A Case Study In Diversity: India And Romania

The WWW of most URLs (Uniform/Universal Resource Locators) literally translated, means the WORLD WIDE WEB. As such, one would think that it would be easy to find information and sites from virtually any point in the world. To some extent, this is the case — but it can be very difficult. As a large part of our assignment was the comparison of the SAWNET (South Asian Women’s NETwork) website, with another site which we found to be equally diverse, I chose to focus on the Indian aspect of SAWNET, as it seemed to be the most represented of all the South Asian countries. For comparison, I chose Romania, a country that I knew nothing about, as it is represented in Virtual Romania (http://www.info.polymtl.ca/zuse/ tavi/www/rom_eng.html).

Each of the websites seemed to function for two obvious reasons: to provide some information about culture and country to interested people, and to p rovide access to the atmosphere of home for any people not living in their own country, be it India or Romania. Visually, each site is very different. Virtual Romania is very flashy, with lots of photos, java and shiny banners, and it is set up in a four frame format – very pushy. In contrast, SAWNET is much better organized, with lost of eye-easy white-space and culturally representative yet simple graphics. I have yet to decide if this is indicative of a cultural influence, or simply gender-biased. Both sites are several years old – in fact, Virtual Romania boasts that it is “The FIRST Ever Romanian Home Page on the Internet”, and was established in April of 1994, while SAWNET began in 1991, as a mailing list that eventually grew into a web site and resource center. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that several of the links posted did not work, both on the Virtual Romania site as well as SAWNET.

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The best evidence that I could find to testify to the fact that each of =the sites is well supported by expatriates, is in the Homepage listings that each of the sites maintains. These links mostly included people from foreign countries, many in Canada and the US, as well as a few from within the countrys current boundaries. Upon visiting many pages, I discovered that most people had lived in their home country for some years, and had moved for personal reasons (mainly for education and schooling) – however, many had left their country due to political turmoil that they or their families found threatening. Interestingly, many of the members of the Virtual Romania website are involved in the technical fields, especially computing and physics, while the vast majority of SAWNET homepages I visited indicated a tendency towards educational facilities (mostly University professors), and writing. (SAWNET also represented several artists sites.)
Few of the homepages spoke at depth about political issues, but both of the sites themselves has extensive links and information relation to politics and religion. The Virtual Romania site predominantly features several photographs of the Pope, from his recent (May 10/99) visit to Bucharest. In addition, there is a huge headline about Romanias recent invitation to join the European Union, followed by a brief article with pertinent facts. Something that I really liked about the Romanian site was the fact that any English text was followed by copy translated into Romanian. The site even included some RealAudio files that spoke basic Romanian words for greetings, getting around, small talk, and finding accommodations – a real benefit for the non-Romanians visiting the site. There is also extensive listings of passport, visa, health and curre ncy exchange information for visiting the country, as well as Romanian Embassy details for Romanians who are currently in other countries (everywhere from Oslo to Tokyo).

SAWNET itself listed some political sites, but under the bold heading “This listing is not an endorsement of any particular organization by Sawnet”. I think that this statement is very indicative of the overall ambiance of the SAWNET site – for some reason, the organizers are very careful about what they say and how items are represented. It is a very serious site, in contrast to the fun and info-packed Virtual Romania. I realize that there are serious political and social upheavals underway in India at this time, as is illustrated by the current crisis with Pakistan and in the few articles I read at the SAWNET site: Breaking the shackles (http://www.indiaserver. com/thehindu/1999/04/04/stories/13040611.htm), and Women, Sex and Marriage: Restraint as a Feminine Strategy (http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/users/sawweb/sawnet/news/sexuality.html). Ev en the Cinema section of the website promoted mostly serious documentaries about Indian life. As a matter of fact, I was unable to find any light or friendly Indian websites in my searches – I only pulled up other sites along a similar vein as SAWNET {like Times of India (http://www.timesof india.com/), and the Indian Business Network (http://www.ib-net.com/)} The particular flavour of the Indian websites leaves me wondering if all Indian culture is so preoccupied with only serious issues.

In conclusion, I must say that I feel Virtual Romania does a better job of promoting and helping its country for both visitors and for Romanians far and wide. It includes an enormous variety of links for all sorts of topics, from High School year book archives (for old st udents) to Academia Catavencu (http://www.vsat.ro/Catavencu/), a Romanian political satire publication, to Interactive maps of major cities. I also really like the inclusion of the Romanian language in most of its areas; some items are in English, some in Romanian, and many are bilingual. I feel that the SAWNET site does not to justice to the varied culture of India (or any of the other cultures it represents, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). Nor does it seem to include any materials or publications available in the different regional Indian languages (as far as I could find). I did find a link to Scilet, a site of Indian literature (http://WWW.SCILET.ORG/), but all the publications had been translated into English, and are unavailable in their original form. Perhaps SAWNET could look to other cultural sites, like Virtual Romania, as examples on how to present and promote their diverse culture to computer-chair travelers and emigrants alike.

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