In developing countries, wireless connectivity has emerged as an inexpensive technology to bridge the connectivity gap in remote areas. This wireless technology has created much interest in the international development community. In India, even with mobile penetration, tele-density in rural areas is still less than 40 per cent. The reason has mostly been the issues around last-mile connectivity, which has the potential to resolve the issue of prohibitive cost of deploying conventional wired infrastructure in remotest areas of the country.
In the last ten years, DEF has connected rural and remote locations in as many as 38 districts across 18 states of India — and the numbers are only growing. Among these many sites that have been connected through W4C, DEF has connected community campuses. These campuses include:
- Sankalp Samaj Seva Sanstha – located in Baran district of Rajasthan – populated with Sahariyas – a highly exploited tribal community who reside mainly in the two blocks of Shahabad and Kishengunj
- Barefoot College campus — in a village called Tilonia that is located about 50 kilometres from Ajmer district in Rajasthan
- ProtoVillage located in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh, is the prototype of an abundant rural community that is being built for and by the villagers themselves.
Sankalp Samaj Seva Sanstha
Baran has 1,235 villages represented by 214 panchayats. The district has a large population of Sahariyas – a highly exploited tribal community who reside mainly in the two blocks of Shahabad and Kishengunj.
The plight of the Sahariyas stems from big land owners in the area sub- jecting the tribal community to feudal practices such as bonded labour, taking advantage of their poor literacy and lack of awareness of their rights and entitlements. The district administration has yet to acknowl- edge the existence of bonded labourers in the district and local author- ities have yet to take serious action against the abuse and atrocities being inflicted on the Sahariyas and other tribal people.
Following a famine which killed 47 Sahariya members in 2002, women in the village, with help from activists and local organisations, set up Jagrut Mahila Sangathan, which began to work on five major demands: (1) wheat at Rs 2 per kilogram as promised by the government; (2) right to work; (3) right to information; (4) inclusion of Kishenganj and Shahabad as Scheduled Areas (Adivasi areas) under the Panchayat Act of 1996 and; (5) recognition of the Kherua community as a scheduled tribe. The group’s demands were gradually met by the state, and in 2013 members of the Sahariya and Kherua communities in Baran were guaranteed 200 days of work, double the number of guaranteed work days elsewhere in the country.
The W4C programme has given a big boost to the activities of the Jagrut Mahila Sangathan. After the W4C project equipped seven Community Information Resource Centers (CIRC) with Internet connectivity, the Sangathan have been able to further increase their membership and im- mediately address the issues affecting women and bonded labourers. At the same time, it also allowed Sahariya and Kherua community members to easily voice their grievances and concerns without having to travel or take time off work. Cases are documented through video conferencing and forwarded to the block and district levels for remedial action. As a result, more than 35 bonded labourer households have been freed since 2010, and every year three to four new families come forward with evidence of abuse. More than 600 bighas of land have likewise been recovered from errant landlords.
Internet connectivity also aids the initiatives of Sankalp Samaj Seva Sanstha, a local NGO which set up the Dusra Dashak project to help school dropouts, especially girls, continue their education. Many students who underwent the four-month residential course in preparation for Class X and Class XII open school examinations found living away from their families difficult and tended to abandon their studies to go back home. These days, video conferencing allows them to communicate with their parents while completing the programme. Similar online facilities are used for e-health. The Bhanwargarh CIRC has a telemedicine kit that is connected to a health centre in Kota where specialist doctors of government hospitals provide consultation services to local patients. As well, community members who have received digital literacy training are becoming trainers themselves and operating new CIRCs.
Tilonia’s Barefoot College
Partners: ISOC and Barefoot College
Barefoot College campus located in Tilonia village, which is about 50 kilometres from Ajmer district in Rajasthan. The Barefoot College has been working with rural communities for 40 years now with a focus on cost-effective and self-sustainable barefoot solutions. The College runs many centres, including health care centres, 150-night schools, livelihood centres, field centres for multiple activities and rural craft training centres, among others.
In 2015, DEF under its Wireless for Communities (W4C) programme, made the entire campus Wi-Fi enabled. The wireless connectivity provided at the campus helped it in four ways – imparting wireless training to local young people; creating a network for connecting Solar Mamas; providing connectivity to Tilonia community radio and conserving drinking water, offline and online.
With the availability to this network, access to the Internet became extremely easy for the people who work or live on the campus of Barefoot College. They not only access the Internet through their work stations but can also connect to the Wi-Fi, anywhere on campus and at any time, through their laptops or mobile phones.
At Barefoot College, DEF also runs two Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs) where children and adults are trained in digital literacy by trainers appointed by DEF. Twenty iPads are used at Barefoot College for women enrolled for the national and international solar training programme and another 10 Mac systems are used at the institution for training school children in digital literacy. So now, whatever be the activity or event at Barefoot College, you’ll be able to see women recording videos or clicking photographs on their shining white iPads like pro and updating their web presence through iPads or iMacs.
DEF provided Tilonia Radio with technical, strategic and content advisory support. The Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi is also an online support provider to the community radio station. Radio Tilonia now uses this Wi-Fi connection for its broadcasting purposes.
Partners: ISOC & APC
ProtoVillage based in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, is the prototype of an abundant rural community that is being built for and by the villagers themselves. The vision “a model village built for the villagers, by the villagers” focuses on how the villages can be a centre for learning, practice, demonstration and dissemination of knowledge and how any community, with a little bit of sustained effort, can organise itself to be resilient, ecologically sustainable, socially cohesive and economically viable.
Wireless network is something which women can’t access or avail especially those who lived in rural areas of India. Women from those areas feel, wireless networks/Internet can only accessed or availed by the males and they can’t avail it. DEF has enabled the village with wi-fi and created sustainable wireless ecosystem is being used to develop entrepreneurial mindset in villages.