New Delhi: When media portal LiveMint analysed Wikipedia search trends for different Indian languages, the results, published earlier this month, offered some interesting insights.
Punjabi speakers seemed to have primarily looked up information about religion, including the holy Sikh text Guru Granth Sahib, in the analysis period (January-July 2020). The Marathis appeared to be more curious about the historical icons that have emerged from their culture, and searches about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj led their Wikipedia activity.
Tamil, Assamese, Odia and Kannada readers, the LiveMint analysis found, trawled the online information repository to learn about their respective languages and literature.
However, a completely different trend emerged from the analysis of Wikipedia’s Bhojpuri pages — the most visited page was the one about “bur”, the local word for vagina. And searches about female genitalia and sexual positions, the report says, led Bhojpuri searches for the entire seven-month analysis period.
The findings come amid deepening worries about an evident proliferation of vulgar and crude content in Bhojpuri, a language primarily spoken in eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, with over 5 crore speakers. This trend manifests most prominently in Bhojpuri songs, churned out by amateurs and available freely on social media, that revel in blatant misogyny, sexualisation and double entendres.
The advent of autotune, a voice-modulation software that can help mask a lack of singing prowess, and social media is believed to be the leading factor in spawning this culture.
Speaking to ThePrint, experts and insiders say the emergence of this trend can be seen in the light of migration, which has seen educated Bhojpuri speakers leave the state, as well as suppressed sexuality in a society where the subject remains taboo.
Weighing in on the findings of the LiveMint analysis, psychologists noted how internet, with its anonymity, offers a safe space for people looking to quench their curiosity about sex. However, they added that these statistics alone are not enough to establish any trend.
‘Many factors at play’
The LiveMint analysis focused on 14 Indian languages in which Wikipedia offers content. The Bhojpuri Wikipedia page for “bur”, viewed over 1.9 lakh times in the seven months, offers information on vagina in a strictly biological context. The page comprises 1.5 per cent of the total Bhojpuri Wikipedia page views, according to the report.
However, when ThePrint independently accessed WikiStats, a portal that hosts statistics related to Wikipedia use, it discovered that this page has been among the top-three entries looked up on the website’s Bhojpuri section since October 2017. The trend even held strong through the Covid-19 pandemic
The term “sexual positions” is another frequent feature among the top 10. Other top searches included “mob lynching” — in second position — in April, and video game “PUBG”, which topped searches in July and ranked third in July.
Abhishek Suryawanshi, director of Project Wikipedia Swastha, which seeks to promote healthcare awareness, said the “key phrases being searched on Google by people of any language depend on many factors”.
“After entering a keyword on Google, they access the Wikipedia page of the phrase or word concerned. Whenever any incident takes place, people search more about it,” he added.
“For example, after the incident involving Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhojpuri users were searching not only about Sushant Singh but also about Rhea Chakraborty (his girlfriend),” Suryawanshi said.
“Apart from this, there are also many social factors at play. Pop culture has the most profound impact. If any song goes viral, people search for a particular word of that song and finally access the Wikipedia page concerned.”
Talking about the Bhojpuri pop culture, National Award-winning film-maker Nitin Chandra, who himself hails from Bihar, said, “Whatever is being created in the Bhojpuri language during the last one decade reveals a lot about its pop culture. There has been a large-scale migration in Bihar. The current elite class is not serious about Bhojpuri. Educated people have migrated to the cities.
“Which class is using the Bhojpuri language right now?” he added. “They are mainly exploited or underprivileged people. Even the listeners/audience are from the underprivileged class. Bhojpuri stars also emerged from the same exploited class. Instead of being treated as villains, they should be seen as victims of the decline in the legacy of Bhojpuri.”
The words people are Googling, he said, should be seen in the context of the “Bhojpuri songs being uploaded on YouTube”.
“Every year, hundreds of such songs are created that remain unprecedented in terms of their vulgar content. The YouTube market has also exploited this competition,” he added. “The impact these songs make on the psyche of the common man is something only psychologists can explain.”
Asked about the search trends, Dr Srinivas Rajkumar, a psychiatrist at AIIMS Delhi, said “social factors are indeed very important”. “However, in addition to this, Google or any other search engine is a kind of guilt-free space for first-time internet users. Nobody is aware of your identity. Under these conditions, people hailing from a sexually-suppressed society first look up stuff associated with sex.”
Dr Vandana Choudhary, a clinical psychologist also working at AIIMS, said there “is a great difference between making online searches about the vagina on the internet and talking about it in day-to-day life”.
“Internet provides you a kind of anonymity. The more sexuality is suppressed, the more it comes out via other methods,” she added.
Asked if the statistics should be interpreted in terms of sexuality or pornography, both Rajkumar and Choudhary said no research exists to help make that distinction. “However, if there is some information about age and gender of the users, then some patterns… can be deduced,” said Choudhary.
Wikipedia’s Suryawanshi said the organisation doesn’t gather such information. “Wikipedia doesn’t track people based on age, gender or any other personal information. It is open for all to access and does not even ask people to log in to view any information on the platform,” he added.
Gender disparity in net access
India’s internet landscape reportedly boasts of a vast gender disparity. According to a 2019 report by industry association Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), 67 per cent of the country’s 45.10 crore internet users were male and 33 per cent, female. The disparity is starker in rural India — 72 per cent to 28 per cent — than in urban parts, where men comprise 62 per cent of all internet users.
Internet use is seen as much as an asset as a potentially dangerous tool in the hands of mischievous or vulnerable elements. In the context of sexuality, the proliferation of internet pornography, especially the violent kind, has led to worries about its impact on viewers’ minds.
“Internet can work in two ways. On the one hand, it can fully satisfy you by satiating your curiosity and, on the other hand, it can also make you extremely violent. For those who become addicted to watching deviant and violent porn on the internet, violence becomes quite normal,” said Choudhary.
“If any culture has secrecy and silence over sexuality, then the internet acts like a window,” she said. “But in the absence of sex education, no specific discussion has yet started about how such trends should be interpreted.”
This report has been updated to tweak the description of Wikipedia