How rural BPO centres in Bihar are opening new doors for girls
Chandni Kumari, in her early 20s, never imagined that she would work on computers and earn Rs 3,500 a month without stepping out of her native village. Most of the residents of Alawalpur village under Fatuha administrative block in Patna district, too, found it hard to believe when she and a few girls joined the rural business process outsourcing (BPO) centre nearly two years ago.
Chandni is one of 10 girls, all residents of Alawalpur, and pursuing undergraduate courses in nearby colleges, who are now working in the BPO centre in their village. The centre operates in a rented two-room house of about 200 sq ft.
In Alawalpur, Bihar’s first digital village, young girls like Chandni Kumari are able to be locally employed while pursuing a part-time undergraduate course (Photo by Mohd Imran Khan).
The village is surrounded by paddy fields. With 10 desktop computers, the BPO centre, with a lawn and a glass door, the only one of its kind in the village, stands out in the surroundings.
BPO centres, started in Alawalpur and other villages with digital connectivity under the government’s digital village scheme, help young girls with computer operating skills get employment within their village and give them social and financial empowerment.
“Nearly four-and-a-half years ago, I got an opportunity to learn computer skills free of cost at Adarsh Computer Sakhsharta Kendra of National Institute of Electronic and Information Technology run under a central government scheme in the village,” Chandni told VillageSquare.in.
“I never thought that getting trained in operating a computer would help me get a job, but thanks to this BPO, I am able to work in my village and earn,” Chandni said, clad in a pair of jeans and T-shirt, unusual apparel for a young girl of the village.
Socially and financially empowered girls like Priyanka Kumari, employed in a local BPO center, have inspired villagers to educate their daughters (Photo by Mohd Imran Khan)
Priyanka Kumari, a teenaged girl, said, “Initially my parents, as well as, the other villagers thought that a free course in computer operation would be of no use because no one imagined that a facility would come up in the village where local girls could get jobs.”
Lack of pay parity
The girls who are working in the Alawalpur BPO centre and presently entering data of beneficiaries of Rural Digital Literacy Campaign said they were paid one-fourth of what girls working in BPO centres in Patna or other cities were earning. “We are paid less since we are working in a rural BPO,” Joyti Kumar told VillageSquare.in.
However, Deepak Kumar Singh, whose Common Service Centre (CSC) runs the BPO in Alawalpur, said it was a positive thing for the girls to be working within the boundaries of the village after completing a certificate course in computer operation.
“They may not be getting more money as in the cities, but it is a good start in the village. They do not have to spend on food, conveyance, and rent to stay as in a town,” Singh, a young entrepreneur, told VillageSquare.in.
Singh recalled the scepticism of the villagers when they started operations and hence, sees the girls’ working as a positive development. Still, most of the people in this village have little idea about how a rural BPO centre functions. They just say that the girls are working on computers.
When the centre was started, the villagers were doubtful that the girls had the talent and computer skills to carry out the work. “Some parents did not allow their daughters to join our BPO centre, but our confidence-building communication paid off and girls were allowed to work,” Singh said.
Sitting in front of a computer in the BPO centre, in this dusty village dominated by conservative males from the powerful upper caste, who have strong reservation of girls working outside their own house, the girls are examples of women’s empowerment.
Springboard for opportunities
Chandni and Priyanka pursue a part-time undergraduate course that offers them flexibility with their classes. At the BPO, they do an eight-hour shift, except on Sundays and public holidays. “We have empowered ourselves, gaining experience and exposure despite living in a village, a rare thing for us,” Chandni said.
“A functional BPO in the village is an example that it can do wonders in rural areas for girls like us, who also dream to move ahead in life” Priyanka told VillageSquare.in. Since inception, more than 20 girls have worked in the Alawalpur BPO centre.
Opening of BPO centers in villages of Bihar has enabled many young girls with computer literacy to land gainful employment within their village (Photo by Mohd Imran Khan)
Some of them like Neha Shukhla have joined a private company in Patna on the basis of her experience at the village BPO centre. Two girls who moved from the village to other states after marriage are working in private firms. “My experience here will pave way for better job opportunity in towns,” Chandni added.
With digital connectivity, wi-fi-enabled Alawalpur was declared Bihar’s first digital village. Fatuha, the administrative block under which Alawalpur falls, is India’s first digital block. Bihar’s first rural BPO was set up in Alawalpur, after Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad adopted the village.
“Digital villages are providing opportunities for women and girls at their doorstep to empower themselves,” says Deepak Singh’s wife, Lovely Singh, who works as the supervisor in the Alawalpur BPO centre, and who shares a close rapport with the girls working there.
“Computer training proved fruitful for the girls as there’s an increase in demand for work,” Deepak Singh said. He added that about 1,500 girls belonging to Alawalpur and neighbouring villages have been trained in how to operate a computer.
Vinay Singh, who runs a CSC in neighbouring Daultpur village, is a frequent visitor to the Alawalpur BPO centre. He said that the girls had gained confidence and computer skills since they joined. “The work has given them an opportunity to face the world and they are no longer shy or nervous to talk to visitors,” Vinay Singh told VillageSquare.in.
Singh said that 10 girls trained in Alawalpur are working in a BPO in Sonagopalpur village under Sampatchak block in Patna district. “In my village, over a dozen girls are getting computer training and they are keen to start work, when a BPO on the lines of Alawalpur is set up in my village,” he said.
Similar rural BPOs are providing local employment to girls in Usfa village and Lakhanpura village under neighbouring Bakhtiyarpur block in Patna district.
Priyanka said that their computer training, work and financial empowerment have inspired many villagers to educate their daughters. “By working in this BPO centre, we have become role models,” she said.
(Edited by Suman Singh)