Weak mobile internet connectivity has pushed several students in a village in Maharashtra's Gondia district to climb a "network tree" in search of uninterrupted signals for online classes.
Internet penetration is still a challenge in many rural areas which sits at odds with the Digital India narrative by the central government. Prime Minster Narendra Modi, speaking to beneficiaries of various schemes of Digital India programme at a recent event, said he believes this to be "India's techade".
Atul Gondhale, a student whose village is 18 km away, walked through fields to reach a particular tree to find network for his online polytechnic college class. The villagers have named it "network tree".
"Every day one has to come near this tree to study. Often classes are missed due to heavy rain in monsoon. This is the only place where the network is good, other places have no network," says Atul Gondhale.
This tree, which is about 200 meters away from the lone mobile network tower in the area, is the only spot where students of the village say they can access the internet. It has become the students' watering hole.
For the last 15 months, around 150 students of the village get their notebooks for online studies and reach here with a mobile phone, pens, headphones.
There is no internet available on the phone at home or other nearby places.
Those who do not want to come here, have to travel far to the next village.
"We can't attend online classes from home, and we have to bring books here. Sometimes there is a class at 8 or 8:30 at night. Yet we have to come here to study. There is no network available on our mobile phones. If we have to reach the teacher or pass on information by calling, that is not possible," says Mayur Hattimare, a student.
When the government decided to shut schools and introduce online classes due to the pandemic, it was seen as a move to save lives.
But the lack of necessary infrastructure, including poor internet reach in several parts of India, is now a huge challenge for students on the other side of the internet divide.