SHILLONG, Jan 27: Kongthong village, which received global attention for its unique lingo but has been languishing in the backwaters, is poised to see better days thanks to the initiatives of a non-Meghalayan to turn things around.
Having adopted Kongthong village in August 2020, Rajya Sabha member Prof Rakesh Sinha decided to attend the Republic Day function organised by the villagers but not before meeting the Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister on January 25 to get their commitment to allocate adequate resources for Kongthong and the surrounding Khat-ar Shnong villages.
Speaking at the public function on the premises of the ramshackle Seng Khasi Primary School, Prof Sinha said resources are not meant only for Shillong and Delhi but they have to reach every corner of this country because India lives in its villages.
Pointing to the present form of election where huge financial resources are required to contest elections, he said: “Instrumental democracy is what we must strive for. Instrumental democracy means that every individual not only has the right to vote but also to be elected. I would like to see an MP elected from this and other villages. Why should all representatives be urban elite?”
Prof Sinha made it very clear that he has not come to Meghalaya and Kongthong in particular to impose any extraneous culture but to help strengthen the cultural values of the people here because the living tradition of India as propagated by sages like Swami Vivekananda is to sacrifice one’s life for others.
“Let us cherish everything that will benefit humanity. Linguistic, caste, gender differences can often divide especially during elections but the rest of the time we are united as Indians. I wish to work as a family with the people of Kongthong and nearby villages,” he stated, adding that he will work tirelessly along with the state government to ensure that Kongthong is recognised as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
Informing the people of Kongthong that he had requested Health Minister AL Hek for a permanent dispensary stocked with medicines and to ensure that doctors visited at least once a week, Prof Sinha said Hek has assured him that it would be done.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma too had committed Rs. 1 crore for a project according to the priority listed out in the PRA exercise conducted by the people of Kongthong with assistance from the Meghalaya Basin Development Authority.
Prof Sinha said that people of Kongthong would need to ideate and come up with sustainable development goals such as achieving the status of a model village or a clean village where tourism is balanced with environmental conservation. Also, since Kongthong produces honey, black pepper, bay leaves, oranges, etc., they would need a small processing unit within the village, he said.
“Kongthong is my second home and I will visit this place again and again. I don’t wish to speak much since an ounce of work is better than a thousand words,” the Rajya Sabha member said.
Earlier, the MDC of the area and Chief Executive Member of Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, Titos W. Chyne lauded Prof Sinha for adopting Kongthong and rued that none of the MPs of Meghalaya have set foot in the area. He said he would be happy to work closely with Prof Sinha in developing the area.
Also present at the gathering was the faculty and team of the Tourism and Travel Management Department of Martin Luther Christian University (MLCU), B. Dkhar. The MLCU team has been working very closely with the people of Kongthong in promoting sustainable tourism in the area.
Pointing to the rapid deterioration of most tourist sites in Meghalaya due to overcrowding, Dkhar said Kongthong is a natural attraction as the “whistling village” which is a cultural heritage.
“People who come to Kongthong must know what they come for and respect that heritage. Tour promoters in the village must ensure they do not exceed the carrying capacity of the place and maintain a certain standard and also cleanliness. The environment cannot be sacrificed to tourism; the two must co-exist,” she said, adding that MLCU would continue to partner with Kongthong in its endeavour to offer high-end tourism.
MBDA Director Aiban Swer urged the people of Kongthong to remain united in their aim and purpose of development and not get distracted by other non-issues. He reiterated the need for a high school in Kongthong and an improved agricultural system. “We need to invest in skill-building in the village and promote self-help groups even while strengthening the existing ones,” Swer said.
Tour promoter and youth leader Rothell Khongsit, who has networked with Prof Sinha and other benefactors, also urged the villagers of Kongthong to remain united for their human development goal. He pointed out that Kongthong has three primary schools but no high or higher secondary school.
“After primary school, students have to go quite a distance to pursue their studies. We urgently need a high school and higher secondary school so that our young students can learn within the village. Most families cannot afford to send their children to good schools outside the village hence many drop out of school,” Khongsit said and requested Prof Sinha and Chyne to take this issue as a priority.
Kongthong came into prominence because of the special tune that a mother composes to name her child. Each child has a unique tune to his/her name. Prof Sinha first brought up this unique aspect of the village in Parliament in 2019 with the plea that it be given a special UNESCO tag.
Kongthong is one of the villages in the Khat-ar Shnong area on the way to Sohra in East Khasi Hills. It has about 125 households with a population of around 650. The literacy rate in the village is 95%.
In keeping with the naming tradition, Shidiap Khongsit coined a tune for Prof Sinha which will go down in the annals of Kongthong.
The Republic Day event also saw the Maharaj of Ramkrishna Mission, Sohra coming with huge boxes of clothes to be distributed to the villagers. Rothell Khongsit said that the Ramkrishna Mission had distributed rice and other essentials to the people of Kongthong during the lockdown period too.
“The children of Kongthong will sing a patriotic song befitting the occasion accompanied on the accordion by a very senior teacher of RKM, Sohra,” the Maharaj said.
On January 26, Prof Sinha also laid the foundation stone for constructing six public toilets in Kongthong besides donating 100 public dustbins to cater to the needs of the villagers and to inculcate the habit of hygienic garbage disposal.