[BANGALORE] Wikipedia in India's regional languages and accessible over mobile phones is revolutionising the way Internet content is used in this multi-lingual country, say information technology (IT) experts.
"Developing Wikipedia and other content in regional languages is a way forward to bridge the knowledge gap," says T. Vishnu Vardhan, programme director of the Access to Knowledge project at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), Bangalore.
In September, CIS signed an agreement with Goa University to train students and foster collaborative content development with Wikipedia libraries and archives in view. A similar agreement was signed in August with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, while a third is due to be signed this month with Christ University, Bangalore.
India's 28 states and seven union territories are organised on a linguistic basis and three of its vernaculars — Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi — rate among the world's ten most widely spoken languages, each with its own script.
With 70 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people and the market flooded with affordable feature phones, the majority of India's 1.2 billion people potentially have access to IT. Current usage, however, is limited to downloading entertainment content and to such applications as mobile banking.
Vardhan tells SciDev.Net that attention is now being paid to developing knowledge repositories in India's regional languages.
M. Sampath Kumar, who heads the Telugu department at the University of Madras in Chennai, says the Telugu Wikipedia is regularly used by students and researchers and is a resource for speakers of the language living abroad but eager to maintain community links.
Kumar tells SciDev.Net that literary content is popular and that there is a future for regional Wikipedia in educating the younger generation and serving as a free repository for traditional knowledge in the vernacular.
Subbiah Arunachalam, a Chennai-based IT consultant, says the effort will benefit non-English speaking rural youth at school and college levels and help bring them on par with their urban counterparts in terms of knowledge.
A programme funded by the Wikimedia Foundation and due to end in June 2014 covers the Telugu, Kannada, Oriya, Bengali and Konkani languages. A Hindi version already has 100,000 articles and recorded eight million views.
'Lilavati's Daughters', a book on Indian women scientists published by the Bangalore-based Indian Academy of Sciences, is currently being translated into the regional languages with a view to engaging women content developers and editors.
Wikipedia in Indian languages on mobile phones
Wikipedia in Indian languages
Ready access via mobile phones
Rural youth main beneficiaries