Phulenagar enters the internet age

Written by  Ruchi Sawardekar

“I love cooking,” says Manisha Shelke excitedly as she recounts the things she has tried searching for online as part of her computer classes, “So I usually look up recipes. The other day I made dhoklas for the first time at home, after reading the recipe on the internet!”

The women of the 12 pm batch of the Swabhiman Internet Centre, established by Telxess and supported by the Ford Foundation in Mahatma Phule Nagar, Bhosari, gather at the home of one of their youngest batchmates, ReshmaKhajurkar, and talk excitedly about computer class and how much they will miss it when their batch ends on March 14, 2015. Manisha and Reshma, along with their friends PallaviKamble, Neha Hadavle and DeepaliSarowde, are five of the 10 young homemaker women who attend the 12 pm batch at the centre.

“Our batch started on February 2 and now, in a couple of days, we will complete the course,” says Manisha. “When they had told us about the class, we were all excited to join because they said we could learn how to use a computer and the internet, free of charge. They said it would be something useful we could teach our children, and something that could help us get jobs.”

“I joined because I wanted to apply for a government job,” 22 year-old Neha agrees with Manisha, “I used to work as a receptionist earlier, but nowadays even for a receptionist’s job, one requires knowledge of computers and the internet. The other day, our computer instructor helped me make my biodata,” she adds with a smile. Neha and Manisha had previously attended computer courses at training centres, but this was a new concept to their friends. “I had never touched a computer before coming to class,” says Pallavi, “I never had the opportunity to.”

As Reshma serves mango sherbat to her friends on the hot summer morning, the women gleefully count the number of tasks they can now do on a computer, after a month-and-a-half of class. “After covering the basics of the computer, we first learned MS Word and MS Excel. Later on in the class, we learned how to browse the internet. We can book railway tickets, apply for our ration card, look up scholarship forms for our children and so many other things,” says Pallavi, as she counts tasks off her fingers. “I’ve done a beauty parlour training course, so I tried looking up hairstyles on Google,” says Reshma with a smile. “We can even look up ayurvedic medicines and home remedies for ailments,” adds Neha. “We decide what we want to search for on Google before class,” says Deepali, “Then we go and type it in. Even if we type Marathi in the English script or if we make a spelling mistake, Google can correct it. If not, our instructor is always there to help.”

Having completed basic schooling, all of the women say English is a challenge for them, but one they can overcome with a little help. “Sometimes you even have the option of reading information in Marathi,” says Manisha, “The dhokla recipe I found was in Marathi.” Neha adds, “Yes, and most government websites are also in Marathi. Besides, for recipes there are Marathi videos on YouTube.”

 “Just last week we learned how to open our own Gmail account,” Manisha says, “I was very excited to try it. The first email I sent was to my cousin who is an engineering student so she has an email address. She replied by wishing me a happy Women’s Day!”

They agreed that they were fortunate to have families that are supportive of their interest in computers and the internet. “Deepali probably has the most supportive husband,” Neha beams proudly as she affectionately puts her arm around her friend, “He told her she could pursue whatever she wanted for her own development, which was important.” Blushing, Deepali responds, “I was actually the one who was hesitant at first. But he convinced me to try it since the centre was close-by and the classes were free.”

But as lucky as Deepali and her friends were that they didn’t face any opposition from home, there are several women who were not as lucky. “Some men don’t even allow their wives to leave the house,” Manisha says. “They say to them, ‘What will you achieve by gaining this knowledge? It is your job to manage the house and take care of the children’. Some families don’t let the women out of the house because they feel that the area is unsafe.”

“Yes, but some women do come to the class despite restrictions from home,” Deepali says, “They wait for their husbands to leave for work and sneak out of the house to come to class.”

“But now we tell our friends they won’t even have to leave the house,” says Manisha grinning widely, “We now have WiFi!”

Along with a computer and internet training centre, Telxess and the Ford Foundation, in partnership with the PimpriChinchwad Municipal Corporation, have also provided Mahatma Phule Nagar with free WiFi. With four switches and 22 access points with a range of 100 metres each, the entire basti is now able to access free wireless internet for a period of one year. “My husband applied for a username and password and has used the WiFi,” says Deepali, “He said the speed was faster than his phone internet.” Manisha and Neha agreed that they, like close to 100 of their neighbours, had also applied for access to the WiFi.

In the hour that the five friends have sat and reminisced over their time at the community computer class, it is clear that they have come a long way since they  enrolled. “I was very scared to handle the computer at first,” says Pallavi, “I would think to myself, ‘What if it breaks or gets damaged?’ But after this month-long course, I love the feel of the laptop keys at my fingertips,” she smiles. “I am so much more confident now that I won’t make a mistake,” says Neha. “If you were to ask me how to open MS Excel, I wouldn’t be able to tell you, but if you kept a computer in front of me, I will open it for you immediately. It has become natural for me,” Deepali says confidently.

“The world is in an internet-age now,” says Manisha, “Very soon there will not be any job you can get without having knowledge of computers and the internet. We want to request sir to allow us to come and practice on the computers in the class even after our course is complete so that we can keep practicing. We are all women who have given eight or nine years to our households. It is now time for us to explore the world outside.”

www.netpehchaan.in, March 2015

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