Commentaries on Mizoram

From India Today, July 5,1999


Story of Plenty

Though Mizoram produces the largest number of literates in the country most of them suffer for want of jobs.

Avirook Sen

The letters come out haltingly: L-a-l-b-i-a-k-z-u-a-l-a. "There, that's my name," says Lalbiakzuala, looking with satisfaction at the paper on which he has written his name. He's a 19-year-old inmate at the Aizawl Central Jail. Here the admission records don't have a single thumb impression. Everybody reads and writes. Surprised? Don't be, this is Mizoram, India's most literate state.

The recently released National Sample Survey (NSS) figures say Mizoram has overtaken Kerala in India's literacy ratings -- 95 per cent of all Mizos qualify as "literate" according to the parameters laid down by the National Literacy Mission. For a remote, forgotten state, this is no mean achievement. They are the result of an emphasis on education over the last decade that few other states can boast of:

  • Mizoram spends a good Rs 130 crore of its annual Rs 800-crore budget on education.
  • There are about 2,000 schools in the state, a school to every 100 Mizo children.
  • There's a village education committee in every village.
  • Under the state's "each one teach one scheme", there's a reward of Rs 100 to anyone who is successful in teaching an illiterate person to read and write.

It isn't surprising, therefore, that when the Planning Commission's education division calculated Mizoram's Educational Development Index (EDI), it came out No. 1 again. The EDI parameters include investment on education, the availability of schools in remote areas and literacy achievement. Mizoram's EDI now stands at 1.628, the highest in the country followed by Goa and Kerala.

But lack of employment opportunities is a major handicap. The state government, the primary employer, has more than 45,000 people on the rolls and is bursting at the seams. There is an equal number of educated unemployed. But with no large industries and just about 3,000 small scale units, there is nothing else to turn to. Except God.

"We are a 100 per cent Christian state, so we have to be 100 per cent literate," says Mizoram Chief Secretary H.V. Lalringa. "Our success is due first to the will of the people to be closer to God. The church and non-governmental organisations have played a vital role in this," he says. The orthodox Presbyterian church, dominant in Mizoram, lays tremendous emphasis on the importance of being able to read and write, carrying on the tradition of missionaries who came to the state in the 19th century. In fact, the Church is the state's second biggest employer. Around 20,000 Mizos are currently employed in various capacities by three main church organisations in the state.

"We take great pride in the fact that we are now the most literate state in the country," says a senior official, "but hymns and prayers will not take us any further than that. The big question is what do we do with the human resource we've built up through education." The problem of dealing with the educated unemployed has already crept into Mizoram, and in the coming years, given the state's emphasis on education, it will only get bigger.

It's a problem that perplexes the state government. Says Lalringa: "We have plans to offer the educated opportunities to train themselves for employment." In the pipeline are plans for a fashion-technology institute, an information-technology institute and a career-guidance cell. But as yet there's nothing on the ground. What Lalringa draws solace from is that a higher degree of awareness has facilitated the process of peace in a state, where till the mid-'80s the Mizo secessionist movement took a heavy toll.

In fact, the NSS survey shows that the troubled backward states of the north-east in general have done much better than the rest of the country. Against a national average of 9.8 per cent improvement, states like Meghalaya (27.9), Nagaland (22.4) Assam (22.1) and Arunachal Pradesh (18.4) have shown a far faster rate of literacy growth. If anything, they suggest an inverse relationship between development and education. Nevertheless, for Mizoram, they've brought tidings of comfort and joy.