This process begins to divide Indian society into those who will be vaccinated earlier – the older, the more economically well-off and the most educated, and then those who are less well off economically and, now, more at risk for health. due to digital exclusion.
Who are the Numerically Excluded Indians? Nationally representative data from the 2018 Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) survey, which covered nearly 50,000 people across India, tells us that while more than three-quarters of Indians have access to a phone, only 17 % have a smartphone. A similar number – 17% of respondents – had downloaded an app before and 23% had searched the internet. While digital activity has grown since 2018, significant gaps certainly remain, especially for traditionally marginalized people.
Millions of people in India, especially women, have absolutely no access to the Internet. And, right now, this inequality of access could determine who lives and who dies.
For example, while about 60% of people with a post-secondary education own a smartphone, possession drops to just under 30% for those with a high school education and drops to 7% for those without. finished high school. 70% of Indian adults belong to the latter group. Similar disparities exist for digital literacy – defined as having already downloaded an application or searched the Internet on a mobile phone. While almost 70% of those with a post-secondary education are digital proficient, that number drops to 11% for those who have not completed high school.
Regarding gender, 75% of Indian men, but only 45% of women, reported owning a cell phone. More relevant to the issues at hand, 24% of men, compared to less than 10% of women, owned a smartphone, and 32% of men, but only 15% of women, were fluent in digital. Obviously, many women will depend on men to determine whether they receive vaccines.
What is it like to be on the other side of the digital divide? Asha is a young migrant worker who, after witnessing Covid rabies in Delhi, began seeking a vaccine in May. Because she is over 18, she is eligible for a jab. But since she’s under 45, she can’t register in person at a local facility and instead has to negotiate a complex web portal to reserve her spot online. This is impossible for Asha, because she is illiterate. She also cannot fully outsource the recording, which is linked to her phone number.
For now, Asha’s way out of this deadlock is to visit a literate, affluent couple twice a day who are vaccinated so they can help her use her own phone and try to register. Even with this help the system is complicated, although it has now registered successfully.