Festive mood in Rajasthan village that spoke to Obama

By Anil Sharma, IANS
Sunday, November 7, 2010

AJMER - A Rajasthan village Sunday was in a festive spirit, with villagers dancing to drum beats, as they got to talk to US President Barack Obama in Mumbai - thanks to a video-conference link.

The upbeat villagers of Kanpura, 30 km from this town known for the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chisty, were dressed in their colourful traditional attire for the event.

Kanpura was selected for interaction with Obama in Mumbai as a pilot project has connected the village with optic fibre network for online access to land records and birth certificates. The village’s chief, Jagdish Bairwa, 26, holds a degree in mechanical engineering.

Since early morning, men and women started to gather around the area from where they were to have video conferencing with Obama sitting in St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai. They were eager to share with Obama what their village has achieved thanks to information technology.

And then Obama was right there on a huge screen.

Obama said he wanted to have a glimpse of the information technology revolution in rural India, how citizens were interacting virtually with local government bodies using internet and accessing information and services such as tele-medicine and e-education.

“Many of these innovations are because of public and private collaborations between the US and India,” the US president said, giving the example of the green revolution in India in the 1970s where scientists of the two sides worked together for better seeds and irrigation.

Obama was visibly pleased when the village local body secretary, Shiv Shankar, told the US president how his complaint about a faulty handpump over internet was rectified almost immediately - in a departure from the weeks that it would have otherwise taken in the past.

Similarly, healthcare worker Sunita Rathore explained how she could access digitised medical records of the villagers, especially children, to plan their vaccination schedules.

These apart, a student of management, Vipul Johar, told the US president how he was pursuing further studies via internet by downloading course material, sparing him the need to travel 25 km to Ajmer for the direct-contact classes.

Moderating the discussion at the St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai was the Chicago-based tech evangelist Sam Pitroda, while the young Minister of State for Communications and IT Sachin Pilot was with the farmers in Kanpura village in Ajmer, Rajasthan.

Both the moderators here and in Mumbai have been educated in the US. At present Pitroda is an advisor to the Indian prime minister on public information, infrastructure and innovations. He has studied at the Illinois Institute of Technology, while Pilot is an alumnus of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

The village is a part of Sachin Pilot’s constituency.

Pilot told Obama about how IT is helping the village. He said IT was not just about exporting services, but was also about changing lifestyle of rural India.

We had people from different sections of the society. There was local MLA, sarpanch, panchayat representative, student and nurse informing the president (Obama) that IT is helping them,” Pilot told reporters after the video conference.

The (US) president expressed happiness about the progress being made with the aide of IT, said Pilot.

Much of what Obama said could, however, not be heard because of poor audio quality.

This is second time that a US president has chosen to have a glimpse of a Rajasthan village to experience grassroots India.

About ten years ago, former president Bill Clinton had come to Naila, a small village near Jaipur, to experience rural India.

Filed under: Science and Technology

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