How Wikimedia India went bust

From mismanagement and bickering to funds misuse and unequal representation, here’s how things ended for a once-promising collective in the open knowledge movement

An assembly of nearly 1,000 people seems inconsequential in a megapolis bursting at the seams. But for the Wikimedia cognoscenti thronging the neo-Gothic, stained glass splendour of Mumbai University’s convocation hall, 18 November 2011 was at once Anno Domini and a Calling of the Disciples—the day WikiConference, India’s first-ever (and flagship) Wikimedia event kicked off.

Wikimedians from across the world congregated in Mumbai to enthuse about India’s role in the open knowledge movement. One of them was the man himself: Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and its non-profit parent, the Wikimedia Foundation, or WMF.

Just 10 months earlier, his foundation had formally recognized the Wikimedia India chapter (WMIN), an affiliate body tasked with promoting Wikimedia’s 13 projects, ranging from Wikipedia to Wikimedia Commons, a free media repository comprising more than 50 million images, audio, and video files. India represented a hotbed of potential for WMF. It was the only non-European, non-North American country in the top 10 by number of Wikipedia editors.

Imagine, then, what could be achieved in a region of billion-plus people: more heft for the free information cause; more contributors, ranging from housewives to academics; high-profile partnerships, sponsorships and donations; and with more visibility, public policy lobbying and government support.

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Illustrations by Swati Addanki.


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