Plunge into the web with caution

Plunge into the web with caution

Ocean In A Drop is as much about supporting, encouraging and observing the work of India’s internet pioneers as it is about knowing that their efforts to find refuge for their dying cultures, to galvanise women, to provide young people with opportunities that may align with their culture and traditions, are recognised and valued. Australian filmmaker Andrew Garton looks at India’s digital empowerment with Upasana Singh

In Mungaska village of Rajasthan, all it took was the arrival of one laptop and the internet connection to embolden women there to stand up to domestic violence.

Two sisters, Reena and Basanti, who weren’t married as child brides because they had learnt to use computers and navigate the internet, are now a confident voice of their community in Baran. In the same place, children from multi-caste villages sing together across a broadband wireless network. Traditional silk weavers in Chanderi have set up shop on the web while others in  town had not even seen a computer. A family of poets, story-tellers and musicians has found refuge for the dying culture on the internet.

Then there’s young Raghav who has established his own radio station to broadcast from a modified wireless microphone. Raghav is illiterate and self-taught. His wife, Kiran, is neither. They both run a rural computer and information resource centre where they provide low-cost access to the internet, teach young people how to navigate it and screen documentaries and educational dramas on their outdoor, shop-front cinema.

Digital empowerment in rural India and its transformative impact have been aptly captured by Australian musician and filmmaker Andrew Garton, who has a history in community media, in his new documentary film, Ocean in a Drop. Shot across 14 villages of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar from 2015, it portrays the need for digital empowerment — broadband and broadcast — in rural India.

Garton wants to highlight the consequences of Inform -ation Communication Technology (ICT) usage in rural and tribal communities where even radio barely works. “Where we usually forget things easily, people from rural India have a strong capacity for retaining  memories. We might think rural communities are poor but they are not in terms of knowledge. Time and again, we met people who, we were told, were illiterate because they couldn’t read or write, and yet we found them to have such strong oral traditions and knowledge that continue to shape their culture and — to some degree — their interpretation of what the internet is and how it can be of use to them.”

For Garton, the amount of research never matters. What matters is the understanding of a particular concept, “easily achieved by spending quality time with people, observing them and trying to understand what are they grasping out of the digital market. With the availability of computers in some of the areas, I was able to observe that people were hardly interested in applications. Their knowledge was limited to the usage and knowledge of MS office, notepad, paint and Facebook”.

However, with digital access, “they are able to find information for personal knowledge that they could share with others in the village.” During an interaction with  a woman, Garton came to know how she searched for a good cream for her pimples and got to know that aloe vera is one such thing that can solve her problem. “I found it revolutionary as  women are gradually using technology for personal information. This way people are gradually getting educated to search for necessary information,” he said.

Garton strongly felt that the government should provide digital literacy to all. “However, they should also be provided cyber-security and made aware of cyber-stalking and fraud information. A rural woman shared the good news about the message she received for winning a car and in return was asked to provide personal account details. Fortunately, she was informed well in time about such cyber-crimes,” he said.

Internet is an amazing place and yet has its pitfalls. A lot of improvisation needs to be done in terms of security and awareness about cyber-crimes and vulnerability online.

It’s a huge call for the government to provide faraway communities computers with basic digital literacy. Through the Digital Empowerment Foundation initiative, computers are in areas where radios and televisions barely exist. When asked about the purpose of his film, Garton replied, “The prominent purpose is to understand and make the unintended consequences of rural India visible to the public. It’s great to have access to so much information, cultural exchange in terms of films and documentaries. What it means to me and what it means to all of us working on it is that it describes the delicate balance between providing access to the internet and all that it may offer and all it can consume. Will the majority of new arrivals online be swept up in its panopticon of distraction, or will they bring something entirely different to it?”

Photos: Jimmie James Wright



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