A utopian vision for digital democracy

India definitely is having a tough climb ahead towards digital age
Representational Picture
Representational PictureFile

Now that the validity of digital democracy as a concept is being discussed around the world especially in India, a fear is generating among people, that states are reacting negatively in terms of adapting complete technological governance.

However, Indian government continues to assert their own governance power in the digital sphere and over the tech giants, the fact that these corporations or giants are not subject to a wide range of laws that may serve as a catalyst for the formulation and adoption of harsh laws and regulations in promoting and furthering the digital democracy and digital rights. India definitely is having a tough climb ahead, in the digital age’s foothills.

My recent conversations with some on ground workers who are working profusely to complete the task of private fibering, providing the basic infrastructure of digitalisation process like internet broadband connections in urban areas said that continuous efforts are been taken by the government under Digital India Initiative to address the issues that digital illiteracy, and digital divide pose to the citizens.

They were honest enough to admit that there is still a lot to be done especially in Jammu and Kashmir where completion of digital Infrastructure is still a far dream. Time necessitates that the vision of having electronic governance agenda be expanded to include digital cooperation.

Importantly, India must enhance its e-governance projects to contribute to digitisation processes and standard-setting initiatives. With the addition of a number of additional constituents to fight against ‘digital capitalism and digital authoritarianism,’ the India’s policy has interestingly nowhere framed.

However, the problem posed by capitalist companies, exploitation of digital technology has only grown. As a result, India must fine-tune and bring in new-order to equal opportunity of ICTs, low internet cost, promotion of digital public spheres, more Platform cooperatives that are non-profit Internet platforms, advance the digital public sphere and the digital commons, as well as the public sphere, public services, and the commons in general, that are the active and practical hope for safeguarding and advancing digital democracy in India.

What needs to be done

Over the last two decades, the proliferation of new and developing technologies in India has considerably enlarged authorities for domination and social control, mounting the development towards furthering of digital democracy and social change in India.

While modern technological projects viz a viz Digital India Programme as per the huge corpus of literature available has the potential to improve democratic principles and further the social change, many challenges need to be worked on by way of service monitoring and evaluation, quality and accountability, participation, basic digital infrastructure, digital education, security, and et al.

Pertinently, tech companies need to act as neutral actors and as mere service providers so that they shouldn’t suppress circulation of content, doesn’t promote hate speech, and should take unprecedented steps to further the cause of digital democracy.

However, India has undertaken numerous significant and various measures to digitally empower the citizens of India, but it still has to decide whether combating digital repression is a fundamental political priority or not.

Effectively, a lot of ground still has to be covered, despite the fact that India has made great strides in terms of internet accessibility, with 658 million active internet users over the age of five by January 2022 (according to an IAMAI-Nielsen report) and the enormous success of the Digital India programme.

The National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), the contact-tracing software Aarogya Setu, the government e-services app Umang, and other efforts were all launched by the Indian government in response to the pandemic.

There has been countless district- and panchayat-specific digital projects in addition to them. While helping and enabling millions of Indians, these programmes did not take into account the issues of literacy and universal access. The term “Digital Divide” was making its appearance.

Pertinently, India’s population was 1.40 billion in January 2022. Data show that India’s population increased by 13 million (+1.0 percent) between 2021 and 2022. At the start of 2022, 35.9 percent of India’s population lived in urban centres, while 64.1 percent lived in rural areas.

The median age of the population in India is 29.1. (Source: datareportal.com). Therefore, India’s internet penetration rate stood at 47.0 percent of the total population at the start of 2022. Kepios analysis indicates that internet users in India increased by 34 million (+5.4 percent) between 2021 and 2022.

For perspective, these user figures reveal that 742.0 million people in India did not use the internet at the start of 2022, meaning that 53 percent of the population remained offline at the beginning of the year 2022.

Data published by Ookla indicates that internet users in India are experiencing the following internet connection speeds at the start of 2022: Median mobile internet connection speed via cellular networks was 14.39 Mbps, and the Median fixed internet connection speed was 47.40 Mbps.

Ookla’s data further reveals that the median mobile internet connection speed in India increased by 5.15 Mbps (+55.7 percent) in the twelve months to the start of year 2022. Meanwhile, Ookla’s data shows that fixed internet connection speeds in India increased by 11.51 Mbps (+32.1 percent) during the same period.

These figures indicate that India with such a huge population is certainly going forward for digital democracy but will take lot of honest efforts and policies to bridge the huge gap of 53 percent that still yearn for digital teachings, universal access to mobile connectivity, proper digital infrastructure, digital empowerment to bring in social change by way of digital democracy.

According to the “Strategy for New India @ 75” report from the NITI Aayog, India is working hard to reduce the digital divide by 2022–2033. In this regard, it is argued that developing skills and talent is a crucial goal to guarantee that the developing Indian digital economy has access to the trained and talented labour that business needs. With the launch of Digital India initiative, efforts have been taken for promoting digital literacy among the populace nationwide, particularly in rural regions, in order to promote the use of digital technology to bring social change.

In order to bridge the digital divide in the country, efforts like “National Digital Literacy Mission” (NDLM) and “Digital Saksharta Abhiyan” (DISHA) needs to be revived and new schemes on pretext of these two schemes needs to be launched.

The digital literacy across the country under these two schemes benefited a total of 53.67 lakh digital illiterates. The success of “Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA)” that was launched to usher in digital literacy in rural India by covering 6 crore rural households (one person per household) has so far, a total of around 5.78 crore candidates enrolled and 4.90 crore have been trained, out of which around 3.62 crore candidates have been certified under this scheme.

Technology is and should be more about improving governance, communication, and the digital divide than anything else. Usage of Information and communication technologies (ICTs) should be the driving forces behind e-governance, a well-informed populace, social advancement, and economic expansion. ICTs have a significant economic impact, there are still issues that needs to be resolved.

Based on races, geographies, literacy, and other factors, the impact of the digital gap still exists from states to states, districts to districts, urban to rural, gender to gender. To envision a technologically advanced India, a lot has been done and still a lot has to be done.

The author is pursuing Doctorate in Journalism and Mass Communication at DJMC, IUST. His areas of research include Digital Democracy and Social Change in India.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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