I've had an humbling experience ever since I moved to a village named Rakkar near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. One fine evening, Rishabh Bangwal, a 20-year-old resident of Rakkar pings me on WhatsApp and leaves me dazzled with his ease with technology. Rishabh is a student of Botany at a college in Dharamsala and uses a Nokia C-5. Realizing the fact that this is the real huge segment of Indians whom the internet wave will hit in India, I called Rishabh over, to have a chat.
Rishabh was given access to a phone when he enrolled for college which was about a year ago. He has been on Facebook from 2011 and is a regular user. He doesn't have many apps on his phone but amongst the ones he has, WhatsApp is the only one which he uses regularly. Most of his friends at college are on the application but her older sister who also has a phone hasn't started using it yet.
Talking about the data usage, the most popular one is an INR 22 rupees scheme which is valid for 4 days and gives Rishabh access to the net whenever he needs it and has access to funds. He uses Google to search but it is mostly for looking up meaning of words he doesn't understand. Rishabh studies at an English medium college and can speak pidgin English. He is one of the early adopters with typing and quickly tries to learn whenever he has access. His sister Konika takes typewriting courses which makes it easier for her to get a good job. A government bank job still remains the dream.
One rather worrying aspect is that Rishabh hasn't yet heard of online shopping and he is one of the early adopters. Mast Ram is another youngster who works at an NGO and also shoots short films; he is also a regular internet user. With a regular income, Masti (as he is fondly called) has a 1 GB 3G scheme activated on his Micromax smartphone. Even Masti hasn't bought anything online in spite of being on Facebook from 2009. Rakkar is one of the progressive villages of India and probably the next set of citizens who'd be coming online. Ticket booking and recharges mainly happens via local agents who make a good living out of it.
Yes, mobile is the first screen of access for the local folk here and both, Facebook and WhatsApp are big. But there isn't any other service that has caught up with this beautiful village in Rakkar. What ticks is anything that helps them stay connected and bridge the urban rural divide. There is paying power and adoption is waiting to happen.
If you need to test out anything or want to know more details, feel free to drop in a comment or tweet to me @jub_in.
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