Keen and nimble, Vedant’s fingers move with purpose across the computer keyboard. The 14-year-old lives with his parents in Khadkoli village of Palghar in Maharashtra. Until a few months back though, the internet was a faceless entity for most teenagers in the village. It was like a family friend you grow up hearing about, but hadn’t had the opportunity to meet yet.
Therefore, over a long time, the village had become curious about the internet. This explains why the workshops on e-governance under PUKAR’s IFA-EGFA (Information For All, E-Governance For All) project became such a hit in Khadkoli. At these workshops, the E-Sevaks introduced governance-related concepts, initiatives, and terms. It was a two-fold strategy – familiarise villagers with governance lexicon and induct them into the world of online governance by actualising availability and access to the internet. With healthy equipment and a robust internet connection, E-Seva Kendras were set up for increased time and cost efficiency as well as convenience.
Every Wednesday, at 7pm, women, men, and children would wind up their day’s chores and head to the events organised by E-Sevaks. At these events, villagers were encouraged to use the internet facilities at E-Seva Kendras to pay for utilities and to procure land records, Aadhar cards, voter identification cards etc. Awareness among the village’s population regarding governance spiked.
To sustain this interest and translate the awareness into practice, the E-Sevaks came up with an ingenious plan. They mobilised a group of teenagers in Khadkoli – 14- to 17-year-olds – and started computer classes for them. The E-Sevaks were confident that the children had a hunger to learn, which would mean quick uptake, adoption and application of what was being taught in the internet class. The idea was simple – tying together the villagers’ newly acquired knowledge about e-governance with the freshly developed internet skills of the children.
Says Vedant, “I learnt a lot about government schemes from the E-Sevaks. Mr. Amol Mudekar taught us computer basics – using keyboard shortcuts, word processing software, and navigating the internet. The E-Sevaks – Jayesh More, Namdev More and Anita More – explained e-governance to us.”
The E-Sevaks’ efforts are already bearing fruit, with these children actively applying their learning to their day-to-day life. Each of them has found a way to spread the knowledge – Rupali, 16, has helped her father and other villagers procure their land records online; Nikita, 17, now knows how to create an email account and has assisted her friends in making one, too; Priyanka, 16, has done her bit by helping villagers fill up forms to get their voter identification cards; Saroj, 17, is willing to talk about his internet gyaan with people and has learnt a great deal about the Aadhar card.
For Vedant, the change has manifested in different ways. “I helped my dad pay the electricity bill online the other day, and my mother in finding out more about gas subsidies. I share what I learn about e-governance with my friends as well. For instance, my friend Karan lives in Kude village, and he has also begun helping his parents out with bill payments. I am indebted to the E-Sevaks,” he concludes.
The internet permeates lives in the urban space today. We use it to book transport, check the news, connect with friends, do business, share information, watch movies and play games. For every activity that is part of our daily routine, the internet has something to offer. It dominates our conversations and our lives. In villages like Khadkoli, where the internet made its presence felt only in the recent past, it is truly exciting to see how children are using it as a means to an end rather than the end itself. And to think it all started with a small innovation by the youth we know as E-Sevaks.
Note: A version of this post was first published here.