Here is an affirmation of one more Indian fact/stereotype — English communication is an urban phenomenon and that local languages are more popular in rural areas.
According to the Vernacular Report, 2012, of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), released on Wednesday, a higher percentage of rural people are aware of regional language content than urban users.
In India, 45 million users access content in the local language. Around 64 per cent of rural Internet users (24.3 million active users out of a total 38 million) use the Internet in the local language. But only 25 per cent of the total 84 million urban users browse the Net in regional languages (20.9 million).
By and large, the applications that are most used by regional language users include emails, search engines and news content, text chat, matrimonial services and online banking services. In rural areas, the report shows a bias in favour of sites offering government services, land records and private initiatives such as eChoupal, which provides aggregated information of interest to farmers and facilitates sale of farm produce.
Last March, Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot, speaking at a conference on mobile web initiatives, said the biggest challenge that would have to be addressed was the non-availability of online content in regional languages. According to the IAMAI report, Internet non-users have mentioned that lack of content in local language as one of the major reasons, along with lack of infrastructure.
With a low working knowledge of English in India (according to the National Readership Survey, 2006, only 18.2% of the population is English-literate; 34.2% in urban and 11.1% in rural areas), Internet penetration in India is only 12%, since content is primarily available in English.
However, the report says a number of websites have started offering translation and transliteration services that only require input of text in the phonetic equivalent of the local language in English. “The reading problem was resolved long ago, at least for Tamil,” says N. Chokkan, one of the first-generation users of Tamil on the Internet. “With the introduction of Unicode to regulate the way Tamil is being used on the Net, things have changed dramatically. Today, there are about 15 applications for the PC and five or six mobile apps purely for typing. User-generated regional media content, meanwhile, is growing on social media sites.”
This will encourage future development of online content for consumption, including user-generated content. Perfect timing, as a quarter of non-Internet users claims they intend to use the Internet in the local language in the next year.
The study covered the top metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, the cities of Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Pune, and 12 smaller cities. Five non-metro towns and 10 small towns were also included in the study. It was conducted by the e-Technology group of the Indian Market Research Bureau and the IAMAI, an industry body representing the online and mobile industry in India.