India’s digital divide remains huge because of spatial divide, gender divide. There are millions still with no easy, reliable, and inexpensive access to the internet. In fact 400 million people have no access to the internet. 60% of the population in India resides in rural areas and the internet penetration in the hinterlands is a low 25% as compared to the internet density in urban areas (90%).
While India has a high aggregate of Internet users, it needs to keep taking strides towards enabling every citizen.
India has the world’s second-largest pool of internet users, about 600 million, which means 1 in 8 internet users in the world is Indian. That is more than the total population of the US, the United Kingdom, Russia and South Africa put together. Yet, half of the population lacks internet access, and even if they can get to be online, only 20% of Indians know how to use digital services. India’s fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS) reveals that there is a significant digital chasm in the country, with rural women least likely to have internet access.
The significance of digital revolution in economic growth, job creation and bettering human development index cannot be understated. It is important to note that for every 10% increase in India’s internet traffic delivers a 3.1% increase in per-capita gross domestic product (GDP).
Positive trends in India include a competitive e-commerce market, a booming video streaming industry and a choice of affordable devices. However, a person’s location, income, gender, education, language, and age are some of the factors that define their access. This issue has to be addressed. The pandemic has revealed stark realities in the education sector with schools being forced to go online, it is those who are less well-off that bear the brunt of a changed scenario. Education of millions of school and college-going students have been directly impacted by this deep gulf. A new situation is arising of digital haves and digital have-nots.
A fundamental requirement in taking steps towards a holistic internet-enabled society is to prioritise the development of the communication infrastructure. Sure there are infrastructural, economic, content and language barriers to overcome, but this is where NGOs lend a helping hand, including the ones supported by Rukmani Trust.
Determination among people, non-profit organisations, good policy–makers, coupled with strong political will can ensure the beginning of the bridging of the digital divide. There’s encouraging signs for India’s quest of a digital push with multinational giants like Google ($10 billion investment over the next 5-7 years) significantly contributing towards it. There needs to be awareness of the need of the country to better its human development index.
Access to the internet is now a human right as classified by the United Nations and to provide universal, affordable access to information to citizens in every geographical area of the country should be a goal that India must actively pursue and quickly achieve.