In a continent where literacy still remains a significant concern, the Indian government hopes that providing Desi email IDs would encourage more people to get online, in a way that suits citizens, by removing the language barrier. The Indian census of 1961 recognised over a thousand languages spoken in India, of which only 22 languages have been given the status of official languages in the country. Leaving aside literacy, India is still lacking the required Internet exposure. Based on an earlier survey, by data journalism initiative IndiaSpend, only a mere 29 per cent of Indians were able to access Internet services in 2015, which has risen at a snail’s pace to just 34.8 per cent in 2016.
In July 2016, Rajiv Bansal, joint secretary in the ministry of electronics and IT, said an email ID is a necessity for everyone to access the most basic Internet services available. However, he did highlight the fact that a significant number of people in India do not know English, leave alone reading and writing in English.
Following this, the government has asked some well-known email service providers in India, such as Google, Microsoft and Rediff, to enable users to sign up for an email address in their local languages, starting with the Hindi language initially.
Rediff.com, one of India’s initial online search and email service providers, welcomed the move. “The idea is great, I believe,” said Ajit Balakrishnan, CEO of Rediff, in a statement to the The Asian Age. He also said the consumption of content with local language is on the rise and is a good sign for the industry. However, the cost of accessing the internet is still high and if the government helps reducing the costs to an affordable low, the implementation could be a success.
In another statement, a spokesperson from Microsoft said, “Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more, and as part of this mission, we are committed to develop solutions that help create economic opportunities and build IT skills by facilitating the use of local languages.”
He further mentioned, “We continue to enhance capabilities and make it easy for users to use and adopt local languages using our technology and this includes domain names in local languages. The current versions of Internet Explorer 11, Microsoft Edge and MS Outlook 2016, all support the Indian language, including Hindi. For example, domain names such as सिनेमा.भारत and internationalised email addresses such as प्रयोक्ता@डोमेन.भारत are presently available.
According to Gmail, their popular email service has already started recognising non-Latin characters, such as Chinese and Hindi, since 2014. “Gmail users can send emails to, and receive emails from, people who have these characters in their email addresses,” posted Google Software Engineer, Pedro Chaparro Monferrer, on the blog.
Though, Devanagri-based email addresses exist in India, majority of Indians either lacks the skill to use the Internet, or the online services are pretty expensive in the first place. However, the country can derive the benefit of such services by expanding affordable Internet access across the continent.
“The reason behind low uptake for the Indian language-based web is high internet access prices, hence, unaffordable for frequent users in the country,” Ajit Balakrishnan added.
India definitely needs to address the issue with literacy. However, the only way to take this step closer is by making sure the Internet is easily accessible and most of all, by offering affordable Internet services...