CoWIN and Digital Literacy in India

  • Based on my India travels found the average Indian to be far more digitally literate than what Metro residing Indians believe. Read seven stories. Note that digital literacy is a journey not a destination.

During the suo-motto hearing of the case registered by the Supreme Court (SC) to check with pan-India issues arising out of Covid19 a bench said, “You can certainly have registration, but how will you answer the digital divide? Justice Chandrachud said “digital literacy in India is still far from perfect. I am the chairperson of the Supreme Court e-committee and I have seen the problems which afflict this.” Source Indian Express  

The point on digital literacy is pertinent. It is a challenge given India’s size and terrain. However, what might appear to those in metros like Mumbai or Delhi need not necessarily be the reality across India. 


At the outset, what is digital literacy? A techie from Silicon Valley explains in the context of a healthcare platform that works out of India. He says, “A person may not be proficient in reading and writing but being about to capture picture and verbally describe the problem, then send it electronically, receive advice from remote doctor within small time, is an example of digital literacy at its best. You can see how smartphone like devices can make it possible.” 


Note that digital literacy is a journey not a destination.


This article shares the author's observations in Bharat i.e. Dantewada in Bastar, Nandurbar in Maharashtra, Thrissur in Kerala, Solang Valley in Himachal, Shilpgram in Rajasthan and Mysuru with an update from Chushul in Ladakh. The format is background of event or reality followed by observation.  

Adivasi of Bison Horn Maria group checking smartphone,Jagdalpur. 

Dantewada, Bastar 2018

In the run-up to Dussehra (celebrated over seventy-five days here), a procession of Devi Maoli is taken from Dantewada to Jagdalpur. It is accompanied by the Bison Horn Maria Adivasi group who perform the traditional Gour dance.  


When I saw the Adivasi checking his phone was taken aback, never thought they would be like us. This was not all.


Whenever I took group photographs some adivasis asked me to click but with their phones. Their group leader showed me U Tube videos of numerous performances and offered to perform anywhere in India. And there, I was worried of my safety being in what is considered a Naxal hotspot.

Pictures of Bastar Dussehra 

In my mind, use of technology by Adivasis was an aberration. How wrong was I?

Overview through CCTV monitor at call centre, Dantewada.

The next day I visited a call centre, Yuva, in the district headquarter Dantewada. It had three broadband lines through which it served its client’s customers. Young boys and girls were being trained with help of a laptop. It looked like any operation in Pune or Bengaluru. 


Since security is a concern, I asked a twenty something, from village Gollaguda in Bijapur district how his parents allowed him to come here. He smiled to say that he had a video call with family every night to reassure them all is ok.   


To see album of Yuva Call Centre


When I told my host am impressed but what about people residing in villages. He responded by taking me to a Common Services Centre (CSC) in Palnar village, rural Dantewada.


CSCs are “access points for delivery of public utility services etc, apart from a host of B2C to citizens in remote and rural areas. It is a pan India network.” A couple of villagers I spoke to said that CSC meant fewer visits to the district headquarters. How many of us have heard of such a facility?


It was decided in 2015 to extend the CSC scheme to all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats by 2019. Since the devil is in implementation I called up the Ministry of Electronics & I.T. for an update on CSCs actually opened but due to lockdown in Delhi their office is closed.


From Bastar let us go to another tribal area i.e. Kathi in Nandurbar. My experiences here were another revelation.

Bottom pic phone used to click video, rear white light are phones.

Kathi Holi near Nandurbar 2019 (tribal district in Maharashtra)

Holi is celebrated through the night (dance and music) by Adivasis of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. It is celebrated in village Kathi in Satpura range. Dance takes place around the Holika Dahan. The picture says it all.  


To see album of Kathi Holi

From tribes of Western India our next stop is Thrissur in Kerala.

Devotees at Vadakumanathan temple,ThrissurPooram. 

Thrissur Pooram, Kerala 2014

Thrissur Pooram is India’s most spectacular festival. It attracts lakhs of devotees from Kerala and rest of India. Simply put, it is a grand assembly of Gods and Goddess around Thrissur who make their visit to the temple on decorated elephants accompanied by Chenda velam and pancha vadyam.


Simply put, it is about elephant worship and processions accompanied by percussion music. During procession offerings are made to elephants. In the evening there is a competition between two temples on who can displays parasols (umbrellas) better.


All through the festival saw hands up clicking video just as you see at the temple entrance in this pic.


I visited in 2014. In seven years the number of smartphone users must have risen significantly, what with phone and data cost dropping significantly.  


Pictures of Thrissur Pooram


From hot Kerala let us go the cooler climes of Himachal Pradesh.

Solang Valley. Local Women make tourists wear Himachali dress N click pictures.  

Solang Valley near Manali 2016

Every morning these 3 ladies, amongst others, walk up to the Shiv Temple in Solang Valley. For a fee they dress tourists in Himachali dress and click pictures. They clicked a pic of me that was widely appreciated on social media.


I observed them. Very focussed on customer satisfaction. Surely, they acquired these skills over time. Navigating a website should be easy for these bright and confident women.


From cool Himachal let us to go to the Aravallis of Rajasthan.

Folk performers,Shilpgram,Udaipur 

Shilp Gram Udaipur 2017

Shilpgram is a rural arts and sports complex near Udaipur. They have cultural programs all day performed by folk artists from Gujarat and Rajasthan. Ladies that you see perform Ghoomar, Kalbeliya, Terah Tali etc dance forms.


When the daughter of the lady in blue saw me clicking her mother, she asked for my email id and within seconds mailed requesting for their pic. So though the mother was not digitally literate, her teenage daughter was. Another example. When our domestic help went to a Diagnostics Centre for a China Virus test, they asked if could send a PDF file of the report on what’s app. Yes, said her son.  


Pictures of Shilp Gram Udaipur


From Udaipur in Western India let us go down south again, this time to Mysuru.

Crowds, cutting across all barriers, capturing memories.  

Mysore Dussehra 2017 

Again a must attend festival celebrated in and around Mysore Palace. Saw crowds from all stratas of society.


Pictures of Mysore Dussehra

Bhangra Dancers from Punjab, Mysore Palace. 

At Mysore Palace I met Bhangra Dance performers from Phagwara, Punjab. Within days of our meeting they messaged me their pics.


Based on the above interactions across India I am sure that those adept at using a smartphone will get the confidence to explore its other features like search and web site navigation including a Co Win type of portal.


My confidence is borne out of this experience even if in a metro. About two years ago, a panipuri boy (app 25 years) asked me to hold on when I went for a serving. On questioning, he said was busy closing his order on Flipkart since there was a Sale. But that was in English I said, to which he replied, Itna tho English samaj mein aatha hai (garment type and price).


Having said the above, friends from Leh and Tawang in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh tell that net connectivity in sparsely populated villages is bad so better for residents to go to the nearest vaccination centre as walk-ins. Connectivity in towns of Leh, Tawang and Imphal are ok though. 

Waiting for vaccination, Chushul. 

Still it was nice to know that the local community in Chushul, Ladakh (height 14,450 feet) and close to border with Chinese Occupied Tibet organised vaccination, with government support.


The problem with Co Win arises more because of the limited availability of vaccines. When vaccines are short Co Win does not show slots available.


Having said that, Co Win needs to be in Indian languages and should incorporate changes based on user feedback. 


Cynics might argue that this is a drop in the ocean for a population of 140 crs. Yes, but a similar scepticism was expressed when Jan Dhan Bank Account scheme was announced. Today there are 41.75 crs accounts. It was probably the starting point to digital literacy. Note digital literacy is a journey not a destination, there is no set standard for it.  


I believe that most beings (including not formally educated rural folk) can learn, if they wish, what new comes their way. However, our urban mind-set is unable to accept this so we say, Oh! How will they manage? Can we stop being presumptuous?


The more I travel, the more I realize how ignorant I am about Bharat.


Author is a travel photo journalist.  Except Ladakh pic all pictures by author. 


Also read

1. Producing vaccines is not like making 2 minute noodles

2. Why the judiciary must step back

3. Can Spirituality help India deal with Coronavirus

4. Corona, Karma, Karuna a Sanatani perspective

5. How Yoga and Ayurveda might help prevent being infected by Coronavirus

Receive Site Updates