The Immediacy of the (In)visible Digital Dividend and it’s blatant Normalization by the State-controlled Media.
While the Modi-led government has left no stones unturned in its marketing of “the digital India” campaign (launched in the year 2015), a significant portion of the Indian population is suffering from inequitable access to the services that are made available because of the Internet. The onset of the pandemic has made this deficiency even more pronounced and has further widened the gap between the rich and the poor.
The very sophisticated and privileged opportunities of online classes, virtual conferences, and internships, and even the mere accessibility of social media activism and volunteer work took on a whole new meaning. While ‘work from home” turned into the modus operandi for the Indian Middle class, the unawareness and inaccessibility of the services provided by the Internet for the millions of the country’s poor became more discernible. One needs to only check news footage of the plight and the helplessness faced by the thousands of immigrant workers during both the waves of the pandemic to grasp how much work needs to be done to make connectivity more available and egalitarian. Most of the inhabitants of the nation are forced to rely on more archaic methods which have an adverse effect not only on their economic well-being but also on their overall loving standards. The latest vaccination measures are also digitally accessible, rendering the low-income classes with unstable or no internet privileges or knowledge even more vulnerable.
A superficial glance at the recent history would uncover that our country does have a track record of silencing the non-conforming voices and minority needs. From the fringes and oft-ignored states of the North-eastern region of the country to that of Kashmir, a significant portion of the marginalized population have been subjected to the stifling hands of censorship and have had their access to the internet subjected to the scrutiny of the state on one pretext or the other. While statistics do rightfully point to the fact that India has one of the highest numbers of Internet users, most of these users are confined to the nation’s upper classes and the urban areas. A baffling number of people still have no connection to the outside world or any access to the internet. And the portion that does have connectivity suffers from poor and conditional services.
The disparity that one sees in accessibility to the Internet becomes more apparent when one looks at it through the lens of Gender. A survey (1.) conducted of almost 3 lakh households by the fifth National Family Health Survey, in 2019 reveals that only 42 percent of women surveyed have ever used the internet in comparison to the 62.16 percent of men, A further close analysis of the data reveals the disparity in terms of Urban and rural demography. In the cities and other myriad urban and suburban locales, the number inflates to that of 58.81 percent women to that of 73.76 percent of men. This number deflates when it comes to the rural populace whereby the survey reveals that only 33.94 percent of the women have ever had any access to the internet in comparison to 55.6 percent of men.
Things were revealed to be equally harrowing in the Education sector when the pandemic forced classes to be conducted online as opposed to the regular offline mode, as it showcased the country’s lack of preparedness. Data (2.) reveals that only 24 percent of Indian households have internet, making the access to online classes for millions of children impossible. Not only does this show the lack of access to technological aids, but also reveals the lack of adaptability in comparison to nations belonging to developed zones. This results in fewer opportunities for students and other young professionals in our highly globalised and competitive job market.
A sociologically literate approach along with myriad levels of collaboration and cooperation across various levels of administrative and executive bodies along with private players should be employed by the government to bridge the ‘digital divide’ (perhaps even more so in the Post-Covid 19 world), as the question of digital accessibility hinges more on survivability rather than on choice. The democratization of the digital sphere is of vital importance given the diverse range of services and essential aid that technology seems to promise.
The dark reality of the digital divide that further alienates the already classified Indian society, pushes the less privileged to the margins, depriving them of any and all opportunities to better their lives. The only way forward is to minutely question the problematic digital access across various sections of the populace and create viable alternatives until a stage of equitable access for everyone is reached.
Sania Muzamil advocates for equal gender and human rights, and calls for a free world for all. A postgraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Delhi and is studying and researching about Gender perceptions and manifestations. Presently she is interning with kractivist.org