Towards an Equitable Digital Disruption
disruption has transformed daily life in both developed and developing
countries. With the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic in the last
couple of years, we have seen a stronger pace forward with technological
solutions and the weaker sections being left behind, struggling to even
maintain the status quo.
Phones, computers, digital transactions, and
application-based last-mile delivery services have created dependency of
people who could not access technology on the ones who have the access.
With a vision of empowering 125 crore Indian citizens, the Digital India
Mission aims to create a digital footprint for every individual (Chaudhari
2022). Even though my country is adding around 110 million smartphone
users annually and is gearing to launch Aadhaar-compliant devices with
biometric authentication built into phones and tablets, we still are not
ready to match the pace of this transformation. The significance of the
JAM trinity – Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar, and Mobile number – is going to
be felt soon when transactions are enabled using Aadhaar and biometric
authentication, all digital. These days, transfers of most government
subsidies or fund disbursement are done digitally. The purpose of this
fast-pacing is to improve distribution and transparency. This purpose
would be met if and when third parties are ruled out and the actual
benefit is absorbed at the grassroots. For that, access to information
about the technology is a necessary condition.
This digital disruption is facing complex
social challenges that need to be addressed by the collective action of
both the government and the civil society. There are new-age issues like
cyber security and, at the same time, we have to battle with
centuries-old gender bias. When we are gearing towards local
e-governance, how would we ensure inclusive participation? There must be
a very strong gender-sensitive approach; bridging the digital gender gap
is not just important but vital to ensure digital equity. To quote an
example from Development Alternatives’ recent engagement with Crisil
Infrastructure Advisory, in energy reform efforts under an Asian
Development Bank-funded project, Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited
and Uttar Pradesh State Livelihood Mission together came up with the
innovative idea of involving self-help group (SHG) women as bill
collection agents. Although most of these women collection agents have
smartphones and use the application well, there are still some who get
this done by their children or husbands. It might solve the purpose of
bill collection, but it will defeat the core of digital equity until
women have free access and knowledge to operate smartphones themselves. In fact,
in the absence of the right knowledge and know-how, digital advancement
can expose the grassroots communities to exploitation and deceit.
This digital disruption has taken us into a
Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s ‘glocal times’, in which
entrepreneurs at the grassroots can seek funding from global accelerator
programmes, provided they have the capacity to do so. Technology
solutions do match the language or ethos of rural Indians too.
Capacities of rural India need to be built to take charge and to make
use of this digital disruption. Our tech age is here, but we need our
people to drive it and thrive on it. With illiterate adults, gender
biases, and the lack of informed citizenry, we might end up opening
another dimension of inequity, that is, a huge digital divide that
separates the rural from the urban, the mainland from the grassroots,
men from women, and so on.
What this digital disruption needs in India
are humility from the administration, grit from the businesses and
willpower from civil society. At Development Alternatives, as an
organisation committed to sustainable development solutions, we are
always looking eagerly for collaborations to deploy solutions that aid
this digital disruption for a better tomorrow.
2022. Government community cloud serves the “Digital India Mission”.
Details available at https://www.esds.co.in/blog/government-community-cloud-serves-the-digital-india-mission/,
last accessed on 27 August, 2022.
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