A group of English medium journalists and urban social media influencer from cities like Mumbai and Delhi sitting in a mud hut, in a remote area of Patahensal, Purulia, West Bengal. They are surrounded by a curious rural crowd consisting mostly of children and at the center of it all is Lokkhi, a young woman with a lively smile.
As everybody settled down, Lokkhi started talking about her experience of using internet and Google search on the touch screen tab and phone. She talks about a plethora of quirky things she searches on Google, from Bhirindi tree to Mamata Banerjee’s speeches. “Young women here search for blouse designs, mehendi designs, GK questions. One woman used to sell her blouse for Rs.200 earlier, now she sells for Rs.250, she was able to demand higher charges, as she is now giving better designs,” said Lokkhi.
We turn towards the teenage girls and ask one of them what have they learned from internet and what do they search for. “Palashir juddho (Battle of Plassey)” pat comes the answer. The students regularly search for general knowledge questions. Lokkhi’s niece Jhimli has just cleared her 9th grade exam and stood first in her class. She is a bright student, and wants to do good in 10th boards exam.
Everybody in Lokkhi’s family have benefited from the internet training she got from Google as Internet Saathi, she has also trained around 1100 women and children in her nearby villages in internet. Although the other women haven’t yet picked up on internet and digital revolution as they don’t have a touch phone or data connection, a request they all made several times.
Amidst all these talk of internet revolution and how brilliantly it has changed rural women’s lives, the apprehensive, privacy conscious critical thinking journalist asked her, “What do you not like about internet? What is the downside? Don’t you feel annoyed with WhatsApp messages (Lokkhi is part of a WhatsApp group with all other Google Internet Sathees, around 50 of them total) at middle of night?
Lokkhi smiled and said, “Mute kar dete hai? (I mute it at night)”
The whole room burst into clapping. She had so put all our stereotypes about rural women and women’s so called vulnerability at rest with such swagger. The whole paranoia about internet ruining women’s privacy, internet polluting women, sexual predators attacking unsuspecting women is a bit over the top and very urban and modern. Not for Lokkhi and these rural women. They are like, “I control the technology, technology doesn’t control me.”
This is an abridged version of a story I am writing on my visit to meet the Google Internet Sathee. More updates are on my Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #DayWithASaathi