The percentage of men owning phones is as high as 61 per cent while only 31 per cent of women-owned phones in 2021, according to a new report, which claimed that India’s growing inequalities based on caste, religion, gender, class, and geographic location are being worryingly replicated in the digital space.
Oxfam India’s latest ‘India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide’ report said on Monday that the reach of digital technologies remains limited to largely male, urban, upper-caste, and upper-class households and individuals.
“Eight per cent of the General caste have a computer or a laptop whereas less than 1 per cent of the Scheduled Tribes (ST) and 2 per cent of the Scheduled Castes (SC) have it. As per the Mobile Gender Gap report by GSMA, women are less likely to use mobile internet by 33 per cent when compared to men in 2021,” it said.
The report said the percentage of men owning phones is as high as 61 per cent while only 31 per cent of women-owned phones in 2021.
“India’s growing inequalities based on caste, religion, gender, class, and geographic location are being worryingly replicated in the digital space,” it claimed.
The report analyses primary data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) household survey from January 2018 to December 2021.
The report looks at CMIE’s data on internet access, mobile ownership, computer, and broadband availability to assess the inclusivity of digital initiatives to deliver public services and entitlements. The report also uses secondary analysis from the National Sample Survey (NSS).
The report revealed a digital divide based on employment status where 95 per cent of the salaried permanent workers have a phone whereas only 50 per cent of the unemployed (willing and looking for a job) have a phone in 2021.
The report also highlights that contrary to popular perception, the use of computer devices decreased in rural areas. Pre-pandemic, only 3 per cent of the rural population owned a computer.
“This has come down to just 1 per cent post-pandemic. Whereas in urban areas, the number of people with computers is 8 per cent,” it said.
The use of digital technologies in delivering essential services such as education and health is also reflecting the country’s digital divide and its consequences, the report said.
Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India said, “India’s growing inequality is accentuated due to the digital divide. The growing inequality based on caste, religion, gender, class, and geographic location also gets replicated in the digital space. People without devices and the internet get further marginalised due to difficulties in accessing education, health, and public services. This vicious cycle of inequality needs to stop.” The report recommended that the government’s efforts to bridge India’s current income inequality by improving the income of the poor become pertinent and can go a long way.
This can be done by setting a decent minimum living wage, easing the indirect tax burden on citizens and provision of universal health and education services, it said.
The most basic step toward bridging the digital divide is availability, the report said, underlining that in rural and hard-to-reach areas, internet availability is either intermittent, poor or non-existent.
Service providers need to ensure its availability through community networks and public WiFi/ internet access points. Community networks are a subset of crowdsourced networks, designed to be open, free, and neutral, and often reliant on shared infrastructure as a common resource, it said.
They are usually built, used, and managed with a bottom-up approach by communities. Such networks should also have good-quality upload and download speeds, sufficient for the local needs of internet users, the report said.
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