NEW DELHI — Rashmi Swaroop, who just completed her M.B.A. exams in the small tourist town of Ajmer, Rajasthan, is celebrating on her blog. Over at the popular Bengali-language site Desh-Bidesh, Nasim, a resident of Kolkata in her 60s, shares memories of the city in the years after India achieved independence in 1947. Kalki Subramaniam, an actress and transgender rights advocate, has kicked off a debate on marriage for transgendered people.
As the Internet opens up to different Indian languages, the profile of India’s female bloggers is turning out to be far more complex than many commentators might have suspected.
Ms. Swaroop writes in Hindi, Ms. Nasim and the other posters on Desh-Bidesh blog in Bengali, and Ms. Subramaniam’s two blogs are in Tamil and English.
Until recently, it would have been hard for anyone who did not speak the original languages to follow their blogs. The Indian blogosphere, a thriving community of millions now, was long constrained by language.
In 2006, Ravishankar Shrivastava, a Hindi blogger and freelance technical consultant and translator, estimated that there were fewer than 300 Hindi-language bloggers — abysmally low for a language with more than 400 million speakers in India — and about 2,000 Tamil bloggers across the whole of India. By contrast, English-language bloggers then were estimated at 40,000.
The problem was technical. At the time, the Internet in India was primarily in English. Though individual bloggers in various Indian languages have gone online for more than a decade, it required higher than average computer skills and comfort with a Roman alphabet keyboard. It was only about three years ago that access to Indic scripts became easy enough that ordinary users could engage in discussions in their own language.
Then, in June, Google Translate opened up “Indic web,” allowing users to translate content among Indian languages — Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, in addition to Hindi.
In the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Bengali blogospheres, the rise of female bloggers has been sharp in the past two or three years, especially in small-town and rural India. They discuss the joys and trials of more intimate but often more conservative communities, and the challenges of life within the extended family. Politics comes up, but with a focus on local issues usually missing from English-language discussions.
English-language female bloggers have tended to write about city life, dating and relationships, and workplace issues. The women who are coming online now from the small towns may have more circumscribed lives — fewer opportunities for work outside the home, a greater emphasis on marriage — but blog with confidence and self-awareness about changing social mores and their growing economic aspirations.
And whereas the women who dominate the English-language blogosphere tend to be urbanites in their teens and 20s, the Bengali, Hindi and Tamil blogs seem to have engaged the attention of older women.
These include Archana Chaoji, a popular blogger from Indore in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. While her blog is not overtly feminist, her profile wryly takes note of the many roles Indian women find themselves playing. She is identified as “first a daughter, then sister, then friend, then wife, then daughter-in-law, then mother” and, finally, a sports teacher who sometimes assumes the identity of blogger. Her site (archanachaoji.blogspot.com) contains posts on poetry and music, on friendship and virtual relationships, and the tightrope walk of being a woman in modern India.
Nirmala Kapila, who blogs from Nangal in Punjab, in the northwest, found her feet on the Internet in 2008, when she began blogging at veerbahuti.blogspot.com. A retired pharmacist, she has published two books of poetry, and her posts on Hindi literature draw a sizable readership. Like Ms. Chaoji, Ms. Kapila came to blogging later in life, and the growing number of comments on her posts testifies to the literary community she has been able to create online.
Many of the female bloggers, especially those who write in Hindi, Tamil and Bengali, are from small towns — part of the communications trend that has seen the spread of cellphones and the Internet outside the large cities. Their newfound visibility has the potential to change much in the online Indian world. Some have found audiences for their niche interests, like Sangeeta Puri, an economics graduate from Bokaro in the eastern state of Jharkhand, whose blog showcases her interest in astrology (and the stars’ influence on the stock market).
Others, like the blogger who goes by the pseudonym Ghughuti Basuti, a reference to a beloved folk-tale character, straddle both worlds, living in big cities like Mumbai, but remaining mindful of their roots in the countryside.
Ghughuti Basuti, who began blogging in 2005 in English, has shifted to posting more often on her Hindi blog. Her posts cover issues like the acceptability of divorce and the reasons women should love their daughters, and she has a knack for connecting with readers.
An early attempt to create a community of female bloggers, Chokher Bali, sputtered into silence in 2008. Another group blog from Bangladesh, Amader Kotha (Our Stories) ran out of steam in 2009. In both cases, once the initial need to tell their stories had been met, the bloggers moved on with their lives.
But at Penmai.com, Tamil women have nurtured a strong community over the past few years that discusses issues like child-rearing and returning to the work force in midlife. Some members of the popular English-language site Bharatmoms, which focuses on parenting, plan to start parallel blogs in Hindi and Gujarati.
“I follow many women’s blogs, and I’m amazed at how freely they speak,” said Ms. Swaroop, the business student from Ajmer. Freedom is a theme in her postings. She says she has never traveled outside Rajasthan State and hopes to find a civil service job that will allow her to see the rest of India. “In the blog world, one doesn’t have to evade. On your own blog, you can write whatever and however you want.”
It feels very much as though Indian women like her have found their voice, in a multiplicity of tongues.