Express press service
With the onset of COVID, digital media has become an integral part of our lives, seeping into our daily 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 non-profit organization that tries to empower communities with communication and information-sharing skills – shares: “When people go to a metropolitan city like Delhi, they believe they will have a lot of opportunities, however, migrants end up living on the fringes and away from all that information.
Unequal access to the Internet generally affects women from marginalized communities. Even in cases where these women have a digital presence, they face online bullying. To help young girls understand and take ownership of 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 , provide a safe space for girls to experience the virtual world.
Free/Dem Media Pathshalas offers a 16-week media program through which they provide in-depth training in the careful use of smartphones. Through this course, students also explore photography, community radio, and other similar mediums to create digital content. Students also gain insight into gender issues in the digital space. “The basic idea is to empower women,” says Arora, who is also the director of the project.
Apart from conducting this course in Tajpur Pahari and Subhash Nagar, IMC also organizes similar programs in collaboration with other non-profit organizations such as Action for India, Mayur Vihar. In August 2021, Free/Dem partnered with the International Khoj Artists Association to organize a media training course for Afghan women in Khirkee.
An inclusive digital space
The Pathshala is equipped with a library of smartphones allowing trainees to borrow the devices needed for effective training. Upon completion of the program, students are encouraged to create podcasts and videos which are then uploaded to the Free/Dem and IMC websites. Each podcast is based on their lived experiences. Speaking about the themes of the podcast, Free/Dem project coordinator Nishi Kumari says, “We ask these girls about what problems they think can be solved. Now they started watching [the world] and come up with their own ideas.
Hemlata (17), a resident of Tajpur Pahari who has been part of Free/Dem since grade 8, mentions how this program has enabled digital access through a holistic approach. She concludes: “Internet access has become easy for me. I learned how to use a smartphone and I know of issues such as privacy that I did not know before.