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Changing lives of girls in rural Ajmer

These girls from rural areas have not only understood the importance of digital literacy but also made it a way of their lives.

By Charkha Feature
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Mery while training girls at the centre, Ajmer

Neeraj Gurjar, Ajmer, Rajasthan | Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) plays a crucial role in the overall development of young girls and women yet the gendered gap in the field of ICT is vast. In states like Rajasthan where discrimination against women and girls is highly prevalent, efforts to bridge this gap through digital literacy are proving to be a game changer. The interventions designed and being implemented by both the government and non-government organizations have contributed immensely towards addressing this gap, especially in rural regions of the country.

Twenty-one-year-old Deepika Soni, a resident of Lohakhan Basti in Ajmer, Rajasthan, is one such example of how access to digital literacy can alter the route of development for adolescent girls from underserved communities. Deepika was a student at one of the Sakhi Centres (Tech Centres) run by Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti (MJAS), a non-government organization based in Ajmer. Today, she has become a digital educator at the same center. She had also completed the Rajasthan State Certificate of Information Technology (RSCIT) program conducted by the Government of Rajasthan. Through its targeted initiatives such as Digital Kishori Bane Saksham – Computer Learning Program, Grassroots Journalism, and Each One Teach Ten – Mobile Learning, MJAS has been able to digitally empower over 2000 adolescent girls from rural areas of this district.

Explaining the interventions, Mery Sadumha and Kamini Kumari, two young trainers at the centers, said that the courses are based on the feminist approach to technical learning, in which the girls not only acquire technical knowledge but also learn about their rights and decision-making. This empowers them not only socially but also financially. "Girls from different villages and settlements of the district are learning these courses. They come from different castes and communities," informed the duo.

19-year-old Maya Gurjar of Padampura village, currently working as the in-charge of MJAS’s Sakhi center in her own village, expressed, "In 2021, I received a smartphone in for a journalism course by the organization. This was the first time I had touched and operated a phone so closely. At that time, I felt as if I had entered a new world,” shared Maya with a twinkle in her eyes, adding, “At present, I am fully aware of all the features of Android mobiles and consider myself digitally educated. I don't depend on anyone to know about any government scheme. I can easily get information about government schemes and job vacancies without having to visit Mitra." Maya also provides training to other girls at the center on how to use phones and laptops. This allows her to take care of her own educational and household expenses.

Digital literacy has not only empowered the girls to stay updated with the latest information but also contributed to making them financially self-sufficient. Like Maya, 18-year-old Monika, a resident of Ajaysar village, manages a Sakhi Center and earns for herself. "I have bought a scooter for myself with the money received by working at the center. And now I can go to college or anywhere easily," said Monika with a sense of pride.

Talking about other benefits of acquiring digital education, Manju, the assistant in charge at the same center, believes that digital literacy makes it easier for students to prepare for government jobs from the comfort of their homes. They no longer have to face the problem of a lack of transportation and pay costly fees to the coaching centers as they can easily access tutorial videos on YouTube and other digital platforms.

Reflecting on how difficult it was to start the centers in the villages, Indira Pancholi, the founding member, of MJAS, said "Where there is a ban and financial penalty on the use of phones for girls, it was a difficult task for the organization to provide them complete control of digital resources. Opening such centers were tantamount to challenging the patriarchal society. But these centers have been able to run successfully only because of these girls and their hope to move forward in their lives and the courage to face the challenges."

So far, MJAS has established nine such Sakhi Centers, where books, libraries, tablets, and internet connections have been made available to digitally empower adolescent girls. At these centers, various programs on life skills, health, and the environment are also organized for the girls in order to raise their awareness on all levels.

These girls from rural areas have not only understood the importance of digital literacy but also made it a way of their lives. At the same time, while several reports state that rural girls have limited access to phones and technology, the examples set by MJAS's centers can provide a ray of hope!

The article was first published in Daily Pioneer. The writer is a recipient of the Sanjoy Ghose Media Awards 2022. Share your feedback on [email protected] (Charkha Features)

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