The pandemic has made people around the world adapt to things they never imagined. It is clear that our medical infrastructure is in a shambles and the economy is at an all-time low. There is another aspect which was never as important as it has become now: the internet.

A large section of Indians work away from home. Due to the lack of decent employment opportunities, young people who can do so, move to the big cities to earn a livelihood. Many could not return to their hometown during the lockdown; many who did have now returned.

Smaller towns and villages still don’t have reliable internet service. While many countries are moving towards 5G, there are places in India where even a 2G network is not available. The Telecom Regulatory Authority reported last year that India still has around 150 million subscribers to 2G or 3G services, compared with 400 million on 4G.

“In my hometown, there is no 4G service available and the broadband or wifi gives a worse speed than a 2G network,” says Sharad Aggarwal, 30, who works as a senior copy-editor in the Press Trust of India.

Aggarwal, who hails from Punchkuian in Jhansi, UP, says he did not return home after the pandemic because of the lack of internet in his hometown. “Going home would have meant to risk transmitting disease, and wasting around a month in getting wifi or broadband at home.”

He says he cannot afford to travel in such conditions, and then add an extra monthly expense of wifi at home. Nobody else in his family needs high-speed internet and they would have to install everything just for him.

So he is still working from his rented flat in Delhi. “It’s been eight months since I met my family,” he says.

Aggarwal manages video calls with friends occasionally so they both work and catch up with each other. The most difficult part for him has been washing the dishes, as he likes to cook.

He had a maid earlier who stopped coming to work after the lockdown. Now he must manage his office work as well as household chores on his own.

A similar story was shared by 27-year-old Ankur Pandita, a manager at OLX Pvt. Ltd in Ludhiana, Punjab. He hails from Jammu and Kashmir where the situation of high-speed internet connectivity is a major issue these days.

Soon after the lockdown, Pandita decided to return home to Jammu, and there he saw it would be very difficult for him to work due to the denial of high-speed internet.

As a result, he returned to Ludhiana some weeks later.

“Our software and applications are so heavy that they do not work even on 3G networks, and in Jammu there is only 2G connectivity. So I had to come back to save my job,” says Pandita in a distressed tone.

His family tried to convince him to quit his job and come home and find a new job in Jammu. He declined citing his career.

“There is more pressure of work and less growth as the market is always down in Jammu,” he shares. He says he gets dismissal threats every now and then as the business is not doing well.

“Employers know that we cannot leave the job right now, so they are taking undue advantage of the situation and burdening us with more work,” he says.

Both Sharad Aggarwal and Ankur Pandita are very fond of travelling, but for now they are confined to their working homes.

Sounding dejected, Pandita says, “We are living a professional life only, there is no personal space or life left for us.” He often surfs the net to pacify his wanderlust.

Aggarwal, on the other hand, keeps himself busy cooking.

Living alone in a city for wage-work in these conditions is also taking a toll on these men’s mental health. Amir Wani, 24, who hails from Jammu and Kashmir, did not go home either as the internet connectivity in his hometown is quite poor.

An intern at a chartered accountancy in Delhi, Wani says that he was not able to cope with the situation, so to keep himself occupied, he started working extra hours.

Recalling memories with his family, Wani says with a tremor in his voice, “My friends had the liberty to work from their place and keep themselves protected to be with their families, which I didn’t have.”

The denial of adequate internet services is taking a toll on these workers and their families. The central government has made many promises about improving connectivity, including on Independence Day last. The time has come to make good on its commitments.

Cover Photograph; Getty Images