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A literate person is one who can read and write with understanding in any language; a person who can read but not write is not literate for the purpose of the census. However no formal education is considered necessary for being considered literate. The entire population was taken into account while calculating literacy rates up to 1981 census. Considering that it would be more realistic to leave out the sub-population group 0-6 in any calculation of literacy rates, it was decided in 1991 to use the term literacy rate for the population relating to seven years and above. The same idea has been adopted for the literacy rates of 2001.The literacy rate taking into account the total population of the country is termed crude literacy rate.
- For the first time there is a decline in the absolute number of illiterates during a decade (1991-2001).This is a major shift in improving the status of literacy in the country.
- The major contribution to the decrease in the number of illiterates came from Andhra Pradesh,Uttar Pradesh,Maharashtra,Rajasthan,Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.These six states together account for three-fourths of the percentage decrease in the total number of illiterates in the country while they share half of the country's population.
- In eight states and UTs the number of illiterates grew in the decade.
- In case of male illiterates there is a decline in the absolute numbers from 1991 to 2001.Kerala has also added to the number of male illiterates.
- The gap in the male-female literacy rates was reduced in 1991 and was further reduced in 2001.
- Kerala with a literacy rate of 90.92% holds the first rank in the country followed by Mizoram and Lakshadeep.Bihar with a literacy rate of 47.0% ranks last in the country.
- Kerala occupies first position in both male and female literacy rates.Bihar has lowest literacy rates for both males and females.
- Religion -wise Literacy rate among Jains is the highest at 94.1% followed by Christians 80.3% and Buddhists 72.7%.Hindus and Sikhs have marginally higher literacy rate than the national average. Muslims have literacy rate of 59.1%.The lowest literacy has been recorded for other religions and persuasions at 47%.