Saturday, 5 March 2011

Online Culture

Courtesy: The Assam Tribune, Horizon (March 5, 2011)
By RK Rishikesh Sinha

Note: For the early regular readers of the BishnupriyaManipuri Online, the facts presented here are not new. They have read — Guess Who Is Watching Us?, Bishnupriya Manipuri in the Internet: Past, Present and Future, and The Financial Express highlights contribution of Bishnupriya Manipuri in Wikipedia. This article, exclusively written on the Bishnupriya Manipuri status in the Internet, is a first-of-its kind attempt to take this fact into the traditional media, the print. 

To the question — what has been the extent of participation of Indian languages vis-à-vis Northeastern languages in the Wikipedia? Broadly speaking, it could be said that it is woefully under-represented comparing the number of diverse languages that are a part of the Indian identity. In this context, the Bishnupriya Manipuri language contribution to the world’s fifth largest website, the Wikipedia, is worth to mention. Bishnupriya Manipuri language is the fifth largest Indian language in terms of contribution of articles in the website — over 20,000 articles as on December 31, 2010.

What is more unique and distinct about the language is that it is the only Indian language in Wikipedia which is spoken by a linguistically minority community living in Assam and Tripura. It is to be noted that the other Indian languages that have its participation are: (as on 31 December 2010) Hindi with 61,019 articles, Telugu (47,597), Marathi (32,875), Tamil (26,947), Bishnupriya Manipuri (24,819), Bengali (21,964), Gujarati (18,076), Malayalam (16,473), Urdu (15,617), Nepali (11,410), Kannada (10,236), Sanskrit (4,318), Bihari (2,703), Pali (2,322), Punjabi (2,030), Oriya (723), Kashmiri (465), Sindhi (350), Assamese (304).

Wikipedia is a free, web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Launched in 15 January 2001, the website today includes 15 million freely usable articles in over 200 languages worldwide written by a million registered user accounts and countless anonymous contributors. It has become the ‘ultimate’ democratic tool for sharing knowledge across the globe. Imagining the Internet without Wikipedia would be dull and boring. 

Just one year after the inception of Wikipedia in 2001, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese and Malayalam became the first Indian language Wikipedias and were all started in 2002. From the Northeastern languages, the Assamese Wikipedia was started in the month of June 2002, and the Bishnupriya Manipuri Wikipedia in August 2006 and it crossed 1000 articles in November 2006. The first Hindi article came in July 2003 and it crossed 1000 articles in September 2005; the first Telugu article appeared in December 2003; the first Marathi article came into sight in May 2003; and the first Tamil article in September 2003.

Many state governments in India have taken note of the activities taking place in the online space of Wikipedia. The Kerala government distributed offline version of Malayalam Wikipedia containing 500 selected articles to thousands of schools in the state. The Tamil Nadu government released a glossary of thousands of technical terms for use in the Tamil Wiktionary project and also organised an article competition across the State covering over 3000 universities and colleges.

Like Malayalam and Tamil Wikipedias which has got support from governments, it would be fool’s dream to expect the same encouragement for Bishnupriya Manipuri version despite building up a mammoth online literature. It is matter of concern and in the same breathe a reason to smile to the fact that the treasure house of Bishnupriya Manipuri language and culture has been built by only 26 contributors of which three are very active Wikipedians since its inception! In contrast, over 800 Wikipedians have contributed in the Tamil language of Wikipedia.

One may think — what has been the reason behind the rejuvenation of the language in the Internet world? Yes, the very democratic nature of the Internet to generate and distribute content without any check — which was a distant dream before the advent of the Internet — is precisely the reason. What printing machine has done for the enrichment for the major languages, the Internet has also done the same. Today, the Bishnupriya Manipuri community has a number of close knit of web entities meeting the aspiration of the people.

However, challenges are galore to take the online properties devoted to the community to the next orbit and it holds true with Wikipedia as well. First, there is low penetration of Internet access among majority of the population thus impending them to read and contribute to the online content. Second, it does not have the critical mass of web-savvy skilled writers. Third, there is no institutionalized effort to congregate information and knowledge. Fourth, low awareness about Bishnupriya Manipuri typing tools; and fifth low awareness about Bishnupriya Manipuri Wikipedia. These are the concerns  of the online community.

Few of the problems could be sorted out taking inspiration from the Tamil Wikipedians. Scores of workshops were organized by Tamil Wikipedians during which the participants were introduced to the Tamil Wikipedia, explained about its philosophy and usefullness, and tutored on typing in Tamil and basic editing. Half a dozen introductory talks were delivered in meetups of other groups. These have been conducted in colleges including the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, workplaces, and special interest clubs. These workshops and talks have had positive impact by bringing new active editors from various backgrounds. The Bishnupriya Manipuri community may well follow this model to enliven their net presence. Here the literary and other social organizations must play their pivotal roles.
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