This is an introduction to, and summary of, a longer article available here. The state of Himachal Pradesh (HP) is known for its relatively better achievements in schooling in India. The poverty rate in HP is only 8.5% which is nearly one-third of that of the country. Life expectancy is about three years more than the national average. The Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) of the state is also significantly lower than the figure at the national level. The improvements in health and education give HP a higher position in the Human Development Index next only to Kerala and Delhi. Compared to the other Indian states, HP also has an above-average growth rate in its State Domestic Product (SDP).

Primary schooling had started in these parts of the country much before the formation of the state of Himachal Pradesh. This was the case even in remote localities, from where people had to walk more than 10-12 hours to reach the nearest town until the middle of the twentieth century when roads and bus transport reached there.

India-China War in the early sixties enabled education. The construction of roads to the border started then. There was an increase in the recruitment of the local people into the Army. The fact that these villages were closer to the border and the people were used to the difficult terrain might have facilitated the recruitment (initially to the lower tiers of the Armed Forces). The need for some education or literacy to be in the Army might have encouraged some people to acquire school education. The interaction of the initial recruits from the region with others in the Army, who may have had higher levels of education, may have demonstrated to the former, the benefits of acquiring an education. These factors may have increased the demand for education and thereby, the use of the limited facilities available for schooling in these villages even in the sixties, much before the establishment of the state government of HP.

Social factors enabled the creation of demand for schooling among most caste groups. Even when schools are available, and when certain sections of the society are using schooling, it may not necessarily encourage others to use it.  However, the situation in the hill districts of HP could be different due to different reasons. There is a relatively less unequal distribution of land among different caste groups in HP.  The absence of wide stretches of land, and the limited nature of cultivation carried out with minimal tilling on the hill slopes did not lead to the creation of the system of a few landowners with an army of agricultural workers. Most people who owned land, cultivated it with the help of family labour. This would mean that the category of `landless agricultural worker’ among the population was not significant. There was the land-owning peasant group (predominantly, Rajputs), and another section involved in a number of artisanal occupations like weaving, carpentry, and so on. Some of the latter were categorized as Scheduled Castes (SC) but they too were not landless as they owned and cultivated small holdings of land. Hence, the socio-economic gap between different social (caste) groups was not significant in parts of HP.

When schools were made available, and when the demand for schooling began to grow among some people, most others too, irrespective of their caste, may have started feeling the usefulness of schooling.

Societal setup enabled the schooling of both boys and girls. Researchers have noted a relatively better status of women in these hilly districts compared to the flat terrains of North India.  The situation in HP (especially, in the hilly districts) is such that the female labour is valued somewhat at par with, if not more than, that of the male. Here, the cultivation does not require hard tilling (which may have warranted the use of male labour). The other operations like seeding, light tilling (appropriate for slopes), harvesting, carrying agricultural produce along mountain slopes, and so on, are carried out by both, men and women. This may be the reason for a slightly better status of women in these societies. The recruitment of the men into the army might have also enhanced the importance of women as they were left behind to manage agricultural operations and the local trading of the produce. All these, in turn, may have influenced the marriage-related practices. Dowry has not become a serious social issue here as in the other parts of India. Women continue to have property rights.  Though patrilocal residence is prevalent, the distance between the girl’s residence before and after marriage is generally not too much in these hilly areas. In general, the position of women in the household (in terms of responsibilities and informal rights) seems to be relatively better in the mountainous tracts of HP when compared to that of women in the other parts of North India. All these have enabled girls to acquire school education.

The state government of HP has built on the pre-existing advantages of the region. The groundwork for mass education had started and progressed significantly, even before the formation of the state of Himachal Pradesh in 1971. The successive governments of HP have built on this foundation. The expansion of road networks could be an important initial development enhancing the mobility of people and goods. The funds allocated by the Central Government to HP as a ‘special category state’ may have facilitated this infrastructure development. The Chinese border has provided an incentive to the Central Government to provide such funds and also to invest directly in developing and maintaining infrastructure in remote districts.  The law which prevents outsiders from buying land in HP may have facilitated the retention of land among the local people, though the land ownership was relatively less skewed in the state even before the passing of this law.

The growing demand for schooling that started before the 1970s might have created pressure on the newly established state to enhance investments in education. Certain features of the state (its small size and the special category status) may have facilitated these investments too. This has led to the setting up of new schools (for higher grades or in localities which were far from then existing schools) and programs that encourage children from all sections to attend school. Hence, primary schooling became almost universal in the 1980s even in the difficult terrains of the state. The overall school enrolment and completion by the end of the millennium were substantially better when compared with most other states in North India.

There might be pressure to increase appointments in government jobs in a state where there were not many other opportunities for employment for educated people. Appointment to teaching positions might have gone up as a consequence of this demand and the political compulsion to respond to it.  We could see that the pupil-teacher ratio was significantly lower in HP compared to other states. This too may have benefitted schooling.

Improvements in health Indicators followed the spread of education. One can see that the spread of schooling has preceded the improvement in health indicators. This is evident from the fact that the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in the mid-1990s or the early 2000s was unacceptably high in HP, and the improvement in this regard has occurred only afterwards. The IMR in HP (51 per 1000) was 39 points higher than that in Kerala in 2004 and that came down to 24 points in 2012. Hence, the improvement in the health indicators is a recent phenomenon in the state. There are indications that such an improvement is due to the better practices followed by people, and not necessarily due to a higher level of supply of health-care facilities. Nearly 29% of the child-deliveries occur outside health-care facilities in HP whereas that figure is only 0.2% in Kerala. This indicates the possibility of education (especially, female education) contributing to better practices of infant and child care, and these may have contributed to the improvement in the health indicators, albeit slowly and gradually.

The expansion of commercial cultivation of horticulture crops followed after the expansion of education. The contribution of the cultivation of horticultural crops like apple, to the income growth of households in HP is well recognized. Though apple cultivation has a history of 8-9 decades in HP (especially, in areas around Shimla), the expansion of apple cultivation in remote parts has started only after the mid-eighties. The spread of apple cultivation has increased the income of households, which in turn, has enhanced their ability to invest in the education of their children (in private schools nearby or even far from home and also for higher education in other parts of the state or the country). However, the initial phase of development of education has preceded (not followed) the expansion of commercial cultivation. This is due to the fact that schooling had covered a substantial share of the population before the mid-1980s here, at a time when commercial horticulture had just started to gain popularity. The spread of education by the mid-eighties may have contributed to the knowledge and ability of the farmers to assimilate the practices of commercial horticulture. Hence, it seems that in HP, mass education has contributed to income growth (through commercial agriculture) and not the other way around.

The experience of Himachal Pradesh supports the idea that the provision of schooling for all can improve health and other development indicators, and that should be an important lesson for other states in India.