerment, and improved livelihoods.

I feel privileged to have been the Minister responsible for the Saakshar Bharat Programme which is making rigorous efforts for the eradication of illiteracy from the country, especially the deprived and disadvantaged sections of our society. Among my most interesting experiences were my visits to be few Adult Education Centres in rural areas, where I interacted with the women beneficiaries and was impressed by their activities and motivation levels. I met a lady Chitra Mani on one of these visits and I asked her how she felt after acquiring literacy. She told me she felt ‘independent’ and ‘empowered’. She no longer needed to ask strangers where the bus was headed to, because she could read the destination board by herself. She was no longer afraid to travel to the big town—in this case Kanchipuram—because she could now read where she was. Literacy is equal to empowerment.

In any society that seeks progress, equality in educational opportunities among its citizens plays and will continue to play a crucial role. Among our Muslim citizens, on account of a comparatively lower literacy rate of 59.1 per cent, against a 64.83 per cent national average as per the 2001 census, this literacy gap is a significant factor in the low social-economic indicators that afflict this large and vital segment of our population. This initiative being launched today, recognises the concerns on education mentioned in the recommendations of the Sachar Committee and in pursuance of the Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme for the welfare of minorities. It will help enhance literacy among Muslim adults. Being a target focused approach to impart functional literacy, HUNAR (comprising of up-scaling basic education and vocational skill training), this programme also draws attention towards the formal skill development of the uneducated adults among the Muslim community, especially women.

Given the levels of illiteracy among the Muslim community, the Saakshar Bharat Programme has targeted the imparting of functional literacy to 10 million Muslim adults in the age group of 15 years and beyond. Under this programme, 2.5 lakh adults will also be covered under the Basic Education Programme and 3 lakh adults in skill development. The programme will be implements through State Literacy Mission Authorities and the services o fthe State Resource Centres, Jan Shikshan Sansthans, NGOs, Madrasas, monasteries, etc. Of course, social groups and any other institutions willing to work voluntarily in this field will be welcome to join this effort.

The low literacy rates among Muslim women in the age group of 15 and above are also an extremely alarming sign for the need to empower them, with all manner of socio-economic opportunities and especially with education. We all know that if you educate a boy, you educate an individual but if you educate a girl, you educate a family, transform a community and change the society. Gender equality in education is not merely a practical necessity or a vital precondition for prosperity. It is all that and much more. It is a fulfilment of our moral and constitutional obligation to treat our citizens equally. All our claims to be the world’s largest democracy will ring hollow in the face of persistent gender discrimination with regard to access to education and in particular to top quality education.

We in India today, stand at the cusp of an unprecedented opportunity. On the one hand we are about to reap the biggest demographic dividend in world history of a young, working age population at a time when all the other economies of the world will be aging. And yet, on the other hand, we are yet to realise that this dividend would be another wasted opportunity unless it is harnessed to the energy and ability that only a well integrated system of education, based on the principles of quality and equality of access to all citizens, can provide. For its part the Government of India is committed to doing its utmost to provide the necessary resources, and the legal and administrative framework, to facilitate the spread of education and the harnessing of this demographic dividend.

The Sakshar Bharat Mission is a tremendous initiative, oriented not only towards a general goal of literate India, but specific and targeted initiatives aimed towards helping marginalised groups, adults, the youth, out-of-school children, and women particularly in rural areas. It is a gender-conscious effort which has contributed to the rise in the literacy rate. Challenges still remain, and we look forward to continued and enhanced effort in this direction.

I am confident that the outcome of this initiative will be a positive next step in the acceleration of our efforts to reduce illiteracy, and will provide all of us with new and innovative ways of engaging our challenges, so that we are one step closer to the vision of a world free of both inequity, and illiteracy. I urge the community leaders present here to support this programme whole-heartedly, ensure community participation and so make it the success we all need it to be.

Thank you, and Jai Hind!