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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

The Greatest Obstacle For Women Getting Online In India Is Men: Ravi Agrawal

  • IWB Post
  •  January 27, 2019

Ever brooded on the idea of life sans any cell phones in the past couple on decades? A cell phone is something that has not only significantly revolutionized the human condition but also assumed an absolute control over the human psyche like nothing before.

In a JLF panel discussion titled “Cellphone Nation,” Assa Doron and Robin Jeffery (writers of Cellphone Nation) along with Ravi Agrawal and Barkha Dutt sat together to discourse on the same idea.

During the discussion, the speakers contemplated on how the cell phone has drastically altered the culture, politics, and arrangement of power in the society. Just like Ravi said, “Cell phone has become a tool of efficiency but more than that it is a motif of dreams. It is that one thing that symbolizes the Indian dream just like the car symbolized the American dream.”

“It is like a shining beacon of egalitarianism in a deeply unequal country,” said Barkha Dutt, quickly adding, “Technology is revolutionary only if it challenges the status quo and cell phones have challenged, subverted, and questioned who is powerful and who is weak.”

The conversation then drifted to how cellphones have efficiently subverted the power structures of the society in India and how it impacted the women of the country.

Robin started by raising a question “What is the most frequent cry of the male chauvinist pig?” He followed by answering, “What is women’s place? Barefooted, pregnant, and in the kitchen! This is what the cell phones have challenged. It’s not the mobility that the phone gives you, it’s the autonomy.”

He further added that the corollary is same when it comes to the Indian mindset (especially when considering rural India) where it’s thought that providing women with a cell phone will “make them unbearable, make them have ideas they shouldn’t have, and thus disrupt the power structures.”

Ravi added to the thought by sharing some of the eye-opening findings of his research for his book India Connect. He shared, “As I began writing the book, I came across stats that left me really startled. One of them which made me really jump off suggested that about 70% of Indian internet users were men and only 30% of them were women. What’s worse is that when you go to Indian villages, the figure is 90% men and 10% women.”

He added, “You have all heard the stories of all these Indian villages where phones are banned for young girls and the men and the sarpanch of the villages have all kinds of outlandish explanations for the same like ‘Women don’t have the aptitude for it’ or ‘They can’t deal with it.’ If you really think about it, the greatest obstacle for women getting online in India is men.”

Assa further added to the idea by talking about the paradox of the mobile phone as he said that while it can “subvert power structures but it can also be exploited by propagating fake news and disinformation, and controlling those who fall low on the power hierarchies.”

He then went on to give examples of women he interviewed while he was researching for the book and how he came across an upper caste women in Benaras who had a cell phone before her marriage but had to relinquish the same the day she set foot in her in laws’ home. He concluded by saying that it was probably because the cell phone in many ways posed a threat by suggesting that the woman who owned it had some sort of power, that she was human, that she had a network, that she had a past.

Barkha concluded the topic by stressing on how cell phone is an instrument both of liberation and entrapment and its our use of the same that would determine the future of our society and its power structures.

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