Indian public servants love tinkering with Wikipedia

Their interests range from cinema and television to, of course, rewriting history.
Their interests range from cinema and television to, of course, rewriting history.
Image: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
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On June 30, a small storm was raised about edits to a Wikipedia page on Jawaharlal Nehru. The new edits claimed that India’s first prime minister was born in a former brothel, and that his family had deviously hidden its descent from the Mughals by claiming to be Kashmiri Pandits.

These edits were controversial because they seemed to have emerged from a government of India IP (internet protocol) address.

However, it is not just the Nehru-Gandhi family that has captured the attention of our public servants. The record shows that government employees are active and vehement editors of Wikipedia. Their preoccupations—television, cinema and parochial history—give an interesting insight into the minds of people who evidently have too much time on their hands.

On the job

Since August 25, Twitter handle @AnonGoIWPEdits has been tracking and tweeting anonymous edits made to the collaborative online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, from IP addresses associated with the government of India.

The @AnonGoIWPEdits handle seems to be inspired by @parliamentedits, a Twitter bot handle started last July to track edits made within the UK’s parliament netblock, or group of IP addresses. The UK handle’s developers subsequently made their code available in open source on Github, leading to dozens of handles from Canada to Pakistan that track government employees obsessed with Wikipedia.

Most edits are mundane government duties, such as informing Wikipedia’s readers that the fare of the Hyderabad metro has increased by one rupee, or that Maxi cabs are now available for public transport in Kolasib, Mizoram, instead of jeeps.

But there are also some colourful edits on TV shows, movies, and history. We used an IP locator to track some of the more bizarre edits.

Age no bar

On legendary hindi film actor Dilip Kumar’s birthday, for instance, a staffer near Washim in Maharashtra decided to bump up the actor’s age by a few years. For a few hours, Wikipedia announced incorrectly to the world that the 92-year-old star was actually 99. Given the amount of interest in his birthday, it was not surprising that this was corrected soon.

Another government worker with an IP address in Bengaluru is a huge fan of Kannadiga film star Vishnuvardhan. The actor’s Wikipedia page is already adulatory—it has an entire subsection titled “Dr. Vishnuvardhan’s respect towards women.” But the employee in question was not satisfied.

Convinced that the actor’s merit must spread far beyond his page, this bureaucrat painstakingly inserted Vishnuvardhan’s name and obscure film titles into the Wikipedia pages of at least seven major and minor south Indian female actors’ pages, from Madhavi to Rupini.

A government employee in Patna clearly felt deeply about Bajatey Raho, a terrible 2014 Bollywood comedy. He or she incorrectly increased the length of its most famous song, Nagin Dance, by seven seconds.

Other changes are even more juvenile. On Sep. 9, a disgruntled Bhopal moviegoer added “ki ma ki” after Tevar (meaning Tevar’s mother, alluding to a Hindi abuse) in a list of Bollywood movies scheduled to be released. Tevar, which stars Arjun Kapoor, opened only on Jan. 9, so it is unclear what could have offended this Madhya Pradesh officer.

Battle for history

A user in a government office in rural Maharashtra has edited an article on the Shakti Peethas, or places of worship dedicated to Shakti or Sati, to insist that the information is in the realm of history, not mythology.

With cinema, religion, history and mythology covered, there must also be jingoism. On Aug. 28, a day after yet another skirmish on the India-Pakistan border, a babu from Tundla in Uttar Pradesh updated the military history of Pakistan to say “all the area is disputed by the China and Pakistan.” That edit, however, was swiftly removed.

Even so, compared to other government employees, the editor of the page on Nehru was unusually specific, and seemed to have a personal grudge:

In fact both Nehru and Jinnah were paramours of Edwina Mountbatten, who blackmailed them with their sexually explicit nude photos with her in the bed and made them sign the partition papers. Edwina never slept in bed with her husband Lord Mountbatten, who was a gay, anyway. She was married to him only to gain access to the powers that be and armtwist the the two leaders to agree to partition.

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