Use of Press by Nationalists

Use of Press by Nationalists

This article deals with ‘ Use of Press by Nationalists – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Rise of Press in India

  • Portuguese brought press to India & first book published was Jesuits of Goa in 1557.
  • 1684 – East India Company setup printing press in Bombay
  • For a century no newspapers were published in Company’s territory because servants didn’t wish to make news of malpractices & abuses of private trading public & reach London.
  • First attempt to publish newspaper in India came from disgruntled employee who wanted to expose malpractice of Private trade (William Bolts in 1776) but he was stopped from publishing.
  • First newspaper in India was started by James Augustus Hickey named The Bengal Gazette /Calcutta General Advertiser in 1780 (Governor General at time was Warren Hastings) but he was too outspoken & criticized Governor General & Chief Justice & his press was seized in 1783.
  • Later other newspapers came up
    • Calcutta Gazette (1784)
    • The Oriental Magazine of Calcutta (1785)
    • The Calcutta Chronicle (1786)
    • The Madras Courier (1788)
    • The Bombay Herald(1789)

Rise of the Nationalist Press

  • Introduction of printing press in India was an event of revolutionary significance in the life of Indian People because it led to  awakening & growth of national consciousness among them &  gave rise to nationalist press
  • Raja Rammohan Roy was the founder of nationalist press . Although few newspapers before him were started by others but his Sambad Kaumudi (1821-Bengali) & Mirat ul Akhbar(Persian – 1822) were first indian newspaper with distinct nationalism in it .
  • Vernacular newspapers  published even from small towns discussed nationalist issues. Eg Bengali newspapers discussed on large extent issue of  increase in excise duties on cotton in western India.
  • Congress solely relied on press in the early days to propagate resolutions and proceedings . These newspapers were started not as a profit making venture but as a national service  & acted as source of the political education & participation
  • More Vernacular & English newspapers were started later
  Language By Year
Bombay Samachar Gujarati Faroonji Murzban 1822
Bang Dutt Bengali Dwarkanath Tagore , Prassana kumar Tagore 1830
Jam e Jamshid Gujarati PM Motiwala 1831
Raztgaftar Gujarati Dadabhai Naoroji 1854
Shome Prakash Bengali IC Vidyasagar 1858
  • Sir Surendra Nath Banerjea  started Bengalee in 1879 , an English daily to propagate his moderate nationalist views . He was even imprisoned for 2 months for Contempt of Court
  • Sir Dayal Singh Majeethia , on advice of Surendra nath started The Tribune of Lahore in 1877 .  It propagated views of  liberal nationalist hue

Fight to secure Press Freedom

Raja Rammohan Roy(1824)  had protested against a regulation restricting the freedom of the Press. In a memorandum to the Supreme Court, he had said that every good ruler ‘will be anxious to afford every individual the readiest means of bringing to his notice whatever may require his interference. To secure this important object, the unrestricted liberty of publication is the only effectual means that can be employed.’

Use of Press for Indian National Movement

  • Role of newspapers in making  nations in times when nations didn’t exist has been recognised by various scholars (eg Anderson in his book Imagined Communities)
  • During Revolt of 1857 : Many papers were in operation in the country.  In 1857 itself , Paygam-e-Azadi started publication in Hindi and Urdu, calling upon the people to fight against the British.
  • During peasant unrests , Newspapers came forward to take up their cause . Eg : During Indigo Rebellion , Hindoo Patriot and Somprakash came on side of Peasants .
  • Press was a weapon in the hands of nationalist groups to popularise the idea of representative government , liberty, democratic institutions , home rule, dominion status & independence . These newspapers had wide  reach till remote villages & acted as  local libraries .  People would gather around a single newspaper and discussed  each & every part of news .
  • Newspapers like Amrita Bazar Patrika of Sisir Kumar Ghosh ruthlessly examined each and every policy of Britishers and shook the moral foundations of Raj
  • Most of the work of Congress  atleast in Moderate Phase was also carried out through press & interestingly nearly 1/3rd of founding fathers of congress were journalists. Eg : Surendranath Banerjee’s Bengalee etc
  • Without press, all india conferences of nationalist organisations could not have been held and movements like Swadeshi Movement, Home Rule League, NCM etc couldn’t have been organised  . Eg
    • All national workers would look to Young India of Gandhi for directions
    • Home Rule League : Commonweal etc used by Annie Besant
    • Swadeshi & Boycott : Sanjibani, Hitabadi etc
  • During his stay in South Africa, Gandhiji had brought out Indian Opinion and after settling in India, he started the publication of Young India. Tilak also used Kesari and Mahratta to propagate  message of freedom movement and was also jailed for spreading Sedition .
  • Revolutionaries : They also used it to popularise idea of overthrowing the Raj by Armed rebellions . Eg : Ghadar Movement’s ‘Ghadar’ , Yugantar by Barindra Nath Ghosh etc
  • Indian Nationalists settled abroad also used newspapers to popularise their cause . Eg : Shyamji Krishna Verma started ‘Indian Socialist‘ and Madam Bikaji Kama’s ‘Bande Mataram’
  • Press was effective weapon in the hands of social reform groups to expose the evils such as caste fetters , child marriage, ban on widow remarriage etc and helped to organise their propaganda at large scale  (Eg : ICV Shomeparkash, RRRR Sambad Kaumudi)
  • Press also brought to the Indian people knowledge of happenings in the international world . Press also became weapon to construct solidarity ties between the progressive forces of different nations

Newspapers and person’s associated with them (important for Prelims)

Hindu & Swadesamitran G Subramaniyam Ayer
Bengalee SN Banerjee
Amrit Bazaar Patrika Sisir Kumar Ghosh & Motilal Ghosh
Kesari (in Marathi) Mahratta (in English) Tilak
Sudharak GK Gokhale
Leader MM Malviya
Hindustani Advocate GP Verma
Tribune & Akhbar e Aam Dyal Singh Majithia
Vande Mataram (Urdu)
Lala Lajpat Rai  
Hind Prakash
Dhyan Prakash
Gujarati Sandhya
Brahmabandak Upadahya
Yugantar Barinder kumar ghosh
Indian Socialist Shyaamji Krishanji Varma (in London)
Gadar Lala Hardyal
Reformer Prasann Kumar Tagore
Bahishkrit Ambedkar
National Herald JN Nehru
Bande Mataram Bikaji Kama
Vande Mataram Aurobindo Ghosh
New India Commonweal Annie Besant
Al Hilal & Al Balagah  Maulana Abul Azad
Pakhtun  Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
Kudi Arasu Naicker
Young India Indian Opinion (South Africa) Gandhi
Young India Home Rule league of Tilak 

Government policy of oppression & Methods deployed by nationalists to escape

1 . Section 124 A of IPC (Sedition)

  • Since 1870 – whoever attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government  was to be punished with transportation for life or for any term or with imprisonment upto three years.

Methods adopted by  Indian Journalists to evade this

  • Since Article 124A excluded persons whose loyalty to Government was undoubted , they prefaced their vitriolic writing with effusive sentiments of loyalty to Government of India & Queen
  • They used to publish anti-imperialistic extracts from London based Socialist & Irish newspapers eg sympathatic treatment of Russian terrorist activists against Tsar would draw parallel between Government of India & Indian revolutionaries

2. Vernacular Press Act 1878

  • An unfortunate legacy of Revolt of 1857 was  spirit of racial bitterness grew among rulers & ruled
European press Always sided government in all political controversies
Vernacular press Became more vocal & increasingly critical of government policies
  • Passed because Indian Newspapers became too critical of the policies of Lord Lytton & especially his inhuman approach towards victims of famine in 1876
  • Act empowered Magistrate
    • Require printer & publisher of newspaper  to enter into a bond binding them not to print or publish anything likely to incite the people against government
    • To warn as well as to confiscate deposit in case of violation
    • Magistrate’s action was final with no appeal could be made to a court of law
    • Only applicable to vernacular newspapers.
  •  Was later repealed by Lord Ripon in 1882

Was bitterly criticised by Indians because

  • Discriminatory Act – restrictions were imposed only on vernacular papers and english papers were out of its ambit
  • Moderate respectable Indians would retire from the field of journalism
  • Sound & healthy political growth would be retarded
  • Even the government would be deprived of all trustworthy sources of keeping itself well informed of the real inner feelings & thoughts of the people towards it

How Indian Newspapers escaped this

  • Was mainly aimed at Amrita Bazaar Patrika which was published in both Bengali & English but the day Act passed , overnight it converted to English Newspaper stopping Bengali edition. Hence, it was out of the  ambit of law

Main personalities who fought for freedom of press

1 . Surendranath Banerjea

  • First person to go to jail for performance of his duty as journalist
  • He wrote editorial in his newspaper Bengalee, condemning Judge of Calcutta High Court (Norris) by declaring him unworthy of his post who deeply hurt feelings of Bengali Hindus with objectionable remarks against some idol
  • Jailed for two months for Contempt of Court

2. BG Tilak

  • Militant Nationalist & started two newspapers with GG Agarkar – Kesari (Marathi) & Mahratta(English)  &  used them to spread discontent against British Rule & preach national resistance
  • Other vehicles used by Tilak
Ganapati Festivals The political recruitment of God Ganapati Started in 1893 to propagate nationalist ideas thru patriotic songs & speeches
Shivaji Festival Started in 1896 to stimulate nationalism among Maharashtrians
  • 1897 : published poem in Kesari titled Shivaji’s Utterance in which he justified Shivaji’s killing of Afzal Khan . Parallel was drawn by  justifying killing Britishers by Indians
  • 1897: Plague broke out in Poona & Government took severe measures of segregation & house searches. Tilak stayed in city to help people but at same time criticized harsh & heartless measures of government .  Popular discontent was already there & Chapekar Brothers killed Lt Ayerst ( although attack was against Rand , Head of Plague Committee) .  Government decided to use this opportunity against Tilak &  arrested him under 124A on charge of sedition . He was sentenced 18 months of rigorous punishment leading to  discontent in whole nation .  Protests even by moderates & Tilak became national hero overnight
  • Swadeshi movement : Press played major role & Tilak was front-runner in that .  Published articles like Arrival of the Bomb & condemned use of violence & individual killings.  Arrested in 1908 & 2 years imprisonment – massive public reaction – Bombay remained close for week in protest.

Legislations to control Press

Liberation of Indian Press , 1835 Lord Bentinck adopted liberal policy towards the press & considerable discussion was done about giving freedom to the press.
It was Metcalfe as Governor General who liberated Indian press & Lord Macaulay (true Whig) supported and encouraged him to do so.
New Act required publisher to make declaration giving true & precise account of premises of the publication to open it & inform while closing  

Note : Metcalfe = Liberator of Indian Press
Licensing Act, 1857 – After mutiny, it was found necessary to put restrictions on press
– Compulsory for each newspaper to obtain license & government reserved the discretionary right to grant licence or revoke it at any time .
– It was a temporary measure . Soon all restrictions were withdrawn & consequently many newspapers like  Indian Mirror, Amrit Bazar Patrika came up  
Registration act of 1867 Every book & newspaper was required to have printed legibly on it the name of printer & publisher and place of printing
Within 1 month of publication of book , a copy of the book had to be supplied to local government free of cost  

Vernacular press act of 1878 Dealt above
Repeal of Vernacular Press act Vernacular press act was resented as an attempt of government to curtail free expression of opinion
When Liberal Party’s government came to power – Lord Ripon became Governor General – he repealed this act Even Article 124A & its sedition principle was not used very frequently
Indians praised Lord Ripon for this gesture of  goodwill but English condemned this act saying that a free Indian press was bound to criticize the acts of omission & commission of the government & thereby bring it into disrepute
Newspaper (incitement to offences) Act , 1908 Press was criticizing Lord Curzon’s policy of repression . With this Act, Government did following
Empowered district magistrate to confiscate press & property connected with newspaper which published objectionable material which served as incitement to murder or acts of violence
Editors of newspapers were given option to appeal High Court within 15 days of order of forfeiture

Rigorous nature of act was resented  by Indian press & several important newspaper like Yugantar, Sandhya & Vandemataram stopped  their publication  
Indian Press Act, 1910 Act of 1908 wasn’t able to stop Anti-British campaign . Hence more stringent act was made 
Empowered Local Government to demand deposit not less than ₹500 & not more than ₹2,000 from the keepers of newsprinter presses & forfeit security & annul registration of offending newspapers. Fresh registration could be made by security of not less than ₹1,000 & not more than ₹10,000 & forfeit security, confiscate press if persisted to publish objectionable material
Definition of objectionable matter whose publication was to be curtailed – all attempts direct or indirect  to reduce persons as employed in His majesty’s defence forces or to intimidate people to give money for revolutionary work or to prevent them from giving help in discovering or punishing revolutionary crime
Aggrieved party can move to Special Tribunal of High Court against forfeiture within 2 months.  

In 5 years, action against 991 presses was taken & confiscated securities amounted to ₹5 Lakh.  
Defence of India Rules (WWI) Repression of the free public criticism during World War I
Press committee 1921 Chaired by Tej Bahadur Sapru as part of Government of India Act, 1919 
– Recommended repeal of the Press Acts of 1908 and 1910 => accepted in 1922  
Indian Press(Emergency Powers) Act, 1931 Civil Disobedience movement (CDM) was in full flow &  government reacted by imposing harsh control
Owners  of presses asked to deposit security &  amount to be decided by government
Penalty for printing objectionable material – 6 month imprisonment
Also restrained publication of pictures of the leaders of CDM & their news  
Foreign relations Act, 1932 – Any book, newspaper or other document containing such specified defamatory matter which tend to prejudice the maintenance of friendly relations between his majesty’s government & Government of such state would be retained in same manner as seditious literature  
Defence of India rules  (WW2) Press censorship
Amendments to act of 1931

At one time, publication of all news related to congress activity was declared illegal  

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