Gangtok, June 10: In what comes as news of a heavy loss for journalism and the media fraternity in Sikkim, Santosh Nirash or ‘Mummy’/’Maa ji’ who was the first woman journalist of Sikkim and a founding member of the Press Club of Sikkim, passed away on the morning of June 10 due to a prolonged illness at her residence in Gangtok.
She was born on 3rd October 1928 in Pind Dadankhan, which is present-day Pakistan and travelled to Sikkim in 1959 as the Principal of Montessori School which has now been renamed West Point School. Three years into the job, she took up journalism, accompanying her husband Lt. Prem Sagar Nirash, who was a correspondent of London Telegraph then and a retired army officer.
The interest in journalism, however, had taken root right from her college life. When she was doing her graduation at Dehradun DAV College, she edited ‘Vanguard,’ a college magazine. The media duo were also responsible for Sikkim’s first monthly English magazine called ‘Broader News and View’ in 1973. Following its failure, they started ‘Jamana Sadabahar’, a Hindi weekly, in 1987 based in Gangtok.
Having started her career as a journalist with a deep interest in social and developmental issues, she witnessed Sikkim when it was a monarchy and the various events that led to its merger with India, having truly lived through history while documenting it.
She believed in the future of journalism in Sikkim, condoning corruption and political affiliation.
Her work did not stop at journalism but extended to philanthropy and advocating social awareness on various issues. The latter led the Sikkim State AIDS Control Society to appoint her as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2010. She was vocal about the women’s issues and empowerment.
In a press statement from The Statesman, on August 26th 2013, with regards to the gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai. “We stand together in expression of our solidarity, demanding protection and security for the women in the country. This is an issue of great concern for all of us”, said a senior woman journalist from Sikkim, Ms Santosh Nirash.
“We should raise voice against such heinous crimes”, she added.
On the topic of her amplification of women’s empowerment a writer D. B. Rai, in Eastern Panorama, a Northeastern magazine, writes:
“Maaji is not only determined and resolved but also advocates woman empowerment. One of her fortes is to write for women emancipation. This line proves it: one day, there was a power outage in the press and her paper wasn’t in a position to be published, she right away started penning news. Throughout the night she wrote news by herself and the next morning the paper hit the bookstands. She further says (about the general election in which Dil Kumari Bhandari was contesting.) “She was a woman candidate; I wanted to see her victory not because she was NB Bhandari’s wife but because it would become a stepping stone towards woman empowerment in the country and it happened so.”
Amongst the various awards she received was the Sikkim Sewa Samman for Journalism by the Government of Sikkim (2012), Kanchenjunga Kalam Purushkar (2009), Nirman Puraskar (2005) and the Kashiraj Pradhan Lifetime Achievement award for her contribution to the field of journalism, in 2018.
In fond memory of Santosh Nirash
There has been an outpouring of grief on the news of her demise, with the Chief Minister of Sikkim Prem Singh Tamang, former Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling and other dignitaries expressing their sorrow.
Nirmal Mangar, Editor-in-Chief of Sikkim Chronicle remembers her fondly. “Santosh Nirash lovingly known as Maaji was a mitochondrion of energy and passion. Her journalism career spans more than most of the journalists’ age in Sikkim. Ethical, caring and undisputedly loving she would be remembered as the first-ever woman JOURNALIST of Sikkim. I will miss her taking on bike rides”.
Dichen Ongmu Bhutia, a journalist at Sikkim Express, shares:
“I never had an opportunity to work with Maa ji but every time we met she would greet me back with a wide smile and bless me keeping her hand on my head literally. She never gave me a senior journalist kind of feeling. She always treated me as a granddaughter. Her warmth and word of encouragement is something I will cherish the most. Her aura, her positive attitude towards life, her zeal to forever work on field and love for her passion (profession) was remarkable. She was an epitome of positivity. Had it been possible, trust me, she would never quit working.
She is truly an inspiration to me and many in our field as she chose the road less travelled that too in that era when women were not allowed to step out of their houses, leave aside choice to work. She was a person full of life & laughter. May her departed soul Rest in Eternal peace”.
It remains clear, though, that her legacy of work would never be forgotten and by her decision to go where no woman had gone before in Sikkim, a field that is still largely dominated by men, she has left behind knowledge and inspiration for all the young women who hope to find their voices like she did.
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