The literacy rate among Dalit women has increased by 14.6 percentage points--which is more than the increase for women in the general population (10 percentage points)--from 2001 to 2011, according to recently released data.

That’s the positive news as India celebrates the 125th birth anniversary of India’s first lawmaker, B R Ambedkar, inspiration for, among others, Dalits, lowest of Hindu castes.

The negative news is that the child sex ratio among Dalits declined from 938 girls per 1,000 boys in 2001 to 933 in 2011, meaning more Dalit girls are either being aborted or are dying through negligence. However, it is still better than the overall national average of 919 girls per 1,000 boys.

Higher literacy among female Dalits is narrowing the gender gap, an IndiaSpend analysis of census data shows.

Almost 66% of the scheduled caste (SC) population is literate, against the national literacy rate of 73%. As many as 66.4 million SC men (75.1%) and 47.2 million women (56.4%) are literate--defined as having the ability to read and write--according to the 2011 census.

While 15.6% of scheduled castes have a primary education, only 2.7% are graduates.

The gender gap in literacy--or the difference between male and female literacy rates--of 18.7 percentage points for SCs is above the national average of 16.2 percentage points.

The gender gap in 2001 for SCs was 24.7 percentage points and the national average was 21.7 percentage points.

While more Dalit boys are being born than girls, the overall sex ratio for both SCs and STs is better than the national average of 943. For SCs, it is 945 women per 1,000 men. Among SCs, there was an increase from 923 in 2001 to 946 in 2011 in urban areas and an increase from 939 to 945 in rural areas.

(Salve is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)

Correction: Literacy rates were erroneously calculated on total population, and have now been updated as a percentage of the population above seven years of age.

We welcome feedback. Please write to We reserve the right to edit responses for language and grammar.


Liked this story? is a non-profit, and we depend on readers like you to drive our public-interest journalism efforts. Donate Rs 500; Rs 1,000, Rs 2,000.