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For girls in rural Uttar Pradesh, internet access and computer skills can be the difference between life and death

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Rural women struggle against traditionalists to gain job skills

India is one of the world's fastest growing developing nations, and internet use in the country is also growing despite low-but increasing-wages. However, internet-literacy in this country, where more and more jobs require computer skills and internet access for things like filling out online job applications, remains low.

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Highlights

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
12/10/2014 (5 years ago)

Published in Asia Pacific

Keywords: India, Uttar Pradesh, Internet Access, Computer Skills, Asia

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In India, A 2011 census revealed that about 20% of the population has access to the internet, but most access it through their phones.

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But only about 10% of the population has a computer, and less than half of those households have internet access, and of these households most are in urban areas, not the rural regions where access to the web remains short or nonexistent.

Kalapana Verma, a 17-year-old from Uttar Pradesh in northern India, is one of a growing number of rural Indians who are attempting to gain internet-literacy.

For Verma, this entails a seven mile trip, by bike, to a learning institute in Raebareli.

"These days learning computer is crucial for us (girls) to find a job and move beyond the constraints of village life," she said.

Where Vermas studies, over 80% of the students are rural girls who want to gain computer skills in order to open up job prospects that can bring a family out of poverty.

But even though these young women wish to learn skills that are becoming more and more essential in the modern, internet-connected, world, many of India's traditionalists are against the growing trend.

"Even though my parents are very supportive, there are some people in society who are against girls using the internet and computers," Verma said.

In November, a caste council in western Uttar Pradesh, ordered that girls should not be able to access the internet. To the council, the internet is a door enabling "Western culture" to enter the country, and they are afraid that the number of non-arranged marriages will grow.

India does offer computer literacy programs in many government-run schools, but several states in India do not teach these classes. This forces children like Verma to look to private institutes for computer classes, which can charge between $24-32 for a basic course, a price well beyond the meager incomes of many rural families.

But in urban India, these problems do not exist. More tech workers live in India's cities, and beyond a bevy of private schools, primary students are taught computer skills young, and their education continues to be heavily internet based.

Part of the problem may lie in the culture of control that exists in Uttar Pradesh. The state's literacy rate is 70%, lower than the national average, and Muslims make up about 20% of the population.



Violent acts targeting rural women have been rampant over the last few years. In May, two sisters were gang-raped and then lynched, more than a thousand rapes of minors are reported each year, and the state has the most child murders in India.

All of this makes access and knowledge of the internet a life and death struggle for rural women.

"Some of the villagers accompany their children to the institute and ask me whether the course will bring them jobs and money," says Mahtab Alam, a tutor in Raebareli who has taught more than 500 students.

"I have noticed the sincerity and dedication among girl students, whereas for boys it is mostly a leisure activity," he added.

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