This article provides information about the emerging facets of digital divide in societies like India:
The new millennium ushered a world of greater interconnectivity with greater flow of data and information and shrinking time and national boundaries. The force behind this rapid transformation is revolutionary changes in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
The digital economy of India at the beginning of 21st century was marked by an explosion in the cellular phone market, a boom in outsourcing, steady Internet growth, media convergence, growth in rural ICT initiatives. In India, ICT revenues rose from $150 million in 1990 to $4 billion in 1999. The global outsourcing market is worth more than $100 billion, with over 185 Fortune 500 companies outsourcing software requirements to India. India currently has 1,250 companies exporting ICT software.
Government of India is also taking special initiatives to encourage ICT revolution to its land and people. In the ICT industry, the recent cuts in excise duty on computer hardware and cellular phones are expected to drive domestic demand for hardware in 2004-2005. A number of high-profile events have focused on the importance of bringing the fruits of the ICT revolution to a wider user base, especially in rural areas, where most of India’s population lives.
The IT Ministry of India has started a revolution in ICTs through languages. India is a country of 22 official languages and only 5% of Indian population can read and understand English. Even if India witnesses a considerable telecom penetration, ICTs will be still less useful because of its availability in English. To quickly make available to end-user there shall be software in all official Indian languages.
The Hindi software was released in 2005. The government is in an attempt to make available computer software is all other Indian languages. ICTs can be used effectively for poverty alleviation. It can improve the access of the poor to health, microcredit, government services and to create direct employment opportunities, provide training and education to people, and support the poor in the production, storage and marketing of farm and non- farm products. ICTs can also facilitate the generation and exchange of community-based information and stimulate the establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises. It can break barriers to knowledge by providing demand-driven information and services to the rural poor.
There are many pro-poor ICT initiatives in India aimed primarily at improving the availability of market and other information for livelihood improvement. For example Information Village Research Project runs by the Centre for Research in Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. It provides through a tele-centre the facility for public access to telecommunications and information services like health, education, market data, technology and livelihood to a disadvantaged community.
The Foundation’s tele-centres provide rural farmers with data on agricultural practices, the cost and availability of farm inputs (pesticides, fertilizers and seeds), health and life insurance, welfare opportunities and other useful information. E- commerce has also found a niche in some rural areas in India. Electronic commerce, or e-commerce, involves the sale or purchase of goods or services over computer-mediated networks, particularly the Internet.
Such goods and services may be ordered from anywhere in the globe. For example, one village in Tamil Nadu, which excels in making traditional cotton saris and other garments, sells its products to buyers all over the world through a web site operated by a US based NGO called PEOP Link. Tele-centre services in Pondicherry have encouraged villagers to utilise their considerable knowledge of local herbs for the establishment of a herb-processing centre. Using the services of the tele-centre, the villagers have learned how to package and market the herbs.
The new information and communication technologies are widely used for promoting education and higher learning in India. The Internet currently hosts thousands of distance-learning and training programmes on virtually any conceivable subject. IGNOU, for example offers many academic programmes through Internet. Also it has widely integrated new ICTs into its day to day functioning, such as admission procedures, publication of results, library facilities etc.