Centre for Internet & Society

A two-day workshop for students was organized by Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, University of Pune (KSPWSC), Centre for Indian Languages in Higher Education (CILHE), Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Access to Knowledge Programme, Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore (CIS-A2K) on September 11 and 12, 2014 in Pune. Tejaswini Niranjana and Tanveer Hasan summarize the developments from the workshop in this report.

Day 1

The workshop began with Tejaswini Niranjana speaking about the monolingual nature of the present day higher education system. She explained why monolingual students were disadvantaged in their pursuit of knowledge, since they could not grasp the concepts coming from the societies they lived in. The mandate of CILHE was briefly explained, and the commitment of the centre to generate accurate and relevant multi-lingual terminology for the social sciences and humanities stressed upon. She lauded the role of the KSPWSC, Pune University, in using bilingual pedagogic material and promoting an engagement with Indian language materials in their courses. The importance of using digital resources was also discussed. The collaborative nature of creating entries on the Wikipedia platform was stressed. The organizers added that students from various other institutions across the country would be participating in the larger exercise.

Next, T. Vishnu Vardhan of CIS-A2K spoke about the changing nature of knowledge repositories and the pattern of access to those repositories. He described at length the genesis of Wikipedia and the influence it has today on the way we access and understand knowledge. Different types of digital resources available to us and the nature in which they generate the knowledge and make it available was explained. Participants were also introduced to the difference between born digital material and digitized material along with the many sister projects of the Wikimedia foundation. Vishnu explained how anyone registering as an editor on Wikipedia could begin contributing to the development of this knowledge base. This was followed by a session in which the basics of Wikipedia editing were explained.

Following lunch, there was a group exercise that required the participants to pick any three concepts that were provided to them in a handout and try to explain the same without using the concept itself. This exercise was important as the participants would try to understand the concept more closely without assuming its meaning. This was self-evident. Better understanding of the concept would in turn help them to write about it or use it meaningfully in an Indian language entry on Wikipedia. Many participants found this exercise difficult in the initial stages as they fell back upon their classroom understanding of the term. They were asked to focus on explaining the concept without using the word itself but by understanding its effects and its multiple meanings.

In the second exercise, the participants made use of the material generated through the first exercise and tried to explain the denotative and connotative meanings of their chosen concept. The third exercise involved coming up with a cluster of concepts in which their chosen concept was embedded. The idea was to show how concepts derived meaning from a larger context, and could not be understood outside of their conceptual universe. The first day of the workshop ended with all the participants successfully registering themselves as Wikipedia editors, learning the basics of editing, and having taken part in an exercise that made them think about the concepts they used with greater clarity.

Day 2

Participants were asked to search for an article in the English Wikipedia for a person, a book and a concept connected to women’s studies. They were asked to identify the challenges involved if they had to translate the article into an Indian language they were familiar with. The exercise was intended to alert the participants to the kind of problems they were likely to face during the act of translation. They were also asked to come up with solutions as to how these problems could be overcome. A key problem voiced by many participants was that of the non-availability of the right phrase/term/word in Indian languages. Tejaswini Niranjana advised the participants not to reinvent the wheel but use the terms that had been coined earlier but were now out of circulation in Indian languages. She also pointed out that translation from English to Indian languages is a different process than from Indian languages to English. In the former, one has to break sentence structure to make the meaning more clear, and in the latter one has to combine the sentences. She also said that the process of translation must happen at the level of sentences and ideas and not simply at the level of terms and words.

Answering another question about the lack of social context while translating a concept, Prof. Niranjana asked the participants to use the existing historical and social writings already available in their languages to overcome this problem. These writings could be updated and edited, and current references added.

Vishnu continued the discussion of using digital platforms to create and disseminate knowledge by explaining various tools available. He stressed the importance of sharing our efforts in creating knowledge and making it widely available, and pointed out various features of Wikipedia and Google translator. Participants were shown ways by which the existing knowledge base on Google and such other digital knowledge platforms could be improved.

Everyone then started working on his/her individual entries that would be the quantitative output of this workshop. They were asked to select one topic (a book, a person, a concept) from their previous exercise and develop an article based on that in any Indian language that they preferred. Most of the entries were in Marathi, with a few participants opting for Hindi. There was an entry in Bangla as well.

At the end of the workshop, more than half of our 26 participants had fully developed entries in Indian languages. These entries contained a table of contents and references, inter-wiki references, and external links, and in some cases included images too.  Many participants wrote about personalities such as the writer Mukta Salve, the feminist theorist Mary John, and the contemporary Marathi writer Narayan Bhosle. Some wrote about concepts such as feminism, nationalism and domestic violence.

This two-day workshop proved to be immensely successful as the participants were motivated to contribute to the Wikimedia platforms regularly, and began to appreciate the importance of Indian language initiatives such as these.

We are very thankful to the entire faculty at KSPWSC, Pune University, Dr. Anagha Tambe, Dr. Swati Dyahadroy, Sneha Gole,  Sanjay Kumar Kamble, and Deepa Tak who facilitated the discussions and were of immense help in conducting the workshop.

Click to download all the photographs from the workshop.

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