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Here’s Proof That Rural Citizens Would Rather Use Mobile Phones Than Stand In Queues

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By Gangadhar S Patil:

Rural India and Gujarat led a record 35% surge over a year in mobile-phone and computer-based transactions with the government, an indicator of the demand and future potential in recreating India’s interaction with its government.

Hosted on mKisan – a portal that allows central and state government organisations to potentially connect over text messages with more than 80 million farm families – the video above indicates just one aspect of the increasingly evident presence of government with electronic devices, in particular mobile phones.

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Of the 3.5 billion electronic transactions reported in 2014, half came from rural areas, which were responsible for only 20% of e-transactions the previous year, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of data available on the e-governance dashboard, e-taal (Electronic transaction Aggregate and Analysis Layer). E-taal aggregates, in real-time (or live), e-transactions between Indians and 2,848 central and state organisations and departments across 29 services, including land records, agriculture, information, education, health and bill payments.

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Use of these services does not imply that they work as they should. But they are a record of the desire for such interaction with the government. An e-transaction is the delivery of any government service over electronic means, such as mobile phones or computers.

For example, a right-to-information query filed through the department of personnel and training (DoPT) website, www.rtionline.gov.in, or a farmer seeking weather advisories over text message, is recorded as an e-transaction. Our analysis shows that Indians in rural areas particularly use e-services to seek weather advisories, obtain copies of land records, and to get crop prices and public-distribution system coupons for subsidised food.

This video from Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, explains how farmers use these services:

In 2013, 2.4 billion e-transactions were recorded across the country of which 480 million were related to e-governance projects in rural India. The figure jumped to 1.7 billion in 2014, accounting for almost 50% of 3.5 billion e-transactions. Services offered in the agriculture sector were the most used e-service, with about 980 million transactions clocked in the 2014. As the farm crisis grows, the increasing volume of rural e-transactions indicates how technology might be one mode of mitigation.

With 330 million of India’s 687 million GSM mobile phones now in rural areas, according to Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), e-transactions with the government are likely to grow rapidly. There is little doubt that farmers are enthusiastic adopters of technology via mobile phones.

Gujaratis are e-leaders, Andhra government offers most services

Gujaratis are India’s most enthusiastic adopters of e-government services, leading other Indian states in e-transactions, although it offers fewer services than close competitors – Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Andhra Pradesh tops the list of e-government services offered: 224, followed by Telangana and Gujarat, which offer 186 and 181 e-services respectively. Experts said that these numbers could stem from a lack of knowledge about such e-services and some e-governance project failures.

There are many e-governance projects that have failed because they were launched without creating backend support, said Sunil Abraham, executive director of Bangalore’s Centre for Internet and Society, an advocacy. “The number of transactions cannot be the only criteria for judging performance of an e-governance project,” said Abraham. “We must also record time taken to deliver the service in response to the request received.”

Apart from state government e-governance projects, there are 20 “mission-mode” projects under the national e-governance plan, presented first in 2004-05. Some of the projects include MCA21, an online platform that allows private and public companies in India to remotely file financial and shareholder information for regulatory purposes, and Passport Seva, which lets citizens apply for a passport online.

E-governance: More than a government website

E-governance improves access to services, enhances transparency and reduces response time. Let us see how the top three e-services work, to understand how such services could benefit users. The services are: agriculture, PDS, utility services and bill payment.

As we said earlier, about 980 million e-transactions were recorded in the agriculture sector, about 30% of the total. These are mainly transactions related to farmers seeking advice on weather, soil, new registrations, daily market prices and arrivals of commodities in more than 3,200 agricultural markets across India, through SMS and email for registered users. The data show a three-fold increase in the number of farmers registering for agriculture related advisories, from 3.7 million in 2013, the figure rose to 9.3 million in 2014.

Although it is true that more farmers use mobiles to seek advisories, it is difficult to say how helpful these advices might be, said food and agriculture policy analyst Devinder Sharma. “The perception that farmers are not tech-savvy and unscientific is incorrect,” said Sharma. “They need it most, and (they) are trying to make use of such services.”

The next most used e-service is the PDS, which recorded 530 million transactions, mainly in four states: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Gujarat accounts for more than 50% of total PDS e-transactions, since it has digitised its distribution system. This includes receiving and issuing coupons after verifying ration cards through barcode readers and biometrics, and sending out PDS SMS alerts.

Digitising the subsidised-food distribution system – a network that loses 42% of money to corruption according to government admission in parliament this year – could also clean up its corruption. End-to-end computerisation of PDS in Gujarat has helped the state eliminate bogus or duplicate ration cards which were the primary reason for leakage.

While most states have started digitising the PDS, some of the biggest states, such as West Bengal, Orissa and Rajasthan, haven’t yet started. While digitisation has helped Gujarat plug leaks, there is more to be done.

It is true that e-governance helps cut corruption, empower citizens through information and improves their engagement with the government, but a request made through internet does not necessarily speed it up, said Ashok Kumar Jain, board member of the India chapter of Transparency International, an anti-corruption non-profit organisation.

Just creating an interface for accepting requests is not enough,” said Jain. “Government should ensure that it has the resources and trained people to act on the request.

The third most commonly used e-governance service relates to bill payment and other utility services. Gujarat again leads the pack, with about 60 million transactions followed by Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The reach of e-services helps in eliminating intermediaries and faster delivery of government services. Considering the size and diversity of India, the only way to deliver essential services to people to its remotest corners is e-governance, said Abraham.

The 3.5 billion e-transactions, he said, is proof that citizens would rather use their mobile phones than stand in queue.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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