On one good Friday afternoon in 2008, Subrata Roy, a 38-years-old librarian at a college in Narsingdi, read something about Wikipedia in a local newspaper.
Being a passionate writer in Bangla, Subrata recharged his internet modem that night and started visiting the Wikipedia website from that day. After two weeks, he got an acceptance mail with a contributor's link attached.
It has been 13 years since the first mail arrived. Subrata is now the record holder as the publisher of the highest number of articles on Wikipedia Bangla. To date, he has published 5,116 articles in total.
How can someone be so persistent in doing something like this voluntarily, without any remuneration?
"This might be a free, voluntary, even thankless job. But the amount of knowledge I've gained, the number of people I've encountered, and the number of platforms I've been to - I don't think it can be bought for any amount of money. Only the passionate hearts will understand this quest," this was Subrata's response to the question.
To cross-check this statement, another Wikipedian was contacted. Masum Al Hasan Rocky, an INGO officer at Cox's Bazar, is working as the treasurer of Wikimedia Bangladesh. He has been writing for Bangla Wikipedia for the last 8 years.
To him, writing articles for the platform is almost addictive. "Here at Cox's Bazar, I have so many things to do. But on weekends, I work for our Wikimedia Bangladesh or write articles for Bangla Wikipedia. Otherwise, I don't find peace of mind," Rocky remarked.
Subrata, Rocky and many other Wikipedians have one thing in common: every one of them agreed that knowledge should be free and everyone has the right to learn something in their own language.
And with that goal, more than 340,000 people are currently registered (from Bangladesh, India and other countries) for Bangla Wikipedia. But only about 1,300 of them are active currently.
However, this number changes from time to time, said Shabab Mustafa, former president and current member of the executive committee of Wikimedia Bangladesh. Besides, Wikipedians from Bangladesh also contribute to English Wikipedia, Santali Wikipedia and Bishnupriya Manipuri Wikipedia.
He said, "The vision of Wikipedia is to have a better world with openly accessible knowledge for all. Jimmy Wales, the founders of Wikipedia, inspired us to 'Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.' That's what we're doing."
Starting in 2004, Bangla Wikipedia has achieved the milestone of publishing one hundred thousand articles on 25 December 2020. By 9 September 2021, the total number crossed 1,12,459 articles with 1,317 active editors.
Back in 2018, Santali Wikipedia started its journey with Santal people from Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Of 50 Santali Wikipedians contributing at this time, 10 of them are from Bangladesh. And to date, there are almost 6,500 articles published on Santali Wikipedia.
Bangla Wikipedia, Wikisource, Wikibooks, Wikivoyage, Wikitionary- these are the projects of Wikimedia in Bangla language that are operational on the go.
Bangla and Santali Wikipedians are scattered all around the country, while some are in West Bengal and other countries. Although Wikipedians are working voluntarily, Wikimedia Bangladesh works as a management team to make this job smooth for them.
Website development and update, server management, backend web development, etc. are the tasks that the staff do. More to that, encouraging new Wikipedians, arranging monthly meet-ups and conferences are also some of the major tasks that the Bangladesh works on.
Presently, there are more than 450 staff and contractors working in the Wikimedia Foundation. Most of them work remotely from all over the world. One of the former Bangladeshi Wikipedians and former General Secretary of Wikimedia Bangladesh Nahid Sultan is currently working there as a staff.
These passionate Wikipedians mentioned another benefit that they are getting - personal improvement. For Shahab, the most apparent improvement is developing skills for formal writing. As collaboration with others is required in Wikipedia, engaging in this kind of work helps build some teamwork skills.
He mentioned another important improvement they often see, especially among young Wikipedians, "Critical thinking and paying attention to details are vital for finding the correct information and filtering out all the misinformation."
This list goes on. But most importantly, it helps to grow the attitude of helping others and giving something back to the society, which gives a chance to be better human beings.
Every month the Bangla Wikipedians have an 'adda' or meet-up where they share their stories and passion for the platform. That is how fellow Wikipedians are connected as a large community.
Anyone can write and edit on Wikipedia
As Shabab explains, Wikipedia works on a peer-review basis. When someone writes something on Wikipedia, it is published immediately without any extra steps. Later on, other active Wikipedians review it by checking if the requirements are met.
Wikipedians do a wide variety of tasks, from fixing typos and removing vandalism to resolving disputes and perfecting content. Many Wikipedians work on the same article. This is what makes the Wikipedia project a great success.
For writing articles, Wikipedia has some written guidelines. 'Notability guidelines' determine whether the subject of the article is notable enough to be in an encyclopedia. 'Verifiability guidelines' make sure that references are verifiable. 'Neutrality guidelines' state how the language of any article should be written from a neutral point of view and avoid anyone's personal opinions or biases.
There are also some guidelines that state Wikipedia is not a place for publishing any original research. That means all information added to the articles must be attributable to reliable, published sources.
When Wikipedians gather information, some basic things need to be considered, Shahab pointed out. The information must be published in some reliable, credible source first. For example, as a source of information, the information published by WHO or CDC about Covid-19 will be considered reliable sources while someone's posts on social media will not.
The limitations of the Bangladeshi Wikipedians
There is still no office for Wikipedia in Bangladesh.
After the Holey Artisan tragedy in 2016, the fund has also become inconsistent. And for the rural and small-town contributors, electricity and internet are big concerns. Many of them have to browse the internet using modems.
For Manik Soren, Santali Wikipedian from Bangladesh, the challenges are somewhat disturbing. Unlike Nepal or India, Santali is not an officially recognised language in Bangladesh. As a result, there is a debate regarding their script or alphabet. Again, as marginalised (and an economically neglected) community, it is tough for the Santal volunteers to continue writing for long without any remuneration.
"But still we want to enrich this platform. A language, no matter how small it is, deserves to be spoken. All we need is a little bit of support, for example, a device and a better, cheaper internet connection. So that the voluntary job doesn't become an obstruction for us", Manik was almost apologetic while saying this.
For the last 20 years, the vision of making knowledge accessible to all has motivated thousands of editors to contribute to Wikipedia and its sister projects in more than three hundred languages all over the world.
Money cannot always buy the feeling of accomplishment that Wikipedia brings to its contributors who work for a greater cause. Though they do not work for financial gains, a little bit of assistance is necessary. Otherwise, this passion may falter under the pressures of life.
A librarian at a college in Narsingdi
Working for 13 years in Wikipedia
Record holder of highest number of articles (5,116)
Masum Al Hasan Rocky
An INGO officer at Cox's Bazar
Working for 8 years in Bangla Wikipedia
Treasurer of Wikimedia Bangladesh
Santali Wikipedian from Bangladesh
"It is tough for the Santal volunteers to continue writing for long without any remuneration."
Bangla Wikipedia began in 2004
More than 340,000 people are in Banglad Wikipedia
Around 1,300 of them active currently
By 9 September 2021, the total number of publications crossed 1,12,459
Bangla Wikipedia, Wiki Boi (books), Wiki Vromon (Travel), Wiki Songkolon (Edition) are the projects of Wikipedia in Bangla language