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Digital Divide In India - Meaning, Implication & Initiatives

What is the Digital Divide? It refers to the gap between those with regular, effective access to digital technology and the internet, and those without this access. The article aims to update candidates on various aspects of the Digital divide in India and the Global Digital Divide. 

Context of the Article   – With digitization, the internet has become a very important means of communication and information acquisition. This is evident from the fact that during a global pandemic like COVID-19, the task of providing administrative support to the affected people was being done effectively through the digital medium. Help through digital means such as a helpline number or through Arogya Setu app was useful in public health initiatives. Access to digital technology emerged as a powerful tool for millions of citizens in this global crisis. 

Even though the uses and importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are increasing dramatically, the gap caused by the digital divide is also persisting at an alarming rate. 

The topic Digital divide India or the world is important for various competitive exams. Questions under the general awareness section of different Government exams can be framed on the Digital Divide. 

Aspirants for the IAS exam might encounter questions on the topic in GS 1 and GS 3 of UPSC or might be asked to write a Digital Divide Essay of 1500-2000 words.  

Types of Digital Divide In India

  • The Digital Divide, also called the digital split, is a social issue referring to the gap that exists between individuals who have access to modern information and communication technology and those who lack the access.
  • It represents the disparities between demographics and regions at different social, economic levels or other categories over the use of Internet and communication technologies.
  • The digital divide can exist between those living in rural areas and those living in urban areas, between the educated and uneducated, between economic classes, and on a global scale between more and less industrially developed nations.

Digital Divide – Types

There are numerous types of digital divide that influence access to Information and Communication Technologies. 

Some of the vivid gaps in digital inequality include:

  • Gender Divide – the internet gender gap is striking especially in developing countries. Though mobile connectivity is spreading drastically, it is not spreading equally. Women are still lagging. Studies indicate that Indian women are around 15% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. Even among women owning mobile phones, most have no access to internet connectivity.
  • Social Digital Divide – Internet access creates relationships and social circles among people with shared interests. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc. create online peer groups based on similar interests. Internet usage has created social stratification which is evident among those that are connected to the internet and those that are not. Non-connected groups are sidelined since they don’t share the benefits enjoyed by the groups connected on the internet.
  • Access Digital Divide – The main barriers under this point are lack of telecommunication infrastructure with sufficient reliable bandwidth, the high cost and the inability to purchase or rent the necessary equipment. This results in lack of access to technology.
  • Other Digital Divide – This includes inequality in the usage of digital technologies due to lack of ICTs skill or support, physical disability or cultural and behavioural attitudes towards technology.

Digital Divide in India – Facets

The digital divide exists despite the increase in the number of mobile phone subscribers in India over the past few years. A few facets are as mentioned below-

  • The Urban-Rural divide –  the digital divide between India’s rural and urban areas during the lockdown was highlighted not just in the education sector, but was evident everywhere, be it telemedicine, e-commerce, banking, e-governance — all of which became accessible only through the internet during the lockdown. Services such as online classrooms, financial transactions and e-governance require access to the internet as well as the ability to operate internet-enabled devices like phones, tablets and computers. 
  • As per the report by NSO, most of the internet-enabled homes are located in cities, where 42% have internet access. In rural India, however, only 15% are connected to the internet.
  • Across India, only one in ten households have a computer — whether a desktop, laptop or tablet. Almost 25% of all homes have Internet facilities, accessed via a fixed or mobile device.
  • The urban-rural disparity in digital divide is evident from the extent of internet penetration in the country. As per the NSO, there is less than 20% Internet penetration, even in States with software hubs such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. 

Read, What is the Internet? here.

  • As per the report by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) , in 2018, total internet density in the country stood at about 49 percent. Of that, 25 percent lived in rural areas and 98 percent in urban areas. According to the latest report released by TRAI, the country had over 1,160 million wireless subscribers in February 2020, up from 1,010 million in February 2016. It means urban subscribers increased by 74 million (from 579 million to 643 million) and rural subscribers by 86 million (from 431 million to 517 million). This indicated growth in basic telecom facilities and not digital progress.

Read the difference between Rural and Urban on the given link.

2. Gender Digital inequalities – India has among the world’s highest gender gaps in access to digital technology. Only 21% of women in India in comparison to 42% of men are mobile internet users, according to GSMA’s 2020 mobile gender gap report. The report says, while 79% of men own a mobile phone in India where the number for women is 63%. While there are economic barriers to girls’ owning a mobile phone or laptop, cultural and social norms also play a major part. The male-female gap in mobile use often exacerbates other inequalities for women, including access to information, economic opportunities, and networking.

3. Regional Digital Divide and Intra-State Digital inequality – In terms of people that have access to computers or the know-how to use the internet, States too greatly differ in the matrices. Southern states are more digitally literate than Northern counterparts. Kerala is the state where the difference between rural and urban areas is the least. Uttarakhand has the most number of computers in urban areas, while Kerala has the most number of computers in rural areas. Himachal Pradesh leads the country in access to the internet in both rural and urban areas. While the national capital has the highest Internet access, with 55% of homes having such facilities, Odisha is at the bottom with only one in ten homes having Internet. 

Talking about Intra-state divide – While urban areas are more digitally literate, rural counterpart are lacking in the respective states Kerala has the least inequality with more than 39% of the poorest rural homes having Internet, in comparison to 67% of the richest urban homes, where Assam shows the striking inequality, with almost 80% of the richest urban homes having the Internet access and 94% of those in the poorest rural homes in the State don’t have the access.

4. Disparity due to literacy/digital literacy – having Internet access is no guarantee that one can use it. 20% of Indians above the age of 5 years had basic digital literacy. Just 40% in the critical age group of 15 to 29 years, which includes all high school and college students as well as young parents responsible for teaching younger children. More than one in five Indians above 7 years still cannot read and write in any language. Over the last decade, literacy rates have increased from 71.7% to 77.7%, with the highest gains coming among rural women. A State-wise split of literacy rates also throws up some unexpected results. Andhra Pradesh has the country’s lowest literacy rate, at just 66.4%, significantly lower than less developed States such as Chhattisgarh (77.3%), Jharkhand (74.3%), Uttar Pradesh (73%), and Bihar (70.9%). Kerala remains at the top of the pile with 96.2% literacy, followed by three northern States: Delhi (88.7%), Uttarakhand (87.6%) and Himachal Pradesh (86.6%). 

5. Linguistic Digital Divide : More than 80% of the content on the Internet is in English, so states, where people are more competent in English, are more digitally competent.

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Digital Divide in India – Effects/Implications

  • Educational: The digital divide in India will affect the capacity of children to learn and develop. Read about Digital Education in India.
  • Without Internet access, students cannot build the required technology-related skills.
  • Social: Internet penetration is associated with greater social progress of a nation. Thus digital divide in a way hinders the social progress of a country. Rural population is suffering from lack of information due to the Digital divide in India, this will only strengthen the vicious cycle of poverty, deprivation, and backwardness.
  • Political: In the age of social media, political empowerment and mobilization are difficult without digital connectivity.
  • Economic: The digital divide will increase economic inequality between those who can afford the technology and those who don’t.
  • Governance: Transparency and accountability are dependent on digital connectivity. The digital divide affects e-governance initiatives negatively. Know about e-governance and its significance on the given link. 

Government Initiative To Bridge Digital Divide in India

The Government of India is taking significant steps towards acquiring competence in information and technology to cope with India’s Digital Divide. 

1.Digital India Initiatives by Government to improve internet access in the country. Know about Digital India on the linked page. A few initiatives under this are –  

  • In 2011, the BharatNet project was launched to connect 0.25 million panchayats through an optical fibre (100 MBPS) and connect India’s villages. 
  • In 2014, the government launched the National Digital Literacy Mission and the Digital Saksharta Abhiyan. 
  • In 2015, the government launched several schemes under its Digital India campaign to connect the entire country. 
  • PM Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan , launched in 2017, to usher in digital literacy in rural India by covering 60 million households.

2. Seeing the importance of digital literacy, the Supreme Court of India has declared the right to access to the Internet as a fundamental right, making it a part of the right to privacy and the right to education that comes under Article 21 of the Constitution.  Read about Right to Education Act (RTE) . 

3. National Education Policy, 2020 aims at making “India a global knowledge superpower” by introducing several changes from the school to college level in the Indian education system with special emphasis on digital education. Know more on New Education Policy at the linked page. 

4. Internet Saathi Program – The Internet Saathi Program was launched in 2015 by Google India and Tata Trusts. The aim of this project is to facilitate digital literacy among rural Indian women.

5. Optical Fibre Network (NOF-N) , a project aimed to ensure broadband connectivity to over two lakh (200,000) gram panchayats of India.

6. DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) platform- DIKSHA is the national platform for school education available for all states and the central government for grades 1 to 12 and was launched in September 2017. As part of PM eVidya announced under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat programme , DIKSHA is the ‘one nation; one digital platform’ for school education in India.

7. Unnati Project –  Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) which strives to bridge the digital divide in schools by giving the rural students with poor economic and social background access to computer education.

8. Gyandoot is an Intranet-based Government to Citizen (G2C) service delivery initiative started in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh in January 2000 with the twin objective of providing relevant information to the rural population and acting as an interface between the district administration and the people. 

9. Digital Mobile Library : In order to bridge the digital divide in a larger way the government of India, in collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Computing (C–DAC) based in Pune.

10. Online Massive Open Online Course MOOC courses relating to NIOS (grades 9 to 12 of open schooling) are uploaded on SWAYAM portal; around 92 courses have started and 1.5 crore students are enrolled. Know about SWAYAM Scheme on the linked page. 

11. On Air Shiksha Vani, DAISY by NIOS for differently-abled, e-PathShala- Radio broadcasting is being used for children in remote areas who are not online (especially for grades 1 to 5).

12. E-pathshala : For rural and urban students and providing them with study materials.  

Know about various other Government Schemes launched for the welfare and development of the country.

Online Quiz 2023

Way Forward – Digital Divide

1, Infrastructure development : The promotion of indigenous Information and Communication Technologies development under Atmanirbhar Abhiyan can play a significant role. Promotion of budget mobile phones is the key, we should explore migration to new technologies like 5G. It would resolve some of the bandwidth challenges. The creation of market competition between service providers may make services cheaper. Efficient spectrum allocation in large contiguous blocks should be explored.

Read, How is 4G Different From 5G ?

2. Promoting Digital Literacy: Digital literacy needs special attention at the school/college level. The National Digital Literacy Mission should focus on introducing digital literacy at the primary school level in all government schools for basic content and in higher classes and colleges for advanced content. Higher digital literacy will also increase the adoption of computer hardware across the country. Furthermore, when these students will educate their family members, it will create multiplier effects. 

3. Promotion of Regional Language: State governments should pay particular attention to content creation in the Indian regional languages, particularly those related to government services. Natural language processing ( NLP) in Indian languages needs to be promoted.

4. TRAI should consider putting in place a credible system. This system will track call drops, weak signals, and outages. It ensures the quality and reliability of telecom services.

5. Cyber Security: MeitY will need to evolve a comprehensive cyber-security framework for data security, safe digital transactions, and complaint redressal. Read in detail about Cyber Security on the given link. 

6. Telecom ombudsman: The government should appoint officials and also set up a telecom ombudsman for the grievances redressal.

7. Role of regulators: Regulators should minimize entry barriers by reforming licensing, taxation, spectrum allocation norms.

Other Related links

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India’s digital divide: From bad to worse?

Oxfam's india inequality report 2022 reveals the extent of the digital divide in the country and how it impacts access to education, healthcare, and financial service for marginalised communities..

The India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide by Oxfam sheds some light on the impact of the digital divide on inequality in India during the pandemic. It explores the lack of access to ICTs as one of the major characteristics of the divide, and points to the fact that approximately 70 percent of the population has poor or no connectivity to digital services. Government schemes such as BharatNet, which aim to provide digital connectivity in rural India, have also failed to deliver effective results. Among the poorest 20 percent households, only 2.7 percent have access to a computer and 8.9 percent to internet facilities. The report also highlights the social, political, and environmental factors that determine who goes online and for how long, and who doesn’t. For example, only 38 percent of households in the country are digitally literate. Additionally, only 31 percent of the rural population uses the internet as compared to 67 percent of the urban population.

The Oxfam report identifies education, healthcare, and finance as sectors that underwent rapid digitisation during the pandemic. Here’s a look at some of the findings from the report that bring to light how the digital divide impacted socio-economic inequalities during COVID-19 with respect to these three sectors:

1. Online education remained a challenge for many

Access to the internet through any kind of device was found to be far better in urban India at 44 percent than in rural areas at 17 percent. Across different caste groups as well, only 4 percent of students from SC and ST communities had access to a computer and the internet.  

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It is important to note that the digitisation of education yielded great results for start-ups such as Byju’s, which was valued at USD 10.8 billion during the pandemic, an amount equivalent to the combined annual income of 25 million Indians at the time. In addition to this, EdTech products (instruction aids in classrooms for teachers or at home for students ) continue to remain inaccessible for many due to their high costs. The average cost of these products is estimated to be INR 20,000, while the average income of the poorest 20 percent households is INR 25,825.

A man sits crosslegged before two old cellphones-digital divide

2. Teachers struggled to deliver education digitally

More than 80 percent of teachers reported facing challenges in teaching online. Many of them also had issues related to data expenses and connectivity. Furthermore, 20 percent teachers reported that adequate training on delivering education digitally was not provided to them. Two out of every five teachers also claimed not to have access to the devices they needed to teach digitally.

3. Online learning came at the cost of mid-day meals

Unavailability of mid-day meals, that would be typically provided in-schools, was also a cause of concern for parents when schools shut down during COVID-19. Even though the central government in March 2020 advised all states to continue providing eligible children with meals, the delivery on-ground was lax. More than 35 percent parents reported that their children did not get mid-day meals during the pandemic.

4. Digitisation of healthcare did not improve access to it

The National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), also known as the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, was launched during the pandemic with the aim of building a digital health ecosystem in India. However, inadequate digital infrastructure and literacy, for both the receivers as well as the health service providers, remained a challenge for its implementation. Tools such as e-Sanjeevani —a telemedicine platform that connects rural areas with quality healthcare providers—and the maintenance of electronic health records of patients, for instance, require access to a smartphone or a computer and the internet. With over 70 percent of the population in India having poor or no connectivity to digital services, the digitisation of healthcare didn’t necessarily improve access to public health services the way it was intended to.

5. In fact, this digitisation made it harder for many

Take the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines through the CoWIN app as an example. The need to book slots online presumed literacy as well as digital literacy. Many either did not have the resources (internet, smartphone, computer) or the digital know-how to book a vaccine slot online. Neither could they download their vaccination certificates easily from the app. This caused further delays in them receiving the vaccines. According to Oxfam’s 2021 health inequality report , as of May 2021, while 30 doses were administered per 100 persons in urban India, only 12.7 were administered in rural India. CoWIN thus inadvertently created a hierarchy in vaccine accessibility and excluded the digitally disconnected.

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Health experts have gone as far as to say that not having access to broadband internet will now be an additional barrier to healthcare delivery. India’s medical apps market, for instance, is estimated to reach INR 337.89 billion in the next three years. Since the pandemic, the use of healthcare apps such as 1mg and Practo and wearable devices such as blood pressure monitors and fitness bands have seen a drastic rise. However, these services only cater to the English-speaking, digitally literate class.

6. The growth of digital financial services did not guarantee financial inclusion

The Unified Payment Interface (UPI) and cashless/electronic transactions saw rapid growth during the pandemic. However, it is important to note that this growth wasn’t uniform. The richest 60 percent, for instance, are four times more likely to do a digital payment than the poorest 40 percent in India. This can be attributed to the fact that the tendency to use formal financial services, such as private or commercial banks, is low among marginalised communities such as women, youth, people living in remote rural areas, and ethnic minorities. It is lowest for ST households in rural India . Additionally, only 41 percent of small and marginal farmers use public and private sector banks. This is because most of them don’t have legal documents such as Aadhar, PAN, ration card, or voter ID, making it hard for them to access bank accounts and other financial systems .

It is evident from the findings of the report that the process of digitisation alone cannot be considered the ultimate solution for all our challenges. Without addressing the socio-economic context of the digital divide, especially in India, the ongoing digital revolution across healthcare, education, and finance, if left unchecked, will not only continue to foster inequalities, but may also worsen them.

  • Read the complete Oxfam India Inequality Report 2022 .
  • Learn why EdTech in India requires stronger regulation.
  • Learn how the digital divide is holding back women in India.

The India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide by Oxfam sheds some light on the impact of the digital divide on inequality in India during the pandemic. It explores the lack […]

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India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide

  • 05 Dec, 2022

IIR 2022

The digital divide in the access and usage of ICTs and the internet has also led to an exclusionary consequence in three sectors of utmost significance: education, health and finance. In a country plagued by high socioeconomic inequality, the digitalisation process cannot be posited as the panacea for the inherent challenges of the physical world. It becomes particularly problematic when half of the population neither has access to gadgets and the internet or the technological know-how to move to a digital environment. In such circumstances, the digitalisation process becomes unequal, favouring the digitally connected while excluding the rest, and in certain cases, exacerbating the already existing inequalities. India Inequality Report 2022 examines these inequalities.

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Digital India Initiatives

Digital divide in india.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Digital divide in India

The COVID-19 induced lockdown highlights India’s great digital divide.

Practice question for mains: Q.What are the various facets of Digital Divide in India? Discuss how the Digital India initiative has impacted ruling out India’s digital divide?

digital divide in india essay

What is Digital divide?

A digital divide is any uneven distribution in the access to, use of, or impact of information and communications technologies between any number of distinct groups, which can be defined based on social, geographical, or geopolitical criteria, or otherwise

What are the implications of the digital divide?

In the age of social media, political empowerment and mobilization are difficult without digital connectivity.

Transparency and accountability are dependent on digital connectivity. The digital divide affects e-governance initiatives negatively.

Internet penetration is associated with greater social progress of a nation. Thus digital divide in a way hinders the social progress of a country.

Rural India is suffering from information poverty due to the digital divide. It only strengthens the vicious cycle of poverty, deprivation, and backwardness.

The digital divide causes economic inequality between those who can afford the technology and those who don’t.

Educational

The digital divide is also impacting the capacity of children to learn and develop. Without Internet access, students can not build the required tech skills.

Facets of the great Digital Divide in India

  • Education is just one area that has highlighted the digital divide between India’s rural and urban areas during the lockdown.
  • The trend is evident everywhere — telemedicine, banking, e-commerce, e-governance, all of which became accessible only via the internet during the lockdown.
  • The divide exists despite the rise in the number of wireless subscribers in India over the past few years.

1) Telecom facility, not digital progression

  • According to a report released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on June this year, the country had over 1,160 million wireless subscribers in February 2020, up from 1,010 million in February 2016.
  • This is a rise of 150 million subscribers in five years or 30 million per year.
  • The growth has been evenly distributed in urban and rural areas, with the number of urban subscribers increasing by 74 million (from 579 million to 643 million) and rural subscribers by 86 million (from 431 million to 517 million).
  • But this growth only indicates the rise in basic telecommunication facility.

2) The Urban-Rural Divide

  • Services such as online classrooms, financial transactions and e-governance require access to the internet as well as the ability to operate internet-enabled devices like phones, tablets and computers.
  • Here the urban-rural distinction is quite stark.
  • According to the NSSO conducted between July 2017 and June 2018, just 4.4 rural households have a computer, against 14.4 per cent in an urban area.
  • It had just 14.9 per cent rural households having access to the internet against 42 per cent households in urban areas.
  • Similarly, only 13 per cent people of over five years of age in rural areas have the ability to use the internet against 37 per cent in urban areas.

3) Regional Divide

  • States too greatly differ in terms of people that have access to computers or in the know-how to use the internet.
  • Himachal Pradesh leads the country in access to the internet in both, rural and urban areas.
  • Uttarakhand has the most number of computers in urban areas, while Kerala has the most number of computers in rural areas.
  • Overall, Kerala is the state where the difference between rural and urban areas is the least.

4) Digital Gender Divide

  • India has among the world’s highest gender gap in access to technology.
  • Only 21 per cent of women in India are mobile internet users, according to GSMA’s 2020 mobile gender gap report, while 42 per cent of men have access. The report says that while 79 per cent of men own a mobile phone in the country, the number for women is 63 per cent.
  • While there do economic barriers to girls’ own a mobile phone or laptop, cultural and social norms also play a major part.
  • The male-female gap in mobile use often exacerbates other inequalities for women, including access to information, economic opportunities, and networking.
  • The earning member of the family has to carry the phone while going out to work.
  • Access to phones and the internet is not just an economic factor but also social and cultural.
  • If one family has just one phone, there is a good chance that the wife or the daughter will be the last one to use it.

Programmes for Addressing the Challenges in Bridging the Digital Divide:

India taking significant steps towards acquiring competence in information and technology, the country is increasingly getting divided between people who have access to technology and those who do not. 

  • The Indian government has passed Information Technology Act, 2000 to make to e- commerce and e-governance a success story in India along with national e-governance plan. 
  • Optical Fibre Network (NOF-N ), a project aimed to ensure broadband connectivity to over two lakh (200,000) gram panchayats of India by 2016.
  • Digital Mobile Library: In order to bridge the digital divide in a larger way the government of India, in collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Computing (C–DAC) based in Pune.
  • Unnati, is a project of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) which strives to bridge the digital divide in schools by giving the rural students with poor economic and social background access to computer education.
  • E-pathshala : to avail study materials  for every rural and urban student. 
  • Common Service Centres: which enabled the digital reach to unreachable areas. 

Initiatives of State Government:

  • Sourkaryan and E–Seva: Project of the government of Andhra Pradesh to provides the facility for a citizen to pay property taxes online.
  • The Gyandoot Project: It is the first ever project in India for a rural information network in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh which has the highest percentage of tribes and dense forest. The project was designed to extend the benefits of information technology to people in rural areas by directly linking the government and villagers through information kiosks

Way forward

1.infrastructure.

The promotion of indigenous ICT development under Atmanirbhar Abhiyan can play a significant role. The promotion of budget mobile phones is the key.

The creation of market competition between service providers may make services cheaper.

Efficient spectrum allocation in large contiguous blocks should be explored.

We should also explore migration to new technologies like 5G. It would resolve some of the bandwidth challenges.

2.Digital literacy

Digital literacy needs special attention at the school / college level.

 The National Digital Literacy Mission should focus on introducing digital literacy at the primary school level in all government schools for basic content and in higher classes and colleges for advanced content.

When these students will educate their family members, it will create multiplier effects. Higher digital literacy will also increase the adoption of computer hardware across the country.

State governments should pay particular attention to content creation in the Indian regional languages, particularly those related to government services.

Natural language processing ( NLP) in Indian languages needs to be promoted.

4.Role of regulators

Regulators should minimize entry barriers by reforming licensing, taxation, spectrum allocation norms.

TRAI should consider putting in place a credible system. This system will track call drops, weak signals, and outages. It ensures the quality and reliability of telecom services.

5.Cybersecurity

MeitY will need to evolve a comprehensive cybersecurity framework for data security, safe digital transactions, and complaint redressal.

Telecom ombudsman

The government should also set up telecom ombudsman for the redress of grievances.

  • The Standing Committee on Information Technology in January 2019 concluded that the digital literacy efforts of the government are far from satisfactory.
  • Clearly, internet penetration is not deep enough. At one level, we all recognise that the internet has become indispensable.
  • On another level, it still doesn’t have adequate attention of the decision-makers.
  • The most crucial need of the hour is to ensure uninterrupted internet services.

Back2Basics: Digital India Initiatives

  • Over the past decade, governments have been trying to improve internet access in the country.
  • In 2011, the BharatNet project was launched to connect 0.25 million panchayats through an optical fibre (100 MBPS) and connect India’s villages. Its implementation began only in 2014.
  • In 2014, the government launched the National Digital Literacy Mission and the Digital Saksharta Abhiyan.
  • In 2015, the government launched several schemes under its Digital India campaign to connect the entire country.
  • This includes the PM Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan, launched in 2017, to usher in digital literacy in rural India by covering 60 million households.

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How COVID-19 deepens the digital education divide in India

A girl, who has missed her online classes due to a lack of internet facilities, sits on the ground in a circle drawn with chalk to maintain safe distance as she listens to pre-recorded lessons over loudspeakers, after schools were closed following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Dandwal village in the western state of Maharashtra, India, July 23, 2020. Picture taken July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Prashant Waydande - RC2P6I9O9AW2

A girl, who has missed her online classes due to a lack of internet facilities, listens to pre-recorded lessons over loudspeakers in the western state of Maharashtra Image:  REUTERS/Prashant Waydande

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  • A total of 320 million learners in India have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and have transitioned to e-learning;
  • With huge regional and household disparities in access to the internet and technology, this transition has not been possible for all students and educators;
  • The rapid shift to e-learning prompted by the pandemic has resurfaced long-standing issues of inequality and a digital divide in India that must be addressed by future economic, education and digitalization policies.

The education system in India is facing a new crisis thanks to COVID-19. Besides the effect on short-term learning outcomes, extended school closures will result in a loss in human capital and diminished economic opportunities in the long run.

Have you read?

This innovative solution is helping indian children get an education during the pandemic, india's superpower is education. here's why it must build on this, covid-19 has intensified the digital divide.

Literature suggests that for countries with already low learning outcomes, high dropout rates, low resilience to shock and inadequate infrastructure to build back better the impact on education will be felt even more deeply.

What does this mean for India and its people?

India has the world’s second-largest school system, after China . Shutting schools to maintain social distancing amidst the COVID-19 crisis was the most logical solution to avoid community transmission. However, this prolonged closure has a disproportionately negative impact on the most vulnerable students. The pandemic has not only caused the wide rift in educational inequality to balloon but also exacerbated existing disparities .

A total of 320 million learners in India have been adversely affected and transitioned to the e-learning industry, which comprises a network of 1.5 million schools . An NSSO 2014 report highlights that 32 million children were already out of school before the pandemic — the majority of them belonging to the socially disadvantaged class in the country.

While the government endorses India as the flag-bearer of the digital revolution and acknowledges that it is a diverse and multilingual country, as supported by the recently drafted new education policy , e-learning platforms cannot replicate the various dialects, varied contexts and different lived experiences that are brought together by physical classrooms. If e-learning is the “new normal”, the policy must go further to address the feasibility of digitalization to ensure equity and quality in education.

The operational burden

E-learning, as the name suggests, relies on the availability and accessibility of technology, but little or no availability of electricity is a significant challenge to taking advantage of education online. In a recent 2017-18 survey , the Ministry of Rural Development found that only 47% of Indian households receive more than 12 hours of electricity and more than 36% of schools in India operate without electricity. This suggests that while students from families with better means of living can easily bridge the transition to remote learning, students from underprivileged backgrounds are likely to succumb to inefficiency and a lack of adaptation, either because of the inaccessibility of the technology or the low education of their parents to guide them through tech-savvy applications.

Aside from the stresses of access and affordability, a daunting task for a student is to keep up with their studies and peers. Unlike an active classroom setting, e-learning does not accommodate one-to-one discussions or problem solving with tutors. Reports emphasize that the receivers (students) are not the only ones struggling – teachers are too. Teachers and institutions are not always trained and equipped to transition to online teaching. Many teachers are unqualified when it comes to using new technologies and interfaces.

The digital divide and gender bias

NSSO 2014-2015 data suggests that economic factors are critical to children dropping out of school in India. The pandemic and lockdown have affected 1.4m migrant workers and others working in the unorganized sector (90% of India’s population is engaged in disorganized work). The migrant workers have either moved back home along with their children or are unable to send remittances home this season. In such a situation, the emphasis on technology-driven education is preventing many children in the country from continuing school education.

According to the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report , based on the 2017-18 NSSO, fewer than 15% of rural Indian households have internet access (as opposed to 42% urban Indian households). A mere 13% of people surveyed (aged above five) in rural areas — just 8.5% of females — could use the internet. Girls in vulnerable households face increased domestic duties inducing their inability to access online education either because of inadequate access to the internet and gadgets or because the male child and his teaching are prioritized. This silent exclusion of children belonging to families in distress may cause child labour and child marriage.

Regional disparities in internet access in India

Economic reform policies have always leaned towards hyper-digitalization. For a long time, they have discussed how to innovate working and studying with at-home technologies. However, the implementation of these policies has not addressed the educational inequalities that have today emerged as a crisis in the caste and class struggle in India.

The scope of e-learning is enormous and can help realize the potential of each student. There lie both opportunities and challenges for the government and the private sector. The aim should be to ensure equal and adequate access to such platforms as the country continues to globalize and catch up with advanced economies. If the Indian education system aims to transit to online learning in the future, it must emphasize policies that bridge the digital divide and move the country closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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  • Recently, the NGO Oxfam India released ‘India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide’.

Report highlights

  • The report analyses the primary data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) household survey held from Jan 2018 to Dec 2021.
  • Indian women are 15 percent less likely to own a mobile phone and 33 percent less likely to use mobile internet services than men.
  • Women constitute only one-third of internet users in India.
  • In Asia-Pacific, India fares the worst with the widest gender gap of 40.4 percent, says the study. 
  • Despite registering a significant (digital) growth rate of 13 percent in a year, only 31 percent of the rural population uses the Internet compared to 67 percent of their urban counterparts, says the report.
  • In rural India, the tendency to use formal financial services is lowest for ST households, followed by SC households and OBC households.
  • The likelihood of access to a computer is more for the General and OBC groups than for the SC and ST populations. 
  • The difference between the general category and ST is as high as seven to eight percent between 2018 and 2021.
  • Among all religions, Sikhs have the highest likelihood of having a computer followed by Christians, Hindus and lastly Muslims.
  • Among states, Maharashtra has the highest internet penetration, followed by Goa and Kerala, while Bihar has the lowest, followed by Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the report said.
  • As per the National Service Scheme [NSS (2017-18)], only about 9 percent of the students who were enrolled in any course had access to a computer with internet and 25 percent of enrolled students had access to the internet through any kind of devices.
  • The chances of having a computer are higher with higher levels of education as well as income. 
  • The digital push driven by the pandemic resulted in India experiencing the largest number of real-time digital transactions in 2021 at 48.6 billion.
  • However, the likelihood of a digital payment by the richest 60 percent is four times more than the poorest 40 percent in India.
  • According to UN’s e-participation index (2022), which is a composite measure of three important dimensions of e-government, namely provision of online services, telecommunication connectivity and human capacity, India ranks 105 out of 193 nations .

More about the digital divide

  • The digital divide is a term that refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology (ICT), and those that don’t or have restricted access. 
  • This technology can include the telephone, television, personal computers and internet connectivity.
  • Even among populations with some access to technology, the digital divide can be evident in the form of lower-performance computers, lower-speed wireless connections, lower-priced internet use connections such as dial-up and limited access to subscription-based content.
  • Proponents for bridging the digital divide include those who argue it would improve digital literacy, digital skills democracy, social mobility, economic equality and economic growth.
  • Loopholes causing the divide:
  • The vast majority believe the problem is getting worse.
  • Women’s rights defenders and female journalists were targeted for abuse more than most.
  • The third threat comes from badly designed artificial intelligence systems that repeat and exacerbate discrimination. 

Solutions & way ahead

  • Addressing the digital divide requires special, urgent and focused efforts of the government.
  • A large investment needs to be made, year after year, in digital infrastructure. 
  • The establishment of a Broadband Infrastructure Fund with a large corpus from private, multilateral and government sources, including spectrum auction revenues, is a must. 
  • An empowered entity needs to be set up which is accountable for quality and timeliness to design and construct digital highways, their rural branches, and ensure their optimum utilisation by sharing the infrastructure
  • Social media sites can use their “algorithm power” to proactively tackle the issue of safety.
  • Governments need to strengthen laws that hold online abusers to account, and the public to speak up whenever they witness abuse online.
  • Digital skills, required today both for life and for livelihoods, must be imparted on a war footing by transforming government digital literacy programmes into skilling missions, expanding outreach, including through the private sector.
  • The last mile delivery of services has to be made a reality and connectivity, devices and handholding assistance of trained persons at village service centres, schools and clinics is imperative.

Sources: TH

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India’s gendered digital divide: How the absence of digital access is leaving women behind

Expert speak digital frontiers, published on aug 22, 2021.

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As COVID-19 coursed through countries, governments responded with lockdowns that drove people towards digital marketplaces. Globally, digital adoption escalated by five years in merely two months in 2020. India has set a target of reaching a US $1 trillion digital economy by 2025, a five fold growth from the US $200 million in 2017–18.

Yet, while COVID-19 propelled a 500 percent increase in tele-health consultations, a structural shift towards online shopping with e-retail reaching 95 percent of Indian districts, and digital payments touching the 100 million transactions per day mark, it amplified another trend: The gendered digital divide.

Bangladesh’s gender gap in mobile ownership stood at 24 percent and 41 percent in mobile usage. Pakistan’s gender gaps were even higher at 34 percent for mobile ownership and 43 percent for mobile usage.

Indian women are 15 percent less likely to own a mobile phone, and 33 percent less likely to use mobile internet services than men. In 2020, 25 percent of the total adult female population owned a smartphone versus 41 percent of adult men. In comparison, Bangladesh’s gender gap in mobile ownership stood at 24 percent and 41 percent in mobile usage. Pakistan’s gender gaps were even higher at 34 percent for mobile ownership and 43 percent for mobile usage. Despite the mobile ownership gap reducing from 26 percent to 19 percent, and mobile internet use gap from 67 percent to 36 percent, between 2017 to 2020 , South Asia continues to have the widest mobile gender gaps globally.

digital divide in india essay

Within Asia-pacific, India had the widest gender gap in internet usage in recent years, a gender gap of 40.4 percent with only 15 percent of women accessing the internet versus 25 percent of men. In comparison, in other Asian countries, the gender gap stood at 39.4 percent in Pakistan, in 11.1 percent in Indonesia, and 2.3 percent in People’s Republic of China.

digital divide in india essay

This gendered digital divide is often born out of a triple disadvantage for women in India. First, there is a rural-urban digital divide, such that rural broadband penetration is only 29 percent against a national average of 51 percent. Across states , women in rural areas are less likely to own mobile phones, with this rural-urban divide being the narrowest in Goa, Kerala, and Northeastern states, and the widest in West Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. Second, there is an income-based digital divide between households. Given the average price for data is US $0.68/GB in India , our estimates show that each GB of data costs low-income households (earning less than US$2/day) 3 percent of their monthly income versus 0.2 percent for middle-income households (earning US $10–$20 per day). Finally, intra-household discrimination prevents women from equitably accessing digital devices within the domestic sphere, which in turn widens the gender-based digital divide.

There is a rural-urban digital divide, such that rural broadband penetration is only 29 percent against a national average of 51 percent.

Even when they are permitted to own or use household-level mobile devices, women’s online activity is often governed by male relatives. While mobile phones are viewed as a risk to women’s reputation pre-marriage; post-marriage, phone-use is viewed as an interruption to caregiving responsibilities . Women generally refrain from speaking on their phones in public places, preferring to conduct their conversation within the home , owing to prevailing social norms and fear of judgement. In this social structure, women have found themselves excluded from the growing digital economy post COVID-19, especially when aspiring for online schooling, skill training, entrepreneurship, and work opportunities.

Between March 2020 to February 2021 , Indian schools were fully closed for 62 percent of instruction days, and partially for 38 percent. These school closures placed 320 million students including 158 million girls at risk of dropping out and reaching large learning gaps. During this period, nearly three-quarter of rural students, across government/private schools, received teaching material over WhatsApp, and nearly 1 in 10 parents purchased a smartphone for online learning. However, during consultations with our team at Nikore Associates , several stakeholders noted that families exhibited a preference for male family members during the COVID-19 period. They ensured their sons had the privilege of digital devices and data packs access even when facing income constraints, but did not extend the same treatment to their daughters.

Digital illiteracy and unfamiliarity with digital platforms deterred women entrepreneurs from moving to online marketplaces post COVID-19. Stakeholder consultations by Nikore Associates found that despite their incomes being nearly wiped out due to cancellation of physical fairs and exhibitions during COVID-19, Jhuri-makers (bamboo artisans) in West Bengal were reluctant to move to online platforms due to limited knowledge of social media and digital marketing channels, combined with high data costs. Women Self-Help Group (SHG) members across states like Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat shared that even though women in their community were using phones for personal use, they were unable to make financial transactions online, and did not use phones for their businesses.

Digital illiteracy and unfamiliarity with digital platforms deterred women entrepreneurs from moving to online marketplaces post COVID-19.

The gendered digital divide is also preventing women and girls from accessing government social security benefits and even booking COVID-19 vaccination slots. Community-based organisations (CBOs) in Maharashtra shared that despite the State government announcing cash support for domestic workers in April 2021 to combat the economic impact of the second wave, many women were unable to access this relief, as they were not registered on government portals and were unaware of the online registration process. Further, the gender gap increased as vaccinations opened to wider population groups, with the female to male vaccination ratio worsening from 0.96 at end-March 2021 to 0.9 at end-June 2021.  Online registration being mandatory to avail the COVID-19 till June 2021 has been a key reason for this gap.

On a more encouraging note, there are several examples to show that concerted efforts for enhancing digital literacy and financial support for accessing devices at the community level can improve women’s livelihoods. Mann Deshi Foundation , a community-based financial services enterprise in Maharashtra, introduced a low-cost EMI programme that allows women to purchase smartphones. Approximately 80 percent of the women in their community purchased smartphones by availing this scheme. Several “Digital Didis” were trained and engaged to help women navigate online platforms and digital marketplaces. Thanks to these hybrid training programmes and focused support, women entrepreneurs joined WhatsApp-based and online marketplaces to sell masks, processed foods, textiles, and other products during COVID-19. The Human Development and Research Centre in Gujarat started a “mobile library” for young women from low-income households to borrow phones to attend online skill training sessions. The Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission organised online skill training for women SHGs on mask production and trading on digital marketing websites, and facilitated a partnership with Amazon to help women entrepreneurs survive the pandemic.

Stakeholder consultations with CBOs also illustrated that the benefits of enhanced access to phones went beyond livelihood support, especially in rural areas. Owning a mobile phone allowed rural women to contact CBOs for counselling and medical resources during the pandemic. Rural women with smartphones were more likely to search the internet to get additional information regarding COVID-19 symptoms and treatment and rely on multiple data sources.

Providing equitable access to smartphones and the internet will equip women with the knowledge and resources they need to effectively participate in the national economy.

Moving forward, governments and private sector organisations should support CBOs to upscale community-led digital literacy and digital financial inclusion programmes to address the gendered digital divide. Programmes and initiatives across three action pillars should be prioritised:

  • Easing access to mobile devices, e.g.m by providing free mobiles/tablets to school-going girls, female health workers (including Accredited Social Health Activists, Anganwadi Workers, and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives), female teachers and female community leaders and the rural/urban poor; or offering affordable smartphone loans for women through corporate social responsibility and government schemes.
  • Digital literacy programmes for women and girls, including increasing public investment in the PM Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan scheme from its current allocation of INR 300 crores in FY2022 , of which 40 percent is for women and girls; launching tailored digital training courses for women entrepreneurs on digital marketing and digital payments; and integrating digital literacy in school curricula.
  • Investment in rural digital connectivity through the rapid implementation of the BharatNet programme to provide rural broadband connectivity and establishing village level high speed internet connectivity hubs.

While there is no doubt that India is digitising rapidly, the country’s women must not be left out of the virtual conversation. Providing equitable access to smartphones and the internet will equip women with the knowledge and resources they need to effectively participate in the national economy. It is. therefore, imperative to not only increase women’s smartphone ownership as it assists in internet adoption, but also to accelerate digital literacy programmes and work towards ending digital discrimination based on gender norms.

Research assistance: Shruti Jha, Unmuktman Singh, Ishita Mahajan  

Note: The authors are part of Nikore Associates, a youth-led economics research and policy think tank. Several findings in this article draw on consultations with over 60 stakeholders belonging to CBOs, academic institutions, government agencies, women-led SHGs, and corporate sector organisations conducted by Nikore Associates between September 2020 to May 2021 to understand the impact of COVID-19 on women’s lives and livelihoods.

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Digital Divide in India: Prospects and Challenges

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Abstract Present era is the era of globalization due to which the distances between the people has been reduced by turning the whole world into the global village. In the present globalised world technology is one the major force and most potent instrument of social change and social progress. Technology plays an important role in producing new ideas and removing barriers between the people. In the recent decade, the notion of ‘digital divide’ has been comprehensively and widely researched and has attracted large spectrum of public speculation for its economic, social and political consequences. Studies have revealed that the gap existing between those who have access to ICTs and those who do not have access creates exclusion, threatening social integration and hamper economic growth. This article discusses initiatives taken by government of India towards the access to digital information and the critical role played by numerous nationwide programs in bridging the digital divide. The article also focuses on some of the key impediments and barriers to digitization and the need for strong determination, good policy–making and political support in bridging the digital divide in the country.

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RESEARCH REVIEW International Journal of Multidisciplinary

TAPASHI DASGUPTA

Change is the only constant and so with changes in time, world changes. What was latest yesterday becomes outdated today and in today"s world technology is changing at such a fast pace that if one is not well equipped and informed then the possibilities of missing many important opportunities in life is inevitable. Though change is inevitable and one must learn new technologies to adapt to this ever changing world, equipping oneself is not taking place at the same pace in every corner of the world. Developed countries are better equipped and learn faster whereas developing and under developed countries fail to implement changes due to lack of infrastructural access and learning skills. This difference is leading to a division among countries, societies, race and people in harnessing technology fruitfully and is termed as digital divide. An attempt is made by the researcher through this paper to explore the digital divide that exists in India and bring to the front the penetration of internet and its usage by the people in India; also the initiatives under the ambitious Digital India Program is highlighted in the paper to find out India"s progress in transforming itself into a digital society.

digital divide in india essay

Abdul Tharayil

IJSRP Journal

The phase Digital Divide has been applied to the gap that exists in most Countries between those with ready access to the tools of information and communication technology and the knowledge that they provide access to and those without such access skills. A further gap between the developed and under developed world in the uptake of technology is evident with in the global community and may be of even greater significant. The relevance of these strategies to developing countries and strategies for reducing the international digital divide are also explored. Libraries have long been essential agents in fostering peace and human values. Libraries are now operating digitally, and their digital services open up a new channel to the universe of knowledge and information connecting cultures across geographical and social boundaries. The phenomenon of digital discrimination prevailing among various social, political and working groups has led to the emergence of digital information rich and digital information poor groups within societies and perhaps in the global environment. This paper discusses how the digital divide can influence to the Indian scenario also to the global world.

Mohammad Swalehin

The digital divide or digital split is a social issue referring to the differing amount of information between those who have access to internet and those who do not have access to the internet. The term assumes that such an access variance leads to social discrepancies owing to the alterations in the benefit conferred upon those who use this technology and those who do not use it. Digital divide is not merely a concern for developing countries even it's a reality for developed countries of the world as well. This occurrence has been gaining attention worldwide for digitally enabled social policies and planning. The Indian government ambitious project, ‘digital India', would be a reality only if it includes the neglected section of the society. The objectives of the paper are: a) to delineate digital divide in India and its concern & b) to ascertain the digital inclusive policies in India.Key Words: Digital divide, Digital opportunity initiatives, digital empowerment etc. ...

Krishna Prasad Rao

"Digital empowerment" perhaps a phrase which is highly used in the national agenda since the declaration of digital India movement, because the internet is the best change management tool and facilitates transparency, accountability, responsibility, equality, and many more. It will produce a world where the low-powered and also the powerful relish equal opportunities to be online and equal possibilities to access information. Deficiency in "digital empowerment" is known as the digital divide. It is natural those who have ingress with the internet or digital sources are superior to those don"t have. The Republic of India is one in all the countries where the digital divide is incredibly evident. The researcher conducted analysis studies on the premise of secondary sources of information by keeping in sight of the provisions of objectives and practicability. This paper is an attempt to study the concept, measurement, dimensions, and determinants of digital divide, and this paper also analyzed the current cachets of digital divide in India thoroughly through the prism of Teledensity divide, mobile divide and, internet divide. In a nutshell, the disparity of haves and haves-not"s of digital technology intimidate to provoke the cracks between the wealthy and poor, urban and rural. Though India has created encouraging efforts to bridge the gap by initiating a variety of projects and programs for rural and remote locations, loads a lot of needs to be done to bring the people into the knowledge society. All that's needed is robust determination among individuals, smart policymakers and political support to bridge the digital divide.

Satish Sood

— India, a union of states, is the second most populous nation in the Asian region behind China. The country has achieved impressive progress in the field of science and technology and is emerging as one of the strongest economies in the developing world. Information and communication technologies have brought significant changes in development of the Indian society through information dissemination. Technology today is what industrial machines were to the industrial revolution. In today's world they are engines of growth, power and wealth and very crucial for economic and social development. No other technology is as profound as information technology (IT) in human history. IT has had a great influence on the economy and lives of people across the world. In India the benefits of IT are beginning to be seen and the impacts of these benefits are creating great change. It is also true that the use of digital technologies in the world has not only improved people's day–to–day life but it has also divided the world into information rich and information poor, i.e. the information haves and have–nots. The unequal access to information and communication technologies has led to a massive divide digitally. Although India has been one of the emerging super powers in IT, the benefits have been remarkably slow, particularly in rural and remote areas. Besides socio–economic factors, geographic, educational and attitudinal factors have been some of the challenges for the government when introducing IT–oriented programs. In this paper we discusses several ongoing projects and programmes initiated by the government, non–government organizations and private business houses, and describes some of the challenges faced by the country in overcoming these barriers. The scope of this paper is to highlight the reflections rather than to sharply draw any conclusions.

Navneet Kumar Sharma

Modernisation of present day society largely depends on the numbers of individuals using internet as a part of their daily life. India is going through the important phase of modernisation with the help of revolution in Information and Communication Technology and " Digital India " scheme launched by Indian government. Since around 60% of the total population lives in rural or suburban regions, so it seems to be very challenging to project the idea of digital India to such populations. Here the term " Digital Divide " comes into the picture which states about the disparity between information-rich and information-poor people. Government schemes like 'Digital India' project are an approach towards diminishing the digital divide. Libraries as a social service institution has to play a major role in minifying the gap of digital divide. They can impart crucial role in making India a global digital power. Librarians and information professionals have to develop certain user-oriented skills and redefine their service menu. This paper aims to outline the different areas in which librarians can work together to minimize the gap of digital divide in rural as well urban regions. It also discusses the possible causes for the digital divide in India. Keeping all the important factors of above mentioned topics, this paper highlights the basic concept of digital divide and role of librarians in uplifting the socioeconomic status of the common people. ___________________________________________________________________________

Vigneswara Ilavarasan

Dr. Anand Chopra

Edward Kabaale

Information Communication Technology is increasingly becoming beneficial to humankind, given the latest developments. Today, there is so much potential to the extent that using ICTs, we are able to communicate, conduct financial transactions such as cash deposits and withdrawals at banks, money transfers, pay school fees and other bills using mobile phones. However, most, of these technologies are within few hands. The gap between those who have and those who do not have access to these technologies in India is on the increase. This study used a qualitative research approach to explore the digital divide challenge in India's state of Gujarat. The study also examined the approaches that had been undertaken to address the digital divide challenge. Findings indicate that the digital divide in Gujarat state affects people irrespective of gender, age group, location, literacy level, income and physical ability. The approaches used to mitigate the digital divide and enhance universali...

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Insights into Editorial: Bridging the digital divide in education

digital divide in india essay

While the pandemic has accelerated education online, it has also exposed a deep digital divide , with more than 30% students not having access to online learning.

This has increased the focus on building inclusive solutions in EdTech.

A ray of hope in this context is the National Digital Educational Architecture (NDEAR) , the blueprint for which was recently released by the government.

Set up as a digital pathway to the policy goals envisioned in the National Education Policy, 2020, NDEAR takes on a ‘Open Digital Ecosystem’ approach , where a set of principles, standards, specifications, building blocks and guidelines seek to enable different entities to create elements of the digital education ecosystem.

At its core is the principle of interoperability , i.e., enabling disparate education related tech systems to “talk to each other” seamlessly, rather than operating in silos, thereby multiplying the possibilities of impact.

National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR):

National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR) is federated, unbundled, interoperable, inclusive, accessible, evolving which aims to create and deliver diverse, relevant, contextual, innovative solutions that benefit students, teachers, parents, communities, administrators and result in timely implementation of policy goals.

NDEAR is under the aegis of the Ministry of Education in collaboration with Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY).

NDEAR is meant to enable a common set of principles and approaches to be followed in building, using and re-using technology for education .

There are four fundamental issues that implementers and enablers will have to factor in:

First, it will be important to ensure that NDEAR’s implementation improves and not worsens access to education in the context of India’s digital divide.

  • As per 2019-20 UDISE+ data, only 38.5% of schools across the country had computers and 22.3% of schools had an internet connection.
  • Therefore, it is crucial that the NDEAR vision is supplemented by concerted policy efforts to equip schools with the necessary ICT infrastructure , like Kerala’s KITE enabled interventions.
  • Examples such as in Jharkhand’s DigiSATH initiative which leverages WhatsApp, television, the DIKSHA app as well as offline learning to connect all stakeholders.

Second, to ensure adoption of NDEAR enabled solutions and build the legitimacy of digital learning , it will be important to recognise the role parents play in both monitoring and facilitating their children’s learning, and engage them meaningfully.

An attempt has been made in Himachal Pradesh through the government’s e-Samwad application where schools send regular SMS updates to parents to establish a direct channel of communication.

Third, NDEAR will need to ensure that the data rights of children remain secure.

  • The potential of EdTech solutions delivered through NDEAR will depend on their responsible deployment, which would include responsible collection, sharing and processing of data.
  • Since children will never be fully cognisant of the privacy risks that the digital world entails, the compliance with the upcoming Personal Data Protection Bill, with additional safeguards given the target audience of this platform, will be important.
  • There are good frameworks for this both in the United States and the European Union that can be leveraged.

Lastly, given the pace at which digital learning is growing, NDEAR’s development should be firmly anchored in an ‘accountable institution’ that can guide its quick development while providing independent oversight needed for the management of the platform.

Digital education regarding to Indian Constitution:

‘Equality of Opportunity’ is one of the basic principles of the Indian Constitution .

Shifting to a system that benefits only a section of people and leaves behind the neediest ruins the very notion of this statement.

Moreover, digital education is something where India is not successful yet.

There is still a lot to do in terms of checking if students’ entitlements are not being compromised or in providing meaningful academic curriculum alternatives.

Way Forward:

  • A Multi-Pronged Approach: Flexible rescheduling the academic timetable and exploring options in collaboration with schools, teachers, and parents for providing access to education to a larger section of students.
  • Staggering teacher-student interactions in physical mode with not more than 50% of the total strength attending schools on alternate days.
  • Giving priority to the less advantaged students who do not have access to e-learning.
  • Genuine efforts must be invested to ensure every child gets good quality equitable education as a fundamental right.
  • Making Online Education More Effective : Shorter but quality discussions rather than long hours of monotonous sitting and one-way communication, should be preferred.
  • The teacher’s role has to go beyond just being in control of the class to being a facilitator for the transfer of knowledge.
  • Focussing more on Knowledge Aspect : Education is not about competence but more about motivation. The students are meant to discover not just cover the syllabus.
  • The system should not just heartlessly push the students and teachers in only finishing the course regardless of any gain of knowledge, stress should be upon quality learning and not quantity cramming.

Conclusion:

NDEAR presents an audacious vision to leverage the power of tech to enhance India’s education system.

Such an institution should have representation from tech and domain experts as well as teachers and parents to help ensure the NDEAR architecture delivers tech solutions that are truly student-centric.

This vision must now be matched with the right non-tech, student-centric enablers and safeguards to achieve its potential .

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Reflecting on India’s Development pp 293–310 Cite as

Gender Digital Divide in India: Impacting Women’s Participation in the Labour Market

  • Sharmistha Sinha 2  
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Digital technology and globalization has brought in a sea change in the landscape of work with increasing access to work, information, newer production hubs, etc. In India, there had been significant strides in digital intervention through Digital India initiative, Aadhaar (unique identity number), JAM, ICT initiatives to enhance women’s economic autonomy, newer production structure, digital transactions, etc. In the labour market in India, however, most of the workers are informal workers. Women are either self-employed (mostly unpaid family workers) or casual workers, working mostly at the lower rung of the occupational ladder as agricultural labourers, petty traders, manufacturing outworkers, etc. In this context, the paper explores whether women can leverage the opportunities, be it trade or manufacturing or financial services, created by digital transformation. The study argues that differences in access along with factors like inequality in education and professional training, access to finance, asset holding, etc. lead to gender digital divide, restricting the transformational effects that digital technologies are creating. Women are typically employed at the last end of the value chains or occupational chain and bereft of any social security and in survivalist state, rather than growing. The paper suggests a set of policies so that women in India are a part of and benefit from the digital dividends.

  • Digital gender gap
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Sinha, S. (2018). Gender Digital Divide in India: Impacting Women’s Participation in the Labour Market. In: NILERD (eds) Reflecting on India’s Development. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-1414-8_14

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Explained: How digital divide impacts young India’s Covid-19 vaccination chances

The cowin portal, which was opened for registration for the 18-44 age group on may 1, has come under the scanner for its potential to exclude those on the other side of the digital divide given that registration is mandatory..

digital divide in india essay

Hearing a suo motu case recently, the Supreme Court asked the government to “ wake up and smell the coffee ”, stressing a ‘digital divide’ causing unequal access to Covid-19 vaccines in India. The CoWin portal, which was opened for registration for the 18-44 age group on May 1, has come under the scanner for its potential to exclude those on the other side of the digital divide given that registration is mandatory.

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digital divide in india essay

How wide is the digital divide?

In the Lokniti-CSDS National Election Study 2019, only 1 in every 3 were found to be using smartphones (approximately 90% of the smartphone users had Internet in their phones), and merely 16% and 10% households had access to a computer/laptop and an Internet connection at home, respectively. Even though 18-44-year-olds were more likely to own smartphones (nearly half), the proportion is still dismal, with the majority of the chunk likely to get the jab later than their privileged counterparts.

In 2017, 24% Indians (and 35% among 18-44s) owned smartphones. Going by our most recent data of late 2020 and early 2021, in the five states that went to polls most recently — Bihar, Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala — smartphone users have grown by 12%, from 33% in 2019 to 45% in 2020-21. Among 18-44s, this proportion improved from 47% to 56%. Since we also find that these five states taken together mirrored the national average for smartphone ownership both in 2017 and 2019, we assume a similar growth nationally as well. This would mean that a majority of the population in India still finds itself at the wrong side of the digital divide.

digital divide in india essay

Who all stand at the risk of exclusion?

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Unsurprisingly, the urban, the rich, the upper castes, the rich, the educated and men are more likely to own Internet-enabled smartphones, while the rest stand at a risk of exclusion from accessing vaccines.

Women, for instance, are far less likely to own smartphones, with a gap of 22 percentage points among 18-44s. Further, the digital divide accentuates through caste and class — the rich (18-44 years) are three times more likely than the poor, while the upper castes are more than 1.5 times likely than SCs/STs (Table 1) to have a smartphone. What’s more, even among those between 18-44, the divide is quite significant with the youngest chunk of 18-25 twice as likely to own a smartphone as 36-44s.

Backing up the Supreme Court’s observation, the data highlights the “farfetchedness of an illiterate villager from rural India crossing the ‘digital divide’ to register for Covid-19 vaccine on the CoWin portal”. Among 18-44, merely 8% of non-literates, 17% of those who studied up to the primary, and 40% of those educated up to matric own smartphones, as against three in four (74%) of college-educated. The urban-rural divide too is colossal, as highlighted in Table 1, with more than three-fifths of the 18-44 urban population owning smartphones, as against less than two-fifth in rural spaces. Even among urban dwellers, 72% of 18-44s in cities own smartphones, as against 56% in towns. With the second wave of Covid-19 spreading into the interiors, which had largely remained unaffected during the first wave, the rural-urban asymmetry in the vaccination coverage needs to be addressed.

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Does the digital divide cut across states?

Table 2 shows a state-wise comparison of smartphone users in the 18-44 age group with the proportion of those vaccinated with at least one dose as of June 1, i.e. exactly a month since the inclusion of this age group. Of the nine states that stand below the national average of smartphone users, seven also fall behind the nationwide average of 18% who got their first jab. Further, of the 10 states with the highest proportion of smartphone users, seven also feature among the top-performing states with regard to the administration of the first jab during the first month. Simply put, the lower the proportion of smartphone users in a state, the lower the chances of getting a jab, and vice versa. However, it must be emphasised that there are several other factors impacting the chances, including the availability of vaccines in a state.

As you read this, a sizeable population struggles to get a shot at the life-saving vaccine — some in the absence of an Internet-enabled smartphone, some due to ignorance of the registration process, some for not knowing the only language (English) the portal is available in, and the rest, in navigating through the complex multi-step journey on the portal for freezing a slot despite having the means.

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Essay on Digital India

essay on digital india

Here we have shared the Essay on Digital India in detail so you can use it in your exam or assignment of 150, 250, 400, 500, or 1000 words.

You can use this Essay on Digital India in any assignment or project whether you are in school (class 10th or 12th), college, or preparing for answer writing in competitive exams. 

Topics covered in this article.

Essay on Digital India in 150-200 words

Essay on digital india in 250-450 words.

  • Essay on Digital India in 500-1000 words

Digital India is an ambitious initiative launched by the Indian government to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. It aims to bridge the digital divide, ensure access to digital services, and empower citizens through technology.

Under the Digital India program, various initiatives have been undertaken to promote digital literacy, provide internet connectivity in remote areas, and digitize government services. The goal is to enhance the delivery of public services, improve governance, and increase transparency and efficiency.

This initiative has had a significant impact on various sectors, including education, healthcare, and e-governance. It has facilitated online learning opportunities, telemedicine services, and simplified access to government schemes and benefits.

Digital India has also encouraged the growth of the digital economy, promoting entrepreneurship and job creation. Start-ups and small businesses have flourished in the digital space, leveraging technology to innovate and reach a wider audience.

Overall, Digital India has played a pivotal role in driving India’s technological advancement and inclusive growth. It has empowered citizens by providing access to digital services, enabling participation in the digital economy, and fostering a digitally literate society.

Digital India is a flagship initiative launched by the Government of India with the vision to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. This ambitious program aims to bridge the digital divide, ensure universal digital access, and promote digital literacy and inclusion across the nation.

Under the Digital India campaign, several key initiatives have been implemented to bring about a digital revolution. One of the primary focuses is to provide high-speed internet connectivity to all citizens, particularly in rural and remote areas. The National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) and BharatNet projects have been instrumental in laying a strong digital infrastructure, connecting thousands of villages and enabling digital access in previously underserved regions.

Another crucial aspect of Digital India is the digitization of government services and processes. The aim is to make governance more efficient, transparent, and accessible to citizens. Initiatives like Digital Locker, e-Hospital, e-Education, and e-Panchayat have been launched to provide electronic storage of important documents, facilitate online healthcare services, promote digital learning, and enhance the functioning of local government bodies.

Digital literacy plays a significant role in the success of Digital India. The government has taken measures to promote digital literacy and skill development among citizens, particularly in rural areas. Programs like Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) aim to train individuals in digital literacy and enable them to access and use digital services effectively.

The Digital India program has had a profound impact on various sectors of the economy. It has revolutionized education by providing online learning opportunities and digital resources to students across the country. It has improved healthcare services through telemedicine, bringing medical expertise to remote areas. Additionally, the digital transformation has empowered farmers by providing them with real-time information on weather, crop patterns, market prices, and government schemes, enabling them to make informed decisions.

Furthermore, Digital India has given a significant boost to the digital economy and entrepreneurship. The rise of e-commerce platforms, digital payment systems, and online marketplaces has opened up new avenues for business and employment. Start-ups and small businesses have leveraged digital platforms to reach a wider audience, innovate, and contribute to economic growth.

In conclusion, Digital India is a transformative initiative that aims to create a digitally inclusive society and knowledge-based economy. It has made remarkable progress in bridging the digital divide, improving governance, promoting digital literacy, and fostering entrepreneurship. With continued efforts and investments, Digital India has the potential to empower every citizen, drive economic growth, and position India as a global leader in the digital era.

Essay on Digital India in 500 words

Introduction :.

Digital India is an ambitious initiative launched by the Government of India in 2015 with the vision to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. The program aims to bridge the digital divide, ensure universal digital access, and promote digital literacy and inclusion across the nation. By leveraging technology and digital solutions, Digital India seeks to revolutionize various sectors, enhance governance, and empower citizens to participate in the digital economy.

Key Initiatives and Components

Digital India encompasses several key initiatives and components that work together to achieve its objectives:

Broadband Connectivity: One of the primary focuses of Digital India is to provide affordable and high-speed internet connectivity to all citizens, particularly in rural and remote areas. The National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) and BharatNet projects have played a crucial role in connecting thousands of villages with broadband connectivity. These initiatives have laid the foundation for digital inclusion and access to digital services in previously underserved regions.

Digital Infrastructure: Alongside broadband connectivity, Digital India emphasizes the development of robust digital infrastructure. This includes the establishment of common service centers (CSCs) that act as service delivery points for various digital services. CSCs provide access to government schemes, online services, digital payments, and e-commerce platforms, thereby bridging the gap between citizens and digital resources.

E-Governance and Digital Services: Digitization of government services and processes is a key component of Digital India. The aim is to make governance more efficient, transparent, and citizen-centric. Initiatives like Digital Locker, e-Hospital, e-Education, and e-Panchayat have been launched to provide electronic storage of important documents, facilitate online healthcare services, promote digital learning, and enhance the functioning of local government bodies. The introduction of platforms like MyGov and e-Office has also improved citizen engagement and streamlined administrative processes.

Digital Literacy: Digital India recognizes the importance of digital literacy in ensuring effective participation in the digital era. The government has implemented various programs to promote digital literacy and skill development among citizens, particularly in rural areas. Initiatives like Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) aim to train individuals in digital literacy, enabling them to access and use digital services effectively.

Mobile Connectivity: In addition to broadband connectivity, Digital India acknowledges the significance of mobile connectivity in reaching the masses. The program promotes the adoption of mobile technology and the development of mobile applications to deliver government services, promote financial inclusion, and enhance access to information and digital resources.

Impact and Benefits

The Digital India program has had a transformative impact on various sectors of the economy and society. Some key areas of impact and benefits include:

Education: Digital India has revolutionized education by providing online learning opportunities and digital resources to students across the country. Digital classrooms, virtual labs, and e-learning platforms have expanded access to quality education, especially in remote areas. The availability of educational content in regional languages has also made learning more inclusive and accessible.

Healthcare: The program has significantly improved healthcare services through the adoption of telemedicine and digital health initiatives. Telemedicine has bridged the gap between doctors and patients in remote areas, enabling access to medical expertise and consultation through digital platforms. Electronic health records and online appointment systems have streamlined healthcare delivery, reducing waiting times and enhancing patient care.

Financial Inclusion: Digital India has played a crucial role in promoting financial inclusion and digital payments. Initiatives like Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar, and mobile banking have made banking services accessible to the unbanked population. The introduction of Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and digital wallets has simplified transactions, promoting a cashless economy and reducing the reliance on physical currency.

Governance and Public Services: The digitization of governmentservices has improved governance, transparency, and efficiency. Online portals and platforms have simplified access to government schemes, benefits, and services. Citizens can apply for documents, pay taxes, and avail of various services online, reducing paperwork, bureaucracy, and corruption. Digital initiatives have also enabled better monitoring and evaluation of government programs, ensuring accountability and effective implementation.

Entrepreneurship and Job Creation: Digital India has given a significant boost to the digital economy and entrepreneurship. The rise of e-commerce platforms, digital payment systems, and online marketplaces has opened up new avenues for business and employment. Start-ups and small businesses have leveraged digital platforms to reach a wider audience, innovate, and contribute to economic growth. The government’s initiatives like Start-up India and Stand-up India have provided support and incentives to budding entrepreneurs, fostering a culture of innovation and job creation.

Challenges and Way Forward

While Digital India has made significant strides, some challenges remain in achieving its full potential. These challenges include:

Infrastructure and Connectivity: Despite progress, there is a need to further improve infrastructure and connectivity, particularly in rural and remote areas. Broadband connectivity, reliable power supply, and last-mile connectivity need to be strengthened to ensure seamless access to digital services.

Digital Divide: The digital divide between urban and rural areas, as well as socioeconomic disparities, needs to be addressed. Efforts must be made to provide affordable devices, promote digital literacy, and tailor digital solutions to the specific needs of diverse communities.

Data Privacy and Security: With the increased use of digital services, ensuring data privacy and security is crucial. Robust mechanisms and regulations need to be in place to protect citizens’ data and prevent cyber threats.

Digital Literacy and Awareness: While progress has been made in promoting digital literacy, there is a need for continuous efforts to enhance awareness and build digital skills among citizens, especially in rural areas.

To overcome these challenges and further advance the Digital India initiative, it is imperative to:

  • Continue infrastructure development and improve connectivity in underserved areas.
  • Strengthen digital literacy programs and promote awareness of digital rights and responsibilities.
  • Foster collaboration between the government, private sector, and civil society to drive innovation and investment in digital technologies.
  • Ensure inclusive access to digital services, considering the needs of marginalized communities, differently-abled individuals, and non-English speakers.
  • Enhance data protection and cybersecurity measures to build trust and confidence among users.

Conclusion :

Digital India has made remarkable progress in transforming the country into a digitally empowered society. It has brought about positive changes in education, healthcare, governance, and entrepreneurship. The program has not only improved access to services but also empowered citizens to participate actively in the digital economy. By addressing the remaining challenges and focusing on sustainability, Digital India has the potential to drive inclusive growth, bridge the digital divide, and position India as a global leader in the digital era.

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Digital public infrastructure could help India become an $8-trillion economy by 2030: Report

The economic value added by dpi – such as aahaar, upi and fastag – could increase to between 2.9% and 4.2% of gdp by 2030 from 0.9% in 2022, said the report by nasscom and arthur d little international..

The report said that while DPI provides opportunities, challenges remain. These include the lack of connections between stakeholders, no real-time data, limited language options, and little reach beyond government services. Photo: iStock

Bengaluru: Digital public infrastructure (DPI) could help India become an $8-trillion economy by 2030, according to a report by the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) and Boston-based management consulting firm Arthur D Little International.

Digital public infrastructure refers to digital networks that help provide citizens with social services. Well-known examples include Aadhaar, the United Payments Interface (UPI), and Fastag.

According to the report, the successful adoption of such ‘mature’ DPIs and ‘budding’ DPIs (those that have a proof of concept and are ready for mass adoption), could help India achieve its goal of becoming a $1-trillion digital economy. It added that the economic value added by DPI could increase to between 2.9% and 4.2% of GDP by 2030, from 0.9% in 2022.

The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM), which aims to support India’s digital health infrastructure, will drive much of the increase in value, the report revealed. The Open Network for Digital Commerce, an open e-commerce platform set up by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, is expected to boost retail spending, it added.

“While mature DPIs have witnessed exponential adoption by 2022, the next seven or eight years offer an opportunity for further scalability, reaching even the most remote segments of the population. By 2030, DPI will significantly enhance efficiency and promote social and financial inclusion," said Brajesh Singh, president of Arthur D Little’s India division. “DPI’s impact extends beyond borders, envisioning a globally interconnected, inclusive future," said Debjani Ghosh, president of Nasscom.

The report said that while DPI provides opportunities, challenges remain. These include the lack of connections between stakeholders, no real-time data, limited language options, and little reach beyond government services.

The report said governments must provide policy support and regulatory clarity, and set up task forces to drive adoption of DPI. They must also look to partner with startups and enterprises.

DPI helps reap financial benefits by transforming service-delivery methods, the report said, adding that Indian citizens saved two working days each on average in 2022 thanks to digital services.

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APPLY TODAY to the 2024 Digital Equity Accelerator for nonprofit organizations in Brazil, Canada* and Poland

   mariama kabia – digital equity accelerator lead, social impact hp, mariama kabia – digital equity accelerator lead, social impact hp.

HP launched the Digital Equity Accelerator in 2022 as a way to support high-potential nonprofits to scale initiatives that address the digital divide. Over the last two years, our collaboration with extraordinary changemakers has expanded the reach of 17 nonprofits across six countries by 8.1 million people.   This progress is encouraging, but we know we can’t stop there.   A growing digital divide hinders billions of people around the world from equal access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities.  At HP, we are on a mission to change that reality and advance digital inclusion for everyone, in partnership with incredible nonprofits in communities facing the digital divide.    Today, we are excited to welcome submissions for the 2024 Digital Equity Accelerator , a joint initiative between HP Inc. and the HP Foundation, to help nonprofits from Brazil, Canada*, and Poland strengthen capacity and scale digital impact. The program offers selected nonprofit organizations a $100,000 USD grant, HP technology (~ $100,000 USD value), and six months of virtual training to scale digital equity solutions. Nonprofits in Brazil, Canada*, and Poland working to bridge the digital divide are invited to apply until March 1, 2024.    The 2024 Accelerator countries were strategically selected as areas of high opportunity, where HP has a local presence to support nonprofits working to address some of the most acute digital equity gaps. We’re excited to discover how organizations in these countries are making innovative strides toward digital equity, and how we can help extend their impact.   We’ve learned so much from our Accelerator nonprofit alums, our country teams, and the communities across India, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, and the United States where this work has taken place. This year, participants will not only benefit from these insights and learn from one another, they will also have access to the Accelerator’s full suite of resources.       The Digital Equity Accelerator is intended for nonprofits that deliver essential support to communities that are often or have traditionally been excluded from digital access, skills, and opportunities. These include women and girls, people with disabilities and aging populations, historically disconnected and marginalized groups, and teachers and healthcare practitioners.    The Accelerator is designed to extend the work of nonprofits that are addressing the digital divide in meaningful ways—such as developing digital literacy skills for career advancement and entrepreneurship, expanding access to information, strengthening educator networks, increasing technology access in schools, and building digital platforms for healthcare.    If this sounds like your organization, we would love for you to apply!     It will take partnership to achieve goals that aim to significantly close the digital divide, including HP’s goal to accelerate digital equity for 150 million people by 2030. We believe there are audacious solutions from amazing organizations that are poised to make an outsized impact on the world. We look forward to not only hearing about them, but supporting these solutions and the nonprofits that make them a reality.   To learn more and apply to HP’s Digital Equity Accelerator, please visit hp.com/digitalequityaccelerator. Applications close at 11:59 p.m. EST, March 1, 2024.   * Excluding the Province of Quebec.  

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In Latin America, Guards Don’t Control Prisons, Gangs Do

Intended to fight crime, Latin American prisons have instead become safe havens and recruitment centers for gangs, fueling a surge in violence.

A group of men with tattoos on their chests stares into the camera.

By Maria Abi-Habib ,  Annie Correal and Jack Nicas

Maria Abi-Habib reported from Mexico City, Annie Correal from Bogotá, Colombia, and Jack Nicas from Rio de Janeiro.

Ecuador’s military was sent in to seize control of the country’s prisons last month after two major gang leaders escaped and criminal groups quickly set off a nationwide revolt that paralyzed the country.

In Brazil last week, two inmates with connections to a major gang became the first to escape from one of the nation’s five maximum-security federal prisons, officials said.

Officials in Colombia have declared an emergency in its prisons after two guards were killed and several more targeted in what the government said was retaliation for its crackdown on major criminal groups.

Inside prisons across Latin America, criminal groups exercise unchallenged authority over prisoners, extracting money from them to buy protection or basic necessities, like food.

The prisons also act as a safe haven of sorts for incarcerated criminal leaders to remotely run their criminal enterprises on the outside, ordering killings, orchestrating the smuggling of drugs to the United States and Europe and directing kidnappings and extortion of local businesses.

When officials attempt to curtail the power criminal groups exercise from behind bars, their leaders often deploy members on the outside to push back.

“The principal center of gravity, the nexus of control of organized crime, lies within the prison compounds,” said Mario Pazmiño, a retired colonel and former director of intelligence for Ecuador’s Army, and an analyst on security matters.

“That’s where let’s say the management positions are, the command positions,” he added. “It is where they give the orders and dispensations for gangs to terrorize the country.”

Latin America’s prison population has exploded over the last two decades, driven by stricter crime measures like pretrial detentions, but governments across the region have not spent enough to handle the surge and instead have often relinquished control to inmates, experts on penal systems say.

Those sent to prison are often left with one choice: join a gang or face their wrath.

As a result, prisons have become crucial recruitment centers for Latin America’s largest and most violent cartels and gangs, strengthening their grip on society instead of weakening it.

Prison officials, who are underfunded, outnumbered, overwhelmed and frequently paid off, have largely given in to gang leaders in many prisons in exchange for a fragile peace.

Criminal groups fully or partly control well over half of Mexico’s 285 prisons, according to experts, while in Brazil the government often divides up penitentiaries based on gang affiliation in a bid to avoid unrest. In Ecuador, experts say most of the country’s 36 prisons are under some degree of gang control.

“The gang is solving a problem for the government,’’ said Benjamin Lessing, a University of Chicago political science professor who studies Latin American gangs and prisons. “This gives the gang a kind of power that’s really hard to measure, but is also hard to overestimate.”

Latin America’s prison population surged by 76 percent from 2010 to 2020 , according to the Inter-American Development Bank, far exceeding the region’s 10 percent population increase during the same period.

Many countries have imposed tougher law and order policies, including longer sentences and more convictions for low-level drug offenses , pushing most of the region’s penitentiaries beyond maximum capacity.

At the same time, governments have prioritized investing in their security forces as a way to clamp down on crime and flex their muscles to the public, rather than spend on prisons, which are less visible.

Brazil and Mexico, Latin America’s largest countries with the region’s biggest inmate populations, invest little on prisons: Brazil’s government spends roughly $14 per prisoner per day, while Mexico spends about $20. The United States spent about $117 per prisoner per day in 2022. Prison guards in Latin America also earn meager salaries, making them susceptible to bribes from gangs to smuggle in contraband or help high-profile detainees escape.

Federal officials in Brazil and Ecuador did not respond to requests for comment, while federal officials in Mexico declined. In general, Mexico and Brazil’s federal prisons have better financing and conditions than their state prisons.

The state of Rio de Janeiro, which runs some of Brazil’s most notorious prisons, said in a statement that it has separated inmates by their gang affiliation for decades “to ensure their physical safety,” and that the practice is allowed under Brazilian law.

Underscoring the power of prison gangs, some leaders of criminal groups live relatively comfortably behind bars, running supermarkets, cockfighting rings and nightclubs, and sometimes smuggling their families inside to live with them.

Ecuador’s prisons are a textbook example, experts say, of the problems afflicting penal systems in Latin America and how difficult they can be to address.

The riots in January erupted after Ecuador’s recently-elected president moved to tighten security in the prisons after an investigation by the attorney general showed how an imprisoned gang leader, enriched by cocaine trafficking, had corrupted judges, police officers, prison guards and even the former head of the prison system.

The president, Daniel Noboa, planned to transfer several gang leaders to a maximum-security facility, making it harder for them to operate their illicit businesses.

But those plans were leaked to gang leaders and one of them went missing from a sprawling prison compound.

A search for the leader inside the prison set off riots across the country’s jails, with dozens of inmates escaping, including the head of another powerful gang.

Gangs also ordered members to attack on the outside, experts said. They kidnapped police officers, burned cars, set off explosives and briefly seized a major television station.

Mr. Noboa responded by declaring an internal armed conflict, authorizing the military to target gangs on the streets and storm prisons. Inmates in at least one prison were stripped to their underwear and had their possessions confiscated and burned, according to the military and videos on social media.

The scenes were reminiscent of some in El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele declared a state of emergency in 2022 to tackle gang violence. About 75,000 people have been jailed, many without due process, according to human rights groups.

Two percent of Salvadorans are incarcerated, the highest proportion of any country in the world, according to the World Prison Brief, a database compiled by Birkbeck, University of London.

Mr. Bukele’s tactics have decimated the Central American country’s street gangs, reversed years of horrific violence and helped propel him to a second term.

But experts say thousands of innocent people have been incarcerated.

“What consequences does this have?” said Carlos Ponce, an expert on El Salvador and an assistant professor at the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada. “This will scar them and their families for life.”

The frequent use of pretrial detentions across the region to combat crime has left many people languishing in jail for months and even years waiting to be tried, human rights groups say. The practice has fallen particularly hard on the poorest, who cannot afford lawyers and face a tortoise-like judicial system with cases backed up for years.

In the first seven months of El Salvador’s state of emergency, 84 percent of all those arrested were in pretrial detention and nearly half of Mexico’s prison population is still waiting trial.

“Prisons can be defined as exploitation centers for poor people,” said Elena Azaola, a scholar in Mexico who has studied the country’s prison system for 30 years.

“Some have been imprisoned for 10 or 20 years without trial,’’ she added. “Many go out worse than when they came in.”

In fact, prisons in some Latin American countries are to some extent a revolving door.

About 40 percent of prisoners in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Chile are released only to be incarcerated again. While the recidivism rate is much higher in the United States, in Latin America many people locked up for minor, sometimes nonviolent offenses go on to commit more serious crimes, experts say, largely because petty criminals share prison cells with more serious offenders.

Both of Brazil’s largest gangs — the Red Command and the First Capital Command — actually began in prisons, which remain their centers of power.

Jefferson Quirino, a former gang member who completed five separate detentions in Rio’s prisons, said gangs controlled every prison he was in. In some, inmates often focused on running gang business outside the prison using the numerous cellphones they sneaked in, often with the help of guards who were bought off.

The gangs have such sway in Brazil’s prisons, where the authorities themselves often divide prisons by gang affiliation, that officials force new prisoners to pick a side, to limit violence.

“The first question they ask you is: ‘What gang do you belong to?’” said Mr. Quirino, who runs a program that helps keep poor children out of gangs. “In other words, they need to understand where to place you within the system, because otherwise you’ll die.”

That has helped criminal groups grow their ranks.

“Jail functions as a space for labor recruitment,” said Jacqueline Muniz, a former security chief for Rio de Janeiro.

“And for building loyalty among your criminal work force.”

Reporting was contributed by Emiliano Rodríguez Mega from Mexico City; José María León Cabrera from Quito, Ecuador; Thalíe Ponce from Guayaquil, Ecuador; Genevieve Glatsky from Bogotá, Colombia; and Laurence Blair from Asunción, Paraguay.

Maria Abi-Habib is an investigative correspondent based in Mexico City, covering Latin America. She previously reported from Afghanistan, across the Middle East and in India, where she covered South Asia. More about Maria Abi-Habib

Annie Correal reports from the U.S. and Latin America for The Times. More about Annie Correal

Jack Nicas is the Brazil bureau chief for The Times, based in Rio de Janeiro, where he leads coverage of much of South America. More about Jack Nicas

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COMMENTS

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  5. Digital divide in India

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  17. Digital Divide: India Inequality Report 2022

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