Covid-19 has exposed the deep faultlines that hobble India’s transition towards a more digitally enabled society. During the pandemic, several essential services, ranging from access to healthcare services – including vaccines – to education, livelihoods, and rations — have felt the effects of unequal distribution of technology in the country. With increasing inequalities and the burden on systems, the need for digitally driven programmes is now more urgent than ever before.
Through the devastating Corona pandemic, urban Indians have consistently relied on social media platforms to seek life-saving medical supplies. Unequal access to the internet has also made accessing and registering for COVID-19 vaccines in India a challenge, leaving millions of Indians unable to even register for them. With the situation still evolving, it’s clear that the time to address India’s digital divide is now.
Recognising the essential role that digital tools, access and literacy will play in the months and years to come, the 10to19: Dasra Adolescents Collaborative sought to understand the shift within the development sector towards technology-driven programmes, to enable a more systematic and concerted transition. A report released by Dasra, titled Buffering Now, highlights key learnings and best practices from NGOs and social enterprises in India, focusing on what has worked and presenting key recommendations for various actors in the space.
Prior to the pandemic, India saw a staggered shift towards the use of digital tools. The education sector began using elements of online education; the health sector had begun exploring telemedicine and IVR systems; financial institutions had adopted online banking; local stores were opening up to cashless transactions post demonetisation; and instant messaging and social media platforms had already become popular avenues for mass messaging.
However, it’s apparent that a majority of Indian citizens lack digital literacy and online safety is an alien concept to many who may have digital literacy. Language and accessibility barriers and limited data and infrastructural systems further compound the scenario. Social barriers and systemic inequality also play a large role in this — even today, mobile ownership among women is significantly lower than their male counterparts. Similarly, communities continue to remain averse to mobile devices in the hands of young people, especially young women, to prevent them from disrupting existing patriarchal systems.
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