Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Language of the Government

The Language of the Government

In my earlier study I had emphasized the need for the importance of vernacular language in websites of political parties. In the study, it was clear that many political parties in India have not realized the importance of creating content in Indian languages for their websites. They are missing the convergence bus. Today, there are 48 million Internet users in India and the figures are rising every year. The literacy rate in India stands at about 66%. Out of this literate population, 83% of rural literates are not conversent with English. If we are talking of growing literacy along with growing Internet users, it can be argued that the number of Internet users who do not understand English will keep on growing. This new literate internet users will understand and like to read/browse through online content in their own language.

This was my premise for conducting another study, this time of the websites of State Governments in India. As in the previous study, this study too proved to be fascinating and the results were again quite surprising. The political parties are not bound by any rules as to how their website should be and what content they should put up on their website. However, while reading through literature on such studies, I came across a document (and a website) published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. This document has clearly stated the guidelines under which all government websites should be designed. (Click here for the website)

These guidelines have been laid down for all government and semi-government bodies, including the State Governments, Municipalities, Panchayats, etc. Once I found this document, I decided to use them to test the website designs and content of the State Governments. Though this was not an exhaustive study which I am still doing, one thing that clearly stood out was that even though there are guidelines, they are not followed in toto.

Again, many State Government websites did not have their content in a vernacular language. How can the Indian government dream of e-governance when the content is not availble in a language that the neo-literate Internet user understands? Clearly, the political parties in India and Governments which are again formed by these political parties have not woken up to the fact that there is a rapidly growing population of Internet users and they need to be catered to in form of Indian language content.

Just like the media revolution in the last decade, if there is going to be another media revolution, it's going to be vernacular internet medium.