Digital Divide in India: Causes, Consequences and Solutions
The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as the internet and mobile phones, and those who do not. The digital divide can have significant implications for social and economic development, as well as for individual empowerment and participation.
In this blog post, we will explore the digital divide in India, one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing online markets, but also one of the most unequal and diverse. We will look at the causes, consequences and solutions of the digital divide in India, based on various sources of data and research.
Causes of the digital divide in India:
The digital divide in India is influenced by multiple factors, such as:
Geography: India is a vast country with diverse terrain and climatic conditions, which pose challenges for building and maintaining ICT infrastructure. Rural areas, especially in remote or hilly regions, often lack adequate connectivity, electricity, and network coverage. According to the National Family Health Survey 2019–21 (NFHS), only 36.5% of rural households had access to the internet, compared to 62.4% of urban households.
Gender: Women in India face various socio-cultural barriers that limit their access to and use of ICTs, such as lack of education, mobility, decision-making power, safety, and privacy. The NFHS reported that only 33.3% of women had ever used the internet, compared to 57.1% of men. The gender gap was present across all states and was wider in rural areas than in urban areas.
Income: Affordability is a major constraint for accessing and using ICTs in India, where a large proportion of the population lives below the poverty line or on low incomes. The cost of devices, data plans, and other services can be prohibitive for many people, especially in rural areas where incomes are lower and livelihoods are more vulnerable. According to the World Bank, only 14% of the poorest 20% of households in India had internet access in 2017, compared to 72% of the richest 20%.
Literacy: Digital literacy is the ability to use ICTs effectively and safely for various purposes. It requires basic literacy skills as well as technical skills and awareness. In India, where the literacy rate is 77.7%, according to the 2021 census, many people lack the necessary skills and knowledge to access and use ICTs. Moreover, language is another barrier, as most online content and services are in English or other dominant languages, while many people speak regional or local languages.
Consequences of the digital divide in India
The digital divide in India has serious implications for various aspects of development and well-being, such as:
Education: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of online education as a mode of learning and teaching during lockdowns and school closures. However, many students and teachers in India lack access to online platforms or devices, or face issues such as low bandwidth, frequent power cuts, or poor quality content. This affects their learning outcomes and opportunities, especially for disadvantaged groups such as girls, Dalits, Adivasis, and minorities.
Health: ICTs can play a vital role in improving health outcomes and services by providing information, awareness, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring, and telemedicine. However, many people in India are unable to access or use these benefits due to lack of connectivity, affordability, or digital literacy. This affects their health status and access to quality care, especially for rural populations, women, children, elderly, and people with disabilities.
Economy: ICTs can boost economic growth and productivity by enabling innovation, entrepreneurship, e-commerce, e-governance, and financial inclusion. However, many people in India are excluded from these opportunities due to lack of access or use of ICTs. This affects their income generation and employment prospects, especially for informal workers, small businesses, farmers, and artisans.
Society: ICTs can enhance social inclusion and participation by enabling communication, information sharing, networking, advocacy, and civic engagement. However, many people in India are marginalized or silenced due to lack of access or use of ICTs. This affects their voice and agency, especially for women, minorities, activists, and journalists.
Solutions for the digital divide in India
The digital divide in India is a complex and multidimensional problem that requires concerted and collaborative efforts from various stakeholders, such as:
Government: The government has a key role in creating an enabling policy and regulatory environment for ICT development and diffusion, as well as providing public infrastructure, services, and subsidies to ensure universal and affordable access and use of ICTs. Some of the government initiatives in this regard include the BharatNet project, the Digital India programme, the National Digital Literacy Mission, and the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan.
Private sector: The private sector has a crucial role in innovating and investing in ICT products, solutions, and platforms that cater to the diverse and dynamic needs and preferences of the Indian market, as well as ensuring quality, reliability, and security of their offerings. Some of the private sector initiatives in this regard include the Jio network, the Google Internet Saathi programme, the Facebook Express Wi-Fi project, and the Microsoft Project ReWeave.
Civil society: The civil society has a vital role in advocating and raising awareness about the importance and benefits of ICTs, as well as providing training, support, and resources to enhance digital literacy and skills among various segments of the population, especially the marginalized and vulnerable groups. Some of the civil society initiatives in this regard include the Digital Empowerment Foundation, the Internet Freedom Foundation, the Pratham Education Foundation, and the Barefoot College.
The digital divide in India is a major challenge that needs to be addressed urgently and effectively. ICTs have the potential to transform India’s development and well-being, but only if they are accessible and usable by all. By bridging the digital divide, India can unleash its human and social capital, and achieve its vision of a digitally inclusive and empowered society.