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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Women lead rural India's internet rush
Doctor gives a patient his diagnosis
The net has allowed doctors to give diagnoses through a video link
The internet is beginning to have a revolutionary effect on the 700 million people who live in villages in India - and the charge is being led by women.

A project set up by one of India's leading technology institutes has put women in charge of forging the way across the digital divide as the proprietors of a fast-growing number of internet cafes or kiosks around the sub-continent.

In total 80% of these new kiosks are run by women, many of whom have had very little or no acquaintance with technology before.

Asha Sanjay, of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Madras that established the scheme, says that while in some places people are not able to get a bus to the next village, the net allows them to connect to the world.

"Here they can do it at the click of a button," she told BBC World Service's Everywoman programme.

"It's really something."

Video doctors

In Ms Sanjay's village, women over 60 queue up to be linked via video-conferencing technology to an eye specialist thousands of miles away.

None of them has ever left their village, but many say they are captivated by the new world.

There are 1,000 kiosks in the southern state of Tamil Nadu alone.

"We realised women are much more focused - they picked up stuff much earlier," Gram Annand, from Enlog, the company set up by IIT to run the programme, told Everywoman.

"They were able to give it their best in terms of dedication to their work."

He said that the benefit of using women operators became clear very quickly, with many coming in at 6.30 in the morning.

"Even in the city, we come to our office at 9.00, 9.30," he said.

"That's the kind of dedication we find in women."

He explained that they looked for women with basic schooling and who are enthusiastic, and keen to set up the kiosks.

Cyber cafe in Bangalore
Cyber cafes have been in India for a while, but are now spreading to rural areas
One example is Ananti - at 21, the only woman in her village to have a diploma and now also the only woman in the village to have a paid job.

She said that she was "very proud" to be responsible for bringing her community into contact with the outside world.

"As a girl I found it very difficult to go out, study and come back," she added.

"It took quite a lot of hardship to get my diploma. But I felt more proud when I got to do the centre."

She also said that she wanted to use her job to help people in the village get educational certificates and empower them to have a better life.

She runs after-school clubs for local girls helping them use the net, as well as overseeing video conference diagnoses, with a hospital councillor who does free surgeries for the poor at the other end.

Ravia Mar, 67, who had diabetes and was unsure whether she could undergo a cataract operation, said she was very grateful to have the kiosk on her doorstep.

"I hate travelling, so I'm very impressed," Ms Mar said.

"I never even thought something like this would happen in life."


SEE ALSO:
Mobiles outstrip India landlines
02 Jul 04  |  Business
India's Tata to target telecoms
17 Jun 04  |  Business
Indian street kids given new goal
22 Sep 03  |  South Asia


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