Our country or “the land of billions” is the seventh largest in terms of area and the largest democracy in the world. It is generally referred to as by two names, “India” which is as per our constitution and “Bharat” which is a translation. Although in both cases, the reference is to the same country, there is a stark difference between the two names. While India is a notional entity being the better of the two and has had the legacy of being colonially exploited by the British during the period of the Raj, its counterpart “Bharat” is still rural, relatively backward and predominantly agricultural country. It is in a sense still subjected to colonial exploitation even decades after the end of the British Raj. While “India is on the path to become an economic superpower in the near future, its counterpart “Bharat” still is struggling with issues like poverty and corruption. While “India” is scaling new heights in technologies and making its presence felt in the globalized world, “Bharat” is still struggling with the lowest literacy levels as compared to the other countries of the world. While “India” is making rapid strides towards providing the most advanced healthcare facilities in the world, “Bharat” is still struggling to save millions of its expecting mothers from dying.
When the world woke to the dawn of 15th August 1947, India or Bharat attained its independence. Since the day, the countries has grown to become a vibrant nation, its progressive cities dotted with skyscrapers and are home to most ethnically diverse population. Its IT prowess is firmly established, and its healthcare facilities is considered to be one of the most advanced in the world. Similarly the country has advanced in industries like automobile, manufacturing, Infrastructure and education to name a few. Its telecom sector has connected the entire nation. Globalization has led to the creation of employment opportunities and has led to investments of large sums in the country. As a result, the country’s economy has been growing at exceptional rates for the past few years and has led to the creation of even more opportunities. Although, it is still believed that India has a long way to go in terms of becoming a developed nation, the progress it has made is encouraging and is an indication of the rapid strides it is taking towards development.
While India seems to be right on the track to progress since its Independence, Bharat is still struggling with several of its issues. Poverty for example is still widespread and is a menace to the country. Nearly, half of its citizens do not have proper shelter or access to food and clean drinking water. Illiteracy is another blot to the development of the country. Gender biases, disparities in income, caste and state imbalances shape the literacy rates that exist in the country. Although the government has launched several schemes to curb illiteracy, it still prevails. The country also ranks high in number of child marriages. Child labor is also a major concern. Over population is a common reason which is instrumental to this issue. Overburdened parents hardly realize the importance of childhood under their own troubles and it leads to improper development and poor emotional balance of a child’s brain .The practice by multinationals to recruit child in industries is also unethical. Child trafficking is another such menace. Apart from these ,the country also faces other varied forms of social problems like casteism, bonded labor, untouchability, gender inequality, dowry, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, communalism, religious violence, marital rape and sexual harassment of women at workplace to name a few. Although many social reformers like Buddha and Mahavira fought these social evils throughout their lives, their success was limited and Bharat is still facing these social cultural issues to various extents.
Digital divide is defined as the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographical areas at different socio economic levels with regards to both their opportunities to access information and communication technologies and their use of internet for a wide variety of activities. The term encompasses inadequate funding, lack of basic computer and internet skills and lack of English language proficiency that prohibit expansion and use of digital information resources. As internet has rapidly grown to underline almost every aspect of global economy, the term digital divide has often been referred as a divide that affects fundamental ,social and economic divides between and within countries and is threatening to further exacerbate these inequalities. Just like India, digital divide affects many developing countries. Factors influencing the digital divide vary from region to region depending on the differences in the usage of communication resources between countries and regions. Without access to internet, it is increasingly difficult to become aware of new job opportunities. At a national level, a growing number of experts predict that a lack of digital literacy will have a dampening impact on economic prospects of the country. State and local level governments are engaged in creating an environment conducive to hosting a middle class workforce. Economic advantage and competitiveness will rest heavily on our ability to equip the 21st century workforce with competitive digital literacy skills.
As regards to our country, many initiatives both in the past and in the present have been initiated by the Indian Government to bridge this gap of digital divide. The Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India launched one such scheme known as the “Kissan Call Centre“ in 2004 mainly for addressing the issues and queries related to agriculture for the farmers by experts via a single phone call. Project Gyandoot launched by the Madhya Pradesh government was the first of its kind project for rural information network in the Dhar region in Madhya Pradesh. As per the project, each village had to have a computer center at prominent market places to address any doubts or information related to crops. Project Life Lines India launched by the government in November 2006 to promote sustainable development by exploring ideas by a call based information service. The basic aim of this project was to provide expert guidance to the farmers in areas related to agriculture and animal husbandry. Project Bhoomi was initiated by the Karnnataka government to serve as a database related to land ownership and various projects undertaken by various public and private sector companies. ”Friends” launched by Kerala government aims to alleviate the hardships faced by the people by eliminating brokers, and long queues. Project Lokmitra launched by the Himachal Pradesh government aims to provide easy access for people to district and government information while project Tarahaat launched first in Bundelkhand was initiated to provide benefits of internet to India’s rural population. E-Choupal launched by ITC in 2000, reaches out to more than half a million farmers growing soya bean, coffee, wheat, rice and pulses covering 1500 villages across Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. It provides knowledge on scientific farm practices and facilitates the purchase and sale of farm outputs and inputs from farmer’s doorsteps. The Village Knowledge center project by Swaminathan foundation connected ten villages near Pondicherry by a hybrid wired and wireless network consisting of Computers, Radios, Telephones and facilitates both voice and data transfer.
The importance of bridging this digital divide in order to achieve and inclusive growth for India is also well understood by the present Modi government under which the ambitious Digital India Initiative has been launched with an initial corpus of Rs.1.13 lakh crores and slated for completion by 2019. It basically aims to connect all gram panchayats by broadband internet, promote e-governance and transform India into a connected knowledge economy. It is one of Modi’s government top priority project and has three core components that include creation of digital infrastructure, delivering services digitally and creation of digital literacy. The project shall be monitored and controlled by Digital India Advisory group and chaired by the ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Within a short span of 5 years the government aims to make 1 crore people digitally literate. Many other initiatives are also being rolled out like BSNL rolling out wi-fi services in major cities and tourist attractions, National Scholarship Portal, E-hospital and e-sign facilities in addition to focus on Electronics Development Fund which aims to promote electronics design and manufacturing in the country. The digital locker shall enable sharing of e-documents across agencies while under the e-hospital system, the citizens can avail healthcare facilities online under a unified platform.
The national scholarships portal is a one stop solution for processing all the scholarships provide by the government of India.
However, one thing should be kept in mind that our efforts towards bridging the digital divide should not be in isolation but multi-dimensional. There should be a planned thrust towards technology growth and it shall go a long way in reducing the digital divide.