Digital divide: new face of inequality


  • Due to the ever-increasing importance of the internet and the rapid digital transformation on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital divide widens and has the potential to be the “new face of inequality”.

Digital divide:

  • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines the digital divide as the “gap between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels about both their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities.” 
  • As per ITU’s World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database, only 43 percent of the population in India uses the internet. 
  • The National Family Health Survey 2019–21 (“NFHS”), however, shows a significantly larger gender gap in internet usage. The NFHS Report suggests that only 57.1 percent of the male population and 33.3 percent of the female population had ever used the internet.

Rural-urban divide:

  • The NFHS also provides data segregation based on the rural-urban divide. Whilst 72.5 percent of the urban males and 51.8 percent of the urban females have ever used the internet, only 48.7 percent of rural males and 24.6 percent of the rural females qualify for this condition. 
  • It is interesting to note that across all states urban males have the highest percentages, whilst rural females have the lowest percentage.
  • Further, there exists a considerable digital divide amongst different disadvantaged caste groups. For instance, some studies even suggest that “ST individuals have 27 percentage points lower access to the Internet as compared to the other individuals”.

Access to digital infrastructure:

  • There exists a grave digital divide in India wherein gaps exist in the usage of the internet and access to digital infrastructure based on gender, area of residence whether rural-urban, caste, or age.
  • While there might be small variances, urban men are much better off than others both in terms of access to the internet and ownership of phones when compared to urban women, rural men, and rural women. 
  • However, it is important to note that there have been some improvements in women’s access to cell phones between 2015–16 and 2019–21 which demonstrates that the efforts to reduce the digital divide are steadily coming into fruition.


  • With the increasing dependence on digital technologies and the internet, the digital divide has ramifications on education, health, mobility, safety, financial inclusion, and every other imaginable aspect of life.
  • Whilst several government initiatives like the National Digital Literacy Mission and the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan have been introduced to increase digital literacy, there is a need to ramp up such efforts and improve the existing digital infrastructure to ensure physical access to ICT to different sections of society.
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