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Wiring up an Information Revolution and Promoting Education and Youth Employment in Tribal India through Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)

Paper presented at National Seminar 9-10 February,2007
Author

Dr. Ramesh Menaria*,

Lecturer, Guru Govind Government College, Banswara

E mail:menaria_ramesh@yahoo.co.in

INTRODUCTION

 

"Information is critical to the social and economic activities that comprise the development process. Telecommunications, as a means of sharing information, is not simply a connection between people, but a link in the chain of the development process itself." [Hudson 1995]

 

               Mother earth is intrigued to see that man in living in industrialist society, has exploited her  natural resources and disturbed her ecosystem by increasing pollution; he  celebrates the benefits of mass communication technology today and often takes pride in talking about mass communication revolution, borderless world and global village, on the other hand, tribal man, mother earth’s original inhabitant  who has worshipped the  nature and has sung songs in her glory is still more or less an alien in modern society. Advanced countries like America are searching hard for presence of alien on the other planets in solar system, and also in other parts of this unfathomable universe. Scientist there have concrete plan to communicate with them, on the other hand, we are struggling to provide mass communication technologies to our tribal man.  

 

Tribals are the original sons of mother earth. Though almost all over the world tribals are found, India is a hub of different tribal groups, bigger and smaller. They have a typical life style; live in hilly/ mountainous or difficult geographical terrain. It is unfortunate that they could not get the benefits of development and advancement and could not be assimilated in the mainstream of national life. Though, in our country, the government has formulated and implemented many programmes for tribal welfare and development, yet they lag far behind in the process.

 

Neither technological revolution nor its extraordinary capacity to build up a new order is new to the world. Management guru Peter Drucker1 has argued that the current digital revolution is the fourth information revolution in human history. First was the invention of writing five or six thousand years ago in Mesopotamia. The second revolution was set off by invention of the written book in China perhaps as early as 1300 B.C. The third revolution was triggered as a result of Gutenberg’s invention around 1450 of printing based on movable types and the contemporaneous invention of engraving. Each one of these revolutions had consequences far beyond its immediate context and dramatically altered the course of entire centuries.

            

           With the advent of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the world has changed into a "Global Village". Telecommunications equipment, the internet, interactive technologies such as electronic mail systems, computer bulletin boards, teletext and videotext and databases, mass media transmitted via satellite, cable and fibre optics, fax machines, video cassette recorders are opening up new options across the globe.   In present times, when we talk about mass communication revolution in India , we generally mean  that TV, mobile, internet and its associated tools of information have exerted a considerable impact on social, cultural, political and  economic aspects of the society and soon, as a modern society,  we are going to cope up with advanced countries. But the real picture is quite different. India have  important high-technology industries and technology hubs, but diffusion of technology  is slow and incomplete as compared to five ILO member countries in the Asia-Pacific region which are in the “leaders’ category according to their ranking on the Technology Achievement Index.  In order of their ranking, these are: Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand.  In these countries, technological innovation is said to be self-sustaining, with evidence of high achievements in technology creation, diffusion and producing the appropriate skills.  Two countries, Korea and Singapore, have in recent decades advanced rapidly in their use of technology.

                    

                      Moreover, we live in a diversified culture in which few sections celebrate huge benefits of ICT technology, on the other hand, other sections, very much underprivileged like tribal society  are struggling hard even for basic survival. "Tribals are the original inhabitants of a particular locality. Though almost all over the world tribals are found, India is a hub of different tribal groups, bigger and smaller. Due to characteristic life style, hilly/ mountainous or difficult geographical terrain as their abode, they could not get the fruits of development and advancement and could not be assimilated in the mainstream of national life. Though, in case of India, the govt. has formulated and implemented many programmes for tribal welfare and development, yet they lag far behind in the process.

 

                       When a large portion of our tribal population is still illiterate, struggling for electricity, drinking water, and daily bread and butter, then, it would be naive to believe that means of mass communication like information and communication technologies (ICT) has significantly changed the tribal man,   awakened him, revolutionized his life; such a claim is far from reality. If there is awakening it is largely through traditional pursuits, such as visiting friends, families and neighbors or through some other NGO program. The question is to what extent tribal society has switched to new means of mass communication? Do tribal homes use internet or connected to TV network like one in advanced country like America? Without knowing how to read and write or without electronic literacy, how they can communicate their shared common experiences, beliefs and values or exchange knowledge and information by using modern technology? How much of rural economy has transformed into digital economy? How many BPL families have risen to higher income group as a result of this mass communication revolution?

So far, the benefits of globalization appear to have not had an appreciable impact on the poor. This has to change as the revolution in information and communications technologies has the potential to help break out of this unfortunate scenario.

Telecommunication Infrastructure
DATA AT A GLANCE

The total number of telephones in the country crossed the 100 million mark in April 2005 and was 189.93 million in November 2006. [2] This includes 149.50 million mobile phones. However, teledensity (telephones per 100 persons) in the country was 17.16 per cent in December 2006 [3] much less than in some other developing countries, and far below the world average.

According to latest Ministry of communication and IT report the total number of telephones has increased from 125.79 million as on 31.12.05 to 183.46 million as on  30th November, 2006.  India is a vast sub-continent with more than 75% of the population residing in rural areas with 604,734 villages spread over the length and breadth of the country. As of now, there are 3 telephones per 1,000 inhabitants in rural India compared to 16 telephones per 1,000 inhabitants in urban India. Out of nearly half a million villages in the country, only 280,000 have a telephone facility. Over 320,000 villages are still without a telephone facility.[ 4]

The dearth of phone lines and PCs constitute the greatest immediate obstacle to  growth. With a population of close to 1 billion, the estimated 30 million phone lines represent superficial market penetration. Further, the total number of PCs is estimated at just 3 million nationwide.  Internet usage in India is abysmal 4  percent. While India has a mere 8.5 million Internet connections, there are over a billion Internet users worldwide. This number is expected to rise to about 1.5 billion in the next three years. Given the major infrastructure problems facing Indian ISPs, cable television may prove the fastest and most efficient way to increase Internet usage in India. At present, 25 million Indian homes have cable TV.  Close to 400 million Indians watch TV regularly.

Hurdles in Realizing Benefits of Information Revolution in Tribal India

 

                         A rapid glance over the data mentioned in the box  will reveal that any claims of impacts of mass communication revolution in tribal region at par with advanced countries would be an exaggeration only or rather a premature talk. It appears, more or less, like propaganda; an academia, industry and media -generated hype about what new communications technologies have done in tribal society so far. Much remains to be done to trigger a real revolution based on mass communication technology. Barriers to information access may be physical, economic, intellectual or technological, that impede a revolution. Disparity in rural-urban infrastructure, in terms of roads, power, transport and telecommunications is a severe bottleneck. It hinders private investment in rural/tribal areas and fails to provide rural/ tribal population with key ingredients required to modernise agriculture, and more importantly establish other financially viable enterprises.  The general perception is that people living in tribal communities in India are very close, conservative and traditional. They have their own way of life and are not easily influenced in a simple and determined way by the out side world and its influences generated by tools of mass communication. Since time immemorial these people have remained isolated from the rest of the society and their exposure to the modern world has been marginal. Poverty, illiteracy, inertia, traditional beliefs, poor infrastructure, defective administrative planning and strategy are few major causes that prevent and put tribal society far from witnessing a true revolution based on modern technology like ICT. However, it cannot be denied that mass communication technology is gradually reaching tribal homes and little population has even realized its benefits as it is evident from few projects, described in this paper, that are already working on the present theme. Today the tribal community in few areas is also on the way of advanced civil society.  Therefore, an  intellectually honest appraisal of  the theme “The Mass Communication Revolution in Tribal Society and Social Change’ which is also one of the major thrust areas of the present conference, needs a critical and careful analysis with focus on futuristic perspective.

 

Benefits of Information and Communication Technologies

 

                      Whatever be the stage of development of ICT in tribal regions, we cannot afford to ignore ICT and its role in awakening of a tribal man for getting education, employment and other benefits of technology.  This technology is of decisive importance to the very poorest, remote and isolated sections as it can exert a major influence on their ability to acquire knowledge and employment and tap into global networks and finally put them into the mainstream.  Without minimal levels of establishment of the transport network, print media, radio and television network and other means of ICT in tribal regions, developing country like India cannot cope up with advance countries like America where almost every tribal home has TV, mobile and a personal computer with access to internet.

              Some of the immediate and discernible advantages that improved ICT infrastructure in tribal areas would bring can be discussed as follows:  

 

ˇ        ICT has potential to reduce rural/ tribal-to-urban migration by providing more opportunities for improved employment and livelihood in tribal areas through small business and micro-enterprise development.

ˇ        ICT enables immediate access to assistance during civil emergencies and natural disasters.

ˇ        ICT can improve access to health extension services. For example, telemedicine services, including remote diagnosis and treatment advice.

ˇ        ICT has potential to Increase access to up-to-date market and price information, greatly reducing the opportunity cost of transactions for farmers and rural-based traders.

ˇ        ICT is one of the best tools for education services, including distance learning.

ˇ        ICT imparts better accountability, transparency, and efficiency of government operations in rural and tribal areas.

 

              Since our country has vast tribal population, above mentioned wide-ranging and vital benefits that ICT can provide   in tribal areas should be at the forefront of any discussion on telecommunications development in developing India which has great desire to transform herself into a developed India by 2020. The Tribal Sector plays a very important role for the balanced growth of our country and as found out by a survey that every single effect in the telecom sector has a six-fold effect on the economy of the India. To achieve sustainable development it is essential that people living in tribal areas are given the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the global information revolution, even if in only the most basic ways.

Information technology, when designed in proper manner for the right job, can be deployed even in regions that lack literacy, adequate water, food, and power. This technology can be effective for many tasks, not least human and economic development. In fact, this technology is often indispensable in meeting basic needs.

 

Let us focus on in what way information and communication technologies (ICT) can promote youth employment in Tribal society.

Beginning a Business with Mobile/Telephone-based Services 

 

I shall begin with an example from my home.

 

               18-year-old Shanti Lal Charpota , a student of 11th class is living with me.  He would like to be a cyber café proprietor or a computer engineer someday. But for boys like Shanti lal, who lives in the dusty, pebbly and impoverished village of Zary, 3 Kms away from Banswara, such a vocation seems remote. His village has yet not been put to electric grid and at present kerosene lamp illuminates his Tapari during night. His school like most schools in India offers computer classes for students. He also operates computer at my home so he has developed interest in computers. Shanti Lal, one of three sons of a tribal farmer, has no intention of becoming a government servant as he has learnt from his teachers that now scope of getting jobs in government sector is minimal. He   has found a way to start his own business. ''I want to make something of myself,'' he says. For this, now Shanti Lal is pressing me hard to buy a cellular phone for him.  His cousin, Vikaram, a student of Banswara College, has a mobile.  Every day at 8 a.m., he   rides almost 5 kilometers to college on his bicycle. Each day after college, Vikaram operates what amounts to the village's only public telephone--a cellular phone owned by Indian cellular operator Tata Indocom. By charging her fellow villagers to make calls, Vikram can make as much as 50 rupees on a really good day. He is saving the money for computer classes, which he hopes will lead to a good job. Shanti Lal also wants to earn money in the same manner.

 

Indeed, ICT can generate a vast potential for employment in tribal areas. Example of Shanti Lal and Vikram who are about in business with mere cellular phone serves as a model for other young tribal boys to follow.

 

Addressing Some Misconceptions about ICT

 

                The example cited above exposes the myth that ICT business is a capital intensive venture that can only be started by high income people or group. Besides this, there are also many misconceptions about the use of ICT in middle-and low-income levels.  For example people generally believe that ICT access requires personal ownership of a computer. They also presume that ICT access requires use of expensive computers. The use of the Internet is text-based and is English dominated which means that users need to be literate and literate in English in particular. 

 

These misconceptions can be easily challenged by presenting a number of facts as follows.

          In India, low-cost versions of computers have been or are being developed. For example, the Simputer[5] is a low-cost portable alternative to PCs which will run on widely available AAA batteries. It has a special role in the tribal regions because it ensures that illiteracy is no longer a barrier to handling a computer. The projected cost of the Simputer is about Rs 9000 at large volumes. But even this is beyond the means of most citizens. The Smart Card feature that the Simputer provides enables the Simputer to be shared by a community. A local community such as the village panchayat, the village school, a kiosk, a village postman, or even a shopkeeper should be able to loan the device to individuals for some length of time and then pass it on to others in the community. The Simputer, through its Smart Card feature, allows for personal information management at the individual level for an unlimited number of users. The impact of this feature coupled with the rich connectivity of the Simputer can be dramatic. Applications in diverse sectors such as micro banking, large data collection, and agricultural information and as a school laboratory are now made possible at an affordable price.

 

                           We all know how steel is being recycled in our country.  The cheap scrape steel is also imported that help to stabilize cost of steel products in our country. The same system can be developed to keep the cost of computer hardware low. In the advanced countries people and organizations dispose millions of computers annually as they upgrade their desktops and laptops. The only problem is that most of these computers are not fast enough to run the new generation of software for most users, otherwise they have a satisfactory performance with old software. Taken the typical upgrade cycle for computers as 3-4 years, it is estimated that the annual consumption of computers in the developed world is more than 60 million units. This ensures not only a large supply, but also one which is continuous. A fraction of this supply is good enough to meet the needs of the rural/tribal regions in developing countries. Shipping these computers to our rural markets will be like killing two birds with a single stone.  It provides solution to   the recycling problem in the advanced countries, and at the same time to the need for an affordable computing infrastructure in the poor countries. It is not difficult to take the disposed computers, ship them to our country, invest a small amount of money in their refurbishing, and supply them to rural/ tribal regions. The cost of this entire value chain will be no more than a simputer.  

 

                     The misconception about internet usage in tribal regions is that the Internet is only for the literate and within this group, those who are literate in English.  The fact is that literacy is not very much required to gain access to information.  User-friendly operating systems and software easily enable any illiterate person to operate computer and internet.  It is possible to send e-mails that consist of voice messages. Literacy in English is also not a necessary precondition for use of the Internet. On web, ten top languages are English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, German, French, Portuguese, Korean, Italian and Arabic. The English content on the Internet is receding as other languages are said to be spreading at exponential speed on the Web. The Internet is also a good platform that can be used to revive minority languages and cultures. Before talking about any information revolution, much still needs to be done to develop relevant content in Hindi and other local languages for use by those who would otherwise be excluded. Those who are well versed in using internet must participate in building up web content in Hindi and other local languages. Government departments must give top priority to this ‘Web Yagna’ as actually it is the content in local language on the web that will attract tribal people towards internet. Folk dance and music in audio and video format can make a difference.

A more effective strategy is to educate and create awareness among the tribal people before introducing Information Communication Technology in tribal areas. While considering communication systems, one has to remember that we are not dealing with a homogeneous single individual but with the people of diverse languages, cultures and social structures. This fact should be noted before introducing any new communication technology. It is suggested that the technology used in tribal areas, particularly in formal and non-formal educational programmes, be linked with traditional methods, which are already known by the local masses. The planners, officials who are implementing the communication technology should keep in view the socio-economic background, attitudes and knowledge of the tribal masses. They have to make the policy to synthesize modern technology with folk media without in any way affecting the styles and formats of traditional communication systems.

 

Recruitment and training of ‘e’ Boy, ‘e’ Bala or ‘e’ Bai as ‘Information Intermediaries’

 

The opportunities for young people to act as “information intermediaries” can be discussed as follows:

The extensive use of English on the Internet has created the need for local content and applications to enable non-English speakers to make effective use of it.  For the poor like tribal men in particular, who are largely illiterate, the huge amount of information on the Internet requires an intermediary to sift through it to identify what is relevant and then interpret it in the light of the local context.   Young tribal boys and girls who are pursuing some computer course in some institute are well placed to perform this role of ‘information intermediary’. First they can receive and complete the necessary training to operate computer and internet and then act as information intermediaries to connect rural man and women with the information they need. Gram Panchayat can establish community centres with necessary computer paraphernalia.  Information intermediaries could also be extension agents, community workers, or simply young school girls from the community who know English and can use computers, who would work at community centers to get information from national and international sources and relay it to local farmers.  They could also assist the farmers and other man in village in two-way communication, delivering their messages transmitting indigenous knowledge, requesting agricultural advice, health advice and sending e-mail from the farming community to the research station. We may also call these ‘Information Intermediaries’ as ‘e’ Boy, ‘e’ Bala or ‘e’ Bai as the case may be.

AISECT calls them as ‘knowledge workers’. AISECT states:

“Promoting knowledge based industry requires knowledge workers. In the rural context it means such workers who have information or who know from where it can be obtained, so that local economy can be supported, employment can be generated and better marketing outlets can be provided. Such a person will have access to various databases and information, will have the capability to sift through them and will have a computer with him/her to quickly process the information. These knowledge workers are to be linked with the Block Level multipurpose I.T. centres. In the next phase of the programme AISECT is trying to create 50,000 such one machine centres, manned by trained knowledge workers.”

 

The involvement of young tribal girls translating and passing information to their mothers might stimulate them to consider remaining in rural areas and taking up modern farming as a career.  For most tribal farming communities, all that is needed is a PC with the capacity to receive/send faxes, a telephone connection with Internet access at the community center. Gram Panchayats can also recruit and give a small stipend for ‘e’ Boy, ‘e’ Bala or ‘e’ Bai acting as ‘Information Intermediaries’

Swaminathan experience has revealed that the information provided by them should be demand driven and should be relevant to day-to-day life and the work of rural/tribal women and men. Also, semi-literate women should be given priority in training to operate the centre, since this is an effective method of enhancing the self-esteem and social prestige of women living in poverty.

 

These ‘e’ Boys, ‘e’ Bala or ‘e’ Bai can also conduct social surveys in association with the agency responsible for sponsoring a survey and can earn money through it. They can also use the web site to invite the poor to offer feedback on specific local issues of concern to them.  For example, the people who are the target group of a poverty alleviation program could be invited through e-mail to comment on the limitations of a current poverty program and to suggest improvements. 

 

 ‘e’ Boy, ‘e’ Bala or ‘e’ Bai can use their skills in information technology to develop simple web sites in local languages. They can upload tribal songs and folklore on websites. They can advertise forthcoming events in their community like local fairs, festivals, and Notra etc.

 

Telemarketing

 

                      ‘e’ Boy, ‘e’ Bala or ‘e’ Bai can also help fellow village man and woman to sell his/her products.     When tomatoes get sold in Banswara market for Rs. 10 per kg at the time of writing this paper (February, 2007), it does not take much imagination to understand that the poor tribal who is actually growing tomatoes on his/her fields is probably not getting more than Rs 3 per kg for his/her efforts and this is a dismal situation and provides an insight of the tribal realities and how development interventions have still a long way to go to change the economic picture of tribal areas. Teleselling through mobile or web site can considerably curtail role of middle man. In the absence of appropriate, timely and correct information about prices, arrivals and market trends, compounded with the problems of low cash-at-hand and proper advice, rural/tribal man  is forced to sell his produce at lower-than-expected rates. The result is that the benefits of the ‘green revolution’ have not really percolated down to the farmers.

 

Tribal homes are also skilled in producing handicrafts goods but its market is normally restricted to the local areas alone as in Hatts. The demand is naturally low and therefore tribal man does not receive the proper price as compared to the potential that could be actualized if these goods were taken to a global marketplace. We have many good examples that show that advertisement on web site and connection to a global market can fetch extremely high prices. These tribal handicrafts if exposed to international markets using the internet can bring big benefits to tribal man. . For instance, in Gujarat, a lady running a small business of mirror-work and neckties when advertised her product on the World Wide Web, a buyer from a department store in London came across the product and placed a large order. Consequently she realized a handsome profit. Traditional methods of medicine are now getting the attention of global marketing giants. Herbs used by tribal man are being researched. Efficient markets depend on information. A systematic approach that would ensure supply of these herbs to big companies and profits to tribal man in lieu of it, can open new avenues of generating incomes. 

 

Many websites already exists for e marketing targeting rural/urban population. A website with relatively high-level of precise, up-to-date and relevant content, deployed in a user-friendly way, customized to particular user groups, and molded  to specific geographical needs should be universally successful but  many such efforts have apparently failed to achieve their targets.

There are difficulties in designing an effective web site. Obstacles to information access may be physical, economic, intellectual or technological, that hinders a user’s participation in the activities on a website. The barriers may be actively imposed by the architects and website designers or they may be allowed to continue simply through their lack of action or lack of understanding of the critical user conditions. Studies have shown that such critical user conditions may arise due to particular demographic, geographic, cultural, social, psychological, economic or other factors. Issues related to usability such as ease of use, usefulness (Davis, 1989)[6], decision effectiveness (Mason et al, 1973) [7], user response, user satisfaction (Doll et al, 1988) and many other aspect of usability have been investigated  in great detail by researchers.

 

The challenges to website that would ensure successful e rural/ tribal marketing in India arise mainly because of the highly specific local needs and the great diversity in local conditions. The major challenges can be summed up as follows:

 

ˇ        Poor literacy rate – low use of textual information

ˇ        Remote village locations - physical distances compounding problems of lack of proper price information and habitual dependence on middlemen.

ˇ        Absence of alternate media for dissemination of info.

ˇ        Absence of info in vernacular languages and multiplicity of languages.

ˇ        Cash crunch of farmers, immediate cash transaction system and reluctance of banks to provide soft loans to farmers.

ˇ        Economic, low-cost solutions - any technology solution aimed at benefiting the masses in rural India must be affordable and low-cost so that the perceived economic benefits of such an endeavor are much more than the cost of switching over to a different technological solution.

 

 

Some Leading ICT Projects

 

                     ICT projects like M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Warana Nagar Rural Network Project, IndiaShop.com, SEWA, TARAhaat.com and e-greenstar.com have set example that can inspire other NGOs and be role model for our young tribal ‘e’ Boy, ‘e’ Bala or ‘e’ Bai. They can work on similar lines to revolutionize information communication in their area. It would not be out of place here to describe these projects in brief, one by one, here.

 

All India Society for Electronics and Computer Technology AISECT [8]

 

                  The All India Society for Electronics and Computer Technology (AISECT) has been running an All India Co-ordinated Programme (AICP) to establish Multipurpose Information Technology centres in rural, tribal and underprivileged areas of India since 1996. It is devoted to awareness, education and employment of youths in rural tribal India through ICT. The programme has been implemented in ten states and registered significant results. Over 600 training, servicing and information centres were established during the project period and a large variety of training and servicing modules were prepared in Indian languages. It has networking with the programmes at block, district and regional levels. A National workshop was conducted in Bhopal in the year 2000 to share the strategy with over 50 NGOs, state and central govt. departments. A PLAN 5000 was devised and adopted in this workshop to set up over 5000 multipurpose I.T. centres in next five years. Over 4300 centres in 220 districts covering 26 states have been established till now on the basis of self funding.. AISECT has produced innovative courses and software in Hindi and other local language.

 

Each multipurpose I.T. centre covers a typical field area of about 100-Sq. Kms. and provides services to a population of about 10,000 to 15,000 persons. It is located at a block headquarter or at an active hub of activities (village market centre) within the block. It is linked with panchayat clusters and big villages as shown below.

 

An I.T. Centre at block and sub-block level sustain itself economically by adopting the ‘Multipurpose Centre mode with various types of activities.   The Multipurpose Centre model allows flexibility to such a centre to assume any of the following or more roles, with a slight alteration in hardware and software capabilities :

Multipurpose Training and Servicing Centre.

Customised Software Development Unit.

Internet - Email Kiosks.

Computer and Peripherals Servicing Unit.

Data Processing Unit.

DTP and Screen Printing Unit.

Video Graphics, Mixing and Titling Unit.

Information Window or Samadhan Kendras.

Computer aided Coaching Institute.

The possibilities are tremendous and varied and the choice depends on the local

entrepreneur.

 

For providing support services, AISECT has networking with a large number of organizations.  AISECT has prepared computer courses in Hindi and regional languages. Under “Indira Suchna Shakti Yojna for Girls” – meant for  the Computer Literacy programme,  over 1,00,000 girls are being trained in basic computer skills in over 1300 schools in the predominantly tribal state of Chhattisgarh,. These schools are being modified into citizen service points. Besides running a nationwide computer literacy program with such a focus on women, AISECT has developed hardware and software modules for various levels. 

 

Other main highlights of AISECT such as Computer Education Programme in Colleges, Rural surveys, Open Vocational Education, Linkages with Universities, Information Technology Awareness Camps, Poster Exhibitions, I.T. Yatra 2000, District I.T. Melas , Conferences, ‘It For All’ Seminars, and  National I.T. Olympiad have made AISECT as one of the leading  organization in the developing  world aimed to provide education and employment in rural/tribal areas through use of ICT.

A National Resource Centre has been set up in Bhopal to provide continuous support to the AISECT for innovation, research and development. 

 

Suchana Mitra

 

                    AISECT is working with several districts to set up district level e-governance systems based on Suchna Mitra software. They include Panna, Guna and Narsinghpur in Madhya Pradesh, Banswara in Rajasthan and Ranchi in Jharkhand.

 

Suchna Mitra 1.0 has been designed to include the Information about  Government Schemes,  Peoples health ( Contains extensive information on women and child health, Immunization, Child care, environment and nutrition)  Legal literacy (  Contains information on women’s rights, various laws on child labour, contract labour and migratory labour, laws relating to peoples rights, police, marriage, property and other issues)  Rural Technology ( Contains a database on various Rural Technology inputs and sources on transfer of Technoloy)  Self Employment ( This contains over 100 project profiles on self employment on various topics) Suchna Mitra 2.0 is a web based application software, which works in a client/server environment as an INTRANET. The software offers easy governance solution via E-governance. Implementation of this software can save a lot of time and money of the district administration as well as of common man. The software also provides an efficient way for monitoring of developmental works and public grievances.

The software is organised in two modules. The first module can be accessed from any client machine (PC) available in the district, without any password protection. The second module can only be accessed via Suchana Mitra Kendras on payment basis. A representative list of modules is given below :

 

COMPONENTS OF MODULE –I are : 1. Khoj Khabar ( E-Newspaper), 2. Khoya Paaya (Lost & Found), 3. Bhav Taav ( Mandi Rates) 4. Hamara Bazar (Local Makret), 5. Jila Nirdeshika (District Directory), 6. Rojgaar (Employment ) 7. Vivaah Prastav (Matrimonial), 8. Shiksha (Education),

 

COMPONENTS OF MODULE – II are: 1. Bhoo Rajasv ( Land Records) , 2. Lok Shikayat (Complaints), 3. Aavedan ( Application), 4. Shaskiya Yojna Aavedan Patra (Govt. Schemes Forms), 5. Visheshgya Salah -(Expert Advice), 6. E-Mail - (Hindi Mail)

 

AISECT has a CD Preparation Unit. In 2000, it released  a CD on its course-ware. The CD covers all the AISECT courses and is in Hindi and English. Another C.D. has been made for Pre Engineering Test. In 2002, C.D. containing games, interactive tutorials and free domain software was prepared for school students. AISECT has built up capability of design and development of CDs.

 

Swaminathan Foundation

 

               For example, India’s Swaminathan Foundation has set up Village Knowledge Centres, with special websites to present a variety of locally relevant content.

According to M.S. Swaminathan, one of the architects of India's Green Revolution and the founder of MSSRF, "If new ICTs could benefit rich countries, why shouldn't they be harnessed to help poor ones? The technologies of the industrial revolution have only exacerbated the divide between the rich and the poor. Technology has to be harnessed without increasing the existing divides."

 

The project, which began in 1998, aims to provide knowledge on demand to meet local needs using a mix of wired and wireless technologies and through a local web site. Pondicherry was selected because it ha scertain initial advantages. As per the 2001 census, 89 percent of men and 74 percent of women are literate in the Pondicherry region, which is spread over 492 sq kilometers and has population of nearly a million. The area already had a reasonable telecom infrastructure. The project has financial support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada.

 

To appraise socioeconomic status of people and gather other data , surveys were conducted in 13 villages, and the MSSRF team finally chose Villianur, a market centre surrounded by several hamlets, as the project's local headquarters. Villianur is an administrative node and is well connected by roads. The Information Village  is equipped with a computer, modem, telephone, a small telephone exchange (EPABX), wireless equipment.  Villianur has now become the hub of the information and communication network. It has many project staff operators who  produce and update all the databases to provide information to the people. There are sub centres at three nearby villages, all within 20 km, Kizhur, Embalam and Veerampattinam, each one established after ascertaining the need through participatory rural appraisal. At sub centres, most of the system operators and volunteers are women. Thus the programme enhances the status and influence of women by making them the providers of primary information.

After information requirements are identified during a trial period, volunteers from the village create a local database comprising government programs for low income rural families; cost and availability of farming inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, grain prices in different local markets; a directory of insurance plans for crops and families; pest managements plans for rice and sugar cane; a directory of local hospitals, medical practitioners and their specialties; a regional timetable for buses and trains; a directory of local veterinarians, cattle and animal husbandry programs.

 

One survey  in five villages covered by the project has revealed that  people benefit from securing information on employment, crops, fish markets, loans, dairy farming, real estate, veterinary services, weather and wave-height information, bus service and power outage schedules, exam results, and public address announcements.

 

In his article “Information and Knowledge in the Age of Electronic Communication: A Developing Country Perspective” Subbiah Arunachalam remarks:

 “The entire project draws its sustenance from the holistic philosophy of Swaminathan which emphasises an integrated pro-poor, pro-women, pro-Nature orientation to development and community ownership of technological tools against personal or family ownership, and encourages collective action for spread of technology [9]. Within the community, Swaminathan would prefer to reach out to women and the assetless first. Experience from India's Green Revolution which he spearheaded has shown that if one starts with the poor, the rich also learn from the experience but the reverse is not true. The same way if a woman is helped the entire family is helped. His vision is one of development through job-led growth as against development which takes away jobs.”

 

In the article, “Wiring up a Knowledge Revolution in Rural India” Lalitha Sridhar remarks:

 

“Rural knowledge centres based on an integrated application of new communication technologies, like the internet and cable TV as well as conventional ones like community radio and the local language press, can become effective instruments for harnessing the power of partnership among professionals, political leaders and public policy makers, the general public and rural families. Such partnerships alone can help to bridge the growing divide between scientific know-how and field level do-how.”

 

Lalitha Sridhar suggests that a national grid of virtual universities/colleges devoted to harnessing in an integrated manner the internet, cable TV, community radio and the vernacular press for reaching every woman and man in our villages can play a critical role in triggering a knowledge revolution in rural India.

 

 Warana Nagar Rural Network Project [10]

 

               The Warana Nagar rural network project, in Maharashtra which covers  70 villages and has come into limelight for the strength of its cooperative societies. Local communities are using ‘facilitation booths’ to access agricultural, medical and educational information on the Internet.  The network consists of 10 computer servers, two small aperture terminals (VSATs), and about 165 personal computers. 27

 

IndiaShop [11]

 

    Similarly, The Foundation of Occupational Development in India, which operates eleven telecentres, has also established a website called IndiaShop to provide a market outlet to help indigenous crafts people and provide them maximum benefits.  As a result, role of middle man is minimized and an isolated community is able to fetch much higher prices from international customers than from retailers in nearby cities.

 

India’s Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA)

 

                              India’s Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) has been one of the first organisations in India to realise the potential for harnessing ICT to help women in the information sector. It has 220,000 woman members who earn a living through their own labour or through small businesses. 12 Many of SEWA's member organisations have their own web sites which provide opportunity to poor self-employed women to sell their products in the global virtual market place. 13 It is remarkable that these woman members have access to software in the ‘language of daily use’.  SEWA is engaged in developing software to enable grass-roots workers and members to make the best use of the tools provided by ICT.  Using ICT as a tool,   SEWA has started distance learning in rural areas which delivers program for capacity building such as organising; leadership building; forestry; water conservation; health education; child development, the Panchayati Raj System and financial services.[14]

TARAhaat.com or Star Marketplace [15]

 

               TARAhaat.com or Star Marketplace which has been able to register between 5000 and 25,000 contacts per month is an internet gateway to promote sustainable livelihoods by promoting self employment opportunities in local informal sector markets and the wider domestic and international economy. It connects the village user to information about social services, health, entertainment, and to markets, through a network of franchised cyber centres, customised in the language of their choice. 

 

                Star Marketplace has many good important features. It provides opportunity for sustainable livelihoods to those poor rural/tribal people who are located in areas with limited economic opportunities and harsh living conditions.  The design and format of the project which cater for the needs of people with wide variations in literacy, language, financial liquidity, and levels of understanding is based on extensive market research and socio-economic surveys, including a house-to-house survey of selected villages in the region.  The project is joint venture of the public and private sector including the Indira Gandhi National Open University.  It has support from youth organisations through the National Youth Cooperatives. 

 

All the three components like content, access and fulfillment, which are essential for enhancing rural connectivity, provide TARAhaat project important features that go beyond simply using the Internet to communicate with its target audience. A mother portal provides the content in relation to law, governance, health and livelihoods.  Access is given through a network of franchised local enterprises.  Delivery of information, goods and services is provided by local courier services or franchised TARAvans.  The revenue streams of TARAhaat provide for profit generation at each step of the supply chain, serving to further strengthen its networks.

 

It is reported that the project, although still in its pilot stage has increased the economic opportunities for the physically disabled and the franchisees. It has also improved access to education for rural girls.  It has also provided generation of alternative sources of income for young people through desktop publishing. 97

The project illustrates a number of best practice features, which won it the 2001 Stockholm International Challenge prize as best practice in the category of a Global Village. [16]

 

Opportunities for e-commerce-based Entrepreneurship in Remote Communities 

 

Greenstar India [17]

 

                        Greenstar India has begun an E-commerce Movement in India by introducing solar power, the Internet and “digital culture” to rural India. On 2 October, 2000, Greenstar India announced in New Delhi and Los Angeles that it would build 50 solar-powered community and e-commerce centres in remote villages throughout India over the following three years.  To generate income through e-commerce, Greenstar gives prime importance to India's vivid and diversified traditional culture.  Working closely with the people of each village,  a team of talented artists and teachers in Greenstar is focusing on  elements of rural Indian culture that include authentic art, music, legends, literature, history and sacred way of life. These have long been a source of fascination by people everywhere in the world.

This original theme is already working in the Palestinian Authority and Jamaica. It is hoped that these efforts will eventually create a powerful, unique collection of ‘digital culture’ -- a gallery of music, artwork, photographs, video, poetry and other arts, which can be distributed in high-resolution digital form throughout the world, instantly and efficiently.

 

                      The revenues from digital culture will be used to fund basic needs of each village for its future, as decided by the people themselves -- deploying tools that include clean solar power, telemedicine and vaccination resources, basic education, micro-credit, community organizing, and a high-speed, two-way connection to the world through the Internet.

 

 

Middle-Income Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Young People

 

                 Our country has been able to create employment for thousands of women and men through ‘cyber kiosks’ or ‘telekiosks’. Telecentres are good income generators for young people.  India has witnessed a rapid growth in Telecentres which can provide access to business support services for underprivileged groups.   These ‘internet kiosks’ are often upgraded STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) booths that are common in India.  Starting from simple STD booth, to a system consisting of telephone, fax machine, photocopier, a computer, and the Internet, telecentre have evolved into advanced systems. A ‘full service telecentre’ offers many phone lines, and multi-media PCs with Internet access.  Other equipment can include a high-volume black and white and/or colour printer, a scanner, a digital camera, a video camera, a TV, an overhead projector, a photocopier, a laminator, meeting rooms, and a video conferencing room. We have different types of telecentres to do everything from improving public health to extending education to a wider audience to strengthening local democracy. We also call them by different names like community multimedia centres, telecottages, village knowledge centres, community technology centres, telehuts, Internet learning centres, community access points, library computer labs and so on—they share a common commitment : to help communities enter the information age and embrace the knowledge economy on their own terms. This is the telecentre movement today. Telecentres are being set up through public and private initiatives in  telephone shops, schools, libraries, community centres, police stations, and clinics. Young people are particularly well placed to take advantage of such growth areas. The Indian Ministry of Information Technology has ambitious plans to convert over 6,000,000 public call offices (PCOs) into public ‘tele-info-centres’ offering a variety of services such as Internet browsing, fax, e-mail and long distance phone calls. 

                  Young people especially have a particular advantage in being able to set up such enterprises because computer literacy and familiarity with maintaining computer hardware are required to operate such telecentres.  Telecentres or Internet kiosks offer a good opportunity as they involve fairly low start-up costs. By sharing the expense of equipment and skills, we can decrease costs and make these services viable in remote areas. 

 

Income Generation through Cable Television.

 

There are 600,000 cable operators in India, most of which have a small customer base of 50 to 100 households.  Cable TV systems have been installed in many rural /tribal areas to provide access to TV channels (typically from a satellite) for a fee.  Satellite TV offers self-employment for young people, they can share the costs required for the purchase of satellite antennas and then provide fellow villagers with paid access to cable television.

 

Conclusion and Recommendations

                                   

The main aim of this paper has been to show in practical terms how ICT can be used to generate employment for young people in tribal areas. Any country whose rural population is still mired in poverty and unemployment, and faces high rural-urban economic disparity cannot be termed as a developed country.

Thus, development of rural economies is the real challenge for developing country like India s which has large rural/tribal population.   For the new communications technologies to be of use to wider segments of the population, and not just a narrow base of society, a lot more needs to be done. Once we start thinking from this angle, we will realize that we need to correct our development-oriented policies and actions.

In India expansion of mobile phone networks and the growth in the number of mobile phone subscribers has been phenomenal in recent years.  It is not difficult  for a Tribal boy to buy a mobile phone, and then to make the telephone available for others in the village to pay for phone calls, to send short message services (SMS) and to enable villagers to receive incoming calls. BSNL can also launch this program at low tariff.

 

  Similarly, youth can be offered small loans to establish public call offices or kiosks to provide a range of services including telephone, fax, e-mail and access to the Internet as well as photocopying and computer word-processing services. 

Governments, the private sector, non-government agencies and local communities can, each in their own way, promote efforts to support young people starting up enterprises based on ICT.  However, enterprise support programs run by governments or international agencies have often had high failure rates.  Particular problems have been insufficient resources and staff and overly rigid and inappropriate procedures.

 

 

India's IT industry ranks among the fastest growing sectors within the country's economy. But it has largely restricted to urban areas only.  It is time  to break the traditional perception and the picture we conceive in our mind when any body talks about rural/ tribal India. We should envisage rural areas as potential IT farm where with the right awareness and education, infrastructure inputs, the right policy support, hard work, we can create a new generation of IT-trained youths which will ensure that rural/tribal areas provide us with many new products and services, besides agricultural produce. ICTs should be amalgamated with  the education curriculum within government, government-aided and private schools, and public and private institutes in rural areas. This will ensure that India becomes a repository of not only the young but young and IT-trained population.

 

         Some of the good projects described in this article have also shown that it is possible through ICT for craft producers in poor and isolated regions to tap directly into regional, national and global markets.  The participation of young people in the development and implementation of initiatives involving the use of ICT to generate employment is likely to be a key factor in the success of such initiatives. 

 

Tribal residents deserve an equal opportunity to participate in the national economy and determine their own destiny. Particular emphasis, as outlined in paper, should be given on ICT to provide employment to tribal youths so that they can integrate effectively in the Indian economy and the new Global Economy. This new knowledge about new types of information sources, such as emails and Internet, and about new ways of doing businesses, such as e-Commerce via credit cards would allow rural entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses or think of new business opportunities. This in turn will attract more rural people and create more employment opportunities in rural areas.

 The final solution to providing service to tribal areas in India will require a delicate blend of appropriate technological choices in combination with management and financing mechanisms, initiated at the governmental level, to support the development of tribal areas. There is a need to transform schemes and subsidies being given to rural/tribal areas. New schemes and projects need to be created which promote rural e-Entrepreneurship. Bank loans and credit lines should be extended to provide funds for rural e-commerce and other e-Services. Government of India could spur rural IT innovations by initiating district-wide, state-wide and national-wide incubation funds to promote rural enterprises, and start long-term projects on IT on the lines of its forestry conservation, watershed development, and literacy for all campaigns.

 

                  NGOs need to transform too, and move out from a sterile approach to rural development to a more pro-active one. They should quickly adapt themselves to changing technologies and educate themselves on the vast potential of IT in rural areas when applied innovatively. Sadly NGOs working towards rural development in India have proved to less progressive than many of the State Governments of India which are proving to be an important force in making ICTs work for the rural poor. These non-progressive NGOs are doing more harm than good by not undertaking projects which create new employment and entrepreneurship options to the rural population. They end up reinforcing the thinking that rural India is only about agriculture and farmers.

 

 An integrated approach including participation of public sector, the entrepreneurs, the private sector, and the NGOs who consider themselves to be in the business of "doing good”, is required to catalyze information revolution in Tribal India so that millions can be lifted out of poverty and be engaged in productive employment not restricted to agricultural sector. Hence no time should be wasted in going ahead with the proposed plans.

REFERENCES

 

1.      Peter Drucker, The Next Information Revolution, Forbes ASAP, 24 August 1998, 47-58.

2.      Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, press release no. 419 /2007, 15 January 2007

3.      Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, press release no. 89 /2006, 12 September 2006

4.      “Telecommunications Revolution in India” article by Mr NK Sinha, Member of Telecom Commission, India

5.      http://www.simputer.org/simputer/about/

 

6.      F. Davis (1989), Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use and user acceptance of information technology, MIS Quarterly 13(3), 319–340.

 

7.      R.D. Mason and I.I. Mitroff (1973), A program for research on management information systems, Management Science 19(5), 475–487,

8.      SETTING UP MULTIPURPOSEINFORMATION TECHNOLOGY CENTRES IN RURAL AND TRIBAL AREAS OF INDIA, THE AISECT EXPERIENCE, Presented By Santosh Choubey, Director General, All India Society for Electronics and Computer Technology, E-8/54, Bharat Nagar(Shahpura) Bhopal.

 

9.      Subbiah Arunachalam "Blending the past with the modern: How ecotechnology can change society" - An interview of Prof. M S Swaminathan, GATE No. 3/1997 July-Sept, pp.32-36.

 

 

10.  Waran Nangal ILO (2001): World Employment Report 2001 Life at Work in the Information Economy, Geneva, p. 59.

 

11.  Hudson, H.E. (2001): “The potential of ICTs for development: Opportunities and obstacles,”

 

12.  Nanavaty Reema, General Secretary, SEWA personal communication, bdmsa@ad1.vsnl.net.in.

13.  ILO (2001): World Employment Report 2001, p. 60.

14.  Ibid.

15.  www.tarahaat.com

 

16.   http://www.challenge.stockholm.se/new_tavlande_index.html. 

 

17.  http://www.e-greenstar.com/ and http://www.greenstar.org/ 

 

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