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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Mature villager joins digital era
By Habib Beary
BBC correspondent in Bangalore

Norti Bai is a typical Indian village woman with a difference.

Norti Bai sitting at a computer
Norti Bai has transformed lives in her community
The 55-year-old has come to symbolise the potential of computers for changing lives in the rural areas of one of the world's poorest countries.

With the help of information technology, she maintains a database of wells, tube wells and ponds in 11 villages.

A school dropout, Norti Bai can hardly speak English but she successfully learnt to use computers to help the development of villages in the arid state of Rajasthan in western India.

Civic conscious

Everyone seems interested in computers. They come to me with so many questions
Norti Bai
"Water is very precious in Rajasthan. It is so useful to have a water map," she said at a workshop in Bangalore on technology and development.

"All the details of the surveys of water resources are incorporated in the maps. There are 3,000 women in 250 villages working on such surveys," she said.

For people who consider information technology as something only available for the elite, Norti Bai is a revelation.

She herself is amazed at how technology has transformed her, from a diffident housewife to a confident, civic-conscious woman with a mission.

Grassroots issues

Norti Bai has become a source of inspiration for womenfolk in her state.

"I too thought computers were of no use to villagers but it is a wrong impression," she said at the conference.

The event organised by Delhi-based Press Institute of India was designed to promote coverage of grassroots issues in the mainstream media.

According to veteran journalist and Press Institute of India chairman Ajit Bhattacharjea, Norti Bai represents the "dramatic changes made possible by information technology in rural society".

Role model

Norti Bai was introduced to computers as a field campaigner for a non-governmental organisation called Social Work Research Centre (SWRC).

"I did not know what was a keyboard or a mouse. It all looked difficult at the beginning as everything was in English. But with Hindi software being introduced, I am quite comfortable," Norti Bai told the BBC.

The villagers see her as a role model and many young girls have started taking to computers.

"Everyone seems interested in computers. They come to me with so many questions. It is a good movement" said Norti Bai, who believes education is key to development of villages.

"Women generally avoid sending girls to school after fifth or sixth standard. But they send them to me and I teach them the basics of the computer," she said.

Kiran Karnik, the head of India's technology trade body, the National Association of Software and Service Companies, says Norti Bai's success is an example of technology's potential to transform rural India.

Tool for change
By making the latest data available to the decision makers and cutting through filters of delay, it can be a tool for enabling change
Azim Premjii, Wipro software firm

"Her story is very inspiring," said Mr Karnik, a former scientist of Indian Space Research Organisation, which has launched satellites for collecting data on ground water and soil fertility to help the farming community.

According to Mr Karnik, technology, looked on with suspicion by some groups as being a tool of oppression, is now accepted as being imperative to reduce poverty and illiteracy.

India is rated highly for its expertise in information technology.

Industry leaders say technology can be a powerful tool to cut across red tape and make government accountable and transparent.

"By making the latest data available to the decision makers and cutting through filters of delay, it can be a tool for enabling change" said Azim Premji, whose Wipro software company offers services to global companies.

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