Towards Participatory Democracy: Can Digitalisation Help Women in India?

Date01 December 2019
AuthorAsha Gupta
Publication Date01 December 2019
Towards Participatory
Democracy: Can
Digitalisation Help
Women in India?*
Asha Gupta1
Digitalisation has changed the very way we live, work and think. Today we live
in a world where the ‘virtual’ has drastically and rapidly overtaken the ‘real’ and
governmental controls. It has weakened territorial, racial, religious and other
We are living in a world where global forces are simultaneously binding and
tearing us apart. Earlier people connected with others at the familial, work
and community levels, but with the advent of globalisation and technological
innovations, we find cyberspace replacing the places of conviviality with ‘virtual’
The article seeks to explore the emerging trends in digitalisation of democracy
in the wake of paradigm shift from representative to participatory democracy in
general and explore the prospects of women’s political participation in India.
India happens to be the second most populous country, biggest democracy and
largest market for social networking. It also seeks to explore the reasons for
low access to political space by women in India despite being one of the five
telecom giants worldwide and argues how women can use the in-between space
provided by digital technologies for deconstructing prevailing authoritarianism
in a patriarchal society and consumerism rampant in their cultural environment.
The methodology adopted is analytical, comparative and empirical.
Digitalisation, women empowerment, participatory democracy, shift in paradigm
(from representative democracy to participatory democracy), trolling
Indian Journal of Public
65(4) 897–915, 2019
© 2019 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556119881842
* Based on a paper presented at the IPSA/AISP International Conference on Political Science in the
Digital Age held in Hannover, Germany, from 4–6 December 2017.
1 Former Director, Directorate of Hindi Medium Implementation, University of Delhi, Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Asha Gupta, Former Director, Directorate of Hindi Medium Implementation, University of Delhi,
Delhi 110 007, India.
898 Indian Journal of Public Administration 65(4)
The Context
Digitalisation has made a strong appeal to people to move towards the democrati-
sation of politics and society due to their access to personal computers and the
internet on a massive scale worldwide. The internet happens to be a medium that
is, interactive instead of one-sided communication compared to the print and
broadcasting media earlier. It has enabled the users to transform themselves from
being passive viewers, listeners or readers to becoming active participants. It has
provided a platform on which everybody is treated as equal, and it has also pro-
vided opportunities for collective action through networking, that is, it is not only
very fast but also cost-effective (van Dijk, 2013).
Digitalisation has come a long way during the last three decades. In the 1990s,
the internet was seen as something to deal with science fiction, and the World
Wide Web was still at the nascent stage. There was a clear distinction between the
‘real’ and ‘virtual’. The digital was presumed to be just an escape technology as
a ‘prosthesis’ and the internet as something that a few geeks engaged with during
their free time. Today the distinction between the virtual and real life has become
redundant. Digitalisation, like a revolution, has changed our lives drastically.
Far from being a tool, it has become ‘a condition and context that defines our
understanding of the self, society and political governance’ (Shah, 2016).
In fact, digitalisation has affected the very concept of democracy in many
ways. Today, democracy has come out a long way from territorial representation
to participatory and deliberative mode primarily due to the breathtaking inno-
vations in information and communication technologies. In the 1980s, the idea
of teledemocracy emerged where citizens could ‘perform politics’ through net-
working without any intermediaries such as political parties or pressure groups.
The removal of space barriers was supposed to lead towards some sort of direct
democracy (Arterton, 1987; Barber, 1984; Becker, 1981).
In the early 1990s, the concept of virtual community emerged with the expec-
tation that it would make up for the lost community in modern society by stimu-
lating both online communities and supporting physical communities (Rheingold,
1993). However, it was only at the dawn of the new millennium that the internet
hype spread on a massive scale in society. With the prospect of mass participation
in politics and policymaking through the internet, the concept of ‘new democracy’
came into being. It made possible for the citizens to bypass institutional politics
and the state by creating political space for themselves in reality. The govern-
ments, too, started experimenting online consultation with citizens to seek their
approval and legitimacy through broadened participation (Shapiro, 2000).
With the sharp rise in the social and political use of the internet in the current
scenario, we find a transition from representative to participatory democracy.
Today, it has become possible for the citizens to produce ‘user generated content’
and contribute to policymaking through online petitions, civic journalism, ref-
erendum and plebiscite. It has definitely enhanced the speed of deliberation and
democratisation of digital media. By digitalisation of democracy we imply the
‘pursuit and practice of democracy using digital media in online and offline politi-
cal communication’ (van Dijk, 2013). It is different from the classical legalistic

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