Digital India Gap widens; Oxfam

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Digital India is seeing a wide gap with wide differences in the use of Internet and Mobile among men and women, rural and urban population, educated and the uneducated. This comes up in a new OXFAM report titled “India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide”

In the report, Oxfam noted that when 31 per cent of the rural population in India used the internet, 67 per cent urban population used it, which showed that the progress Of digitalisation in the country was unequal.

While technology and digitalization benefitted the privileged, it has been the cause of inequalities creating a digital divide, said the  report.

“Technology has enabled knowledge and information sharing, has brought markets to the palm of our hands and increased access to basic services. Yet this is just one side of the story—of the privileged who have gadgets and uninterrupted internet connection at their homes and on their smartphones to reap the benefits of being online. The other side of the story is those of the marginalized—of those who are not digitally connected. This group of the technologically disconnected remain cut off from the benefits of this revolution and remain further behind,” said the report.

“The progress of digitalization, however, has been unequal. There is a notable digital divide in the

country and it mirrors the existing socioeconomic inequalities of the country. The digitally disconnected are often also the most marginalized communities, who have been excluded from reaping the benefits of digitalization,” said  Oxfam India CEO  Amitabh Behar.  

The 2022 issue of the inequality report highlights the extent of the digital divide in India and its impact on essential services such as education, health and financial inclusion.

ACCESS

The report said that among the poorest 20 per cent households, only 2.7 per cent have access to a computer and 8.9 per cent to internet facilities, while the proportions are 27.6 per cent and 50.5 per cent, respectively, among the richest 20 per cent households.

GENDER

The percentage of men with phones is more than women, with as many as 61 per cent of them having a mobile by the end of 2021 as compared to 31 per cent females, a gap of 30 per cent.

EDUCATION

Only about 9 per cent of the students who were enrolled in any course had access to a computer with internet and 25 per cent of enrolled students had access to the internet through any kind of devices.

HEALTH

Internet access is also increasingly being considered an important public health issue. Health experts now insist that broadband internet access must be recognized as a social determinant of health. Considering the digital revolution that the health sector has undergone, lack of access to the internet means being excluded from vital health information and resources

ECONOMY

The likelihood of a digital payment by the richest 60 per cent is 4 times more than the poorest 40 per cent in India. In rural India, the tendency to use  formal financial services is lowest for ST households,  second lowest for SC households and third lowest for OBC households.

EMPLOYMENT

Permanent salaried employees has the most computers. The difference between the percentage of permanent salaried and daily wage workers having a computer was as high as 22 per cent from January to April of 2018 and was still 15 per cent by the end of 2021.

REGION

The report said that urban population is 7 to 8 per cent more likely to have a computer than the rural population. Comparing the pre- and post-pandemic data, 99 per cent of the rural population did not have a computer post the pandemic—an increase of 2 per cent—while the urban population witnessed an increase of 7 per cent to 91 per cent.

RELIGION

Among all religions, the likelihood of having a computer is highest for Sikhs and Christians, followed by Hindus and Muslims, respectively. Among Sikhs, 88 per cent did not have a computer by the end of 2021, as compared to 98 per cent Muslims.

INCOME

Those with lower levels of income are less likely to have a computer. As the level of income increases, the likelihood of having a computer increases. During January to April of 2018, there was a difference of 26 per cent between the first and last decile in access to a computer, which dropped to 16 per cent by the end of 2021, still maintaining a significant difference.

CASTE

The general category is 10 per cent more likely to have a phone than STs from January to April of 2018. This gap dropped to 3 per cent by the end of 2021. Regarding monthly expenditure on cell phones, general and OBC are more likely than SC and ST to spend more than INR 400 on cell phone charges. SC, ST and OBC were more likely to spend less than INR 100 pre-pandemic. However, post-pandemic, they are more likely to spend more than INR 400. The general category is, on average, 10 per cent more likely to spend over INR 400 than SC.

RECOMMENDATION

  • The most basic step toward bridging the digital divide is availability
  • To ensure universal access to internet connectivity, it has to be affordable  for the masses
  • Conduct Digital Literacy  camps,141  especially in rural India, to teach the use of technology in schools, and digitize panchayats and schools.
  • Establish a responsive and accountable grievance redressal  mechanism  to handle EdTech and Healthtech related complaints by parents, children and other consumers.
  • Acknowledge that tech-based solutions are not always the right answers. Even in times of crises like pandemics, the governments also need to consider low- or no-tech solutions .

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