SHILLONG: Padmashri Silverine Swer, 103, fondly known as Kong Sil, peacefully passed away on 1st February 2013 at her home in Riatsamthiah, Shillong. The funeral will take place on Monday, the 3rd of February at 1 pm. She will be buried at the Mawkhar Cemetery of the Mawkhar Presbyterian Church. The former Governor of Meghalaya, Mr Ranjit Mooshahary who felicitated her at the gardens of the Raj Bhawan when she turned 100 in 2010, was amongst the first to convey his condolences to her family members.
Born on 12th November 1910, Kong Sil was brought up in a Khasi Christian family. She passed her matriculation in ‘First Division’ in 1926, got a merit scholarship and went on to the Scottish Church College, Calcutta to complete her BA and BT degrees in 1932 and 1936 respectively. She started her career by taking a teaching assignment at the Welsh Mission Girls’ High School in 1937. She became the first Khasi woman to become the Trainer and Adviser of the Girls Guide Movement – a movement that became her lifelong passion until her last days.
Kong Sil was appointed in 1944 as the Assistant Controller of Rationing until 1949. Thereafter she went to teach at Pine Mount School, Shillong for three years. On New Year’s Eve celebration at the Shillong Club in 1952, she met Late Mr. N. K. Rustomji ICS, then Adviser to the Governor of Assam on NEFA who persuaded her to work in NEFA with these words: “with your precedent and experience as a trained teacher, a Girl Guide leader and an Officer during the War years, you would be the most suitable person for the post” of Chief Social Education Officer. She accepted the challenge and went to Pasighat. She was enthralled by the traditional dance of the Adis, the “Ponung” and was overwhelmed by the spontaneity of their local communities. She happily stayed on in NEFA for 15 years even though the mighty Siang River swept her house in the summer of 1954.
In 1968, Kong Sil returned to Shillong. She became a member of the “Good Will Movement” of the Moral Rearmament (MRA), went to Sweden in 1970 and took time to lay a wreath at the tombstone of Dag Hammarskjold, the highly respected Secretary General of the United Nations. From then on, Kong Sil took on many important roles in Meghalaya including the positions of the Chairman of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board, State Commissioner (Guides), Chairperson of the International Year for Women, Member of NEHU’s Executive Council and Adviser to many more organizations.
In 1990 she was awarded a Padma Shree for her long years of consistently competent, caring, loyal, sensitive and committed service.
Kong Sil had a long list of well wishers who would come from near and far to meet her and hear her lucid articulation of her dreams for the future generations of North East India. She has been an outspoken critic of the “high concrete walls that have successfully managed to create strangers out of our next door neighbours”. She would often speak longingly of the long leisurely walks that Shillong was once famous for. She constantly lamented at the filth of Shillong and especially of the stench, pollution and dirt of Wah Umkhrah, a once clear river of Shillong which represented the purity, richness and wealth of our indigenous culture of being one with nature. She once said “as a Khasi matriarch I search for Ka Tip Briew Tip Blei and it is nowhere to be seen.
We have lost one of the Jewels of the Khasis and of Shillong – an icon and a quiet evangelist for a better world for our future generations.