Colin Todhunter in India
internet in particular is clawing its way into rural India.
I had just travelled
along the Delhi to Jaipur road. It took an age to get out of the city.
Delhi seemingly goes on forever. The bus fought its way through traffic
jams, people, urban sprawl and more urban sprawl. As we passed the Indira
Gandhi International Airport, I thought "At last - we must be nearly
out of the city". Officially, we probably were. But I didnt
account for the new developments. It must have been about another forty
minutes before we encountered countryside.
The Delhi-Jaipur route is fascinating.. It is where hi-tech India meets
The edge of the Delhi conurbation is now scattered with ugly high rise
appartment blocks. I can never work out whether it is they that are grey
and dismal, or it is the haze that makes them appear that way. They are
too far in the distance to provide me with an answer. From the distance,
they look as though they were inspired by the urban architects of the
former Soviet Union. Maybe from close up they are beautiful. I doubt it.
Nearer to the road, however, is hi-tech Delhi. Office blocks gleam in
their newness and would not look out of place in Manhattan or Hong Kong.
As we follow the road we eventually hit greenery. Within another hour
or so we are in Rajasthan. The contrast with that part of the road which
leads out of Delhi cannot be more striking. Village women walk along dirt
paths close to the road, dressed in yellow veils. They look as though
they have just time travelled forward to 2002 from two hundred ago. They
carry pots on their heads and are covered head to toe with clothes and
jewellery. Tall, elegant village men dressed in white and wearing traditional
head gear cycle and walk along the tarmac. People in the West used to
section the world into First, Second and Third world terminology. Those
are outdated stereotypes, and even then they were misguided. But in the
age we live in, global corporate capitalism is everywhere. Its monuments,
the shiny office blocks, are no longer as confined as they were to Western
cities. To use the old terminilogies - The "First World" is
now firmly entrenched in the "Third". You do not have to look
at the office blocks in Delhi or to survey the IT parks near Bangalore
of Hyderabad to know this, but it kind of reinforces it.
So what has all of this got to do with the internet? Well, if hi-tech
India has now crawled its away along the Delhi-Jaipur road it does not
stop there. The internet in particular is clawing its way into rural India.
It is already on just about every major street in every town. Internet
cafes abound. Some are nothing more than box rooms with three or four
machines crammed in. From the outside the building may look like a crumbling
shed on a muck strewn street, but inside is the majestic PC. Others are
big enterprises, with rows and rows of machines.
These days, the internet and computer technology are no longer confined
to middle class urban dwellers. Schemes exist to give slum children access
in Mumbai, and agencies such as the Swaminathan Research Foundation supports
putting "knowledge centres" into villages in Tamil Nadu, close
to Pondycherry. The centres have been effective in empowering rural communities
with information in the fields of environment, health, sustainable agriculture
and aquaculture, meteorology, markets and prices. For example, in a coastal
village inhabited by fisher families, the women download from the internet
each evening information on the likely wave heights in the sea adjoining
their village at various distances from the shore line. This information
is broadcast throughout the village through loudspeakers. The fishermen
then have access to accurate information on sea conditions before they
set out for fishing in their wooden boats. I am sure there are dozens,
maybe hundreds of organisations across India attemping to bridge the digital
divide with various projects. Globalisation without ethics or equity may
be the logo for the rich and powerful, but seemingly not for everyone.
© Colin Todhunter October 2002
Point of No Return: Love and Death in India
Wheels Good Two Wheels Crazy
Out of Chennai and Into Madness on the Back of an Enfield
IN CHENNAI - The Madras Diaries
Traveller Tales on the Road in India
a new book by Colin Todhunter
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