Bihar: India’s most illiterate state

Bihar is India’s MOST illiterate state – 32 million people can’t read. Nearly 20 million of these are women. They can’t read a bus schedule or labels on a medicine bottle. They can’t write a letter to family living in another area. These women can’t count change at the market, or even know if they are being cheated by unscrupulous vendors. And they can’t help their children with their homework or read a bedtime story. Illiteracy touches every single moment of their day… and they have little hope of a different future.

There are only 918 females for every 1,000 males in Bihar – This is a stat that is connected to issues like sex selective abortion and female infanticide. In Bihar, like in many areas of India, families prefer to have sons because boys are expected to grow up and provide for their parents. Girls, on the other hand, will marry and go live with their husband’s families… so from birth they are considered disposable, and a drain on precious resources.

An estimated 60% of girls in Bihar marry by age 18 – This stat is hard for most of us to wrap our minds around. But child marriage is especially common in rural areas. Some parents view their daughters as a burden to be rid of quickly; others genuinely believe marriage will secure their daughter’s future. Instead, child marriage perpetuates generational cycles of poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, illiteracy, unemployment, and low life expectancy. And a young, married girl has very low status and negotiating power, leaving her more vulnerable to abuse by her husband and other family members.

1 in 3 people in Bihar live below the poverty line – Illiteracy is intrinsically tied into the cycle of poverty, and Bihar is one of India’s most impoverished states. It is estimated that 33% of the population lives below the national poverty line, which in India ranges from 368-558 rupees (around $6-$9) per month (by comparison, the international poverty rate is around $38 per month). Bihar also has one of the lowest rates of per capita income in India.

Boys are twice as likely as girls to be sent to school in Bihar – Impoverished families can barely afford school fees… so when parents must choose between sending a son or daughter to school, they almost always choose the son. This is deeply tied to the tradition of sons providing for their parents into old age, while girls will be married off and have no economic benefit for their parents. Many girls never even step foot in a classroom.

Bihar is less than 0.1% Christian – Right now, most people in Bihar could go their entire lives without ever meeting a believer who could tell them about the Good News of Jesus Christ. Mission India’s innovative Bible-based literacy curriculum slowly introduces students to the Gospel, and the Christian teachers are available to pray with and minister to students as they ask questions about Jesus. (Students are never forced to follow Jesus, and classes are available to people of ALL faiths.) We believe these classes are key to building a Bible-literate church in India.