The Asiatic Society of Bangladesh has recently published the first edition of a 10 volume encyclopedia of … Bangladesh!
Fantastic achievement when I think about it, for a relatively new country and one which is still ranked as one of the poorest countries of the world. Well, poor in riches but not in spirit or ambition it would seem.
There’s a write up about the project in a Star Magazine article which not only outlines the history of the project but also some of the problems that Sirajul Islam, the Chief editor and his team have faced in compiling it.
Problems such as not having a continuous power supply and lack of funds but also problems arising from the objections raised by certain conservative religious elements regarding the generally secular tone of the entries and by secularist voices regarding certain ommisions.
For instance, the role of the Jamaat-e-Islami party during the 1971 Liberation War is completely omitted. No doubt this was at the behest of the current government which has amongst it’s coalition partners that very same party.
On this point Sajjad Sharif, a well known poet in Bangladesh says,
…The way in [which] the entry of Jamaat E Islami, its role in ’71 was omited, and how in many other occasions, more omissions were done, it spurs me to say that omission means adulteration of facts. The most pressing question is, do we change our history whenever we have a change of government? If a common knowledge like Jamaat’s involvement in favour of the Pakistan government cannot be mentioned, then why do we need Encyclopedias? When the academics involved in Banglapedia were being pressurised by the government and a certain quarter of the media, they could have resigned or brought it to the knowledge of the public, which they did not. By not doing so they have given us a body of knowledge bereft of reality, of vision, and most of all of any risk of conflict with people in power. It is manufactured knowledge.
Which is perhaps a little harsh but he is a poet and you know what they’re like, with their obsession for the truth! I guess he has a point.
But still: given the physical, financial and political constraints under which the Banglapedia was compiled and given also that it has been produced in an English as well as a Bangla language version, it’s a remarkable attempt by a young developing nation at defining itself.
Best of all, the compilers of this fantastic resource had the foresight to commission a multimedia CD version which will be ready by the beginning of 2004.
[Update (16/12/03): I’ve been looking for contact information and the only one I’ve found thus far is the following one which was posted on a Univ. of Tokyo website! If anyone knows any differently then please post it up in the comments,
Contact: Banglapedia Marketing Officer (Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, 5, Old Secretariat Road, Nimtali, Dhaka 1000), fax: (880) 2 9560500, e-mail: email@example.com, URL: http://www.banglapedia-bd.org
Note: The URL doesn’t seem to link to anything in particular and I’ve tried the e-mail and had no response – it’s a shame but if anyone can contact the Marketing Officer perhaps they could ask him to make the buying process more transparent for us bideshis – cheers!.]
[Update (30/03/04) Somebody has very kindly posted in the comments section a link to the online version of the Banglapedia – thankyou very much whoever you are. Here it is – http://banglapedia.search.com.bd/ – enjoy!]
[Update (24/04/05) … and it’s mirror site – http://banglapedia.org/]