Hindi hain Hum!

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Feb - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Feb - 2005
Hindi hain  Hum!
For long, computers in India have been restricted to those who understand English, cutting off a large potential user base. A movement has been taking shape since 1997 that could finally brought the power of computing to the masses.

The Bharatbhasha initiative was launched with the aim of providing free software to the masses. With the advent and growth of open source programs, this has become reality.

A volunteer project, IndLinux, focusing on widening the reach of computing to an estimated 1.3 billion people who understand Hindi, the fourth largest language group in the world, has been at the forefront of this movement. Founded by Prakash Advani and Venkatesh "Venky" Hariharan, IndLinux initially received support from FreeOS.com and is currently aided by Netcore Solutions.

Prakash Advani, who is also the Linux Practice Head, Onward Novell Software (I) Pvt Ltd, says, "For any technology to be adopted, it has to be localised. For Linux to be accepted among the masses, it is necessary that we localise the common applications and interfaces. Translations are key foundations of the localisation effort, and so we decided to translate common applications such as KDE, GAIM and GNOME," says Advani.

How It All Started
IndLinux started working primarily on Hindi and helped set up localisation teams for other regional languages. The main goal of IndLinux is to create a fully Indian language-enabled distribution system.

The project started around the year 2000 with Advani and Hariharan joining forces. In the first two years of operations, the main bottleneck was fonts.

Says Guntapalli Karunakar, coordinator at IndLinux, "Our major problem was that we did not have good quality fonts, so the display wasn't very good. We have developed our own fonts-our design team and other artists helped design fonts, while the technical aspect was handled by myself and a few others." When the Bharatbasha initiative was launched, 'Susha' was the only free Devnagri available.

Venky, co-founder, IndLinux, explains, "Back then, software vendors were selling fonts for nearly Rs 10,000-exorbitant by Indian standards. It was essential to make things affordable. Even if half of of India's Hindi-speaking population is illiterate, it still leaves us with 200 million who speak, read and write Hindi. We wanted to create a platform where anybody could use applications and software was not restricted to a chosen few."

Even if half of of India's Hindi-speaking population is illiterate, it still leaves us with 200 million who speak, read and write Hindi
Venkatesh Hariharan, Co-founder IndLinux

With this aim in mind, IndLinux sta rted looking for volunteers who would translate for free. Posting messages on forums, word-of-mouth, mailing lists and other such initiatives helped bring in the volunteers. The main applications that the team started working on were KDE 3.2, GNOME 2.8 and GAIM. Today, KDE and GAIM have been completely translated into Hindi, and GNOME is nearing completion.

Gaining Momentum
When the IndLinux team decided to widen their scope of work, they held a workshop at the Homi Bhabha centre in Bangalore. In fact, invites were sent to only 17 people, but more than 40 turned up for the workshop, including a Myanmar national. What started as a small group is now a full-fledged movement.

Besides Hindi, the free software is being translated into other regional Indian languages including Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi and Telugu. Says Karunakar: "Just like our group works on Hindi, there are other groups for different languages. Translations in Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and Tamil are at a usable stage while Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Telugu and Oriya are progressing steadily. We now have Linux bootable CDs that boot into the language chosen."

Volunteers sign up for translation in their spare time. Hariharan says, "For open source, it is very critical to have volunteers. But, before allocating them any work, we look at their enthusiasm, commitment and available spare time. We also have collegians volunteering with us." Localisation is a global movement and Indians are getting involved in translating software into regional languages.

The Main Man
A team spread across the country is difficult to manage. Nevertheless, the work on the Linux front has been well coordinated and is nearing completion. Ravishankar Shrivastava, one of the main volunteers, has been instrumental in the Hindi translation of KDE 3.2, GNOME 2.8 and GAIM.

Shrivastava was technocrat with the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board (MPSEB) who voluntarily retired in order to dedicate more time to the translation effort, Shrivastav has translated more than 80 per cent of GNOME 2.8, 90 per cent of KDE 3.2 and all of GAIM-by himself!

"I was very fascinated by computers and have also been writing for the past ten years. When I heard about this initiative of translating software into Hindi, I wanted to contribute whole-heartedly. Around the same time, the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) was offered at work and I immediately opted for it. Initially, I could put in only one or two hours of work daily, but now, I am able to dedicate eight to nine hours."

Shrivastava has been involved with this project for four years and finds it more satisfying that his Rs 25,000 per month job.

Setting Standards
Although translation may sound like an easy job, there are a set of rules the volunteers have to follow. For instance, after someone sends in his part of the translation, it is reviewed and checked to see if the necessary standards have been met.

As a matter of fact, the team has developed a glossary of words that have already been translated into Hindi, and volunteers need to ensure that they do not use a new term for a word already in the glossary.

Hariharan says, "Hindi is spoken in so many dialects that we had to check if the translation was Sanskrit or Urdu-based. For instance, we argued over which word should replace 'image' or 'photo'. Some had used 'Chitr' (of Sanskrit origin) in their translations, others had  used 'Tasvir' (of Urdu origin). We eventually accepted 'Chitr', as everyone would understand it."

Mozilla Bhi Hindi Mein!
Apart from Linux, Mozilla, too, is being translated into Hindi. The Mozilla team is not as large as the Linux team. It has five members-Pankaj Tamrakar, the team leader, along with Yash Tamrakar, Namita Chandrakar, Asif Iqbal and Anthony Sebastian make up the team.

The team is currently working on Hindi alone, and the translation is almost done except for error messages and working on translating all Unicode-based software such as Skype and Phpbb.

What was the reason for translating Mozilla into Hindi? Pankaj says, "In order to increase the utility of the Internet it is important to make it easy. We wanted a safe and standard Web browser. We had used Mozilla earlier; our search for the ultimate Web browser ended with it. Today, some cybercafés are successfully using the Hindi version of Mozilla."

The Market    
Indians normally converse with each other in their local languages. A reduction in the prices of computers has made them more accessible to the masses. Hariharan concurs, "One-tenth of the world's technological development occurs in India and yet most Indians do not take advantage of that. It is ironical that we develop a lot of software for export purposes and our own people are left with nothing."

True as this is, the exercise is far from over. As Robert Frost would say, "…and miles to go before I sleep…" is the status of this endeavour.

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