According to the latest NFHS-5, on average, around 6 out of every 10 women in ten states and two union territories in the country have never used the internet.

New surveys often come with interesting results, but what if the survey tells you that over 60 percent of women in 12 states and union territories have never used the internet. Shocking? Of course. According to the latest National Family Health Survey, on average, around six out of every 10 women in 10 states and two union territories in the country have never used the internet.

In today’s world, where mobile phones are ubiquitous and everyone is glued to their phones and electronic devices almost the entire day, this latest survey by the fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5: 2019-20) reveals that the extent of the digital divide in India. The survey also focussed on the fact that there is a huge difference between the usage of the Internet by men and women in India.

It is for the first time in the history of India that a government survey has asked its people if they have ever used the internet. The question was part of the fifth National Family Health Survey, the data for which were recently released. The survey was conducted last year and covered 17 states and five Union Territories in India.

Survey revelations:

The latest data from the fNFHS-5 revealed that over 60 percent of women in 12 states and union territories (UT) have never used the internet. In more than 10 states in India, less than 40 percent of women have used the internet including Andhra Pradesh (21 percent), Assam (28.2 percent), Bihar (20.6 percent), Gujarat (30.8 percent), Karnataka (35 percent), Maharashtra (38 percent), Meghalaya (34.7 percent), Telangana (26.5 percent), Tripura (22.9 percent), West Bengal (25.5 percent), Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu (36.7 percent) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands (34.8 percent).

Source: National Family Health Survey, 2019-20

In comparison to this, the survey also points out that more men have used the internet in the same states with Andhra Pradesh scoring 48.8 percent, Assam (42.3 percent), Bihar (43.6 percent), Meghalaya (42.1 percent), Tripura (45.7 percent), West Bengal (46.7 percent), Andaman & Nicobar Islands (46.5 percent). About 50 percent of the men have used the internet in these seven states.

According to the survey, it was also reported that Bihar has the lowest percentage of women with around 20.6 percent, who said that they had used the internet at some stage in their lives. With this data, it can be claimed that in Bihar, four in five women in Bihar have never used the internet in their life.

The NFHS-5 examined almost 6.1 lakh sample households, including interviews to collect information on population, health, family planning and nutrition. In Phase-1, the data from 17 states and UTs have been released and in Phase-2 the data from other states will be released next year.

Rationale behind the digital divide:

With the results of the survey, it has been observed that there is a direct correlation between women’s literacy rate and Internet usage in these states. It was observed that in states where women’s literacy rate is low, the usage of the Internet among them is also low. It is claimed that not knowing how to use the internet is directly linked to literacy in India. This came out to be a fact in not only rural India but is true in most cases when it comes to urban India as well.

According to the survey, Andhra Pradesh (68.6 percent), Bihar (57.8 percent) and Telangana (66.6 percent) accounted for the lowest literacy rates among women, and hence, with this data, it is clear that these states with low literacy rates among women are the ones, which have the highest percentage of women who have never accessed to the internet in their lives.

Not having access to the use of the internet or not knowing how to use the Internet is likened to being illiterate in today’s times. Virtual world is an open world with no discrimination between men and women. It provides equal opportunities and equal space to every individual irrespective of the person’s gender. In India, around 74 crore people use internet, and still, there is a wide gender gap in the virtual space.

Women always suffer to get equal rights in this still existing male-dominated society. Women in India still have not received equal rights when compared to the other gender. It is but, quite visible that this holds true for the virtual world as well in our country.

Was the data partial?

The new National Family Health Survey data are being considered as partial as it contains the results from only 17 states and five Union Territories, with big states such as Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan missing. Therefore, it is assumed that with such important states of the country with huge population being missed out, it is not possible to completely decode the survey data.

This data from the survey comes from the first phase alone, and show wide variations in internet access among men and women, between states, and in urban and rural areas. The data from other states is likely to be released the next year, which will account for the second phase of the survey.

Why this data is important?

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the dictionary of everybody’s life. Since COVID-19 has taken all over the world, large chunks of work, education, medical consultation, and almost everything has moved online for millions and it is now believed that this trend might continue. With the Indian government’s Digital India project, the government is also trying to proceed with its ambition of getting more and more Indians online.

With the Central government’s motive to digitalise India, the government is trying to move everything online nowadays. The access of internet for Indians also becomes important for the government’s own schemes and public delivery of services. Therefore, this particular question in the survey becomes extremely important for the growth of India.