Vidya Mahavadi
Contributing Writer

Recently, India released the world’s cheapest tablet computer, named Aakash (Hindi for sky). The tablet was developed by UK-based company DataWind and launched by India’s Telecommunication (Telecom) and Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal. Aakash is being sold at Rs 1,750 ($35), making it one of the cheapest tablet computers on the market.

In an attempt to connect more of India’s population with technology, the government has been purchasing Aakash for Rs 2,256 and selling it for less, subsidizing the rest of the price. The government’s objective, according to Kapil Sibal, is to extend the availability of technology in order to stimulate growth in education, farming, and other fields in India’s rural areas. However, this seems to be an incredibly misguided attempt on India’s part to remedy the gaps in its infrastructure.

According to Maplecroft, a risk analysis firm, India falls behind nations such as Brazil and China in the race to connect its population to the internet (Hindustani Times). India is clearly trying hard at advancement, but taking the wrong approach. Like India’s affirmative action system, the recent decision to distribute tablets is a superficial fix for greater problems at hand.

The tablet’s features include social networking capabilities, online banking, instant messaging, e-mail, multimedia, and WiFi access (LA Times). What’s confusing is the thought process behind the Indian government. Their aim is to stimulate technology usage in rural areas, but most areas don’t have even basic electricity. This, however, doesn’t even begin to graze the surface of the flaws in the government’s mindset.

Minister Kapil Sibal stated that “This [tablet] is not just for us. This is for all of you who are disempowered. This is for all those who live on the fringes of society.” (The Guardian) As the HRD Minister, I would have expected Kapil Sibal to think rationally, but he’s proven me wrong. India fosters an enormous socio-economic gap, making money the sole way of crossing from one side to the other. The government may be well-intentioned in trying to bridge this gap and pushing India forward by subsidizing tablets, but believing that distributing tablets across India will do more than a minor cover-up is a bit far-fetched. I don’t believe that the most pressing issue for Indians, especially for those considered “the fringes of society”, is a lack of technology. Certainly, it would be beneficial to Indians to incorporate technology with various aspects of welfare including education and farming, but such hi-tech developments seem futile when just 8 per cent of Indians have internet access. What India needs is a re-evaluation of its basic foundation.

India has an enormous gap in its education system. Though it has increased its literacy rates to 74.04 per cent according to the 2011 census (Economic Times), India still experiences an extreme shortage of teachers. In 2009, the US had around 3,200 teachers per million people and the Caribbean 1,500, whereas India lagged behind at a mere 456 teachers per million people (The Times of India). On the one hand, India produces massive numbers of professionals that make up nearly 8 per cent of the United States’ physicians and surgeons and around 3 per cent of its engineers (Forbes). Simultaneously, India presents an illiteracy rate of around 30 per cent, an alarmingly large number for a country populated by nearly 1.2 billion people. The difference between the two groups is an imminent threat to India’s future, one which it should try to fix. Instead of throwing each child into an inexplicable hi-tech world, India must work from the bottom up. Increasing the number of qualified teachers country-wide and decreasing the student-teacher ratio will be far more effective in alleviating some of the strains of illiteracy plaguing the country.

India’s lagging education system is just one facet of its struggle; water, sanitation, and food crises are prevalent as well. Out of its population of 1.2 billion people, India has nearly 128 million individuals with no water and 839 million individuals who lack sanitation. Clean water and hygiene are lacking in hundreds of millions of people, a problem that causes nearly 1,600 deaths daily (Water.org). As a result of the lack of useful water and proper hygiene, water-borne diseases and infections spread quickly, causing mortality rates to increase.

Food shortage is also causing tremendous damage all over India. India produces some of the highest quantities of milk, fruits, and vegetables when compared to the rest of the world, yet more than 250 million Indians go hungry every day; roughly two-thirds of children under five are malnourished. India also loses nearly 40 per cent of its agricultural production due to a lack of storage capabilities or poor transport infrastructure blocking farmers from taking their crops to the market and thus, driving up the prices of all basic food ingredients (The Age). The statistics display the appalling truth that is India; not everyone there has even the basic necessities for life. Even more pathetic is the fact that grave, looming problems such as these have to compete for the attention of the government. It perplexes me how much of an emphasis is put on advancing India on a telecommunications frontier when a lack of basic life ingredients is threatening a significant percentage of India’s population.

The Indian government should think through its decisions and put into perspective the needs of its country. The money it uses to purchase each tablet can be used more effectively to start combating the hygiene problem or the water problem or the education problem. The effect may not be immediate, but slowly, there will be change. When this change happens, India may use its money to buy tablets or whatever-else it wants to do. Right now, however, the people don’t need tablets. They need water, food, clean sewage, toilets, teachers, schools. With the government making hasty decisions, India’s headed down a slippery slope; it’s about time they realize that a weak foundation hardly ever stands the test of time.

Works Cited:

Hindustani Times “India To Launch Cheapest Ever Tablet for Rs 1700.”

Los Angeles Times “India Unveils World’s Cheapest Computer.”

Richwine, Jason. “Indian Americans: The New Model Minority.”

The Age. “India’s Precious Food Supply Stuck In Mud.”

The Economic Times. “Aakash, Cheapest Tablet Computer, Launched.”

The Guardian. “Cheap Tablet Computer Leads India’s Drive To Tackle Rural Poverty.”

The Times of India. “Educational Technology Debate: We Cannot Train More Teacher, We Must Empower Them With Technology.”

Water.org. “India.”

Image via Wikimedia.

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