India’s first minority cybergram closes down

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Jaipur: Digital India is one of the flagship programmes of present union government. Going by that logic, Minority CyberGram, which was started by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) should have continued being part of Digital India movement. But despite meeting all the criterions the initiative ceased getting funds after its first year. However, those running the programme, continued running the show, without government funds. But they too seem to have given up and chosen to shut down the center completely.

The idea of setting up Minority CyberGram was to provide digital literacy to the backward community in identified knowledge clusters, so that they could use the new-age tools to gain information and knowledge for growth and development.

The first center, which was also a pilot project, was set up in Chandauli, Rajasthan, situated only 150 kilometres away from the national capital, New Delhi.

The center became the face of digital India, when it was visited by none other than Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2014.

“The Minority CyberGram, was a pilot project, of the UPA II government. We were supposed to replicate it in other villages if it did well in Chandauli. Interestingly, the project did extremely well but UPA didn’t come back in power. And BJP was not interested in renewing the project, once it completed its one year. As a consequence we had to shut down the project way back in February, 2015,” informed Shahid Siddiqui, Project lead of the Minority CyberGram, back then.

The selected area is dominated by Meo Muslims, who are both educationally and socially backward. However, it was chosen not just because of its socio-economic backwardness, but also because, it used to be India’s first Education Minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s constituency.

He recounted, that the project was doing extremely well. “A small nondescript village, which was inhabited by socio-economically backward people, had access to Facebook and was using OLX to buy or sell their products. When Zuckerberg, came to know about it, he was very interested in visiting this village,” he said.

However, despite the project being very much along with Prime Minister’s Digtal India campaign, the funds for this project was ceased by union government in February 2015.

Later, Digital Empowerment Federation (DEF), the non government organization, associated with the project continued running the centre, despite getting no aid.

Yusuf Khan, regional manager of DEF, Alwar, said, “As union government didn’t renew this scheme, the area allocated to run the centre was taken away. Then the former Mukhiya of the village gave us a spot to run it. But the number of students began to fall. This was because the new training centre was next to a mosque, thereby, making many Hindu refusing to attend the classes. DEC, despite all odds continued doing its job, but now that the student strength is really low, we have been forced to shut down the centre.”

When enewsroom tried to contact the Ministry of Minority Affairs, seeking an official comment on the same, were routed to its Director Anurag Bajpai, who couldn’t be reached despite making repeated calls.

A 2016 communique by the Press Information Bureau (PIB), carrying an statement of Minority Minister, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi mentioned that, the project at Chandauli was successfully completed as two people from 1300 households become digital literate, and since it was a success, so project had been closed.

But the continuation of the center by DEF itself suggests that it was going on successfully, however, was in initial phase and it was forced to shut down midway.

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