Wikipedia – Bringing Free Knowledge to Everyone

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free… – Rabindranath Tagore

Wikipedia is a truly amazing project which aims at making the vast pool of knowledge available to everyone for free. was part of the Wiki Conference India held in Mumbai from Nov. 18- 20, 2011. The conference was scheduled to start with a session by Jimmy Wales at 8.30 AM on the first day. On reaching the Fort campus of Mumbai University, the venue for the conference, I was surprised to see battalions of policemen and mandatory security checks. On talking to organisers I came to know that the youth wing of Bharatiya Janata Party had called for a protest against the unofficial maps used in some Wikipedia articles. Fortunately, there were no untoward incidents during the conference except for some brief slogan shouting outside the venue on the first day.

Jimmy Wales’s session saw the huge convocation hall of the Mumbai University overflowing with delegates, and Jimmy Wales remarked that it was the biggest gathering that he has seen at any Wikipedia conference including the Wikimania, the annual Wikipedia conference. In his presentation he stressed on the opportunities in the regional language Wikipedias and also stressed on the need to improve the Mediawiki software so that it is easier to edit articles.

The best part of the conference was the opportunity it presented to interact with members of the community. There was sizeable representation from the various language communities from Marathi to Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam and Nepali. It was a good opportunity to introduce the concept ofFreedom Box to the developers among them and I distributed a fewflyers on the project. It was indeed a joy to find that most of them were aware of the project. I do hope more start contributing to the code soon so that the world will soon will have privacy protected and easy-to-use communication systems.




On the second day I was part of a panel thatdiscussed “”. The panel consisted of Anja Kovacs from the Internet Democracy Project, Raman Jit Singh Chima from Google, Arjuna Rao Chavala, President of the WikiMedia Chapter and Prof.Shishir Jha from IIT Mumbai. The panel discussed the issues ranging from freedom in the net, the effect of the recently notified IT intermediary rules on Wikipedia and Freedom Box to Creative Commons licenses. The panel explained how the recently notified IT rules could create legal risks fro Wikipedia and have chilling effects on freedom of speech. There was good participation from the audience too, although time constraint forced us to limit the number of questions form the audience.(Thanks to Rahul Matthan for the picture)
On the third day, it was really a pleasant surprise to listen to Achu Kulangara, a 10 year old Wikipedia editor presenting on Wikipedia at schools. The conference was a learning experience listening to keynote address by Barry Newstead, technical panel discussions moderated by Sumana Harihareswara, editing tutorial by Ashwin Baindur, presentation on gender gap issues by Harriet Vidyasagar and other panels and presentations on a wide range of topics. The conference showcased the strength of the Wikipedia community in India and their belief in the mission to make knowledge accessible to all.

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