Sculpture of Sahasra Devata, image taken at the Crafts Museum

Imagine talking about the world’s largest free encyclopedia on a rainy weekend with a bunch of weavers, artists, potters and curators – all experts and practitioners of Indian craft traditions. Imagine hearing them talk about intricate silk embroidery, metal casting, sari motifs, Internet and their edit counts – all in one breath! This is India’s first GLAM initiative running in collaboration between the staff members at the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum in New Delhi, India (also known as the Crafts Museum) and the Hindi Wikipedia community. (Hindi is the language of choice for most of the staff members.)  We now have five new editors editing Hindi articles related to crafts like Bidriware, Madhubani paintings and Brocade.

It was particularly moving to see people from all walks of life, who have computer and internet access only at work, navigate the Indic keyboard layout to collaboratively improve these articles. As Krishan, a young stenographer at the museum said: “It’s not that beautiful craft traditions and objects don’t exist in India. In fact, they can be found in every house and village, but it is time to show the whole world what a rich culture we have. And, I am ready to contribute to Wikipedia so that millions of Hindi speakers are able read about them.”

Staff training at the Crafts Museum

Staff training at the Crafts Museum

The museum is also home to weavers, potters and painters who have buckets of wisdom and experience in their art, but do not know how to write or read. This was about extending access and participation by uploading images of the art they make. The real value of Wikipedia is in making the sum of ‘all human knowledge’ available to ‘everyone.’ This knowledge does not just come only from the literate and should not be limited only to them. This program has also been an exercise in re-imagining knowledge structures, exploring the dependence on reliable sources for extremely niche topics, and working with people “in the field” rather than just with curators.

As the Director of the Crafts Museum, Ruchira Ghose, puts it, “Crafts are always a tricky area. Here we work with objects that are still used in contemporary life. In that sense, it’s a live museum. Also, such a collaboration with Wikipedia helps us make these artisans long term stake holders in the knowledge world too. It is not enough to write books about them, it is more important to make them a part of the book writing.”  The Director in fact recently procured laptops and Internet access to support the project. The results have been very promising indeed – the Crafts Museum article in Hindi stands longer and looks prettier than the existing English article.

Pithora painter

Pithora painter

Wood painting at Crafts Museum

Wood painting at Crafts Museum

Existing Hindi Wikipedians like User:Siddhartha Ghai, User:Roboture and Commons contributors like User:Yann have also pitched in. The new and older editors  met up recently and discussed editing and working together.  User:Aniruddhajnu, a visually impaired Hindi editor helped another visually challenged staff member, User:MohitkiranUser:Anilbhardwajnoida, the official photographer at the Museum, had been editing and someone constantly helping out.  However, he had never met his online collaborating partner! Much to his surprise, Siddhartha landed up to meet him!  This meet was about sewing loose ends together and bringing Hindi editors closer.

Going forward, we will persevere to build articles that are both rich and unique.  They will not be just translations of English but about enriching Hindi Wikipedia with distinctive content.  The Director has approved a daily 1 hour editing session!  We hope the fruits of our labor inspire new GLAM projects in India very soon!

You can read more about how GLAM started in India in the “Wikipatrika” newsletter here.

You can also see the GLAM proposal presented at the Crafts Museum here.

Noopur Raval, Consultant (Communications), India Program