This chapter describes and analyses differences in primary educational enrolment by gender for 6-14 year old Indian children across three social groups, namely, upper and lower caste Hindus, and Muslims. It also studies the evolution of community and gender differences across the 1990s. This was a decade of unprecedented economic growth in India and overall enrolment rates rose rapidly but there is as yet limited evidence of how social inequalities evolved. We find initial community enrolment gaps of the order of 15-20 percentage points and within-community gender gaps of a similar magnitude. Every group progresses during the period considered and the initially disadvantaged groups progress a bit faster, with girls from low caste and Muslim households exhibiting the greatest progress. Nevertheless community and gender gaps of the order of 10 percentage points remain at the end of the decade. We decompose enrolment differences between communities in each year so as to gain an estimate of the contribution of observed characteristics. The striking result is that, while 70-80% of the enrolment gap between high and low caste Hindus is explained by the weaker socio-economic characteristics of the low caste group, characteristics can explain only about 35% of the enrolment differential between high caste Hindus and Muslims. This suggests that Muslims either have a lower “taste” for education or have been “discriminated” against in this sphere. We draw upon our research on health differentials between communities to argue that the evidence points more towards tastes, while recognising that tastes may evolve in response to institutions and past outcomes so that a role for discrimination cannot be ruled out. We observe that the contribution of observed characteristics to enrolment differentials has declined over time in both comparisons.
Chapter 7 in "Handbook of Muslims in India", Eds Rakesh Basant and Abusaleh Shariff, ISBN13: 9780198062059, Oxford University Press