No, a catastrophe is the better way to describe India’s tryst with the Internet.
We’re not talking of a looming catastrophe but one that’s already upon us.
Save as a catastrophe, there’s no other way to describe Internet usage and penetration in India.
Source: World Startup Report, March 19, 2013
Forget the unbridgeable chasm between India and America.
India is also woefully behind its deadly, belligerent neighbor China in Internet adoption.
A nation that desperately salivates, aspires, nay craves, for Superpower status has a mere 10% of its population using the Internet?
Forget Superpower status.
At current rates of Internet penetration, India can’t even aspire to be a Regional power.
A nation of Yahoos or lemmings will never be a Superpower or Regional power.
India is already laughed off the stage at every global conclave and even lowly Italian guards are now cocking a snook at Mera Bharat Mahaan.
And India’s digital backwardness will certainly drag the nation deeper into the pits.
The Internet is not merely the Gutenberg (movable type printing) revolution of our era, it’s a cornucopia of knowledge that has the power to better Man’s life in countless ways.
What the sharpened stone was for the ancient troglodytes, the gunpowder in the modern era and nuclear weapons in the 20th century, the Internet is all that and more in the new millennium.
A powerful tool like few others.
Perpetuation of Illiteracy
In an age, where the Internet is touching upon all facets of life it’s unconscionable that the vast majority of Indians should be excluded from the manifold benefits of the Web.
Lack of access to the Internet in India is nothing but perpetuation of illiteracy in another form.
No longer is knowledge of the alphabets or the ability to scribble them on a slate the mark of a literate person.
It’s only when all of its citizens have access to the library of the world at a mouse-click that a nation can boldly claim that the light of knowledge is not a blessing restricted to a few.
The enormous digital divide in India can only exacerbate the severe economic divide in the nation where the majority survive on less than $2 a day while some thrive in towering billion-dollar mansions.
Why the Horrible Gap
Deeply distressing though it is, the enormous difference in Internet use between India and the U.S. or China is unlikely to be reduced any time soon for the following reasons:
* India’s vaunted economic development in recent years has not lifted all boats. Only a small minority of the urban dwellers are soaking in the benefits of development while the rest fight and scavenge for the crumbs. So it’s hardly surprising that both awareness of the Internet and its affordability remain low for hundreds of millions of Indians, particularly in the rural hinterlands.
* India’s benighted and corrupt leadership lacks the vision to understand how crucial the Internet is to the national interest.
* A national broadband policy to urgently build a high-bandwidth digital pipeline from the Rann of Kutch to Imphal and from Kashmir to Kanyaumari is not only absent but not even on the horizon.
* Internet penetration in rural and urban government schools is non-existent and will continue to remain only on paper.
* There’s no pressure from below (the people) for wider access to the Internet but a rape in Delhi or events in neighboring Sri Lanka quickly brings the hordes yelling and protesting onto the streets of the metros.
* It’s unrealistic to expect that a nation where the majority lives on less than $2 a day will ever prioritize Internet or smartphones.
Bottom line, India’s encounter with the Internet has turned out to be a missed call for the overwhelming majority.
And that does not bode well.