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How Smartphones are aiding rural India’s transformation

Dernière mise à jour : 30 janv. 2022

Around 2008, the smartphone was introduced in India. At the time, rural citizens barely had access to smartphones as prices were high and the illiterate were not adept in operating such devices. However, in just over a decade it has revolutionized the life of the ordinary Indian citizen, irrespective of their location, economic or educational status. The quick transformation was far reaching and long term, a paradigm shift in the way rural India communicated and lived.


According to a report by the Internet & Mobile Association of India and Nielsen, rural India had 227 million active internet users, 10% more than urban India’s 205 million, as of November 2019. This has created innumerable opportunities in providing people with access to life enhancing services. So, what exactly led to this rapid technological change amongst rural Indian citizens and how has it improved their connection with the wider world?



A rural family delighted with a smartphone by stockimagesbank


High prices of smartphones being an issue, companies like Redmi and Samsung worked towards removing it by pricing their smartphones at affordable rates starting from rupees five thousand onwards to be able to tap into the rural market of India. Equated Monthly Instalments (EMIs) became the preferred way of purchasing smartphones rather than loans because the poor were then free from the burdens of taking loans. Non-Government Organizations also stepped in to provide smartphones free of cost to families with lower incomes. As a result, by one way or the other, people in rural areas gradually got their hands on touchscreen devices.


Improved internet connectivity in rural areas as well as cheaper data plans also played a large role in enabling people to purchase smartphones and be better informed of global events. As of December 2019, there has been an increase of about 22.15% of internet subscribers in urban India as compared to a whopping 55.91% increase in internet subscribers in rural India. In 2021, the Indian telecommunications giant, Reliance Jio introduced the cheapest recharge plan at only rupees thirty-nine. The pack included unlimited voice calls and 100MB of data for 14 days. In addition to this, an Indian internet service provider AirJaldi teamed up with Microsoft to provide affordable online access to rural communities. Such online services proved to be even more essential during the time of the coronavirus pandemic, when routine activities were pushed from an offline to an online set-up. Through the video call features on smartphones, rural workers can contact their family members working in other parts of the country, helping to bridge the distance between them especially during the numerous lockdowns.



Emancipation of Women




Image of rural women utilizing a smartphone by trilocks


A significant outcome of the increased use of smartphones in rural India has been the freedom and empowerment it has offered women. An estimated 200 million women in rural India are illiterate but due to the availability and recent access to smartphones in rural areas, plenty of women can now make use of applications enabling them to communicate using audio and images, without requiring them to be able to read or write.

The state government of Chhattisgarh launched a scheme in 2017 called the Sanchar Kranti Yojana to lessen the digital difference in the state. 2.3 million rural women in the state were said to have received smartphones through this scheme. It isn’t only the fact that rural women now owned smartphones, but also that the smartphone was mandatorily registered in the name of the female member of the house.



Maternal Health


As per World Bank reports, India witnessed 190 deaths during pregnancy and childbirth per 100,000 live births in 2013. Rural women lacked access to good facilities. To improve the healthcare situation in India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh, an NGO called Sahayog Foundation initiated the ‘My Health, My Voice’ programme which can be accessed simply through a smartphone. A mobile-enabled Interactive Voice Response system (IVR) focuses on helping pregnant women get access to free government health facilities. Women can also use the dedicated helplines and report pregnancy-related issues in their preferred language.



Enabling Entrepreneurship




Image of a working rural woman with a smartphone by paltu



Rural women entrepreneurs are often faced with obstacles due to unfamiliarity with business operations, illiteracy, domestic responsibilities, geographical remoteness, etc. Smartphones provide rural women with an avenue to become independent, express themselves and generate an income for themselves and their families. The Self-Employed Women’s Association and The Foundation of Occupation Development are examples of organizations that have trained and supported rural entrepreneurs by assisting them in managing their businesses through smartphone technologies.



A farmer benefitting through information on a smartphone by Niks Ads



For many years, crop failure and burdensome debts have been directly related to farmer suicides. Smartphones are now making these occurrences rare. Farmers in rural areas now have access to a variety of information about agricultural practices, namely sowing of seeds, crop protection, improving soil fertility etc. which assist them in improving their produce. Information on occurrence of rainfall and other weather-related destructions help in organizing better storage facilities. Smartphones also benefit the farmers by better information and contact with local markets and securing more desirable prices for their products.The information and communication technology in agriculture (ICT) as well as the Mobile Harvest applications are approaches created to guide farmers to develop their agricultural aptitude by providing them with tips and instructions.


The proliferation of smartphones in rural areas has favoured others too. For example, urban retailers can easily contact wholesalers via calls rather than having to travel a great distance to source the goods. In case the retailer has any query regarding the goods being delivered, rural wholesalers can even send photographs of their goods, addressing the problem.



Mobile Money



A daughter helping out her father with online banking by trilocks


Online banking and payments become popular in the villages due to the availability of smartphones there. This has greatly eased the process of transactions for the rural folk. Companies like Paytm, PhonePe, Google Pay, BHIM app and UPI (unified payment interface) launched by the Government also had vital impacts on digitalization of financial transactions for villagers. Rural workers are now able to get their salaries deposited immediately into their bank accounts and can transfer money to their families through online transfers, saving them the time and effort of travelling to cities to access banking facilities. Villagers can even pay their phone and electricity bills directly through options being made available online. With increasing recognition of e-commerce, rural citizens can now avail of the facilities that were earlier only accessible to their urban counterparts.

Rising to Fame


Thousands of Indians have flocked to social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok since their inception in 2010 and 2017 respectively. What is refreshing to note is that some small-town folk have been dominating the lip-syncing and dancing routines on these social media platforms. Such platforms have opened up avenues for rural Indian women to express themselves, thereby breaking the shackles of oppression. Quite a few of them have even carved a niche for themselves in the entertainment world owing to their popularity on particular applications namely Instagram, Likee, MX TakaTak and Bigo Live. In addition to developing a celebrity status by attracting plenty of likes and views, social media is also viewed as a medium through which one can earn money.


The growing presence of smartphones in rural localities has accelerated considerable development, unlocked immense opportunities and has induced hunger for advanced technology. Although India might still be in the initial stages of digitizing its villages, it is remarkable to see the immediate transformations that smartphones have accomplished.

DCI’s main goal is to decode encrypted news for an enlightened citizen

Simone Coutinho, Journalist at Décryptage Citoyen International

January, 24th 2022


References:


World Economic Forum. 2021. How Microsoft is helping to bring broadband to rural India. [online] Available at: <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/02/digital-divide-rural-india-internet-access-microsoft/>


Team, T., 2021. 8 Mobile Phone Ideas That Are Changing Lives In Rural India. [online] The Better India. Available at: <htstp://www.thebetterindia.com/16218/8-mobile-phone-ideas-changing-lives-rural-india-mobile4good14/>


Parenting for a Digital Future. 2021. How mobile communication shapes families in rural India. [online] Available at: <https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/parenting4digitalfuture/2019/03/06/how-mobile-communication-shapes-families/>


Medium. 2021. Are mobile phones the solution for rural women’s entrepreneurship?. [online] Available at: <https://medium.com/bharatinclusion/are-mobile-phones-the-solution-for-rural-womens-entrepreneurship-c67a7cbe7002>


Tripathy, S., 2021. Need of the Hour:Digital Banking in Rural India | Pratisruti Plus. [online] Pratisrutiplus.com. Available at: <https://pratisrutiplus.com/odisha-industry/banking-insurance/need-of-the-hourdigital-banking-in-rural-india/>


Sampathkumar, Y., 2021. In India, Smartphones and Cheap Data Are Giving Women a Voice. [online] Wired. Available at: <https://www.wired.com/story/india-smartphones-cheap-data-giving-women-voice/>


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