Playing Drake While Ploughing Dirt: Tech Giants Are Bringing The Internet To Rural India, But Is Data The Price?

Gopal Sathe
Krishna works as an Internet Saathi in Basai Nawab, near Dholpur, teaching other villagers how to use the Internet. She agreed to have her picture taken along with her shop, which she set up with her earnings as an Internet Saathi.

DHOLPUR, Rajasthan — After Drake's "Kiki Challenge" went viral around the world, a video of two villagers in Telangana racked up millions of views on YouTube and Facebook. The clip, which showed two farmers grooving to the Canadian rapper's hit song even as their oxen ploughed a paddy field, epitomises how far Internet culture has penetrated Indian society, just not in the way most people sharing the video assume.

The video was staged by Sriram Srikanth, a young electrical engineer who runs a YouTube channel called My Village Show; one of the dancers is an aspiring actor.

The Internet is coming to rural India, but at this point it is more top-down than bottom-up, more astro-turf than grassroots. And who's behind this rural push? The same giant technology companies who want to collect information on the millions of Indians who are still offline.

HuffPost India met with villagers living near Dholpur, a small town in Rajasthan, where Tata Trustsand Google India have been running a project called 'Internet Saathi' to train rural Indians to use a smartphone to access the Internet. The project, launched in 2015, is active in 17 states and has already reached 150,000 villages, and has close to 50,000 Internet Saathis, or 'Internet guides' on board. The lessons are basic, but for people who have never used WhatsApp or YouTube before, the results can be revolutionary—users get to experience the Internet with all its thrills and horrors, while companies like Google get to learn about a population that still mostly lives offline.

The trade-off between privacy and user convenience, which underpins the modern Internet, is slowly taking root in India's villages.

"Internet Saathi was conceived and launched as a pilot in 2015 to bridge the divide between rural and urban Internet users, to give people access to learning, financial savings and government schemes through Internet literacy," said Raman Kalyanakrishnan, head of strategy and innovations, Tata Trusts. "We...

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