- Published: 25 December 2022
India has made significant progress in the field of digital transformation. But these benefits continue to remain unevenly distributed
In his speech to G20 leaders in Bali, Indonesia on November 16, Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to work on bridging the digital divide during India's presidency of the global intergovernmental forum. The Prime Minister's intentions are welcome, but in the absence of concrete government action, bridging the digital divide in India will remain a distant dream.
In India, there has been a growing push by the government and private sector to digitise services. During the pandemic, the country heavily relied on the digital delivery of essential services such as vaccines, healthcare, and education. Access to the Internet, digital devices, and uninterrupted electricity, something which can cost a significant part of the income to an average Indian, has become a pre-requisite if one wants to enjoy the benefits of a government-backed digitisation wave. Consequently, those who cannot access the utilities mentioned above due to social and economic barriers are left behind.
As Oxfam India's latest India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide identifies, the people disproportionately affected by the digital divide are the rural poor, women, marginalised castes, and the unemployed.
India has made significant progress in the field of digital transformation. It includes growth in Internet subscribers, smartphones, digital payments, and ed-tech. But these benefits continue to remain unevenly distributed. The report shows that the progress of digitisation unfairly favours largely male, urban, upper caste, and upper-class households and individuals.
As per the CMIE, the percentage of respondents without a computer or laptop was 93.5 percent in Jan-April 2018 and increased to 96.6 percent by the end of 2021, indicating pandemic-induced deprivation of digital services. Among the poorest 20 percent of households, only 2.7 percent have access to a computer, and 8.9 percent to Internet facilities, while the proportions are 27.6 percent and 50.5 percent, respectively, among the wealthiest 20 percent of households.
A person with a post-graduate or a PhD is 40 percent more likely to have a computer than a person without an education. Women lack access to digital services due to patriarchal norms, among other social barriers. News events reporting girls and women facing discrimination in accessing phones and computers also reflect the more significant trend in the data. The percentage of men with phones is more than women, with 61 percent of them having a mobile by the end of 2021 as compared to 31 percent of females — a gap of 30 percent, indicating a stark gendered digital divide.
Salaried permanent workers have the most significant number of respondents with a phone, close to 94 percent, and less than 50 percent of the unemployed with a phone. Education, a constitutionally recognised right, is becoming more digitised daily, making digital 'have nots' more vulnerable to learning loss. As per the report, more than half the children with disabilities (56.5 percent) were struggling to attend classes. Only 4 percent of SC/ST households were reported to be studying online regularly (contrasted with 15 percent among other castes), and 57.6 percent of adolescent girls felt that boys get easier access to digital facilities in schools and colleges.
While payment through UPI is getting increasingly common for the upper and middle class, the likelihood of a digital payment by the wealthiest 60 percent is four times more than the poorest 40 percent in India.
In a country plagued by high socio-economic inequality, the process of digitalisation can’t be posited as the panacea for the inherent challenges of the physical world. It becomes particularly problematic when half of the population needs access to gadgets, the Internet, and technological know-how to move to a digital environment. India's growing inequality is being accentuated due to the digital divide. The growing inequality based on caste, religion, gender, class, and geographic location also gets replicated in the digital space. People without devices and the Internet get further marginalised due to difficulties accessing education, health, and public services. This vicious cycle of inequality needs to stop.
As the Finance Minister starts formulating the Union Budget, India's priority at G20 should also reflect in budgetary allocations for bridging the digital divide. The government must invest in digital infrastructure to make the Internet affordable, and push for greater accessibility to smartphones, especially for people from marginalised castes and women. At a broader level, it would mean making digital services universal for the masses and treating the Internet as a public utility, not a privilege for the rich.
Autor(en)/Author(s): Amitabh Behar
Quelle/Source: Money Control, 15.12.2022