Thanks To This Breakthrough Initiative, Indian Villages Will Have Wi-Fi Soon

The implementation of the GramNet programme is a breakthrough initiative to promote universal digital services in rural India. This article argues the multiple socio-economic benefits of the GramNet programme and highlights the measures the Government of India needs to undertake, to successively execute this programme in rural India.

To speed up the telecom services in rural India, recently, the Ministry of Communication has introduced GramNet telecom services, with 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps speed. Reiterating the promises that were made in 2018, the ministry has introduced these services at the 36th foundation day celebration of Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT).

While launching C-DoT’s latest innovation, C-Sat-Fi technology, the minister promised that the implementation of this service will empower the people of rural and remote areas. It will make telephone and Wi-Fi facilities available on any mobile phone. Furthermore, the minister said that, as India celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, this will be a real tribute to Bapu, who had dreamt of a self-reliant Indian village.                                 

However, the effective implementation of this GramNet telecom service has many more socio-economic benefits.

Firstly, the successful execution of this service will reduce the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) gap between the Indian states and rural-urban areas as well. According to the recent telecom report in June 2019, the telecom market in India has seen rapid growth in the last decade. The aggregate teledensity, (i.e. the number of telephone connections for every hundred individuals living within an area), has snowballed from 18.23 per cent in 2007 to 90.11 per cent in 2019. Despite rapid growth in telecommunication, there is an unequal distribution of ICT among the Indian states and rural-urban India too.

As per the report, up to 31st March 2019, the urban teledensity was 159.66 percent whereas the rural teledensity was 57.50 percent. The data shows that there is a high rural-urban disparity in digital technology distribution in India.

The state-wise distribution of ICT shows that states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Kerala, Gujarat and Maharashtra have greater levels of ICT, whereas states like Odisha, Utter Pradesh, Bihar and Assam having lower levels of ICT. Therefore, the successful implementation of this service may reduce the existing digital disparity in India.

How It Will Help Digital Banking In Rural India

Easy and affordable accessibility of Wi-Fi services through GramNet can boost the digital banking facilities in rural areas. Despite the digital revolution in India, large sections of the rural population are excluded from the formal banking system. As per the Global Findex database (2017), in India, 79 percent of the rural population have deposit accounts, 18 percent have saving accounts and only 7 per cent have credit accounts.

Similarly, 26 percent of rural adults hold a debit card and only 2 per cent of rural adults possess a credit card. Along with some socio-economic limitations, (like low income, lack of financial literacy, high‐transaction cost, time consuming processes, unavailability of bank branches, unfriendly behaviour of bank staff, lack of identity proof), some technological factors, (such as absence of deposit/withdrawal machines, unavailability of network, difficulty in using digital technology), are also responsible for this financial exclusion.

Hence, with the implementation of GramNet telecom services, some basic banking problems can be solved, and the rural unbanked people can be brought into the banking system. This is because, with the help of GramNet Wi-Fi services, rural individuals can access digital banking facilities without going to physical bank branches by connecting their mobile to the available Wi-Fi.

Besides this, with easy availability of Wi-Fi and e-banking facilities, rural individuals can also conduct their day-to-day activities (like bill payment, e-ticket, money transfer etc.) in more productive ways.

Together with these facilities, the GramNet telecom provision will have a major effect on the development of digital governance or e-governance and enhancement of small businesses in rural areas. Generally, in village areas, people travel to a nearby city or town to access their online services, (like online registration, filling up admission forms, the opening of Aadhar card, and obtaining other important documents). This consumes time, money and energy. Now, with the availability of GramNet, rural people can access these services by connecting their mobile phone to GramNet Wi-Fi.

Furthermore, rural people can obtain more government data and information, which will improve transparency and accountability in the system and fulfil the dream of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”. Similarly, with reference to the promotion of small businesses in rural areas, rural entrepreneurs can access global market information and exchange business ideas. Small business entrepreneurs, sitting in a remote village, can promote their products through online marketing, thus, globalising their services.

What The Govt Must Do To Ensure Success

Nevertheless, to ensure the success of this programme, the government must solve some of the basic problems in rural India, such as poor facility of electricity, lack of understanding in digital technology, and less digital literacy.

Though the Prime Minister of India has pledged to provide reliable power to all households, in reality, millions of rural households are still living in darkness. Moreover, frequent power cuts in village areas are another major problem in rural India. Similarly, the consumer’s inability to understand and use digital technology is another major problem among rural individuals, which restricts them from the use of various digital technologies. Even if some of the consumers own a smartphone, a lack of knowledge about how to use it, difficulty in connecting to the internet, a problem in downloading apps and lack of understanding the instructions, result in reduced use of digital technology.

Hence, to mitigate these fundamental problems, the government should strengthen rural infrastructure and enhance digital literacy programmes for the rural masses. Otherwise, without solving these issues in rural India, the mere provision of GramNet telecom services will not fulfil the true essence of this programme.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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