Role of Press and Publications

 

Introduction

  • The developments across the world in Print Media, however came much later in 1780, when compared to developments across the world.
  • Further, from the beginning of the 19th century, politically conscious Indians had been attracted to modem civil rights, especially the freedom of the Press.
  • Sighting the Importance of Press, the struggle for the freedom of the Press became an integral part of the struggle for freedom.
  • James Augustus Hickey is considered the father of Indian Press. He started the Bengal Gazette in the year 1780.

 

Importance of Press in Nationalist Struggle

  • The Press was the chief instrument for carrying out this task, that is, for arousing, training, mobilizing and consolidating nationalist public opinion
    • In the period from 1870 to 1918, the national movement had not yet resorted to mass agitation through thousands of small and large Maidan meetings, nor did political work consist of the active mobilization of people in mass struggles.
    • The main political task then, was that of politicization, political propaganda and education and formation and propagation of nationalist ideology.
    • It was at these times, Press came into useful purpose.
  • To accomplish the work of National Congress
    • During its inception, the Congress had no organization of its own for carrying on political work.
    • Its resolutions and proceedings had to be propagated through newspapers.
    • Gradually, the influence of the Press extended far beyond its literate subscribers.
      • Nor was it confined to cities and large towns.
      • A newspaper would reach remote villages and would then be read by a reader to tens of others.
    • In fact, most members of Congress were Journalists, as a result of which Powerful newspapers emerged during these years
      • These were the Hindu and Swadesamitran under the editorship of G. Subramaniya Iyer, Kesari and Mahratta under B.G. Tilak, Bengalee under Surendranath Banerjea, Amrita Bazar Patrika under Sisir Kumar Ghosh and Motilal Ghosh.
    • To conduct the role of Opposition to the British Government
      • Nearly all the major political controversies of the day were conducted through the Press.
      • Almost every act and every policy of the Government was subjected to sharp criticism, in many cases with great care and vast learning backing it up.
    • Press was meant to arouse Political consciousness
      • At that time existed, the Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code according to Which ‘whoever attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government established by law in British India’ was to be punished with transportation for life or for any term or with imprisonment up to three years.
      • At such moment, Indian journalists adopted several clever strategems and evolved a distinctive style of writing to remain outside the reach of the law.
        • Since Section 124A excluded writings of persons whose loyalty to the Government was undoubted, they invariably prefaced their vitriolic writing with effusive sentiments of loyalty to the Government and the Queen.
        • Another strategem was to publish anti-imperialist extracts from London-based socialist and Irish newspapers or letters from radical British citizens knowing that the Indian Government could not discriminate against  Indians by taking action against them without touching the offending Britishers

 

Reaction of the British

  • The British instituted a number of Censorship measures from early 1800s, at least one of which survives today – the sedition clause.
    • One of the most infamous targets of the Sedition clause was the Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was tried and convicted thrice.
  • Later, they introduced the Vernacular Press Act in 1878, aimed squarely at supressing non-English papers from criticising the Raj, as the voice against the colonial rule had risen greatly after the famine in 1876.
  • As Nationalist movement, started gathering steam going into the 1900s, after establishment of Indian National Congress, the British began major crackdown of the Press by passing one act after another, like the Prevention of Seditious Meeting Act of 1911, Press Act of 1910, Criminal Law amendment Act of 1908.
    • The most disastrous of the act passed was the Press Act of 1910, which brought over 1000 newspapers under prosecution.
  • When Civil Disobedience Movement was well underway, and Salt March was taken, the Press(Emergency Powers) Act was passed in 1931, and further strengthened during Second World War.
    • The act gave provincial governments power to suppress propaganda, for the Disobedience Movement and was later used as weapon to ban all talks of Congress
  • Pre-Censorship was still evident in 1943
    • The Bengal Famine was reported by the Amrita Bazar Patrika. But, the British went so far as to ban the press from telling the country, that it was banned from talking about the famine, so that it could be brushed under the rug.

Despite all the opposition, the Press remained an ever-clever entity, as it continued its resistance by using underground papers, radio, art and graffiti. This continued till the British finally abdicated from India, creating the two countries – India and Pakistan.