Bridging the Digital Divide: How It Is Changing Lives in Rural India
As digitization spreads and begins to touch various aspects of our lives, the results are obvious. With a plethora of options available, consumers are now spoilt for choice, and for good reasons. Whether it is about taking online classes, buying groceries, watching movies, booking tickets, or communicating with people spread far and wide, the world of the internet is open for everyone at the click of a button or a swipe of a screen. However, it begs the question: has everyone been the beneficiary of the digital revolution in India? Is rural India on par with its urban counterpart when it comes to accessing and utilising digital resources? The answer to both questions is an emphatic no. With a population that has already overtaken China, India is chugging along when it comes to reaping the fruits of digitization. For instance, people, including those from socially, educationally, and economically marginalised sections, are able to reap the benefits of skill development and earn a livelihood, as seen in with Anudip Foundation, arguably the best job support NGO after training that provided digital livelihoods to more than 4,50,000 people across the country. But a stark digital divide still exists between the two worlds (urban and rural) and needs to be bridged if India is to hit a high growth trajectory. The digital divide was amply evident during the pandemic-induced lockdown when children in rural India (and some in urban India as well) could not pursue online education for want of adequate internet bandwidth, not to speak of a lack of digital resources. So, let us know more about the digital divide and why it should be bridged for rural India to prosper. What Is the Digital Divide and Its Role in Changing Lives in Rural India? The digital divide refers to the disparity in access to technology and digital resources between different groups of people. In rural India, this divide is found to be stark, with people having limited access to digital technology and the internet. However, the scenario is changing gradually with digital initiatives like "Digital India" being implemented on the ground. Slowly but steadily, bridging the digital divide will have a direct impact on the lives of people living in rural India. How to Bridge the Divide To bridge this divide, the government of India has launched several initiatives, including Digital India. This specific program aims at providing access to digital infrastructure and technology to every citizen of the country, especially in rural areas. As part of this programme, the government has set up service centres that provide or facilitate a range of services, including internet access, online banking, and e-commerce. These service centres help people living in rural India get access to the internet. Thus, they are able to connect with their families and friends who live in different parts of the country and get access to information and services related to healthcare, education, and various government schemes. This helps empower people by giving them the tools to improve their lives. Education One of the key benefits of bridging the digital divide has been its impact on education. With access to the internet, children in rural areas will be able to access online resources on education, including e-books and educational videos, and take part in online classes. This will enable them to receive a quality education and compete with their urban counterparts. Additionally, the government has launched several digital initiatives to improve the quality of education in rural areas. For example, the ePathshala initiative provides free access to e-books and digital content to students across the country. The DIKSHA platform provides teachers with access to digital resources and training, thereby improving their teaching skills. Not only the government but even non-governmental agencies are at the forefront of providing skill development training to students, especially those belonging to the socially and economically marginalised sections. For instance, Anudip Foundation has come to the fore as one of the premier skill training NGO in India, providing aspirational livelihoods to people through digital education and training. Healthcare Poor-quality healthcare has been a perennial problem in rural areas where skeletal or creaky infrastructure has not been of much help. During the pandemic, this was acutely felt with defunct services not being able to meet the health needs of people. However, the situation is slowly improving with the digital initiatives being implemented on the ground. These are of help in bringing healthcare access through telemedicine to the population at large. With the introduction of telemedicine services, people will be able to consult with doctors online. Further, the government has also launched several initiatives to improve healthcare in rural areas. These include the National Health Stack, which aims to create a digital health infrastructure for the country. This infrastructure will allow the exchange of health data between various healthcare providers, thus improving the quality of healthcare in rural areas. E-commerce The bridging of the digital divide has also enabled people living in rural areas to access e-commerce services. For instance, with the introduction of e-commerce platforms, people can now order products online and have them delivered to their doorstep. This has been of great help during the pandemic, when people could not physically visit local stores and markets. Even gig services based on digital platforms, which have become commonplace in urban centres, are slowly spreading to suburban and rural areas with the improvement of the digital infrastructure. E-governance By bridging the digital divide, people in rural areas can access various government schemes online, such as birth and death registration, land registration, etc. This will help cut red tape and bring down corruption to a great extent. With land records being made digital, the upkeep and access to such records have been streamlined. The digital empowerment of the population in rural areas will give e-governance a boost and make people worthy stakeholders in the growth of the economy. Conclusion Bridging the digital divide in rural India is important to empower people and let them access various services from the convenience of their homes using smart devices. With the role of smartphones growing, people living in rural areas of India are increasingly able to access digital resources and various services at the click of a button. As the digital infrastructure expands further and the digital divide reduces, the quality of life of people living in rural areas will see a significant improvement.