Women of Rupangadh village in Rajasthan get their health advice on mobile phones (Photograph: Umesh Pant/Gaon Connection)
Writing a weekly column for Gaon Connection, India’s first uniquely rural newspaper in Hindi, means that I have to keep up with rural trends. Neelesh Misra, the weekly broadsheet’s founder, fellow journalist and dear friend, and his team are doing a fabulous job of chronicling rural transformation across India.
One of the pages in the newspaper is called ‘Badalta India’ (Changing India) whose focus is on how a combination of technology and changing social mores is leading to this transformation. This week Gaon Connection’s reporter Umesh Pant has a compelling story out of Rupangadh village in the western Indian state of Rajasthan about how mobile telephones are impacting women’s health.
As part of a pilot program conducted by Save the Children mobile phones have become a decisive tool to disseminate health advice to pregnant women. Safe pre-natal and post-natal healthcare has for long been a major challenge for millions of women across India. Under this program volunteers armed with mobile phones go around villages such as Rupangadh to dispense not just health tips but even train local women to deal with women’s health issues.
Umesh quotes Neeraj Juneja of Save the Children to say this mobile health service reaches 28 villages that fall under the jurisdiction of the Rupangadh local government known as the panchayat. Women gather around these mobile phones as they play audio and video about best practices in nutrition and hygiene during pregnancy. Volunteer Yogita Sen says, “The information on mobile phones is in their language which makes it easy for them to grasp. When an authoritative voice speaks on the phone, it carries more weight.”
An unexpected spinoff from the mobile health service has been that volunteers often find tribes in remote villages which are beyond the reach of health services as well as census officials. This database makes vaccination much easier.
Another unintended consequence of mobile telephony has been the empowerment of rural women in the traditionally patriarchal society. Mobile phones remove intermediaries with their own narrow agenda and give women direct access to information which was never available to them until recently.
Photo Umesh Pant/Gaon Connection
For me personally, writing for Gaon Connection has meant being able to write in Hindi using Google Transliteration tool. Although Hindi is not my mother tongue, I have grown up with it and would call myself fairly proficient. I am discovering phrases that I had long forgotten. It has also forced me to read a language other than just English. Fairly soon, I intend writing a column in Gujarati, my mother tongue, using the same Google tool.
For someone practically unable to handwrite because of a long use of, first the typewriter and then the keyboard, this is indeed liberating.