Nungthang Tampak : Manipur’s first computer-literate village

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Okendro Khundongbam

Not so long ago, being educated means knowing something as basic as reading and writing. A family with one such ‘educated’ person could easily hold sway in deciding matters of importance in any village meeting. Then, came the need for every individual to know how to read and write. Like in every other aspects of civilization, education also arrived in steps – primary, intermediate, higher secondary, college, university, etc. In this age of Information Technology and the Internet, everybody needs to be computer-literated. There is no literacy like computer-literacy.

Fourteen years ago, in August 2003, a village in Kerala’s Malappuram district achieved the unique feat of becoming India’s first ever computer-literate village. In a way, Chamravattom – a village of 850 families set the foundation for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enterprising initiative called ‘Digital India’. It was more than a decade later that the Government India launched the campaign on 2 July 2015, with an aim to ensure that basic services like health care, education, commerce, governance, etc. are made available to citizens electronically by increasing Internet connectivity.

Credit must be given to the then Chief Minister of Kerala, Arackaparambil Kurien Antony for his vision and leadership to start the ‘Akshaya project’ which helped realise Chamravattom’s dream of becoming India’s first computer-literate village. Started in November 2002, the project continues to help Kerala become India’s first computer-literate state, and give Keralites various Internet-based services like e-pay, e-krishi, e-vidya, e-ticketing, etc. To fulfil such a big dream, the Kerala government distributed more than 7000 desktops to Akshaya centres. It indeed is one movement every Indian state can try to emulate.
All these while a tiny North Eastern state has been mainly relying on the grants from the central government. It would not be wrong to say that there was not a single policy or program undertaken by the Manipur government independently, since its merger to the Indian Union more than seven years ago. What’s worse is, even those few projects initiated under central government’s blessings have failed to see the light of the day thanks to our collective failures.

Even as blame game becomes our favourite sport, there is an all-too-prevalent culture of corruption with the elected ruling class and their coterie in various grabs running the show. There are also telltale signs of utter ineptitude from ‘certified’ executives. Couple it with an uninformed and illiterate mass, we have the perfect recipe of a failed state, which is for the record Manipur is. Amidst the chaos, the Modi-led government has promised a better tomorrow with the slogan of ‘Digital India’, where every citizen will have the access to the Internet thus empowering him with information. It sure is one bright step towards development.

Meanwhile, as a social enterprise working in the state, Mangaal Rural has provided free computer education to the villagers of Nungthang Tampak. The village, about 65 kilometres from state capital Imphal, has 54 households with little more than 200 residents. It falls in Saikot Assembly Constituency of Churachandpur district. Majority of the villagers are farmers, but there are two who have completed their Master of Arts and more than ten graduates. Of the 200,160 are registered voters.

Other than a school, there are no government institutions in the village. With not dispensary, Nungthang Tampak villagers need to travel more than five kilometres to Sagang to avail even the medical first aid. Neighbouring villages like Shamu Lamlan, Tuiring, Khumnongphai, Lalumbung, Theikhakbi, Dampi, Loukhumbi, Kananphai and Thampiland too faces similar situations. Such is the plight of these villages that there is no supply of potable water. They drink water from community ponds, and during summer months, situation is even worse. Some seven years back, there used to be one water supply project at Dampi, but it discontinued after working for a week or so. Somehow, roads are accessible if not tarred. But electricity supply has improved with the introduction of pre­paid systems. And villagers are seemingly content with electrified neighbourhoods.

Mangaal Rural volunteers started giving computer lessons to the villagers on 24 July, with the premises of Nungthang Tampak’s modestly furnished Baptist church as the makeshift school. In this Kom village, except the son of King Leivon Romeo, no one knew how to use a computer. But it all changed after Mangaal Rural’s tireless efforts, which provided free computer education without any assistance from the state government. The enterprise bore all the expenses incurred in the successful conducting of the program. It’s only fitting to mention that the villagers have expressed their gratitude towards Mangaal Rural volunteers for their selfless service. In the month-long program, at least one person from every household has learnt how to operate a personal computer thus becoming a model village for all of Manipur.

Towards achieving this end, Mangaal Rural installed five desktops with round the clock Internet access and a printer. Two trainers took the onus to impart computer education to the villagers. After the successful completion of the training, ,ill the participants will be given AISECT certificates. Stakeholders of this program believe that Manipur government can take a cue from their experience to help realise PM Modi’s ‘Digital India’ dream. Mangte Shashniya, a housewife who’s taking part in the training program, said that she wanted to learn ‘computer’, but after her marriage, chasing that dream became impossible. She got married to an army man before appearing for class XI board exam. Now a mother of one, she realised that it will be almost meaningless in near future, for her sons and daughters, to live without knowing how to operate a computer. She believes that Rural Mangaal’s initiative has given her and others in the village a new hope. And Shashniya is making sure that she gets one personal computer at home for her son.
Another trainee, Damkhumei Kom, who works in one of the Angan Wadi centres in the district, shared her joy. Now, she can operate computers and use the Internet to garner information needed in her work. Damkhumei said, she used to go to district headquarters or Imphal to get information. Pastor at the village church, M. Haolemhai Kom also expressed his gratitude towards Mangaal Rural. He, matter of factly, said that villagers had no desire to learn ‘computer’; but today, everybody is talking about it. He even jokingly said that, they are now addicted to this machine, which can do almost anything. Such is the desire to learn ‘computer’ for these villagers that, everyone -irrespective of age and level of education, from students to housewives to daily wage earners, they all flock to the church to pick up new tricks every day. With no time restriction, they all come in their comfortable time, after school, after a day’s hard work or completing household chores. Haolemhai, however, has one worry. Like a wise man, who sees the future, he is worried what will happen once the program is over. But he is also a man of answers. He said that they will approach elected leaders and government officials like local Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) and District Collector (DC) to ensure what the villagers have learnt can be used in productive ways. He doesn’t want to waste his newly acquired skills.

Talking about the program, Mangaal Rural founder Ningthoujam Surjit stressed on the importance of science and technology in mankind’s evolution from primitive cave dwellers to super intelligent beings of 21st century. He said that development of new tools and services continue unabated. But, unluckily, due to various reasons, common man cannot get their hands on these tools; use these services properly, in time.

Surjit said that ‘affordability’ and ‘accessibility’ are two major factors, with ‘assurance’ being the third. One may afford to buy and own a new tool, but if he can’t use it judiciously, then his affordability is a waste. And there are those who know the importance of a certain tool or a service, but can’t afford it. There, his accessibility is being limited. So thus with assurance. One can own a tool and also use it judiciously, but, he still needs to convince himself that the tool will last, that he’s invested wisely.

Relaying Mangaal Rural’s vision, the founder added that it’s their mission to address these issues. He then cited examples of providing free electricity to Atom khuman village in Imphal West and free computer education to Nungthang Tampak as some of the organization’s successful missions. He requested Manipur government to help the organization in their efforts to serve the people.

Two trainers who have worked tirelessly during the month long program, Soibam Shashikumar and Takhelchangbam Dhumbd Sharma, were impressed with the kind of response they have received from the villagers of Nungthang Tampak. Both were pleasantly surprised how quickly the villagers grasped their instructions. One reason, they felt, for such quick learning was the desire to learn new things. They are happy that the villagers now know how to run a personal computer, use the Internet and also take the advantage of printer. And like the villagers, they too feel that it’s only the beginning.

Source: The Sangai Express

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