The rapid adoption of technology and the Internet has enabled thousands of Indians to become part of a global community. But, there is also a widening gap between those with access to these tools, and those without the ability or means to do so. Organisations like DEF are helping India’s underprivileged classes bridge this gap in digital literacy.
With the revolution in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), much has changed for the Indian middle and upper classes. Technological changes are defining and refining society, reshaping it in the most fundamental – and yet unexpected – ways. Living in a digitally unequal world, we need to think about the poverty that digital deprivation may be bringing to the underprivileged and impoverished in our country.
Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in the Economic Sciences, defines poverty as “capacity deprivation” in the revolutionary work Development as Freedom. He says, “…Relative deprivation in terms of incomes can yield absolute deprivation in terms of capabilities…In a generally opulent country, more income is needed to buy enough commodities to achieve the same social functioning…For example, the difficulties that some groups of people experience in ‘taking part in the life of the community’ can be crucial for any study of ‘social exclusion.’ The need to take part in the life of a community may induce demands for modern equipment (televisions, videocassette recorders, automobiles, and so on) in a country where such facilities are more or less universal…”
Reflecting on this definition and understanding of poverty as capacity deprivation, it is clear that the inability to comprehend or access computers, the internet, and the digital world in general, is causing a new form of poverty among those who are already economically disadvantaged.
We have moved to an instant world where people can function at the speed of thought. Digital processing of work has freed up time and energy for many, making work lives more productive and interesting. Technology malleability and pliability has led to many creative social and economic interactions and products.
A wonderland of new digitally initiated cultural products have invaded our social contexts.
Many of our students at The/Nudge tell us that the most valuable thing they get out of the 100-day residential learning that we offer at our Gurukuls is the digital literacy skills. In fact, we have found from experience that many students join our learning program primarily for the digital skills they will pick up along the way.
Says Anju, one of our students, “I had no access to computers. I came here to study so that I can learn how to operate them.”
Digital channels like Facebook will give the poor, like the rich, a social identity and personality. Google can help the disadvantaged book railway tickets, find a doctor, or just simply tutor themselves. Technology can tremendously help those sections of the underprivileged who are self-employed or run small businesses, connecting them with markets and customers. Technology can help eliminate middlemen, and give sellers direct access to buyers, something that can be valuable for farmers and small-scale producers. Various social and economic contexts can be improved with the use of technology.
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Osama Manzar and Shaifali Chikermane have founded the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), whose vision it is to, “end economic poverty and social backwardness through the simple expedient of ending information poverty, by empowering marginalised and information-dark communities with digital literacy, access to digital tools, and information-rich knowledge societies ushered in by the Internet and the digital revolution.”
Today, DEF has its presence in 150 locations spread across 80 districts of 22 states in India.
The Government of India has launched Digital India to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has said, “When I say ‘Digital India’, I don’t mean the rich, but the poor.”
To promote digital literacy among villagers, the Government identified Hirachuni, a small village about 23 kms from Jamshedpur, in Jharkhand. Officials gathered details of 47 houses out of the total 60 houses in the village to create email IDs. The village will have its own Facebook account as well as a Whatsapp group and blog.
The process to make the village digitally literate continues.
The Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (DISHA), or National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) Scheme, hopes to impart IT training to 52.5 lakh persons in all the States and Union Territories across the country. The training will help non-IT literate citizens become IT-literate. This will enable them to actively and effectively participate in the developmental process while enhancing their livelihood.
Efforts from organizations like DEF and a proactive government will hopefully fill the digital gap.