An Internet for Rural India
Monday, July 13, 2009
One intrepid entrepreneur battles brigands and bureaucrats to bring e-governance to India’s 700 million rural poor.
BANGALORE (Fortune Small Business) — It’s a sweltering day in May, the hottest time of year in the South Indian town of Sathanur. In the shade of a whitewashed storefront, a rugged, mustached man named Nagabhushana Achalu is filing his first application for a certificate that will help his children go to school. Within minutes the kiosk operator behind the counter has logged on to the state government’s intranet and sent Nagabhushana’s application to a server in the state capital, 40 miles away.
That may not sound remarkable, but in rural India it’s a revolutionary act.
As a member of the Adi Karnataka, one of India’s “scheduled castes,” formerly called untouchables, Nagabhushana has limited employment options. He earns a meager 5,000 rupees ($100) a year from rice and millet farming. But there is one ray of hope in his life: Private schools in his state, Karnataka, have abolished fees for members of scheduled castes. His two children can go to a good school for free — so long as their father has the official “caste and income” certificate to prove his poverty.