Internet search giant Google has tied up with Tata Trusts to reduce the digital gender gap in rural areas of India such as Purulia, where girls have now been trained to use the Internet and teach others in turn.
The initiative, called ‘Internet Saathi’, had been successfully launched in five states, and on July 2015, it began in four more states including West Bengal.
Sapna Chadha, Head of Marketing, Google India said in a survey, it was found that in rural India, only one in every 10 women knew how to use the Internet. “The major reasons are cultural barriers, lack of awareness and lack of perceived value,” she said on Wednesday here. Accordingly the project of identification of villages, choosing girls and then training them as Saathis began.
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Chhotomoni Karjee, a 28-year-old from Baghmundi, once did not know about the Internet or smartphones. She is now a Saathi, and spoke to The Indian Express about the uphill task of explaining the usefulness of Internet to people who knew almost nothing other than farming.
“Initial obvious questions were ‘What will I do by learning the Internet?’ and ‘How will it help me in my farmwork?’ But I managed to convince a handful of women,” she said.
Another Saathi, Indumati Mahato, said that a pregnant lady in her village had no idea which hospital to go to. “I searched the net and gave her the address of three nearest hospitals where she could go for the delivery. She went to the nearest one, where she gave birth to a twin,” Mahato said, adding that the incident spread awareness.
“In another incident, a girl who had appeared for her board exam was told that she had flunked, and was crying profusely. I searched for her result and found that she had passed. When she saw that with her own eyes, she was relieved,” Mahato said.
The biggest impediment for the Saathis are the issues of connectivity and literacy. “We are in talks with some telecom players to improve connectivity in these villages,” said Ganesh Neelam, head of Tata Trusts.
Chadha said their search engine was equipped with voice search, which would prevent literacy from becoming an impediment. This is the first such initiative by Google worldwide, and India was selected owing to its huge population base, she added. “There are about 6.5 lakh villages in India, and we plan to reach out to at least half of them in three years,” Neelam added.