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Wings, scripts and medical tips: Meet India’s Wikimedians of the year

Three Indians have been awarded by the foundation that runs Wikipedia, for their contributions to its open-source platforms. One winner created a toolkit for Indian language scripts, another runs a virtual butterfly project, and a doctor has received honourable mention for busting myths about health.
PREMIUM
Ananya Mondal won the rich media award for the Wiki Loves Butterfly project, 252 new pages and 2,600 images so far.
Updated on Oct 01, 2021 09:05 PM IST
ByVanessa Viegas

It’s rare that one doesn’t find what one is looking for on Wikipedia. That wealth of information comes from volunteers scattered around the world, many of whom spend hours each week contributing, updating, uploading.

Since 2001, the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation that runs Wikipedia has recognised one remarkable contributor a year, with a Wikimedian of the Year award. In 2021, the platform’s 20th year, the Foundation expanded its awards from one to seven, to spotlight a newcomer, honour a tech innovator, and celebrate contributors to rich media.

Of the seven winners announced in August, chosen for their “contributions, collaboration, and community spirit”, three are Indians: Jay Prakash, 22, an engineering student, received the tech innovator award; Ananya Mondal, 31, a nutritionist, received the rich media award for her Wiki Loves Butterfly project; and Dr Netha Hussain, 31, a radiologist, received honourable mention for contributing to medical information to the platform for 10 years.

India to the world

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Jay Prakash of Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, is an open-source-software enthusiast who submitted his first Wikipedia article in 2015. In addition to 20,000 edits, many of them similar translations from English to Hindi, Prakash has since done something much more significant for Indian languages on the platform. In 2018, he developed the Indic OCR, a collection of tools to enable the Optical Character Recognition of Indian language scripts. This means that others in the Wikimedia community can now convert an image of an Indian language script into text that can be processed, scanned and searched by software programs.

Jay Prakash won the tech innovator award for developing a toolkit that lets software programs scan, search and process Indian language scripts.

Prakash, who has been contributing to Wikipedia since high school, says attending a Google Summer of Code programme online as a Wikimedia volunteer, and working virtually to create and integrate an education dashboard on the Stanford MediaWiki website in 2020, helped him find his feet in this field that he loves.

Working with the Wikimedia platforms has changed his life, he adds. He’s met people from around the world who have helped and guided him. “All my best friends are from the Wikimedia movement,” he says.

All a-flitter

In 2016, while looking for a particular butterfly species on Wikipedia, Ananya Mondal realised there weren’t any articles on these beautiful creatures in Bengali. So the avid trekker from Kolkata got to work.

She launched what she calls the Wiki Loves Butterfly project, a concerted effort that has resulted in 252 new pages on Bengali Wikipedia, containing a total of 2,600 images representing 428 butterfly species and subspecies, with a special focus on the under-represented butterflies of eastern and north-eastern India.

“There was a lot to be done and I knew I would need help,” she says. So she drafted volunteers from the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru, the Bombay Natural History Society, and iNaturewatch Foundation to help her accurately describe and scientifically document butterflies. Much of her field work and images came courtesy student volunteers with an interest in nature, conservation and macro photography.

For five years, her project has been funded by the Wikimedia Foundation. “I want to help people understand how to help conserve butterflies,” Mondal says. For instance, most native species in her region are dependent on lemon, mango and Ashoka trees. “If we can grow more lemon trees or perhaps understand the interconnectedness of our ecosystem, it could positively impact conservation efforts.”

Doctor, doctor

Dr Netha Hussain, currently based in Sweden, has been a Wikimedia volunteer since 2010 and has contributed to the English and Malayalam language sections of Wikipedia, Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons and Meta-Wiki.

Dr Netha Hussain won for contributing vital medical information over 10 years.

When she was still a medical student and had just begun to contribute, “this powerful idea of sharing free knowledge with millions of people around the world sounded very exciting to me, and it excites me even today,” she says.

Through the pandemic, Dr Hussain has written, updated and translated dozens of Wikipedia articles to ensure reliable information about Covid-19 was available, particularly in Malayalam. She recently launched pages on vaccine safety to help combat misinformation

She spends a few hours each week writing for and updating material on the platform. “My aim is to spread free and reliable knowledge in multiple languages that everyone can access and re-use,” she says.

It’s rare that one doesn’t find what one is looking for on Wikipedia. That wealth of information comes from volunteers scattered around the world, many of whom spend hours each week contributing, updating, uploading.

Since 2001, the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation that runs Wikipedia has recognised one remarkable contributor a year, with a Wikimedian of the Year award. In 2021, the platform’s 20th year, the Foundation expanded its awards from one to seven, to spotlight a newcomer, honour a tech innovator, and celebrate contributors to rich media.

Of the seven winners announced in August, chosen for their “contributions, collaboration, and community spirit”, three are Indians: Jay Prakash, 22, an engineering student, received the tech innovator award; Ananya Mondal, 31, a nutritionist, received the rich media award for her Wiki Loves Butterfly project; and Dr Netha Hussain, 31, a radiologist, received honourable mention for contributing to medical information to the platform for 10 years.

India to the world

Jay Prakash of Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, is an open-source-software enthusiast who submitted his first Wikipedia article in 2015. In addition to 20,000 edits, many of them similar translations from English to Hindi, Prakash has since done something much more significant for Indian languages on the platform. In 2018, he developed the Indic OCR, a collection of tools to enable the Optical Character Recognition of Indian language scripts. This means that others in the Wikimedia community can now convert an image of an Indian language script into text that can be processed, scanned and searched by software programs.

RELATED STORIES
Jay Prakash won the tech innovator award for developing a toolkit that lets software programs scan, search and process Indian language scripts.

Prakash, who has been contributing to Wikipedia since high school, says attending a Google Summer of Code programme online as a Wikimedia volunteer, and working virtually to create and integrate an education dashboard on the Stanford MediaWiki website in 2020, helped him find his feet in this field that he loves.

Working with the Wikimedia platforms has changed his life, he adds. He’s met people from around the world who have helped and guided him. “All my best friends are from the Wikimedia movement,” he says.

All a-flitter

In 2016, while looking for a particular butterfly species on Wikipedia, Ananya Mondal realised there weren’t any articles on these beautiful creatures in Bengali. So the avid trekker from Kolkata got to work.

She launched what she calls the Wiki Loves Butterfly project, a concerted effort that has resulted in 252 new pages on Bengali Wikipedia, containing a total of 2,600 images representing 428 butterfly species and subspecies, with a special focus on the under-represented butterflies of eastern and north-eastern India.

“There was a lot to be done and I knew I would need help,” she says. So she drafted volunteers from the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru, the Bombay Natural History Society, and iNaturewatch Foundation to help her accurately describe and scientifically document butterflies. Much of her field work and images came courtesy student volunteers with an interest in nature, conservation and macro photography.

For five years, her project has been funded by the Wikimedia Foundation. “I want to help people understand how to help conserve butterflies,” Mondal says. For instance, most native species in her region are dependent on lemon, mango and Ashoka trees. “If we can grow more lemon trees or perhaps understand the interconnectedness of our ecosystem, it could positively impact conservation efforts.”

Doctor, doctor

Dr Netha Hussain, currently based in Sweden, has been a Wikimedia volunteer since 2010 and has contributed to the English and Malayalam language sections of Wikipedia, Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons and Meta-Wiki.

Dr Netha Hussain won for contributing vital medical information over 10 years.

When she was still a medical student and had just begun to contribute, “this powerful idea of sharing free knowledge with millions of people around the world sounded very exciting to me, and it excites me even today,” she says.

Through the pandemic, Dr Hussain has written, updated and translated dozens of Wikipedia articles to ensure reliable information about Covid-19 was available, particularly in Malayalam. She recently launched pages on vaccine safety to help combat misinformation

She spends a few hours each week writing for and updating material on the platform. “My aim is to spread free and reliable knowledge in multiple languages that everyone can access and re-use,” she says.

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