Beyond the “Digital Divide:” The Computer Girls of Seelampur

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Taylor & Francis Group


In the last decade, India’s position as a global information economy has aided its status as the poster child for Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD) initiatives in the global South. Policy discourse emphasizes that crossing of the “digital divide” through access to technology will bring a leveling of economic and social hierarchies. Based on sustained ethnographic observations and interviews in Seelampur in New Delhi, my paper critically examines the promise of inclusion in the information society for low income “Muslim women.” In following the lives of the “computer girls” of Seelampur, I argue that access to computer training contradictorily reproduced and reified interconnected divisions of gender, class, caste, and religion. Ethnographic research reveals the complexities of everyday lived experiences among Seelampur women. The space of the ICT center was rigidly stratified and the center primarily attracted women from relatively higher class and caste positions within Seelampur. However, I argue that the women had contradictory experiences related to their status as India’s “middle-class” that restricted their economic and social mobility outside the ICT center. Their experiences testified to structural disempowerment that disrupted deterministic assumptions about ICT and mobility.