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Wikimania 2007 Taipei :: a Globe in Accord

This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2007 (Index of presentations)

The history and the current status of Hindi wikipedia and it's communities.

Author Ravi Kant (Sarai programme of the CSDS)
Track Wikimedia Community
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the author

Ravikant is a historian, writer and translator, working with Sarai programme of the CSDS, Delhi on issues such as Language, Technolgy and popular culture. He has also been associated with Indlinux, the platform of volunteers responsible for localising free software desktops like Gnome and .kde. He has Co-edited three books:Translating Partition, Katha New Delhi, 2001. Deewan-e-sarai 01: media vimarsh://hindi janpad(Vani prakashan, 2003), and Deewan-e-sarai 01: Shaharnaama(2005).

The history of Hindi language and the public domain it constitutes is marked by a series of glorious struggles against colonialism as well as by narrow sectarian divides that led to a cultural and linguistic partition much before the actual Partition of India into two and finally three countries. Hindi remained an embattled, skewed and even constrained language even after the state patronage it received in the post- Independence India. In an effort to standardise while nationalising a whole array of linguistic cultures, it also moved away from its natural habitat and resource base of languages such as Urdu and/or Hindustani and hundreds of dialects of the North Indian regions, also known as the Hindi belt. The state monopoly of the mass media such as radio and television before Liberalisation did not help matters either. However, Hindi flourished certainly in the literary domain but more so in the area and because of cinematic productions coming from what is known as


This was the situation in the age before globalisation started having an impact on languages the world over. In India the time also coincides with the explosion of content in Hindi and Hindi newspapers clocking an all-time high in readership surveys. The growing media market is driven by numbers of which Hindi has plenty. The ever hungry channels and the endless stream of new publications have started spewing content round the clock. Add to this the emergent post-unicode world of writers and practioners working on the internet through their blogs, sites and discussion lists. All of this has broken the old mould in which the linguistic field was caught and the content definitely shows a variety and the style is refreshingly different from the officious language which had become the primary identity of Hindi.

The rather slow growth of Hindi wikipedia should be measured against this peculiarly intertwined social history of media, technology and language. The freedom that wikipedia as a space grants would have to be assessed by the the quality of cultural productions on offer on the ground, and of course, ways of doing a wiki would be determined by the assumptions language users have about whats, hows and whys of language as well as content. My own sense after the preliminary investigations is that wikipedia has emerged as an important resource through which Hindi is trying to break free from its troubled past. Wiki foundation itself has tried to keep it open from narrow identitarian demands, and there are enough people who see sense in this. Hindi Wiki has taken baby steps towards redefining what constitutes as knowledge. Like free software, its appeal lies in the fact that it can belong to one and all at the same time. So, first of all, it will enrich Hindi by producing content in areas where there has been a singular lack: humanities, film studies, media studies, history and practice of technologies and sciences. In Hindi at least there is not much competition from existing encyclopaedias, a chance which Wikipedia should grab with both hands. There is much hunger for material in the Hindi region: what it lacks is connectivity at the mass level and an awareness about tools such as wikipedia and also that you can do wikipedia in your own language!

So my presentation will try to look at the range of material on the Hindi Wiki so far and suggest ways of improving both content and enabling a community which is used to writing and publishing furiously in print, to write for a larger global public. I will also present a critical account of successful projects, while suggesting ways of expansion. We have a long way to go, but the start looks promising.

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