All of 13, Nirmala P is brimming with excitement. “My brother and sister are in college, but they both don’t know how to use computers. I’m still in Class VIII and I’ve learnt how to use a computer and a camera,” she gushes.
Nirmala is one of the 85 girls from Attiguppe village in Mysuru district of Karnataka who underwent a year-long digital training under the capacity-building project of a Bengaluru-based NGO, IT for Change. The project, Dhwanigalu (Kannada for “sound”), was launched last year in March to empower adolescent girls in rural Mysuru.
The project, Dhwanigalu (Kannada for “sound”), was launched last year in March to empower adolescent girls in rural Mysuru
As part of the digital literacy initiative, computers, tablets and cameras were made available to the girls at the learning centre in the village. Under the guidance of the NGO’s staff, they learnt the ropes amid much nervousness and excitement. Nirmala recounted how wary she was initially of pressing a wrong button and ruining the device. Now, she does all her assignments on the computer at the community centre.
The programme was executed by Prakriye, a branch of IT for Change, with the aim of improving marginalised women’s engagement in local governance by using technology. And it seems to be bearing fruit.
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Nirmala, for one, used her newly acquired skills to draw the village administration’s attention to the crumbling civic infrastructure there — the drains were open and would get blocked occasionally; the roads too were in a poor condition. She clicked photographs, made a video story and presented it at the general body meeting of the gram panchayat. Proudly, she said the issue with drains was fixed after her presentation.
Winds of change
It augurs well for the village, where the female literacy rate, according to the 2011 census, is 62.62%, lower than the state average of 75.36%.
It is also helping fight social ills like child marriage, which continues to be a norm here.
Komala N, 18, a second-year pre-university student from the village, says she has seen many child marriages but did not know it was a social problem until she saw an informative film on the topic on a tablet provided by the NGO. She says when the girls were asked to take a tablet home and show a video to their family, she selected the one about the ills of child marriage.
The video helped change her grandmother’s outlook on the matter. “I got married when I was a little girl and my daughter (got married) at the age of 13. After watching the film, we decided we will let Komala study and get her married only after she completes her studies,” says 65-year-old Rathnamma R.
“I got married when I was a little girl and my daughter (got married) at the age of 13. After watching the film, we decided we will let Komala study and get her married only after she completes her studies” — Rathnamma R, a grandmother
Access to the internet has instilled an inquisitive, proactive approach in these young girls. One girl discovered that Attiguppe has a better farm yield than its neighbouring villages and that the women here follow innovative practices like crop rotation, organic farming — using animal manure instead of chemical fertilizers — and periodic pest control among others. She documented these practices as a video story and shared them with farmers of other villages so they can benefit from them.
As for Nirmala, she keeps following up with the panchayat to enquire when the roads will be fixed.
President of Attiguppe village panchayat, Rajamma M, lauds her persistence and adds that liasoning with the rural development and panchayat raj department for road repairs is under way. “She keeps coming to the office to ask about the status of the repairs. Everyone in the village should learn from these girls,” she says, adding the girls’ will to be involved in governance in heartening.
Anupama Suresh, one of the teachers who helped execute the project with Prakriye, says their biggest challenge was to get the girls to participate. Initially, no one wanted to send their daughters for the training, but now parents themselves ask when the new sessions are starting.
While this project is bringing about social change in the south, another NGO in Haryana has been doing the same with elderly women, giving a boost to women’s empowerment, one click at a time.
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Lead visual: Angela Anthony Pereira Photographs: IT for Change The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India. Elizabeth Mani is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.