A draft policy framework and guidelines have been drawn up to prepare the ground for the full-fledged use of domain names (website addresses) in Indian languages, possibly by year-end or later.

The guidelines and policy, prepared by the Department of Information Technology in consultation with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), may be subject to changes before they are put in place.

Hindi is expected be the first Indian language to be made part of the new Internationalised Domain Name (IDN) system. The IDN was launched in November 2009 by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the global body that oversees the operation of the domain name or website address system.

The IDN regime, launched after years of discussion and preparation, marked the biggest change since the core protocol governing the Internet address system came into being, making it possible for users of languages with non-Latin scripts to use them in web-addresses.

As the first step, the ICANN has been permitting the introduction of a limited number of internationalised country-code top level domain names — website addresses in different languages ending with the name of the respective countries (For instance, the part that ends with a .com, .org or .edu).

The ICANN has put in place a “fast track” system, under which certain requirements will have to be fulfilled by individual countries before making their language systems operational.

The Devanagari script-based languages (Marathi, Hindi, Konkani, Sanskrit and Nepali), Gujarati, Oriya, Punjabi, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Assamese and Bangla will be included in the new language dispensation in phases. It will eventually cover all 22 official languages, including those using Perso-Arabic scripts such as Urdu, Sindhi and Kashmiri.

Most languages will have the equivalent of ‘.Bharat' as the top level domain name, but it will be ‘.India' in the case of Tamil, ‘.Bharatam' in the case of certain languages like Sanskrit and Malayalam and ‘.Hindostan' in the case of Urdu, if the proposal goes through. The guidelines envisage a three-phase strategy for the launch of the IDN regimen — a 60-day soft launch period, followed by a sunrise phase lasting eight weeks, and finally the formal public launch. The National Internet Exchange of India will be the implementing agency.

During the soft launch, Hindi domain names for a number of government websites will be made operational. During the sunrise period, when registrations at the second and third level will be allowed, trademark owners, registered companies and owners of intellectual property will be given an opportunity to protect their online identities.

In the final public launch phase, registration of website names in the Indian languages will be provided on a first-come-first-served basis.

It is not as if the enabling of IDNs would automatically make it possible for all to use the system. In the first place, user programmes such as browsers and email clients must be capable of supporting the use of local languages and scripts. Sites should start using these addresses.

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