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Building a database for the rural Bengalis
[December 30, 2007]

Building a database for the rural Bengalis

(The Statesman (India) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) KajariBhattacharya KOLKATA,Dec.30: The state and Central governments may be putting emphasis on bridging the digital divide by taking computers and the Internet to the villages, but once schools, colleges and organisations in rural Bengal do go Online, they will find little content in Bengali. Two former scientists with Bell Laboratories, USA and a former state power minister are trying to fill this sizeable gap by building a huge online storehouse of information, all of which is in Bengali. Lack of access to computers and the Internet expands the digital divide. But the other problem is that of language; as most information available on the Internet is in English. In five to 10 years time, those in Bengal's villages will have access to the Internet, if the state government's efforts to take Internet connectivity to villages comes to fruition. But what good will this be if villagers cannot access content in Bengali? There are very few websitesthat have information in Bengali. Abasar.nettries to fill this gap, by providing information on as many topics as has been possible to upload, and by giving links to other websitesthat have information in Bengali, Mr Sujan Dasgupta,a former technologist with Bell Laboratories in the USA, said. From an encyclopedia in Bengali, BharatKosh(about 17,000 webpages) from BangiyaSahityaParishad,to tips on how to operate a computer, and from information on the Kyoto Protocol to a large database, called Binodon, of Bengali films from 1931 to 1960, http:/abasar.netis a one-stop website for those who are most comfortable with the Bengali language to make the best use of the Internet. It was after taking voluntary retirement from work, which included a stint as the representative of AT&Tin India, that Mr Dasguptabegan building this massive database. The name abasar.netcomes from the Bengali abasar, which means time off. I started working on this websitewith the idea that volunteers who had taken time off work could help build this database that would eventually helpthose in Bengals and Bangladesh's villages who went Online. The websitehas a total of 70,000 webpages,and includes information on human trafficking, laws protecting women's rights in India and Bangladesh and tips for law enforcement officers to understand trafficking patterns. The only thing stalling work on the websiteis the lack of volunteers willing to spend some time on developing content that can be uploaded on the site. One of those who have helped in developing abasar.netand still is contributing is former state power minister Mr SankarSen. Students, research scholars, social workers and those who have retired from work can help by writing for the website.And they do not need to type in Bengali. A software developed by Mr SumitRay, technologist with Bell Laboratories and son of renowned Bengali actor BikashRay, is given free of cost to those willing to volunteer to develop content for the Bengali website. The software, called Haraf,allows one to type using the Roman alphabet and the typed instructions are phonetically converted to the Bengali script.

Copyright 2007 The Statesman Ltd, Source: The Financial Times Limited

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