Thursday, August 17, 2006

Indian village uploads itself onto Internet

An Indian village has uploaded itself onto the Internet, giving the outside world a glimpse of life in rural India.

Visitors to Hansdehar village's Web site ( can see the names, jobs and other details of its 1,753 residents, browse photographs of their shops and read detailed specifications about their drainage and electricity facilities.

Most of the residents can't yet surf the Hansdehar Web site as the village is not yet connected to the Internet.

But the villagers hope the site -- and their imminent first Internet connection -- will put them in touch with the world beyond the flooded rice fields surrounding Hansdehar, located in a rich agricultural belt in the northern state of Haryana.

"It will be a revolution," said farmer Ajaib Singh.

He and other villagers hope the connection with the outside world will help speed up improvements to Hansdehar's woeful infrastructure and services such as a lack of a pharmacy and unreliable electricity. The village has long been neglected by the Indian government, locals complain.

"Now we can put our problems on the Web site, and then the government can't say, 'We didn't know'," he said.

But younger villagers -- most of whom have yet to send their first e-mail -- plan to use the Internet to help hasten their exit by searching online for college places and jobs in big cities.

In preparation, Jasvir Singh, 21, has hired what is only the second computer in the village to learn to type. He says he can do 25 words a minute and is getting faster.

Singh wants to get into one of India's prestigious institutes of management and one day score a foreign posting.

Quietly spoken Nanki Devi, 21, says her future will be limited to employment as a housemaid if she stays in the village, whose women demurely veil themselves in the presence of unrelated men.

"Only in a city I can be independent," she explained as she looked shyly toward her feet.

These kinds of ambitions are exactly what Kanwal Singh hoped to stir when he set up the Web site for the village he was born in.


There are few jobs available in Hansdehar beyond farming or running small shops supplying goods to farmers.

While the richest one or two households own cars, most have cows parked in their front yards. The dusty roads are almost completely empty of traffic, bar the occasional farmer chugging past atop a tractor, bhangra music blaring.

The village council -- or panchayat -- is pictured on the Web site holding a meeting about a missing bull. It was never found, villagers say, suspecting theft.

Kanwal Singh, who long ago left to work as a Web site developer for the local government in Chandigarh, said that until recently a lack of opportunities left villagers with few options beyond agriculture.

On a recent visit he gave a dozen or so villagers a mild scolding, telling some of them they lacked initiative. No one answered back.

"Some of the young people here have a lot of potential and they just aren't reaching it," he later told Reuters, visibly frustrated.

Which is why he set about convincing the village council of the benefits a Web site and an Internet connection would bring.

Few villagers had much of an idea about the Internet, but Singh was soon able to explain the fundamentals.

Pick any Bollywood actress, he told them in a slideshow presentation, and you can access hundreds of photographs of her.

But he was quick to highlight the net's other uses.

Now Hansdehar farmers hope they will be able to get better prices for their crops by trading online through the National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Ltd., cutting out middlemen.

Carpenters and masons will tout their services online. Others will upload their resumes to job hunting Web sites when the village's first Internet point is hooked up in Kanwal Singh's mother's house in the coming weeks.

Hazoor Singh, a local math teacher, will have space on the Web site to publish his forthcoming paper, in which he describes parallels between the nature of God and mathematical set theory.

And at least one young bachelor said he would start browsing for a potential wife.

But the grand aim is to encourage more of India's 640,000 villages to upload themselves and unite in online networks to advance the cause of rural India, home to a tenth of humanity.

"We had to start somewhere, so why not here? Charity begins at home," says Kanwal Singh. "But now all the nearby villages are impressed and they say they want a site of their own."