Jagriti Yatra 2017: Meet the Internet Saathis — women who are empowering themselves using technology
On board the Jagriti Yatra this year are some Internet Saathis — women who have learnt to use the Internet and are now imparting these skills to others
Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of daily updates from on board the Jagriti Yatra — a 15-day train journey that traverses 8,000 kilometres across the country. This national train journey, one of the longest of its kind in the world, begins and ends in Mumbai. This cross-country jaunt will see youths from across India interact with a variety of business entrepreneurs and experts in Kanyakumari, Bengaluru, Nalanda, New Delhi and Ahmedabad among its many stops. Firstpost will bring you day-to-day coverage of this marathon journey.
“Aaj kal hum copy-pen se nahi aage badh rahe, net se zyada aage badh rahe hai (Today it’s not traditional learning that is taking us forward, it’s the Internet that is)” says 20-year-old Sugandha Pandey, an Internet Saathi from eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Deoria district. The programme, run by Google and the Tata Trusts, is aimed at teaching rural women how to use the Internet.
Archana Kushwaha from Kushinagar district laughs as she talks about how she learnt to make gulab jamuns on the Internet. “Who here doesn’t have a smartphone anymore? Even the poorest families have one,” she says.
Poonam Mishra has started working with Haqdarshak, an NGO that works within rural communities to generate awareness about government programmes and SOPs available to them. She is currently finishing her Master's and plans to work with Haqdarshak in the future as well.
Neha Gupta is grateful to Jagriti for giving women in her village agency through the Internet Saathi programme.
These four women were trained to use smart phones and the Internet, and then tasked with teaching women in nearby villages. They are a small part of a much bigger cohort, that according to a Google spokesperson, now has over 30,000 Internet Saathis working across 1,10,000 villages in 12 States of India — Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana.
The Internet Saathi programme was launched in July 2015 with the aim to provide digital literacy to women in rural India. A Google spokesperson said, “Tata Trusts has been our partner since the beginning of the project. They use their network of local NGOs to identify the potential Saathis, remunerate them, implement the program on ground, and monitor progress.” In eastern UP, the Jagriti Sewa Sansthan is implementing the programme, and 10 of the Saathis were on board this year’s Jagriti Yatra.
Alka Tripathi, COO of the Jagriti Enterprise Centre, also traveling on the train, said the programme started in Uttar Pradesh in June 2016, “We started with three districts — Deoria, Kushinagar, Gorakhpur — that was the first phase, and then after four months, we went into four more districts — Mau, Ballia, Maharajganj and Sant Kabir Nagar.
“Altogether we worked in seven districts and had 2300 Internet Saathis. They were trained on how to use a smartphone and a tablet, how to switch it on, switch it off, how to browse, how to access the Internet, how to Google, how to search, very basic stuff.”
India is one of the fastest growing Internet user markets in the world, but it is dominated by male users largely. According to data by Google, in 2015 only one in 10 internet users in rural India was a woman, but in 2017 the ratio had gone up to three in 10.
Some women in the programme have used their knowledge of the Internet to find newer economic opportunities. For the next phase of the programme, Google has extended support to the Foundation of Rural Entrepreneurship Development (FREND) set up by Tata Trusts. Under this initiative Google will jointly work with Tata Trusts to create a new framework for delivering employment opportunities to Internet Saathis, said a Google spokesperson. The programme plans to scale up to 3,00,000 villages.
Poor network continues to be a problem, though the situation has improved in the last two years. With time the programme has given women more agency, and many Saathis on this year’s yatra confirm that they wouldn’t have been allowed to go on a fifteen day long journey across India, without having first earned respect through the I Saathi programme.
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