The Great Digital Divide: Why India Must Ensure Internet for All

Digital divide is an emerging reality in India and it could set the stage for digital discrimination.

3 min read
Hindi Female

Internet has penetrated all aspects of human life. It has profoundly altered the ways we communicate, behave and connect. According to Web Foundation, the internet is a “public good and a basic human right, which should benefit all of humanity equally.”

Apart from enabling the growth of an internet society, it has also aided the expansion of digital businesses in India ranging from Flipkart, Paytm, MakeMyTrip, Amazon, Zomato and Swiggy. It has contributed to the Information and communication technologies (ICTs) monitored ‘Internet Economy.’

Internet is a key component of the very same infrastructure that can aid in the smooth transition from physical citizenry to digital citizenry across the world.Expansion of an online community is far broader than a physical community.


Free & Affordable Internet a Must

In a 2017 report, the Internet Society maintains that the internet allows people to develop and join new communities and eliminates geographical barriers to make connections. The report further demonstrates that around 53% percent of the world population was offline in 2017 – mainly rural regions of the world were left out from accessing the internet.

This, it seems, has reasonably contributed to the sharp rise of digital divide/digital discrimination as their personal freedom to express and rights on internet were suspended and put on the hold.

However, the Internet is losing its purpose to bring substantial changes to human advancement, though it has provided voice to countless voiceless social and political communities. Having maintained so, it has been emerged as a new instrument to sustain business edifices, power structure and supremacy of multiple brands.

The government must employ strong measures to arrange for free and affordable internet to maximize participation in digital India. Instead, the government is promoting the culture of internet shutdowns across the country.

In 2019, the toll of internet shutdowns have risen to more than 100 times. Certainly, the goal of digital citizens and digital participation is gaining momentum. India has close to 1162 million mobile phone subscribers and 1183 million total telephones. Though, in contrast to 2018, there is a sharp decline in mobile subscribers and telephone subscribers in 2019. Major cause of the same could be the deteriorating health of Indian economy.


The Great Rural-Urban Divide

According to the Telecom Statistics India (2019), telephone subscribers in rural and urban India stands at 514.27 & 669.14 million respectively. This means that a widening disparity exists between rural and urban telephone subscribers, which stops sizeable rural population from existing in online/digital world.

A study by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), India Internet (2019), noted that nearly one-third of users access internet for ‘More than one hour’ in urban, whereas in rural, similar proportion of users access internet for 15-30 minutes.

It raises pertinent questions about the elementary construction for the rural India to be an effective contributor to the vision of the Digital India Programme.

According to a 2017 IAMAI report, the ratio of women Vs men mobile internet users in urban India stands at 40% and 60% respectively. Whereas in rural India, women mobile internet users are only 33% compared to 67% men users.

This widening inequality might be a notable obstruction to the purpose of digital equality and participation and is, therefore, a matter of grave concern to all of us.

According to the same report, 57% of mobile internet users are under the age of 25 –a large part of that, with the help of fake news, trolling and disinformation, catering to online political constituencies of political parties.


The Internet’s Gender Gap

A study carried out by the World Wide Web Foundation in poor areas of New Delhi found that few women who are online use the Internet to look for important information on their rights (17%), search for a job (29%) or voice their opinions online (8%).

Even today, there are people who can’t access the internet and don’t have smart phones, laptops, gadgets – articles and services that are often taken for granted in large parts of Urban India.

Digital divide is an emerging reality in India and heavy cost to access new technology will set the stage for digital divide i.e. digital discrimination. Digital illiteracy is on a constant rise in India. Until plethora of emerging issues due to digital gaps are not addressed timely; inclusive, just, affordable and sustainable internet society will appear as sheer chimera.


( Dr Mohammad Irshad is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy, Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. This is a an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the authors own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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