(Vandalism is measured as the number of users whose edits to a particular page have been undone by other members of the Wikipedia community. Although not always necessary, a reversed edit is a sign that it may be bad, or worse, malicious.)
1. In the name of God
Religion is a hot topic in online discourse. Wikipedia’s article on the “Bhagavad Gita” was among the most vandalized last year. A user edited the text to claim that all forms of the Hindu deity Vishnu are actually avatars of Krishna. Another wanted to put 5561 BCE as the year of the Mahabharata War.
The article on Kumbh Mela, which took place in April 2021 in Haridwar, was also often edited. One user replaced every mention of “Hinduism” with “Bhartiya Sanatana Dharma, “loosely known as Hinduism”; another changed “Allahabad” to “Prayagraj” (Wikipedia policies insist on not using new official names only after they have entered common usage).
An article on “religion in India” was also abused, with provocative comments added about conversions to Islam. A section citing slowing Muslim population growth to allay fears of demographic replacement was once completely removed. Each of these changes has been reverted.
2. Idolized Beyond Reason
Wikipedia pages on thinkers and philosophers have also been subject to abuse. In the post on Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a user deleted the part about how the Hindutva icon viewed Muslims and Christians as people who could not be part of India as their holy lands were somewhere else. Another attempted to claim that his militarization of youth inspired Subhash Chandra Bose and the 1946 naval revolt.
In the page on Mahatma Gandhi, a montage attempted to declare him a devout follower of the deity Ram without providing any proof. Another user deleted the part that mentioned how Gandhi did not criticize the British after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, but rather criticized the Indians for not following non-violent methods.
On Jawaharlal Nehru, there was innocent disagreement over whether he should be portrayed as an atheist or an agnostic, but some also tried to add outrageous accusations about the relationship between him and Edwina Mountbatten.
3. Color the past
It is said that history is written by the victors. But now it is often written and rewritten by Wikipedia users. On the “Indian Rebellion of 1857” page, some users insisted on calling it India’s “first war of independence” instead of “rebellion”, but their edits were rolled back. Others deleted the part that said the troops that mutinied were high-caste Hindus and Muslims worried about ritual pollution. (The revolt was sparked by rumors that sepoys should bite cartridges greased with cow or pig fat.)
The “Partition of India” page faced vandalism of an inflammatory nature. A user attempted to add specific incidents of Hindus and Sikhs being killed in Pakistani towns by Muslim mobs. Another attempted to include claims that more Muslims died during partition than Hindus and Sikhs combined.
In an article on the “Mughal-Maratha Wars”, the reference to the Maratha ruler Sambhaji was changed to Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj. A user changed the results of wars, saying that after Aurangzeb’s death, Marathas took over all Mughal properties.
4. Glorified Historical Figures
Online vandals also attack pages of historical figures, but usually to present them in a more positive light. For example, one person attempted to describe Maharana Pratap as “India’s premier freedom fighter” due to his opposition to the Mughals. Another edit was made to romanticize his exploits, explaining how the Mughals could not capture him despite having a larger army. One user emphasized his religion, changing his description from “Indian ruler” to “Hindu Maharaja”.
Another leader, Rani Lakshmibai, was valued because of her battles with the British. A user tried to delete details about his death at the hands of the British and the losses of his army in his last battle. Others removed a part where she fled to Gwalior and was unable to defend the city.
The page about Muhammad Iqbal, the composer of “Saare Jahan Se Acha”, was also edited and re-edited as many users in Pakistan insisted that their national poet be called “Allama Muhammad Iqbal” instead.
5. Food fights
A common theme in Wikipedia’s edit wars is a focus on origins. Some have vandalized the biryani page, choosing to downplay its roots in Muslim culinary traditions. Others have said that while the immediate origins of the word ‘biryani’ may be Persian, if we go back further, it can be traced to the Sanskrit word ‘vrihi’.
Someone once removed a sentence about how the alphonso mango is named after a Portuguese colonial governor. The page says the mango comes from a region spanning parts of Myanmar, Bangladesh, and northeastern India. One person deleted the words Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The page on dosa was also vandalized, with many insisting on spelling it as “dosai”, which matches the pronunciation used in some southern states. Others have argued over whether the oldest dosa recipe is found in ancient Tamil or Kannada literature.
Shijith Kunhitty is a freelance data journalist.
A methodological note:
A group of Wikipedia editors, WikiProject Indiamaintains articles on India and rated over 150,000 pages on the website in 2021. From this set, articles on Indian thinkers, historical figures, food items, etc. were chosen and their publishing histories explored for this analysis.
These edit histories track every addition and deletion to Wikipedia pages. Every time a user makes a detrimental change, it is undone within hours or even minutes by another user or a bot. These changes are labeled “undone” and were used to assess levels of “vandalism” in this analysis. The analysis counts the number of distinct users whose edits were undone, rather than the number of edits, because in some cases a few users may have been responsible for the most damaging edits.
It should be noted that some of the reverted edits may not have been “vandalism” or malicious intent, and were reverted because they did not meet Wikipedia’s standards in other respects. The analysis aims to give an idea of the most abused Indian pages. .
Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our app now!!