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Wikipedia’s cultural mission in India

After moving to big cities, some preserve their culture through Wikipedia entries written in regional languages.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
When Subhashish Panigrahi moved to Bangalore, far from his hometown in Odisha in eastern India, it was Wikipedia that helped him keep in touch with his roots. He started writing articles on the arts, literature, food, and even tourist attractions in his home region on Odia Wikipedia, “odia” being the local language. Ditto for Bala Sundara Raman, from a southern Indian town, and his contribution to Tamil Wikipedia.

Mr. Panigrahi and Mr. Raman are a small part of a community of Indian “Wikipedians” who are using the website to document their culture. As they live in cities and work at jobs that require them to speak English, Wikipedia keeps them connected to their first language.

Wikipedians, all volunteers, also work to spread technical and scientific knowledge beyond the English-savvy minority of Internet users in India. Panigrahi recently joined the Wikimedia Foundation in New Delhi, the first Wikipedia office outside the United States, set up with the aim of increasing the quality and quantity of regional language content.

“This is much better than blogging,” says Panigrahi. “Everything is teamwork, and I have been able to encourage other young Odias to pitch in with their efforts.”

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