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The Day Wikipedia Got A Queer Feminist Makeover In Delhi

Posted on November 24, 2016 in Cake, Cake News, Sexism And Patriarchy, Women Empowerment

‘Queer Feminists’ were at the heart of discussions at a recent Wikipedia edit-a-thon organised in Delhi by Breakthrough India and Feminism In India (FII). As folks sat around, laptops propped open before them, the purpose was simple – to edit and generate more content on queer feminists in India.

Part of the larger Pride Month celebrations already underway, this event aimed to fill a much needed gap on Wiki. As Japleen Pasricha, founder of FII explained. “There was no content about LBT women,” said Pasricha. “We usually edit the stubs, but this was the first time we were creating articles.” Not to mention add to the number of women editors.

And that’s just as well because if you remember Wikimedia research fellow Sara Stierch’s famous comment about the average editor being a “well-educated white male”, well, in India, the community is dominated by well-educated, straight, cisgender, Savarna males. On the other hand, Indian women make up a paltry 3% of the Wikipedia editor community.

Breakthrough facilitator Richa Singh said it was the largest turn-out yet with 16 people in all. “We had people from organizations like Tarshi, FII interns, and others working in the sector. We also had a group of DU MPhil students from the Wikipedia community, who edit in Punjabi. There’s a lot of queer feminists who may not have a page in English, but now have a page in Punjabi!

Also on board as a research partner was Delhi-based queer feminist resource group Nazariya, who created for the participants a handy list of 14 queer feminist individuals and 7 organizations. A good effort at ensuring that those from and working with the queer community lead such a project.

But when you’re doing something like this, certain challenges are bound to arise. Like Wikipedia’s Notability Guidelines.

The issue we faced was that we didn’t have enough independent sources listed for an article to be put up,” said Singh, about the requirements Wikipedia has to allow a page to go up. “A lot of these names did not have references online. If they have a Zubaan publication, you take out their bio. Sometimes it’s the same thing repeated across websites, so there is a dearth of references.” This also had participants gaining a newfound appreciation for just how hard it is to collate information on the website.

Shobha SV of Breakthrough India mentioned another problem they’d had at an earlier edit-a-thon: “Wikipedia does not allow what is published on a personal blog as an official reference. And this is a vicious problem. We wanted to use articles and essays written by Dalit women as primary sources of information, but we can’t! And the only other alternative is to go on JStor, and find something written by a Savarna woman and use that. It’s a chicken and egg situation and it’s extremely annoying!

But that’s not all. Even existing articles can be super disappointing. Singh recalled how during their Indian Legal Professions edit-a-thon, a participant from feminist collective Hidden Pockets had been surprised by the lack of information. She added, “Indira Jaising’s page was two paragraphs!

For Aina Singh, a first-timer at the edit-a-thon, the current lack of information was alarming. “The discourse around which news sources are considered ‘legitimate’ and which aren’t is skewed in favour of the dominant hetero culture,” she observed, “which makes our resistance even more important.

Wikipedia is a major source of information for so many people in the world, and it’s worth editing it. Events like this one can go a long way in carving a little space for different identities on the vast stage of the internet. So as Shobha says, “You can go home and maybe not do this again, or until the next edit-a-thon. But that contribution that you’ve made is very valid. It’s a very tangible outcome to create an article in the absence of information.”

Featured Image Source: Breakthrough India/Twitter.