Is the Rajasthan Govt Using a Digital Literacy Drive for Election Campaigning?

The eSakhis are given explicit instructions on what to tell to the public about the ‘achievements’ of the Vasundhara Raje government.

Jaipur: With two digital literacy projects – the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) and Rajasthan State Certificate course in Information Technology (RS-CIT) – already running in Rajasthan, the Vasundhara Raje government initiated yet another project called eSakhi in June this year. The programme is meant to provide digital training to 1.5 lakh women so that they can make other women digitally literate, and help them avail the benefits of e-governance services.

However, on the ground, eSakhi appears to be a stealthy campaign for Raje ahead of the state assembly elections.

The Wire attended a video conference related to the scheme organised by the Department of Information Technology and Communication (DoITC) at the Jaipur Collectorate on September 24, where thousands of eSakhis across the state were instructed on how they should carry out the ‘training’.

Image of the comics published by the Rajasthan government.

In the conference conducted by the principal secretary and additional director of DoITC, the eSakhis were told, “To teach a family, the easiest mode is to put forth the information to their children in the school. Through the children, the parents would be made aware that the government has made the schemes digital and now it is much easier to seek its benefit.”

“When you will explain the schemes to children, the children will become your messenger and take forward your and the government’s view to their parents.”

‘Ideal’ interaction expected from the eSakhis

Stating that directions have been issued to the education department to coordinate with the eSakhis, the officials showed a sample video depicting how they should ‘ideally’ interact with the school kids.

Namaste bachhon! Aur kaisi chal rahi hai aapki padhai? Acha batao aap mein se technology kaun sabse jyada kaam mein leta hai? (pause) Main maanti hun sabse jyada technology toh hamari sarkar hi kaam mein le rahi hai, tabhi toh Rajasthan digital taknik se suvidha pahuchane mein desh mein sabse aage hai. (pause)

Aacha batao hamari mukhyamantri ji ka kya naam hai? Haan, Vasundhare Raje ji. Vasundhara madam ki yeh soch hai ki hum sabke sarkari kaam aasani se ho, isliye unhone digital taknik ka istimal kar yeh saare kaam itne aasan kar diye, pareshani mita di, corruption mita diya!

Aapko pata hai humari Rajasthan sarkar ne bahut saare mobile apps bhi bana diye hain par log inka laabh nahi le pate. Par ab har NFSA parivar ke liye sarkar mobile aur internet connection ke liye Rs 1,000 de rhi hai, 500-500 ki kisht mein. Ab yeh baat apne mummy-papa ko bataiyega, aur haan, mobile mein Rs 500 aane ka message aaya hoga, use bhi dekh lena.

“(Hello kids. How are your studies going on? Okay, tell me who among you all uses technology the most? I believe it’s our government that is making the maximum use of technology for work and that’s the reason why Rajasthan is leading the country in digital technology.

Okay, tell me what’s the name of our chief minister? Yes, it’s Vasundhara Raje. Vasundhara madam thinks that all our government work should be done in a simpler way, so she made all this work so easy by using digital technology. She removed all the hassles and eliminated corruption.

Do you know our Rajasthan government has developed many mobile applications, but people could not take advantage of them. But now, for every NFSA family, the government is paying Rs 1,000 for mobile and internet connection in two instalments of Rs 500 each. Now, tell this thing to your mom and dad, and yes, there would be a message of Rs 500 credited to your parent’s accounts on their phone, check that.)”

The officials told the eSakhis that the chief minister has given them the special responsibility of taking forward her vision of a ‘digital Rajasthan’.

“Rajasthan government has made many mobile applications to digitise government work but somehow, they couldn’t be adequately publicised. So, the government has chosen women to publicise these apps. You are the messengers of the chief minister for this work,” Ritesh Kumar Sharma, ACP, DoITC told the eSakhis in the video conference.

Inadequate training and government comics

Before stepping out to digitally train others, the registered eSakhis are trained for 14 hours at the IT gyan kendras of the Rajasthan Knowledge Corporation Limited. However, for many eSakhis who are first-time internet users, this training is insufficient.

Apart from the digital training, the eSakhis are handed over three comics – ‘Smart chachi ka smart gaon‘, ‘Bhamashah ka kamal‘ and ‘Sabka mitra e-mitra‘ – published by the Rajasthan government to educate the public about its schemes.

With short stories and cartoons, these comics narrate the purported achievements of the Raje government.

Preeti Sharma, who recently enrolled herself for the eSakhi programme at a training centre in Dher ke Balaji, is still not used to the apps, despite having attended the training sessions. All she could understand was the ‘simple’ content of the comics of the Rajasthan government.

Preeti Sharma, an eSakhi in Jaipur, going through the comics during her training

“These comics are easy to understand. They talk about the achievements of the government in the past five years and going by this, I can educate people in the same manner,” Sharma told The Wire.

“I don’t mind doing publicity for the government, which is so concerned about youngsters like us that they have started this scheme, which will be monetarily beneficial as well. I’m happy that I can get to earn so early while studying. My parents are happy too.”

The government instructors at the IT gyan kendras who are made the master trainers for this project agree that eSakhi is actually a campaigning tool for the Raje government. “The timing of this scheme – June to December – clearly shows that this is a publicity tool before the elections. It’s practically not possible to train the eSakhis to use all the functionalities of the digital platform in three to four days, but they easily understand that they have to tell public that the Raje government has done a lot in the past five years,” one of them told The Wire on the condition of anonymity.

Each eSakhi is given Rs 2,500 when they digitally train at least 100 women, but there are no means to check if the ‘trained’ women have actually become digitally literate. They are just registered on the eSakhi app, for which their Bhamashah card and Aadhaar card is made compulsory.

To register a person for digital training, their Aadhaar card and Bhamashah card is mandatory.

During the Q&A session in the video conference, Devyani Singh, an eSakhi from Mandawar, asked, “Sir, people doubt our intentions. They call us frauds who take away all the details of their Bhamashah and Aadhaar cards.”

To this the officials replied, “When you work in the field, you encounter such problems. You should ignore such people and target those who encourage your work.”

The eSakhis find it extremely difficult to digitally train the beginners in a short span of time.

“It’s difficult to make people understand how to digitally use all the mobile applications in few minutes. Most of the time is taken up in only registering them to the portal.”

“Even if I try to train women in my village for an hour, they think I’m wasting their time. Simple things like dealing with a touch screen phone is difficult for them. All that we end up making them understand, unintentionally, is that the government is doing a lot for them,” said an eSakhi who didn’t wish to be named.

If the eSakhis don’t reach the target of registering at least 100 people on the app, the honorarium of Rs 1,500 from the total of Rs 2,500 is not paid to them.

“Getting the score of 100 is next to impossible. Had it been ten, then we could have focused on the digital training properly. Now, it’s a rat race of registering more people,” said Pooja, an eSakhi from Sikar.

Violation of Moral Code of Conduct?

After the Moral Code of Conduct was enforced in the state on October 6, the video conference of the eSakhis scheduled on October 9 was called off by the DoITC. Even the officials have stopped sending messages on the eSakhi WhatsApp groups, which include the officials, eSakhis and the public as participants.

However, the eSakhi programme has not been put to an end. The government comics depicting the achievements of the Raje government published at the cost of the public exchequer are still in circulation, with over 1.5 lakh eSakhis using them for imparting ‘digital training’ to the public.

Speaking to The Wire, Hansraj Yadav, additional director, DoITC said, “The video conference was called off as during the enforcement of Moral Code of Conduct, we are not allowed to mobilise but the eSakhi programme is still being implemented.”

When asked if the programme is for government propaganda rather than a digital literacy drive, he replied, “If teaching people to use e-mail and WhatsApp is government propaganda, then you may say so.”

When he was further asked if the name of the chief minister would not at all be used during the digital training imparted by the eSakhis to the public, Yadav said, “I didn’t say that.”

All images by Shruti Jain.