the 400 million bloggers in China. The United States Agency for International Development office here in New Delhi connected me with a group of Indian social entrepreneurs the US is supporting, and the power of the tools they are putting in the hands of India’s virtual middle class at low prices is jaw-dropping. Gram Power is creating smart microgrids and smart meters to provide reliable, scalable power for Indian rural areas, where 600 million Indians do not have regular (or any) electricity with which to work, read and learn. For 20 cents a day, Gram Power offers villagers a prepaid electricity card that can power all their home appliances. Healthpoint Services is providing safe drinking water for a family of six for 5 cents a day and telemedicine consultations for 20 cents a visit. VisionSpring is now distributing examinations and eyeglasses to India’s poor for $2 to $3 each. The Institute for Reproductive Health is alerting women of their fertile days each month with text messages, indicating when unprotected sex should be avoided to prevent unwanted pregnancies. And Digital Green is providing low-cost communications systems for Indian farmers and women’s groups to show each their best practices through digital films projected on a dirt floor.
These technologies still need scale, but they are on their way. And they are enabling millions more Indians to at least feel as if they are middle class and the political empowerment that goes with that, says Nayan Chanda, who runs the YaleGlobal Online magazine and is co-editor of A World Connected: Globalisation in the 21st Century.
In December, a 23-year-old Indian woman — whose father worked double shifts as an airport baggage handler, making about $200 a month so his daughter could go to school to become a physiotherapist — was gangraped on a bus after she and a male friend had gone to a movie. She later died from injuries sustained in the rape. She was a high-aspiring member of this new virtual Indian middle class, and her brutal rape and subsequent death triggered nationwide protests for better governance. “It is one of