"Untouchable" Cellphones? Old Caste Exclusions and New Digital Divides in Peri-Urban Bangalore

Author: Anant Kamath

Abstract:

This paper presents a fresh perspective on the complicated relationship between digital communication technologies and historically disadvantaged castes such as Dalits in peri-urban Bangalore (Bengaluru), India, a city popularly perceived as India's "Silicon Valley." Based on interviews with Dalit household members, entrepreneurs, and political activists, the study examines whether mobile phones have been insufficiently harnessed by Dalits in the region to overcome historic deprivation, or whether they may have even assisted in the reinforcement of caste-based exclusion. The paper uses oral histories and draws from feminist perspectives on technology to demonstrate how the contemporary socio-technological outcomes among Dalits in peri-urban south Bangalore is a result of a convergence between three elements – the durability of caste in peri-urban metropolitan India, the social construction of the usage of information communication technologies (ICTs), and myopia in the conventional understanding of the digital divide in India. In the process of disentangling this convergence, the paper offers a new perspective on the relationship between caste, ICTs, and development policy. The paper ultimately argues for a re-examination of the idea of a digital divide and the development assumption that access to new technologies will further positive development outcomes.


Regions: South Asia
Countries: India

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September 2018
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