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ICTs and Development in India


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228 Pages


Provides a critical account of the social impact of the use of Information Technology in developmental projects in rural India.

‘ICTs and Development in India’ is a unique attempt to study the nature and consequences of the growing presence of Information Technology in development projects in India, focusing particularly on E-governance and Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) development programs initiated by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Sreekumar persuasively argues that there is in fact a wide chasm between the expectations and the actual benefits of CSO initiatives in rural India, and that recognising this crucial fact yields important lessons in conceptualizing development and social action in rural areas.

List of Figures and Tables; Preface; 1. Introduction: Exploring the Rural Network Society; 2. Civil Society and Cyber-Libertarian Developmentalism; 3. Decrypting E-Governance; 4. Cyber-Kiosks and Dilemmas of Social Inclusion; 5. Innovating for the Rural Network Society; 6. ICT and Development: critical Issues; Notes; Bibliography; Index



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ICTs and Development in India
India and Asia in the Global Economy
Anthem’sIndia and Asia in the Global Economyseries invites scholars and researchers to undertake bold projects exploring the internal and external dimensions of a ‘new’ India, and its economic and political interactions with contemporary global systems. Titles in this series examine India’s economic development and social change in global and Asian contexts, and topics include the politics of globalization, Indian middle class revolution, the politics of caste, IndiaUS relations, India in Asia, emigrants and diaspora, economic policy and poverty, and changing gender relations.
Series Editor Anthony P. D’Costa, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Editorial Board Govindan Parayil, United Nations University, Japan E. Sridharan, UPIASI, India Kunal Sen, Manchester University, UK Aseema Sinha, University of Wisconsin at Madison, USA
ICTs and Development in India
Perspectives on the Rural Network Society
T. T. Sreekumar
Anthem Press An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company www.anthempress.com
This edition first published in UK and USA 2011 by ANTHEM PRESS 7576 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA, UK or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK and 244 Madison Ave. #116, New York, NY 10016, USA Copyright © T. T. Sreekumar 2011
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress CataloginginPublication Data Sreekumar, T. T. ICTs and development in India : perspectives on the rural network society / T.T. Sreekumar. p. cm. – (India and Asia in the global economy) Includes bibliographical references and index. Summary: “ICTs and development in India is a unique attempt to study the nature and consequences of the growing presence of information technology in development projects in India, focusing particularly on egovernance and information & communication technologies (ICT) development programs initiated by civil society organizations (CSOs). Sreekumar persuasively argues that there is in fact a wide chasm between the expectations and the actual benefits of CSO initiatives in rural India, and that recognising this crucial fact yields important lessons in conceptualizing development and social action in rural areas.”—Publisher’s description. ISBN 9781843318439 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Information technology–India. 2. Communication in rural development–India. 3. Rural development projects–India. I. Title. II. Series: India and Asia in the global economy. HC440.I55S74 2011 303.48’330954–dc22  2011012835
ISBN13: 978 1 84331 843 9 (Hbk) ISBN10: 1 84331 843 1 (Hbk)
This title is also available as an eBook.
List of Figures and Tables Preface
1. Introduction: Exploring the Rural Network Society  Two Rural Vignettes and the Beginning of a Story  ICTs, ICT4D and the NeoLiberal Discourse  ICTs and the Civil Society Argument  Research Questions, Contexts and Conceptual Framework  Analytical Issues for Discussion  Methodology and Sources of Information  Organization and Focus
2. Civil Society and Cyber–Libertarian Developmentalism  The Cyber–Libertarian Turn  ICTs and NeoLiberal Developmentalism: The Rise of the Social Enterprise Model  Information Village Research Project (IVRP)  TARAkendras  Expectations and Outcomes  State–CSO Relations: Emerging Contradictions  Narratives of Success and the Sustainability Puzzle  Lessons and NonLessons
3. Decrypting EGovernance  Technology and Governance  The Beginnings of EGovernance in India  Gyandoot: Organization and Technology  EGovernance and the Kiosks: The Social Dynamics  EGovernance and the Network Society: Deciphering the Narratives of Success  QUANGOs, Civil Society and the Private Sector  Beyond Technocratic Definitions
vii ix
1 1 6 13 19 24 27 30
33 33
35 40 45 48 56 58 63
67 67 68 72 74
82 91 93
4. CyberKiosks and Dilemmas of Social Inclusion  ICTs and Social Change  Gender and Information Technology  Women and ICTs: Rhetoric and Reality of Participation  Gyandoot: Tribal Women at Large  TARAkendras: Accepting Gender Divisions  Knowledge Centres and Women’s Participation  Social Enterprises as Social Movements  Participation in NetBased Social Action  ICTs and Limits of Developmental CSOs
5. Innovating for the Rural Network Society  The Appropriate Technology for the Masses  Innovation and CSOs in Rural ICT Interventions  CSOs and the Triple Helix Model  The Simputer: ‘Gandhi’s Invention, Steve Jobs’ Ad Campaign’  The Case of CorDECT WLL: ‘The MIDAS Touch’  ICT Innovations, CSO and the State
6. ICT and Development: Critical Issues  Civil Society, Community and ICTs  Structure and Agency  Technology and Sustainability  Rural Network Society: The Politics of Transformation
Notes Bibliography Index
97 97 98 101 103 106 109 112 116 122
125 125 128 130 134 144 149
151 151 155 161 168
175 187 207
Figure 1.1
Figure 2.1
Figure 2.2
Figure 2.3
Figure 3.1
Figure 3.2
Figure 4.1
Figure 4.2
Figure 4.3 Figure 5.1
Tables Table 2.1 Table 2.2
Researcher with some youngsters in Veraampattinam shing village. Pondicherry
Protected by the caste Hindu Pantheon  The Embalam kiosk
The Thirukanchi kiosk notice board displaying local news and names of sponsoring agencies
Sivanandapuram village veterinary hospital (It is located only 34 kilometres from Kizhoor).
Gyandoots promotional material showing how kiosks provide matrimonial assistance
Gyandoots promotional material on how kiosks solve rural credit problems
Gyandoots promotional material offering small monetary rewards for reporting illegal activities in the village to the kiosk
IVRPs ofine newspaperNamma ooru Seythi(Our Local News)
The two doors and the Embalam kiosk
The hype cycle of
Management of
MSSRF kiosks
Unevenness in basic infrastructure facilities in selected IVRP centres
114 116 143
Table 2.3 Table 2.4 Table 3.1
Table 3.2
Table 3.3
Table 4.1
Table 4.2
Table 4.3
Table 4.4
Table 4.5 Table 4.6
Table 5.1 Table 5.2
Table 5.3
Projections for TARAkendras 2002–2006 Sustainability matrix of rural Internet kiosks Sectorwise installation of computers in India 1965–1980 Infrastructure, ownership, earnings and expenses: A comparative picture of selected Gyandoot centres
Narratives in contexts: Understanding the tales from Gyandoot villages
Users of Gyandoot by gender and age during 2000–2002
Categories of users of in Pondicherry
knowledge centres
Users by gender at the Veerampatinam kiosk in March 1999
Users by gender and age at the Veerampatinam kiosk in June 2002
Telecentres and their activities
Ideological milieu of civil societybased ICT initiatives ICT requirements of early CSO interventions Amida Simputers: Comparison of the marketed models Comparison of DECT, PHS and CDMA
53 62
112 113
120 126
136 145
When I began this study on the state, civil society and information communication technologies (ICTs) nearly a decade ago, the area now identified as ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) or ICTD (Information and Communication Technologies and Development) had not evolved into a fullfledged discipline. Nevertheless, the last two decades of the twentieth century had seen the emergence of perceptive studies on the social and economic impacts of ICTs and it was only a matter of time that the field acquired a name of its own. ICT4D, or ICTD, is now an advanced field of research and teaching in Science, Technology and Society Studies (STS). My study, keeping a critical distance from the mainstream concerns and methods of research in ICT4D or ICTD, draws on multiple theoretical, ideological and political perspectives that attempt to examine ICT–society interfaces in diverse social and economic landscapes. Nevertheless, I share the idea that there are understated distinctions between ICT4D and ICTD, and that they cannot be used interchangeably. The difference, as far as I understand, is not just one of semantics, and it goes beyond a mere objection to the assertiveness of the implied linearity represented by the numeral 4 in the former acronym and preference for the ambivalence brought in by removing the numeral in the latter. Epistemologically speaking, in its methods and convictions, ICTD should be representative of studies that look at ICT deployment in developing countries from the multiple perspectives of North–South relations, social and class divisions that mediate technology adoption in rural settings, and subaltern approaches that carefully understand the micropolitics of power relations in postcolonial societies. I have set out my research in terms of the paradigms and methods that challenge the fallacy of unmediated computer literacy and ICT deployment leading to ‘etopian’ futures of social and economic development. Moreover, such a position refuses to problematize the notions of both ‘technology’ and ‘development’. Another significant issue in the contemporary history of ICT diffusion is the central role played by civil society organizations (CSOs) in carrying forward the message and mission of the etopia that characterizes most of the ICTbased developmental initiatives. Traditional players in fostering innovations
such as states, markets and universities had reasons to forge alliances with these organizations, as they supposedly possessed higher degrees of credibility and acceptability in postcolonial societies. The notion that civil society, by default, is a virtuous domain, since the state and the market are ‘evil’, needs to be challenged. Although my study does not cover all relevant areas in this emerging field, I have tried to provide an overview of some of the key critical themes and ideas that help to understand the complex interrelationship between state, market and civil society in the context of the widely known new technology based development initiatives in India. What I have critically examined are the potential and (im)possibilities of the emergent ‘rural network society’. I understand that there will be a deficit of gratitude that I can actually express to people andinstitutions for the favours receivedwhile writingthis book. Nevertheless, it is a pleasure and privilege to remember and acknowledge the support and encouragement that made the work possible. This book project evolved out of my doctoral study at the Division of Social Science, Hong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), Hong Kong. My deepfelt thanks are due my supervisor Prof. Erik Baark, and my committee members Dr Greg Felker and Dr Agnes Ku, who were always ready to share their views, opinions and ideas with me. I also thank Prof. Govindan Parayil and Dr Robert Fergusson, former faculty members of the division, for many meaningful intellectual interactions. Prof. Parayil, (Vice Rector of the United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan) has been a collaborator and coauthor whose experience and expertise have benefited me personally, much beyond the writing of this modest book. I also benefited from discussions with Prof. Andrew Walder (Denise O’Leary and Kent Thiry Professor of Sociology, Stanford University), during his visiting professorship at HKUST, whose teaching and critiques have always been valuable. Besides being able to interact with a great teacher and author of our times, teaching and seminars by Prof. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak during her Y. K. Pao Distinguished Visiting Professorship in Cultural Studies at HKUST (Spring, 2001), have also helped me clarify several theoretical and epistemological confusions. The fellowship and the travel grant from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, HKUST, provided the financial support for my stay in Hong Kong and fieldwork in India. The staff of the General Office and the Social Science lab at the Division of Social Sciences have always been helpful and supportive. I am indebted to a number of friends and colleagues who, through discussions and exchanges, helped me revise my ideas and expand and enrich my work in various ways in the past few years. I would like to thank professors and peers Wesley Shrum, Harmeet Sawhney, Milagros Rivera Sánchez, Paula Chakravartty, Marcus Ynalvez, V. V. Krishna, Tojo Tachankary, Ashwini Saith, Asok Junjunwala, Anthony D’Costa, Payal Arora, Richard Ling, Denise Cogo, Heather Horst, Mark Thompson, Balaji Parthasarathy, Anke Schwittay, Jonathan Donner, Heather Hudson, Erwin Alampay, Gregory Clancy, , Kong