With the onset of COVID, digital media has become part and parcel of our lives, seeping into our day-to-day experiences. However, many people in the country still do not have internet access. Venu Arora, co-founder and executive director of Ideosync Media Combine (IMC)—a Faridabad-based, not-for-profit organisation that attempts to empower communities with communication and information sharing skills —shares, “When people travel to a metropolitan city such as Delhi, they believe that they will get a lot of opportunities. However, the migrants end up living on the margins and away from all this information.”
The inequality in internet access usually affects women from marginalised communities. Even in cases where these women have a digital presence, they face online bullying. To help young girls understand and own the digital space, IMC launched the Free/Dem Media Pathshala in 2019. The two pathshalas (schools) set up in the localities of Tajpur Pahari, near Badarpur, and Subhash Nagar, offer a safe space for girls to learn about the virtual world.
Free/Dem Media Pathshalas offers a 16-week curriculum on media through which they provide in-depth training on using smartphones carefully. Through this course, the students also explore photography, community radio, and other such mediums, to create digital content. The students also get insight into gender issues in the digital space. “The basic idea is to empower women,” mentions Arora, who is also the project director.
Apart from conducting this course in Tajpur Pahari and Subhash Nagar, IMC also organises similar programmes in collaboration with other non-profits such as Action for India, Mayur Vihar. In August 2021, Free/Dem partnered with Khoj International Artists’ Association to conduct a media training course for the Afghan women in Khirkee.
An inclusive digital space
The Pathshala is equipped with a smartphone library for trainees to borrow devices needed for effective training. By the end of the programme, the students are encouraged to create podcasts and videos that are later uploaded on the Free/Dem and IMC websites. Each podcast is based on their lived experiences. Talking about the podcast themes, Free/Dem’s project coordinator, Nishi Kumari, says, “We ask these girls about issues that they feel can be addressed. Now, they have started observing [the world] and coming up with their own ideas.”
Tajpur Pahari-resident Hemlata (17), who has been a part of Free/Dem since class 8, mentions how this programme has allowed digital access via a holistic approach. She concludes, “Internet access has become easy for me. I’ve learnt how to use a smartphone and know about issues such as privacy that I was earlier unaware of.”