24th Sep 2019 : The Hindu Editorials Mains Sure Shot

GS-3 Mains

Note : There is another article on PSB mergers but it has been dealt in details in the article of 6th September.

Question – What do we mean by Digital Inequality and what are the underlying causes.(200 words)

Context – Recently, in Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala, the Kerala High Court declared the right to Internet access as a fundamental right forming a part of the right to privacy and the right to education under Article 21 of the Constitution. 

What is inequality?

  • Inequality, as the term suggests, is basically the state of not being equal. It can be any aspect like money, power, opportunity, or not having equal access to resources and so on.
  • But when we talk of inequality what generally comes to our mind is either social inequality or economic inequality. But inequality is more than just that.
  • If we take a closer look, then in India in the 21st century, a new kind of inequality has emerged called ‘digital inequality’.
  • Many people associate digital inequality with the lack of access to the internet but it is not just limited to that.
  • Digital inequality means the disparities in knowledge and ability of using digital and information technology among individuals with different demographics, socioeconomic backgrounds, and digital and information technology experience and competencies.
  • Even digital inequality can be of various types like rural-urban digital inequality, gender digital inequality and so on.

Factors that contribute to the digital inequality:

  1. Gender – In comparison females have less access to the Internet than males. This disparity is partly attributed to the perception that IT is a technical subject for men and women generally shy away from it or are discouraged.
  2. Physical access – this is mainly a problem in rural areas due to lack of sufficient telecommunication infrastructure with sufficient reliable bandwidth for internet connection and also the cost of devices leads to lack of access to technology.
  3. Attitudinal factors – the idea stems from the cultural and behavioral attitudes towards technology that perceives that using a computer is for the ‘brainy’ people, for male, or for the young and are difficult to use.
  4. Age – people aged 15 to 24 use the internet daily while the older ones, especially those between the age of 45 to 54, use the internet rarely. It is clear that digital divide exists between age groups because the youth are more exposed to technology and are eager to use it, whereas older people are resistant to change and avoid the use of technology.
  5. Low literacy rate – There is huge literacy gap between male and female and also between rural and urban India this also contributes to the digital divide.
  6. Education system – while the children in private schools are introduced to information technology right from their school level the scene is different in public schools and villages. This creates a fear psychosis among the kids who do not have access to information technology in school.
  7. Language – most widely used operating systems require a knowledge of english and this further adds to the other causes.

Why is digital inequality a matter of concern?

  1. In recent times, more and more government and private sector services are going online or becoming digital. In fact, some of them are only available online.
  2. So digital inequality is further adding to more inequality as the services that are only available online are beyond the reach of those who do not possess digital knowledge.
  3. According to the Deloitte report, ‘Digital India: Unlocking the Trillion Dollar Opportunity’, in mid-2016, digital literacy in India was less than 10%. So  in the absence of Internet access and digital literacy enabling that access, there will be further exclusion of large parts of the population, exacerbating (increasing) the already existing digital divide.
  4. Digital literacy also matters because we are increasingly moving to a global economy where knowledge of digital processes will transform the way in which people work, collaborate, consume information, and entertain themselves. For example, people in the rural areas generally do not have access to good doctors or specialists. In case they know the use of internet and have proper access they can reap the benefits of tele-medicine.
  5. We are living in an ‘information society’. Unequal access to the Internet creates and reproduces socio-economic exclusions. 
  6. The sustainable development goals acknowledges the importance of digital equality and it is one of the SDGs. The government of India has also acknowledged the importance of digital literacy and undertaken Digital India Mission.
  7. Keeping these in mind, the Kerala High Court declared the right to Internet access as a fundamental right forming a part of the right to privacy and the right to education under Article 21 of the Constitution. 

What does this judgement mean?

  • The judgement has three implications:
  • First, it has a positive aspect that it mandates the state to take action and set a minimum standard and quality of the internet that must be available to the citizens.
  • Second, it also creates a negative obligation on the state prohibiting it from engaging in conduct that impedes, obstructs or violates such a right.
  • Recognising the right to internet access and digital literacy will also makes it easier for the people to demand accountability from the state, as well as encourage the legislature and the executive to take a more proactive role in furthering this right.

Way ahead:

  • The government has taken several steps to bridge digital inequality like the Digital India Mission but there is also a need to understand that inequality is not a ‘cause’ but a ‘consequence’ of several factors taken together. There is a need to address all these causes individually to attain most positive results.

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