Sarala Baishya, now in her late 50s, had always been dependent on her husband or sons and daughters for any kind of information. Be it the patriarchal nature of the society, ignorance or lack of education, the activities of Sarala and many others like her in rural Assam had always been restricted to kitchen and the backyard. However, the women of some remote villages are now getting to see the world in a different way.
Now they know what is happening around the world and even can manage to order the dress material of their choice online using mobile internet. Thanks to “Internet Sathi”, a novel initiative supported by Google and Tata Trust, under which some young women and girls are popularising internet among women in these remote villages.
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The Internet Saathi Project is being implementing by Gramya Vikash Mancha in Assam’s Nalbari, Kamrup (rural), Barpeta and Baksa districts. Apart from Assam, the project is being implemented in ten states across India. Around 16,000 women were engaged all over the country as Internet Saathis to run the project.
“The developmental objective of the project is social empowerment of at least 1,20,000 women from 557 villages under Nalbari, Kamrup (Rural), Baksa and Barpeta. We are going to train the community, particularly 90 rural women, about 21st century technology, providing doorstep Internet to them,” Pranjal Chakraborty, project coordinator of the Mancha, told IANS.
He said that 160 Internet Sathis have been engaged by them so far and these have touched lives of several thousand Assamese women.
“The Internet Sathis go every morning to the field to meet groups of women and generate awareness about the knowledge revolution called internet. Then they show them how to use the internet on their mobiles for different activities taking from downloading informative videos from YouTube, searching for information of their requirement, be it on education or health or any other subject,” he said.
A happy Sarala said: “We have three mobile phones in our house. Earlier I did not even know how to use them. But things have changed after the Internet Sathis started visiting out village. They are really helpful to women like us.
“Now I can search for information and I have also learnt how to use Paytm and about other digital payments methods. I can pay the electricity bill online which saves time and does not require anyone to stand in the long queue.”
Sarala is also turning the kitchen garden into a organic one with information from the internet.
Kabita Bhuyan, who has been an Internet Sathi for six months now, says she finds the job “very interesting” and “great” as she feels that she is part of a revolution to empower women.
“I go out almost every day to meet groups of women and show them how to use internet on their mobiles. Most of the women these days have a mobile phone but they are now aware about how to use the internet which can be a game-changer for them.
“Being a woman, I know the problems of women in our villages. So it’s really a great feeling to help the womenfolk to see the world in a different perspective,” she said.
As part of the project, the Internet Sathis are given a Tablet with 3G connection, two smartphones with 3G connections, a power bank to charge the devices and a big umbrella to protect them from the sun and rain. For transport, they are provided a specially-designed bicycle with a box to carry the devices safely.
Chakraborty said that the Internet Sathis teach basics of operating a mobile and connecting to the internet, taking photographs and videos with smart phones, how to search information, ranging from designs for weavers to organic farming for home gardeners, from Google.
They are also shown how to download various informative videos from YouTube, do cashless transactions through apps, digitally pay electricity bills and do online shopping.
Besides increasing the level of awareness about Internet, the project also aims “to build the leadership capacity of the women and empower them to access and avail their entitled rights”.