India, I’ve discovered, is a country split into two: rural and urban. Mind you, this is a bit simplistic, but it’s a division everyone – tuk tuk drivers, teachers, hotel clerks—talks about. Literacy in the cities is impressively high. Literacy in the countryside is abysmal. Take this one step further and you’ll notice a divide between north and south; the northern regions being more conservative and traditional than their counterparts in the south.
The contrast is astonishing. While baby girls are given away, sold, or even killed in parts of rural India, female urbanites are seizing power. India was led by a female Prime Minister from 1966 through 1977 (the longest serving female PM in the world, thank you). The current president is a woman (albeit a ceremonial role—still nothing to sneeze at). So are the Chief Ministers of West Bengal and New Delhi, and the Chief of the Congress Party.
But the gulf that lays between, say, a powerhouse female executive in New York City and a single mom in rural Mississippi is not as vast as the one that exists here in India. For example, many parents in rural India still view having a girl as bad luck. Or the practice of dowries, though banned in 1961, continues to financially saddle families for generations. And a recent article published in one rural region was actually titled “Reasons Women Should Love Their Daughters.”
The solution to bridging this gap might be found on the servers of Google. Just two months ago, Goggle opened the world to the “Indic web” by adding the various languages of the Indian subcontinent—Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu—to Google Translate. These machine translations are still in their early “alpha” state, but it’s a first step to opening up the collected knowledge of the world to hundreds of millions of new users.
Now the rural “Lakshmis” (a common term for an Indian woman) can be heard by and connect with the outside world. They might be physically cut off by mountain ranges, but with keyboard in hand they can now connect with the rest of India, and the world, for the very first time. As New York Times columnist Nilanjana Roy writes, “Indian women have found their voice in a multiplicity of tongues.”
Technology is making the gap between rural and urban a bit smaller every day. And since education isn’t confined to a classroom or with a textbook, every step forward like this is cause to celebrate.