Khasi daily completes fifty years

IN Regional Media | 17/12/2010
The newspaper that fought for Meghalaya’s statehood and reported on the struggle to gain it has turned 50.
TERESA REHMAN traces its history
It’s true. Just as Northeast India does not interest ‘mainstream’ Indian media, the region too remains unmindful of the hullabaloo in the big media houses of the country. As the country is engrossed in one of the biggest media scandals involving some of the iconic journalists, a small vernacular daily in Meghalaya quietly celebrated its golden jubilee.
The ‘indifference’ was no different in the sixties when U Nongsain Hima, literally meaning ‘The Nation Builder’ was launched. The oldest Khasi daily was launched on December 6, 1960 with to reach out to the masses during the peaceful statehood movement, also known as the Hill State Movement. This need was felt because the then mainstream newspapers like Hindustan Standard published from Kolkata did not represent the struggle accurately. This daily in the Khasi language has been catering to local sentiments and playing a crucial role in carving the edifice of Meghalaya.
Lambok Thabah, Editor of the newspaper says, "Newspapers published from outside tried to downplay the movement. The founders of the newspaper like Late Prof. G G Swell felt it was pertinent to start something which gave a local flavour and popularize the movement." In keeping with the objective, U Nongsaiñ Hima did extensive coverage of the political upheaval during that time which eventually paved the way for the creation of Meghalaya in 1972.
Apart from its contribution to the history of Meghalaya, this newspaper has overcoming all kinds of constraints associated with the vernacular press. The daily which started as a weekly has now crossed the 50 year milestone recently. "It is a great moment for them as well as for the press fraternity," says David Laiphlang, President of the Shillong Press Club.
Listing limitations of the vernacular press Laiphlang says they cannot afford good quality newsprint, advertisements from the private sector are not forthcoming, government advertisements are doled out at Rs 75 per column cm whereas the standard new rate is in sq cm, the bills for these advertisements are recovered after 3-4 years and the newspapers cannot afford quality human resources.
U Nongsaiñ Hima is one of the five vernacular dailies published from Shillong – four in Khasi and one in the Garo language. Thabah claims that his newspaper is the highest selling daily with 25,000 copies per day. "We are the only Khasi daily which has received a certificate on the circulation data from the Audit Bureau of Circulation,’’ he adds.
Prasanta J Baruah, Executive Editor of The Assam Tribune writes, "Apart from spot news, most of the Khasi dailies provide ample space to crime and political reports. With the appointment of district correspondents, the emphasis on rural reporting has also gone up. Interestingly, most of the newspapers provide space in the inside pages for religious articles. Being a Christian majority state, this is not surprising. With all the newspaper being printed in colour and attractive layouts, people in the state today have a wide choice of newspapers."
U Nongsain Hima too has witnessed technological upgradation associated with most media houses. S S Syiem, who was the editor of the newspaper from 1992 to 2003 recalls how everything was in black and white and there were no computers. "We had a tough time convincing private companies to give us advertisements. On an average, our circulation ranged from 8,000 to 9,000 copies. Our newspaper was widely read by the Khasi people, specially in the district headquarters," he says.
As in most local dailies from the region, U Nongsain Hima is also not without political leanings. Veteran Hill State Movement leaders like G G Swell, former Deputy Speaker of the Rajya Sabha and former Chief Minister late E K Mawlang have been associated with the newspaper. In fact, A R Lyndoh, wife of Mawlang has been the publisher of the newspaper for the past 27 years.
Thabah says, "Though the genesis of the newspaper was political we have moved on since then. I have been the editor for the past five years and have found no interference from the management. Our editorial team can proudly claim that we have been functioning independently."
More than a repository of history of the media in the state, the newspaper also has an important role in strengthening the native language. "We have been preserving our language particularly through articles written by various thinkers and scholars. Completion of 50 years is a proud achievement for us," adds Thabah. The newspaper which was launched as a weekly in 1960 was turned into a daily in August 1992.

The daily is planning a year-long celebration next year with a series of events. They are also planning to raise the number of pages from eight to 12. The newspaper will also try to meet some of its dedicated old readers.

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