Digital Divide: India Inequality Report 2022
Oxfam India’s annual publication – Digital Divide: India Inequality Report 2022 – highlights the prevailing inequality in accessing digital technology in India. The report, published in December 2022, emphasises the impact of this ‘digital divide’ on education, health and financial sectors in the country.
The report uses data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, Mumbai, gathered through surveys conducted between January 2018 and December 2021. It examines access to digital technology among groups belonging to different castes, regions, religions, economic backgrounds, genders and levels of education.
The report analyses the determinants of the digital divide, the impact of such inequality on the daily lives of the people and the impact of profiteering and privatization in digital industries. The report states that digital inequalities are “reproducing themselves which in turn are exacerbating inequalities in the real world”. This restricts those digitally marginalised from availing the advantages of the technologies on offer.The 68-page document consists an executive summary followed by four sections: Introduction (Section 1); Determinants of the Digital Divide (Section 2); Digital Divide in Education, Health and Financial Inclusion (Section 3) and The Way Forward and Recommendations (Section 4).
Citing the 2017-18 publication from the 75th Round of the NSS – Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India – this report notes that only about one-fifth of the Indian population can operate a computer or use the internet. As per another report by Kantar, a London-based data and consulting company, and the Internet and Mobile Association of India, around 31 per cent of the population in rural India uses the internet as opposed to 67 per cent of the country’s urban population.
According to the same NSS data, only around nine per cent of students enrolled in any course had access to a computer with internet. Additionally, just 25 per cent of enrolled students could access to the internet through any sort of devices.
The richest 60 per cent Indians are four times more likely to use digital payment facilities than the poorest 40 per cent, the report states citing the World Bank’s Global Findex Database 2021. In rural India, Scheduled Tribe households are the least likely to use formal financial services. Second lowest likelihood is recorded among Scheduled Caste households and third lowest among Other Backward Classes.
NSS data from 2017-18 states that among the poorest 20 per cent households in India, only 2.7 per cent have access to a computer. Moreover, only 8.9 per cent of the households are able to access internet facilities. The figures for access to the computer and the internet for the richest 20 per cent households are 27.6 per cent and 50.5 per cent, respectively.
Around 56.5 per cent of children with disabilities were facing difficulties in attending classes during the pandemic. Additionally, only four per cent of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe households had resources enabling them to study online regularly. The report adds that more than half (57.6 per cent) of adolescent girls felt that boys had easier access to digital amenities in educational institutions.
Between January and April 2018, a 22 per cent gap existed between the percentage of permanent salaried workers and the daily wage workers who had a computer. It had reduced to 15 per cent by the end of 2021.
People from urban India are 12 to 14 per cent more likely to own a mobile phone than people from rural India, the report states. The urban population is also more likely to spending more than Rs. 400 on mobile phone recharges every month.
As many as 61 per cent men had phones by the end of 2021 compared to 31 per cent women.
In 2017-18, 16 per cent of Indian households had electricity for between 1-8 hours each day. Around 33 per cent households received electricity for 9-12 hours and only 47 per cent had electricity for more than 12 hours daily, the report states.
The report cites a February 2022 story from Business Today that states that 25,067 villages in India do not have mobile and internet connectivity. As per another report by the Observer Research Foundation, Wi-Fi hotspots are available in less than half of the 2.5 lakh village panchayats covered under the BharatNet rural telecom project of the Government of India.
Within the Asia-Pacific region, India’s gendered digital divide fares the worst with a wide gap of 40.4 per cent between internet usage among men and women, the report states.
Focus and Factoids by Priyanka Gulati.
Apoorva Mahendru, Mayurakshi Dutta and Pravas Ranjan Mishra