The Tamil Wikipedia was created in 2003. Tamil is a widely spoken language not just in South India but also in Sri Lanka and in South East Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia. Tamil Wikipedia has approx. 175170 registered users, with over 400 active editors. The number of administrators is 40. More information is listed in the table below:
|Pages with content
(including talk pages, redirects, etc.)
|Page edits since Wikipedia was set up
|Registered users (list of members)
|Autocomplete (member list)
|Administrators (list of members)
|Officers (Member List)
|Interface administrators (list of members)
|Managers (list of members)
|User account creators (list of members)
|Oversighters (list of members)
|Automatically patrolling users (list of members)
|Patrols (member list)
|Sevenval (list of members)
Status of behavioural policies in the community
Most of the behavioural policies in Tamil Wikipedia are taken from English Wikipedia. For instance, the five pillars article is an accurate reproduction of English policies. The number of specific behaviour policies on the projects is very less with little discussions. In the general list of policies page in Tamil, only 3-4 users made the contributions. Most of the discussions date back to 2009 - 2012. The latest edit is dated to 2017.
Tamil Wikipedia does not have a policy page on harassment, civility, a fresh start, vandalism, edit warring, ownership of content and dispute resolution. The other policy pages have been adapted from English Wikipedia policies. The ‘No personal attack’ section does not get into details of how personal attacks can manifest on the platform and how one can respond if one finds themselves in such a situation. Tamil Wikipedia has used ‘compliance’ instead of consensus. There is a clear word for consensus in Tamil but that hasn’t been used. This section does not replicate the English section, which is far more detailed. ‘No legal threats’ is a clear reproduction of English Wikipedia. They have not translated most of the text in Tamil.
I reached out to the community primarily through networking methods. The first thing I did was to reach out to people I knew within the community, who then connected me to others. I also looked up old blog posts concerning Indian Wikipedian Communities and found some active Wikipedians and wrote to them using Wikimail. I also put up a post on Tamil Wikipedia’s village pump space. However, the response rate was almost zero. The response from directly approaching people through personal references by email was most helpful for me. I ensured that the person I wrote to had at least one person in common. It added to the trustworthiness.
The community members I spoke with expressed strong support for the UCoC. They expressed a need for more awareness programs regarding UCoC, preferably through one-to-one communications. A few users pointed out that there is a lack of clarity on what is considered ‘offensive’, which makes the rules a little blurred.
Women have said they don’t like aggressive behaviour by men in general. One woman reported having lost interest in Wikipedia after seeing how viciously an argument carried out in her community. I also received some feedback about challenges faced by the newbies and other editing related issues. For example, I was told that newcomers find the working atmosphere a little difficult because people end up deleting information from the pages. They said older admins aren’t patient towards newcomers’ mistakes.
For the editing challenges, Tamil language Wikipedia faces difficulties in publishing information about Sri Lankan Tamils and related topics. This is because there is a paucity of secondary literature and the contributors say that often the principle of notability is ruthlessly applied by the admins.
A few participants spoke about the need for clear enforcement guidelines and expressed that the community should have more control on the implementation part. Some of them gave instances of how there are repeated offenders and their frustrations regarding them and the fact that they don’t know how to stop them.
Stories that stand out
Story 1: Comments I received suggest that the Tamil community is very strict with respect to using words pertaining to sexuality. In one of the stories told to me, a user expressed that people with strong religious beliefs in the community get offended on the use of certain terminologies that we use in articles about LGBTQIA issues. The discussions with them can be difficult. The challenge is that many of the LGBTQIA terminologies did not exist 15-20 years ago, hence the terms are not historic. But many senior editors insist on using historic terms which are hard to find. For example, ‘Nambi’ and ‘Nangai’ are commonly used terms in the LGBTQIA community to represent homosexual men and women respectively. But these words are not allowed to be used on Tamil Wikipedia. Tamil Wikipedia uses a word called ‘Akanan’, which is a word that is rarely used otherwise. They then gave an example of how the word gay, that was used in the context of cheerfulness has now evolved to refer to a homosexual person (mainly man). This has reflected in the way how the English language and the community of speakers have started using the word ‘gay’ to refer a homosexual person and how to not use it would constitute an erasure in a way. The user said, “If there was an LGBTQIA group, that would have made a difference. If there was a community, that would have made all the difference.”
Similarly, ‘Oonamutror’ (person with problems) is an offensive term for people with disabilities. However, it is still used on Tamil Wikipedia in many places. Instead, Matruthirunaaligal (மாற்றுத்திறனாளிகள்) can be used, which means people with different abilities. A lot of terminologies have changed in the general perspective but they are still being discussed and debated on Tamil Wikipedia.
Story 2: A woman shared her experience of how she has experienced hijacking of her public presentations about Tamil Wikipedia by a man on multiple occasions. She said he monopolised the sessions and did not allow her to speak. During a 3- day training, one of the male Wikipedians did not allow her to speak at all. The female Wikipedian knew the group of people being trained and was most equipped to do the task. Frustrated at the male Wikipedian having snatched the opportunity from her, she gave a presentation on the third day after the group of trainees requested her. And from their feedback she learnt that they understood everything only after her presentation. It made her feel that they wasted three days and it was very frustrating and upsetting for her. At another event sometime later, the same female editor was asked to deliver a presentation. “A few other Tamil Wikipedia community members were also present at the conference. One man requested that he be allowed to present just two slides. She thought since a number of Tamil Wikipedias are present at the event, everyone should have the right to speak thus, agreed. However, the male editor again monopolised the presentation and continued talking and ultimately there was no time for the female editor to speak.”
Tamil Wikipedia community is a close-knit community. It has a lot more admins than other Indian language Wikipedias. The community usually focuses more on content related issues than the conduct ones. The community has a culture of rapid deletion of articles with inclusionists v/s deletionists being a common cause for conflicts. Resolutions of conflicts are arbitrary. There is also a culture of people working within the framework of policies but following a very rigid approach to implementing policies which can feel like harassment.
Other issues include maintaining some sort of objectivity related to religious and political articles. In terms of behavioural issues, the major challenges are around male dominance during events. A few women I spoke to did speak about the harassment they have faced. Women expressed that sometimes they need mentorship. This system is not prevalent in the community but should exist.
The members who participated in the discussion, support the idea of a universal code of conduct and stressed on the need for more awareness about it. A few members have asked for more community control vis-a-vis the implementation of UCoC. Community members suggested that UCoC should have examples showcasing good behaviour expected from the community.
Interesting stories from other India language communities
1.) One female Wikipedian who has had the opportunity to work with different language Wikipedian communities observes that casual sexism and ageism exists in many Indic language communities. She noted that senior editors often feel that they should be ‘respected’ only on the grounds that they are seniors. “It is very hierarchical,” she said.
She also added that people not well-networked within Indic language communities (people lacking economic resources to network), were regularly ignored. When events are organised, participation of people from different backgrounds are not always factored in. She remembers speaking to a person who had some back issue/ bladder problem, and couldn’t attend in person events even though he was interested. She suggested enabling remote participation in physical events for people who cannot attend. She also spoke about usual suspects that are always dominating conversations, and suggested that event organisers should take note of this and ensure other voices are able to speak.
2.) Another female Indic language Wikipedian I spoke with talked about how she gets taunted “for getting opportunities” just because she’s a woman. She also felt that senior editors don’t encourage newer editors. Possibly frustrated by the taunts, she also felt negative about positive discriminative policies towards women. “After the goals of the gender gap are addressed, we should stop saying that we favour women. Because the taunts ‘you got selected because you are a woman’ will never end,” she said.
3.) A senior academic that has closely worked with various Indic language communities in the past said that she’s sceptical about anything titled “universal”. “Nothing is universal. Unless properly thought out. UCoC will seem like a western imposition of western norms in other communities.” She insisted that communities need to be in control of guidelines and that it should reflect communities’ specific struggles. Guidelines should be broad and communities should have the flexibility to formulate specific rules from them. She also added, “Enlarge the idea of community. Community cannot just be people that regularly keep contributing to Wikipedia. If we continue only talking to them, then we will be reinforcing the status quo. We need to follow-up with people that have quit editing Wikipedia. Why have they quit? Policies should emerge from these experiences.”
4.) A senior person in the gender gap movement within Wikipedia in India had some doubts regarding the implementation of UCoC. “If there is UCoC, who is going to implement it? If most of the staff or community members are men, who will handle sexual harassment complaints?” She also asked, “If after UCoC is introduced, will the Trust and Safety team take suo-moto complaints? Or will they wait for the complainant to file complaints?” She insisted that UCoC should have a clear redressal mechanism. “What do you do when there is non compliance and when there is no compliance? How are you going to implement this on a community level?” She also said that UCoC should have a higher level of abstraction where cultural differences could be factored in. “For instance, hugging is not encouraged in some cultures. But in some cultures, not responding to hugs will be considered rude.” She also narrated an incident where a male Wikipedian doxxed her details on pages administered by WMF exclusively. “And even then there was no punitive action against them. A notice was taken against him only after “a lot of effort” from the complainants.” She also shared another incident of harassment that she experienced during a prominent Wiki event. Somebody took a picture of them without her consent and put it up on Wiki Commons. She was identified by name. She filed an official complaint with Wiki Commons admins. But they responded that “consent is not necessary”. They finally deleted the photo not because of violation of consent but because they accepted her argument that her photo had no encyclopaedic value.”
5.) Another woman who contributes to English Wikipedia had a comment about misrepresentation. “Once someone had received a grant for a WMF project and they had listed a museum as a beneficiary. When in actuality they had not received an official go-ahead from the museum. So I did not know where to complain. Issue was misrepresentation. A person who has got a Wikimedia Foundation grant should be answerable if questions are raised about the project.”
6.) Another relatively new Indic language Wikimedian shared their experience as well. They started a group in their college that largely consists of women. They shared an incident of a user who was leading a group of about 15 people teaching them how to use Wikisource. Despite putting up a notice on their project saying that they were working with newcomers and that there would be mistakes, they faced interference from a community member, who was irritated and annoyed with the mistakes. The participating user said actions like this dissuade participation of new editors. The user also pointed out that there is less participation of female editors in community events.
7.) One editor refers to the older (founding members) of a particular Indian language Wikipedia as the ‘community’. The user does not consider themselves a part of the community even though they actively edit because there is a general understanding in the community that only very old members constitute a community and not the new ones. The user said that many editors do not have any idea about whom to complain and what process to follow if they have any problem. The user said that they did not know about UCoC and would welcome awareness initiatives about the same.
Marathi Wikipedia insights
Marathi is a prominent Indic language Wikimedia Community. Many Marathi editors also edit in other languages such as English and Hindi. I conducted the facilitation in Marathi community only on the sidelines of my interaction with Tamil and Malayalam community members who connected me with some editors from Marathi community. Therefore my insights about this community are not deep. However, I felt that the stories that I have heard from this community are worth sharing.
I interacted mostly with female editors. Editors I spoke with said that many editors do not know the rules properly. One editor said, “Sometimes, users do not know that a single person cannot have more than one account on Wikipedia. However, if someone does this by mistake, a very harsh treatment is meted out to them. This leads them to quitting contributing to the project. They need more sessions on understanding the rules and policies better.”
One contributor who doesn’t contribute to Marathi Wikipedia but follows the community closely said that in Marathi Wikipedia, as late as 4-5 years ago, an editor held the position of administrator and bureaucrat. But they took no role in providing support to the community in cases of abuse, misbehaviour, or attacks in bad faith. they had a one man crusade against English Wikipedia. They hated any Wikipedian writing in English. When Marathi Wikipedia came up, a certain group of editors took it over. They did not want a single citation to come from an English source. This was very challenging to some editors as serious Wikipedia editing requires references and it’s almost impossible not to refer to English sources.
Marathi Wikipedia does not have a single female admin. Women who have applied for the position in the past said that they have not received any support from the community even if they were well qualified for the position.
The issue of caste
In Indian communities, discrimination on the basis of caste is prominent. The spillover effect of this custom can be seen in the Wikimedia communities as well.
One Wikipedian contributing to English Wikipedia revealed that Dalit Wikipedians plan their outreach activities in secret. This is mostly because the editor has seen Savarna (upper caste) people gatecrashing Dalit community events. The user also added that they feel very unsafe in conducting these events in open.
Another user notes that people are not able to call out casteism as casteism because it is very hard to talk about the issue.The editor recollected an experience where a Dalit Wikipedian (who is not open about their background) told them that they often felt as if they are being profiled in a different way on the basis of where they lived. This is because their community members never agreed to meet them in the area the community member lived and that their concerns were never factored in.
One community member who has had the opportunities to interact with different Indian language Wikipedia communities recollected an incident from a cross community event. The main aim of the event was to enable various communities to mix and interact. And hence, the invitees were randomly assigned rooms to be shared with people from different communities. Two community members objected to sharing a room with a lower caste community member. When the organisers did not accommodate their request, they went and slept in a different room with their friends at night.
She observes men pinging women Wikipedians on non-Wiki platforms have made women uncomfortable. A lot of women join Wikipedia after they see their friends or family members (largely male) join. They turn to them for support in face of harassment. While they have the social support, what happens to women who join the movement on their own. Whom do they turn to? Microaggressions included being surprised at high achieving female Wikipedians. Women reported to have received unsolicited positive and negative comments about their appearance. She insists that harassment on talk pages of female Wikipedians is a “real” thing.
What should be in a UCoC
UCoC policies should have an intersectional lens. According to her UCoC has to cover slightest harassment to really bad acts of abuse. UCoC should also outline the support out there. People should know that if they do experience harassment, who can they turn to. The focus should also be how to ensure that the next person does not experience this. She also added that UCoC should avoid excessive shaming of ‘harassers’. “One needs to educate the person. More efforts should be made to educate people to be sensitive towards people who are different.” She also said, “UCoC should have an educating practice rather than a punishing practice. People should learn but they needn’t do it through punishment. Some action should be taken towards people who are repeat offenders.”
Making UCoC interactive should be a focus, she suggested. “It should have case studies, hypothetical scenarios. If you could provide solutions to some of the problems. I wouldn’t hold the solutions as a one-size-fits-all approach. Having a lot of examples will be helpful. CoC’s can be a long document and can be boring. The way you present it to people would be so crucial. Gamification, infographics, posters etc. will make people read it.”