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Rural India, blossoming in neglect?: Rural digital illiteracy hinders development, say experts

The three-day conference, Rural India, blossoming in neglect?, looked at an array of development issues in rural parts of the country with a major thrust on digital literacy on the first day, which was held at Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation, Warje campus.

pune Updated: Aug 29, 2018 16:49 IST
Ananya Barua
Ananya Barua
Hindustan Times, Pune
pune,maharashtra,rural india
(From left) Shantha Sinha, Sanjiv Phansalkar and Tushaar Shah at the VAF conference.(Ravindra Joshi/HT PHOTO)

Exploring the extent of digital inclusion and barriers to the same in rural parts of India, seven comprehensive studies on digital literary was presented at the first conference byVikasAnvesh Foundation (VAF), on Tuesday. The three-day conference,Rural India, blossoming in neglect?, looked at an array of development issues in rural parts of the country with a major thrust on digital literacy on the first day, which was held atBharatiya Agro Industries Foundation, Warje campus.

Researchers, touching upon seven different facets to the subject, explored the current scenario of digital literacy in rural India. The work expanded from the extent and various shortcoming of the same in various across six states of the country.

Speaking about the current scenario, Sanjiv Phansalkar, director of VAF, said,“While several parts of the country have been showing progress with respect to digital outreach, especially in line with the digital India programme, more thrust needs to be put in the rural areas where the lack of digital literacy creates several practical and social barriers to development.”

“Also, one of the biggest shortcomings is that, as a country we continue to suffer from a perverse colonial snobbery, owing to which most of the digital platforms are mostly in English, making it inaccessible for the villagers. A majority of public services, such as banking, still has English for customer interface. Lack of vernacular access makes digital penetration all the more difficult in India,” he added.

Other researchers pointed out the on-ground challenges experienced during their field visits. Kishore Kumar P of Tata Trusts, Hyderabad, in his research presentation focusing on the extent of digital inclusion in Telangana, said,“There are various shortcomings to digital inclusion, and the generation gap is one of the prominent ones. During our field visits, we saw how the village elders believed that digital technology was not of practical utility to them. Although the village youth is aware of its functioning the lack of learning a new way among the elders is creating the gap. I would often hear elders say that if they have managed all these years without internet, they do not really need it now.”

Kumar added, “The reality is that with the government ushering in digital India, and basic public services, including pension application and money transactions going online, it has become a necessity. For it to really reach out, the youth needs to trained both in the technology and the way to change this attitude.”

Another challenge, pointed out by Rashmi Dixit-Kale ofAction for Agricultural Renewal in Maharashtra (AFARM) in her presentation on Digital Sakhi, was that of digital patriarchy. The prevailing gender bias in the rural society, which assumes women to be incapable of using the technology efficiently has affected the penetration largely. So, in order to remedy that, their initiative Digital Sakhi, has been empowering women by making them digital literates and change makers for their communities.

Digital ‘sakhis’ turn pioneers, transform 30 villages in 3 districts

Each digital sakhi is given a tablet with a pre-downloaded financial digital literary curriculum to further train others. (HT Photo)

With a vision to strike down digital patriarchy, prevalent in rural parts of Maharashtra, the Larsen and Turbo (L&T) Financial Services, along with their implementation partner Action for Agriculture Renewal in Maharashtra (AFARM), launched a project called Digital Sakhi in 2017. The programmer aims to empower women as digital change makers within their communities. Centered around digital and financial literary, enterprise development and livelihood enhancement interventions, the programme trained and cultivated 100 digital sakhis from across the state to be the torchbearers for digital penetration in rural areas.

Rashmi Dixit-Kale, project manager, during a presentation on Digital Sakhi: ushering digital financial inclusion of rural women in Maharashtra, on Tuesday, said, “It starts with small things like the patriarchal control over technology in their households. From a television remote to a mobile phone, the prevalent perspective is that women will not be able to handle technology.But, through Digital Sakhi, 100 women from 30 villages of Pune, Osmanabad and Solapur districts were trained in financial digital functioning. These women then went out to teach the same in their households, to their husbands and then to the communities they lived in, and beyond.”

Each woman, across three districts, 30 villages and eight blocks, was given a tablet with a pre-downloaded financial digital literary curriculum in five different modules, which included training in expenditure planning to online transactions through digital platforms. “These women who were once digitally neglected now taught others ways to streamline their finances digitally,” Dixit-Kale said. There are plans to soon expand the programme to other states, like Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

First Published: Aug 29, 2018 16:48 IST