Ri Khasi Press: an agent of change

It takes commitment and dedication to carry the torch of a progressive society and the indigenous Khasi tribe is blessed to have produced men like U Babu Jeebon Roy Mairom, known as the “Father of Modern Khasi” , who worked tirelessly to promote Khasi literature, language and way of life through the establishment of a printing press.

In this episode of the iconic structures of Shillong allow us to take you on a journey down memory lane as we try to summarize the 126 year journey and transformation of the first vernacular press in the hills of Khasi – the Ri Khasi press , established by Babu Jeebon Roy in 1896.

Located in the tribal-dominated locality of Umsohsun, a few kilometers from Iewduh, the Ri Khasi Press is a landmark that recalls the advent of literacy in the Khasi and Jaintia hills.

This semi-concrete, semi-timber two-story structure with ample parking space, a small lawn in the front yard, and a park-like environment in the back yard, was a home away from home for many authors and budding Khasi writers. the day.

Before we dwell on the architectural and structural aspects of the press, let us first examine the mission and vision of the man who contributed enormously to enriching Khasi literature.

U Babu Jeebon Roy believed that to educate society, books written in vernacular languages ​​were of great value. Paramount importance. He believed that literacy and education were the most important assets that can be bestowed upon a child, an individual, and a community.

When he realized that in the hills of Khasi the emphasis was on publishing Bible stories and Bible translations, he propelled the need to establish a press that would go beyond religion and would emphasize literacy.

In 1896 he wrote a letter to Sir William Erskine Ward, then Chief Commissioner of Joint Assam, and said: “There are few religious books and pamphlets that have been published…. for primary schools, etc., but there are no publications which can serve as general reading for the majority of the population.

In the same year, the government gave its permission and the Ri Khasi Press was born. It was established within the compound of Babu Jeebon Roy’s residence in Umsohsun with its own revenue. The first manager was Chandranath Roy, son of U Babu Jeebon Roy.

From its inception till date, Ri Khasi Press has provided Khasi writers with a platform to launch their works. Besides that, it has also provided a platform for writers and readers to learn more about their own country and connect with other communities through literature.

The Ri Khasi Press was a busy establishment at the time. During the period of 1897 to 1901, Babu Jeebon Roy published a wide variety of books such as Ka Niam jong ki Khasi (1897), Ka Kitab Shaphang Uwei U Blei (1900), The history of India in the Khasi language (1901), three Khasi and Bengali primers and translation works of Hitopadesha in 1898, Ramayana and Chaitanya Charitra in 1900 and Buddha Deb Charitra in 1901. His eldest son, Sib Charan Roy translated the Bhagavad Gita from Sanskrit to Khasi.

Apart from Jeebon Roy’s books, many other acclaimed books have also been published here like Ka Jingsneng Tymmena Khasi Book of Ethics and Etiquette, a literary masterpiece by Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang published in 1901. It was translated into English by the famous author Bijoya Sawian and published in 1997.

Here’s something you might be interested in: We all know that it was Reverend Thomas Jones, a Welsh Christian missionary, who recorded the Khasi language in Roman script. But did you know that it was Babu Jeebon Roy, along with his fellow authors – Rabon Singh Suka and Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang who perfected the pronunciation and diction of the language. They removed the letters c, f, v, x and z and added “ng, ï and ñ” to the alphabets.

The Ri Khasi press was established not only to spread knowledge among the people, but also to provide employment for young illiterate Khasi women who wanted to earn a living.

After the establishment of the press, Babu Jeebon Roy put his own daughter, Lakheitmon Sawian, to work in the press to encourage other women to come forward because at that time it was said that Khasi women were ashamed to seek employment .

The printing house still operates as a printing house and publishing house using the latest technology. Besides general printing, the press still prints school magazines, songbooks, research papers, and private, government, and other journals.

In its long and difficult journey, Ri Khasi Press continues to maintain the tradition established by its founder and serves as a platform for Khasi literature while promoting intellectual and cultural thoughts of the past and future.

(Watch the full version of the story only on our YouTube channel @TheShillongTimes)

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