61% of men in India own mobile phones. However, according to a 2022 report by voluntary organization Oxfam India, only 31% of women own a mobile phone.
The report states that digital inequality exists in India on the basis of gender, caste, economy and living space.
The report released on Monday said that access to digital technologies is predominantly in the hands of men and the urban, upper-caste and upper class.
“Eight percent of the general category owns a computer or laptop. But only 1% of Scheduled Tribes and 2% of Scheduled Castes have them.
“When it comes to mobile phones and mobile internet, women are 33% less likely to use mobile phones than men in 2021,” Oxfam reports.
It also says, “India’s growing inequality across caste, religion, gender, class and geographical location is regrettably reflected in the digital world as well.”
Oxfam analyzes data on Internet access from the Indian Economic Observatory. It also analyzes the data to include owning a mobile phone, access to internet access for public services, etc.
Digital application has become an indispensable element
According to the report, unemployment also contributes to digital inequality.
95 percent of permanent salaried people own a mobile phone depending on the work situation.
But only 50 percent of unemployed jobseekers own a mobile phone.
“The world is rapidly shifting towards digitalization. India has also picked up pace. Under the ‘Digital India’ initiative, efforts have also increased. However, digital advances are not without parity.
Digital inequality is significant in India. Also, it reflects the socio-economic inequality of the country.
A majority of the digitally unconnected belong to marginalized communities who are excluded from enjoying the benefits of digitalisation,” said Amitabh Behar, Chief Executive Officer, Oxfam India.
Due to the pandemic, the digital space has become an inevitable part of everyone’s lives. Knowledge and information sharing have simplified access to basic services and brought markets into the palm of our hands.
However, the report says that these narratives have only been realized in practice and marginalized people who have not reaped the benefits of the digital space suffer from inequality.
“These communities that live without digital connectivity are not reaping the benefits that digital connectivity can provide.”
Digital inequality – affects access to education, health services
According to the report, only 31 percent of the rural population has access to the Internet.
But 67 percent of the urban population has internet access. This digital inequality affects three important sectors: education, health, and the personal economy.
As for the education sector, e-learning is very popular during the disaster period. However, the report states that only 9 percent of students have access to a computer with internet access. And only 25 percent students have access to internet through any device.
Access to the Internet and digital tools that access the Internet is said to have an impact on the health sector.
According to the report, access to important health-related information and resources is hindered when there is no Internet access.
“With sectors such as healthcare and education becoming increasingly digitized, this will definitely have an impact,” says Meiyappan Nagappan, a lawyer and expert on tax and economics based in Mumbai.
“Many private companies are offering e-consultancy, especially in the healthcare sector. The economy is moving towards it. So when it is not accessible, the inequality between those who have access and those who cannot is greater.
The only way to do this is to create digital infrastructure so that they too can access the Internet. “Especially taking steps like providing Internet access through free Wi-Fi in public places can help in reducing that inequality,” he says.
An Oxfam report also states that the benefits of digital growth in the economy remain largely unattainable for those who are not digitally connected.
Also, in rural areas, access to formal economic services is very low among Scheduled Tribes. From that Scheduled Castes are second and Other Backward Communities are third with less access.
“One reason is that internet connectivity is very low and smartphone usage is low. In addition, digital structures are also limited.
It may even be possible to buy a smartphone at a lower price today. But it is difficult to get uninterrupted internet connectivity in all areas,” he says.
Also, “Internet service companies have been talking to the government for a long time about how to improve this and increase internet connectivity.
It may take some time for it to come to the lands where Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes live in hard-to-reach areas,” he says.
The government’s efforts to reduce India’s current income inequality by improving the incomes of the poor may take a long time, the report recommends setting a fair minimum wage, reducing indirect tax burdens, and simplifying health and education services.
Among the poorest 20% of households, 2.7 percent have computer access and 8.9 percent have Internet access, the report said, citing 2017-18 data from Statistics India.
Also, in contrast, 27.6% of households in the top 20 percent economically have access to a computer and 50.5% have access to the Internet.
Among students, 41% of the richest 10% have access to a computer with internet access, while 16% of students in the next richest 10% have access to both a computer and the internet, the report said.
This means that among the 10% poorest students only 2% have a computer with internet services. Also, 75% of parents and 84% of teachers face various challenges in digital education.
Digital infrastructure should be improved
The report has made some recommendations to address the digital divide.
Creating accessibility is critical to bridging the digital divide. In rural and hard-to-reach areas, internet access is rare or very difficult.
Internet service providers should ensure availability of Internet service through social networking, Internet service provision through Wi-Fi in public places, etc.
To make Internet access available to all, the price must come down. Governments should invest in digital infrastructure to reduce costs and expand access to smartphone use.
The government should exercise strict regulation rather than allowing a few private individuals to monopolize internet services. Also, the government should reduce taxes on computers and mobile phones.
Apart from this, conducting camps on digital education especially in rural areas, teaching the use of technology in schools and digitizing panchayats etc. should be undertaken.
All consumers, parents and children, should be made clear about the use and handling of educational technologies and health-related technologies.
In addition, less technology-intensive or non-technological solutions should also be recognized, rather than technology-based solutions being the only solution.
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