The country’s first minority cyber village project has died a quiet death in Rajasthan’s Alwar, barely 150km from New Delhi, amid the chorus for Digital India.
With that died hopes of several schoolchildren who were dreaming big after meeting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
In February 2014, the government launched a “minority cyber-gram” project in Chandoli village, where more than 70% of people are Meo Muslims. The project was aimed at training the villagers to become Internet savvy.
That year in October, the Facebook CEO visited Chandoli.
But three years on, the Congress-led UPA government’s project has been shelved. No official reason has been given.
The move was surprising as it contradicts the Narendra Modi government’s push to bridge the country’s technology divide through its Digital India initiative, with plans to provide e-governance and phone connectivity to the entire population.
The Digital Empowerment Foundation, an NGO, ran the project at the Rajiv Gandhi Sewa Kendra in the village. The centre was renamed Atal Sewa Kendra when the BJP-led NDA came into power in 2014.
“We were asked to vacate the government building in February 2015,” said Yousuf Khan, a regional manager of the NGO.
The NGO operated for another year out of a rented room but could not sustain the project without funds.
Villagers believe the centre was closed because schoolchildren were shooting off mails to the district collector and top bureaucrats about absent panchayat officials, who met at the sewa kendra.
That probably ticked many government officials off.
The children are obviously oblivious to the machinations, if any. All they know is the centre has been closed and the dream that was born when they met Zuckerberg was crushed.
“We thought one day we will also make software and websites and bring laurels to our village. With the centre closed, we feel our dream will never fulfill,” said Hazrat Sapwan, one of the many child dreamers in the village.
Yasmeen Siddiqui, a student of class 8, recalled how she read news from around the world on Google and updated her parents about it, when the village cyber project was operating.
It was not just the kids who were captivated by the computer and the worldwide web it gave access to.
People like 50-year-old Bhagwati Devi loved going to the centre to learn computers.
“It’s been eight months since the centre closed. The closure is a huge loss,” she said.