Bishakha Dutta has no background in wiki editing

The virtual close-knit community of Wikipedians in India was bemused last week when the Wikimedia Foundation appointed its first ever Indian board member. The predominantly male community was further astounded that the appointee was a woman, an “outsider” at that, with no background or involvement in wiki editing.

Former journalist, film-maker and activist Bishakha Dutta from Mumbai is Wikipedia India's new face. The appointment precedes another major announcement, one that has been on the cards for a few months now: the formation of a formal Indian Wikipedia chapter. Even as the nitty-gritty of the chapter formation is being worked out, Ms. Dutta is already in the thick of wiki activity.

“Terribly excited”

Speaking on the sidelines of her first wiki-meet, held at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, she says she is “terribly excited.” She listens intently as wiki volunteers make presentations on the technical aspects of editing and various other outreach activities. When something strikes her as important, she scribbles furiously in her notepad. Ms. Dutta plans to start active editing soon.

“It always fascinated me that in our globalised and consumerist world such a collaborative initiative has been able to survive for over a decade. By reversing many known wisdoms, Wikipedia has given us a new paradigm for the creation of knowledge,” she says.

In India, she points out that Wikipedia has been able to drive the growth of regional language content on the internet.

In an informal study released in 2008, the Wikimedia Foundation reported that only 13 per cent of contributors to this online encyclopaedia are women. These numbers are even more skewed in India. Even at the Bangalore Wikipedia meet, Ms. Dutta is conspicuous, being the only woman.

She emphasises that getting more women on board is her top priority. “This is reflective of the fact that women do not think of themselves as creators of content. This needs to be changed by conducting activities that will help drive this change. Women need to realise they can put up pages that are important to them — and this could include anything from women's activism to women-centric hobbies,” she says.

Ms. Dutta points out that despite growing content on India, there is not a single wiki entry on the iconic woman Bhanwari Devi, who was gang-raped in Rajasthan, or the Bilkis Bano case.

Huge video archive

Incidentally, Ms Dutta was also part of the Public Access Digital Media Archive, a large open video archive founded in 2008 by Indian and German non-profits and collectives. She says the appointment process was no less rigorous than a job interview. “Once I was nominated, I was called by head hunters from San Francisco, which was followed by several rounds of interviews,” she says.

There is immense interest in India on the Wiki board. In late 2010, the Wikimedia Foundation will begin implementing its new five-year plan, which will include its first-ever on-the-ground activities designed for growing readers and editors within specific geographies, including India.