The Department of Information Technology and Electronics (DeitY) will be launching Hindi language domain names on 15th August, on India’s Independence Day, reported The Economic Times, citing Dr Govind, the CEO of the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI). It will begin with the .Bharat domain name in Devanagari script. The government will enable Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) representation in Hindi before that. Apparently, the Prime Minister’s website, currently accessible through pmindia.nic.in, will be also be accessible by typing Hindi Devanagari characters for Pradhanmantri.Bharat.

At present, most online content is in English. Even in case of websites that do offer content in Indic languages the domain names are in English. Internet penetration via mobile is steadily increasing in rural areas. However most of the users in those areas aren’t proficient in English. This move by the DeitY will enable them to access websites using Hindi characters. The government is also reportedly planning to introduce domain names in other local languages – Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and Tamil.

Four years in the making

Back in October 2009, C-DAC had announced that domain names in Indic languages would be debuting soon. The announcement had come after Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) had declared that exclusive use of Latin characters for web addresses would be brought to an end. C-DAC had also claimed that they were ready with the technology required to effect this change. But in November 2011 C-DAC was still awaiting approval from ICANN, as reported by Business Standard. At the time C-DAC’s associate director Mahesh Kulkarni told Business Standard that getting ICANN approval was just the first step. He added that they would next need infrastructure and administrative experience. Another challenge that C-DAC and DeitY would have had to contend with was ensuring that domain registration businesses are technically equipped to offer this new set of domain names.

The Hindu reported that DeitY had proposed that during the initial phase Devanagari script-based languages (Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, etc) would be made part of the ccTLD. Domain names in all languages wouldn’t be released simultaneously, but in phases. Perso-Arabic script-based languages, like Sindhi, Urdu and Kashmiri, would also be included, but at a later date.

IDNs in Indian languages were to be launched in three stages, namely soft, sunrise period and public launch, reported Deccan Herald. The soft launch period would be for 60 days followed by 4-8 weeks of review and analysis. Apparently 100 government websites were identified for this purpose. During the sunrise period trademark owners, registered companies and owners of IP were to be given eight weeks to register and protect their online identities. An application fee of Rs 2000 per IDN was proposed. The public launch would be through advertisements and registrations would be done on a first-come-first-serve basis. At present it isn’t clear if the August 15 launch is the ‘public launch’.

The Economic Times report also revealed that Sarkar.Bharat and Shiksha.Bharat have already been reserved for government and educational institutions. NIXI is apparently trying to convince government departments, PSUs and business organisations to adopt .Bharat domain names.

Hindi was the obvious choice to launch IDNs in Indian languages, but the other languages need to be brought into the fold sooner than later. Will this move democratise the internet? That’s doubtful, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Nikhil adds: I wish the government would dispense with the ridiculous and pointless symbolism involved in waiting for the right date to associate with. The amount of time that gets wasted in these things just adds to the delay in adoption and usage by citizens whose taxes have paid for this work, and it probably delays other projects as well. Pointless wastage of time. Get on with it.