Printing press in india during british rule

Printing press in india during british rule

The press as we know it today was, however, brought to India in the wake of British rule. Under the rule of the East India Company, there was the possibility of interesting news and some enterprising journalists set up printing presses in India to expose the misdeeds of the Company. No newspaper was published until 1780 because the Company’s establishments in India were a close preserve, and the Company’s servants by common consent wished to withhold the evils and malpractices arising from “private trading” in which all of them, almost without exception, illegally indulged. The first newspapers were started by disgruntled ex-employees of the Company. They were aided and abetted by servants of the Company who used these newspapers for furtherance of their personal rivalries and jealousies.

It is significant to mention that even though the first printing press set up in the third quarter of the 16th century, publication of a newspaper was delayed by more than two centuries. The absence of a newspaper must have created a vacuum in the field of communication. However, this deficiency could overcome when James Augustus Hicky, who may rightly be called the father of Indian journalism, published, printed and edited the first newspaper of India in Calcutta, bearing the title The Bengal Gazette or the Calcutta General Advertiser. Bengal Gazette was intended to operate as an organ for the local British settler population. The circulation of the printed interests and views of the British Indian population would come to represent a public opinion that countered the absolute rule of the colonial authorities. Much like the growing power of the British press, the English press in India came to be associated with a liberal, reform-minded agenda that challenged the authorities both to justify their own actions and to respond to public demands. For the very reason, the authorities treated the press with distrust and imposed stringent licensing and registration laws for the publication of newspapers.

The turn of the 18th century marked the end of a phase in journalism in India. It was a period of control on the press. If the person intending to start a paper was already persona non grata with the government or with influential officials, he was deported forthwith.

If a newspaper offended and was unrepentant, it was first denied postal privileges; and if it persisted in causing displeasure to the government, it was required to submit part of or the entire newspaper to pre-censorship; if the editor was found “incorrigible”, he was deported. Another aspect of journalism in India during this period was that it contained material exclusively of interest to and relating to the activities of the European population in India. The early newspapers were thus started by ex-servants of the Company who had incurred its displeasure and their columns were devoted to the exposure of the evils and malpractices of the time.

The first two decades of the 19th century saw the imposition of rigid control on the press by the Marquess of Wellesley. This attitude to the press was the result of personality and values of this governor general. The press regulations required a newspaper to carry in imprint the name of the printer, the editor and proprietor, to declare themselves to the Secretary to the Government and to submit all material published in the paper to his prior scrutiny. Publication on Sunday was prohibited. The prescribed punishment for breach of these rules was immediate deportation. The Secretary was vested with the powers of a censor. By a separate set of rules he was required to exclude from newspapers information in regard to the movement of ships or the embarkation of troops, stores or specie, all speculation in regard to relations between the Company and any of the Indian kingdoms, the information likely to be of use to the enemy and comments likely to excite alarm or commotion within the Company’s territories. In addition, he was to exclude all comments on the state of public credit, or revenues, or the finances of the Company, or on the conduct of Government offices, as also private scandal or libels on individuals. He was also required not to permit the publication of extracts from European newspapers which were likely to constitute a breach of the above restrictions.

Censorship was abolished in 1818, but the Directors in England didn’t like it. So to appease them Lord Hastings had to promulgate the following rules: -“The editors of newspapers prohibited from publishing any matter coming under the following heads:

  • Animadversions on the measures and proceedings of the Hon’ble Court of Directors, or other public authorities in England connected with Government of India, or disquisitions on political transactions of the local administration; or offensive remarks leveled at the public conduct of the Members of Council, of the judges of the Supreme Court, or of the Lord Bishop of Calcutta.
  • Discussions having a tendency to create alarm or suspicion among the native population or any interested interference with their religious opinions or observances.
  • The republications, from English or other newspapers, of passages coming under any of the above heads or otherwise calculated to affect the British power or reputation in India.
  • Private scandals and personal remarks on individuals, tending to excite dissension in society. These regulations were hailed in India and the newspaper press once again breathed free air. People again got busy starting new journals, when a few days ago none dared to do such a thing. These new regulations opened the way to a free press. Later on the same regulations were promulgated in Bombay also.

The new Governor General Lord Metcalf, the successor of Bentink came to power in 1835. Like Bentink, he was a liberal and held strong views in favour of freedom of the press. When appointed, he invited Lord Macaulay, the renowned liberal scholar, historian and politician, who was then the legislative member of the Supreme Council, to draft a Press Act presumably to be incorporated into the code which was being drafted by the Law Commission. Macaulay, who favoured the new act, pointed out that the existing licensing regulations were wrong and the press in India should be free. The proposed Act, was intended to establish a perfect uniformity in the laws regarding the press throughout the Indian Empire. Every person who chooses will be at liberty to set up a newspaper without applying for a previous permission. But no person will be able to print or publish sedition or calumny without eminent risk of punishment. Macaulay’s new Act found favour with Metcalfe. On August 3, 1835, Metcalfe the successor of Bentink with the unanimous support of the Council passed the Press Act of 1835- the most liberal Press Act in Indian history. The new law was made applicable to the entire territories of the East India Company. The law favoured the growth of the Indian press.

Lord Auckland succeeded Metcalfe, holding the position of Governor General until 1842. Auckland is remembered by the Indian press as favouring freedom of the press and supporting Metcalfe’s liberal legislation. During his regime, cordial relations existed between him and the editors of various Calcutta newspapers.

A revolt known as the Mutiny broke out in 1857 against British rule. It was the last armed attempt to throw out the British by force. As soon as the revolt broke out, the Government gagged the press with an ordinance akin to the press laws of Adam’s in 1823. This was the notorious Gagging Act by Lord Canning, who was the then Governor General, under which restrictions were imposed on the newspapers and periodicals. A permit was necessary for launching any paper or periodical and the Government observed utmost discretion in granting such a permit. The ordinance was equally applied to the Indian and the Anglo-Indian papers. The censorship was limited for one year. Lord Canning, wanting to improve his reputation in India, permitted the “Gagging Act” to expire on June 13, 1858.

Convinced that the vernacular newspapers were spreading national consciousness, Lord Lytton on March 1, 1878 passed the Vernacular Press Act, an Act for more stringent control of publications in vernacular languages. One of the most comprehensive and rigorous acts, this act furnished the Government with more effective means to punish and repress seditious writings calculated to cause disaffection with the Government among the ignorant population. It empowered any Magistrate of a district, or a Commissioner or Police in a Presidency town to force the printer and publisher of a newspaper to agree not to publish certain kinds of material, to demand security, deeming it forfeited at their discretion, and to confiscate any printed matter it deemed to be objectionable in accordance with this Act. No printer or publisher against whom such action had been taken could have recourse to a court of law.

The Vernacular Press Act excluded English-language publications. It elicited strong and sustained protests from a wide spectrum of the vernacular newspapers. In the year 1880, it was noticed that some improvement had taken place in the style and language of the vernacular newspapers since the introduction of the Vernacular Press Act. The Act was accordingly repealed by Act III of 1882 which retained power to the Post Office authorities to search for and seize any vernacular publications of a seditious nature, the importation of which had been prohibited under the Sea Customs Act, 1878.

The press played a vital role in the building of Indian nationalism. The national movement emerged from the fact that leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Keshab Chandra Sen, Gokhale, Tilak, Pherozshah Mehta, Subash Chandra Bose, C.R. Das, Dadabhai Naoroji, Surendranath Banerjee, C.Y. Chintamani, Moti Lal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malaviya, M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru used it as a medium for arousing and mobilizing nationalist public opinion.

The dawn of a new century resulted in increased number of newspapers, particularly vernacular newspapers which supported the growing national consciousness. The Anglo-Indian papers always supported Government measures and policies. This strengthened the distinction between the Indian and the Anglo-Indian press with the former favouring Indian nationalism and the latter favouring the government. The Government was also showing favouritism to the Anglo-Indian papers and opposing the Indian papers.

There was also a swing to control of the press and imposition of restrictions at the dawn of the new century. Lord Curzon took office in 1899 as Viceroy of India. He immediately began to make improvements which he thought were necessary without considering public opinion. The Official Secrets Act of 1903 was passed. It was nothing but an additional fetter to curb the liberty of the press. It was a grave peril to the independence of journalism. The Anglo-Indian press joined the Indian press in condemning this measure.

Another measure taken by Lord Curzon without considering public opinion and on the pretext of improving the administration of a large province like Bengal was the partition of that province in 1905. There was a massive agitation in Bengal against its partition because it was considered to be a measure designed to weaken the national consciousness of which Bengal was the centre. It was during this movement against the Bengal partition that the repressive measures of the British led to the rise of the revolutionaries and their journalism. Barindra Kumar Ghose, younger brother of Aurobindo Ghose, founded Yugantar in 1906 as the journal of the revolutionaries. Lajpat Rai in Punjab started a newspaper called Bande Mataram, the rallying cry of the movement against Bengal’s partition. Aurobindo Gose attracted the adverse notice of the authorities for his writings in Bande Mataram.

When Lord Minto succeeded Lord Curzon, he inherited a turbulent situation and tried to meet it by widening the scope of the Press Act. A number of ordinances and circulars abridging the right of free speech and free criticism were issued. Lord Minto passed the Newspapers (Incitements to Offences) Act of June 1908, which empowered the authorities to take judicial action against the editor of any newspaper which published matter which, in the view of the Government, amounted to incitement to rebellion. Simultaneously, the Governor of Bombay made a declaration in the Legislative Council at Poona, that the Government was determined to put down seditious agitation in the province.

The six-year of administration of Lord Irwin (1925-1931) was a turbulent period. The Indian leaders were dissatisfied with Lord Irwin’s proclamation to give dominion status to India and declared at the Lahore Session that the goal of the Indian National Congress was complete national independence. Soon after that, in April 1930, Gandhi began his Civil Disobedience Movement with the march to Dandi to break the salt law. The movement spread throughout the country, creating turmoil. Thus, this period is marked by a greater government control and restrictions on the press. The 1930 Indian Press Ordinance, one of the six Ordinances aimed to better control of the press similar to the 1910 Press Act, was passed by the British Government. On March 6, 1931, the Government withdrew the Indian Press Ordinance of 1930 along with other ordinances passed that year because Irwin met with Gandhi and signed the Irwin-Gandhi Pact in which Gandhi agreed to discontinue the Civil Disobedience Movement.

In April, 1931, Lord Willington became the Viceroy of India. Unsympathetic to the Nationalist Movement, he declared the Indian Nationalist Congress illegal and took measures to suppress the Civil Disobedience Movement. The first of the repressive measures was the passage of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act of 1931.

Similar to the 1908, 1910 and 1930 legislation, this act empowered local magistrates at their discretion to require publishers and printers to deposit security of up to 1000 rupees. The local Government was empowered to take action against any publisher or printer suspected of printing or publishing material which may be constructed as incitement to commit crime. The local Governments were empowered to declare securities for forfeit and demand additional security, and to direct a Magistrate to issue a warrant to search property where copies of newspapers and books declared forfeit were suspected of being stored for distribution. This was an act which gave wide ranging powers to local Governments, the effect of which was to prohibit the printing of names or portraits of well-known leaders of the Nationalist Movement as well as notices and advertisements of meetings of the Congress Party or any political events.

With the beginning of World War II, the Government found it necessary to pass Defence of India Act, bolstering the authority of the Central Government to deal with seditious material. Censorship machinery with a Chief Censor, a Director of Public Information, and other censors and advisory committees in each province, began to operate. Printed material came under the scrutiny of the Government. On October 25, 1940, the Government of India issued an order which prohibited “the printing or publishing by any printer, publisher or editor in British India of any matter calculated, directly or indirectly, to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful conclusion, or of any matter relating to the holding of meetings or the making of speeches for the purpose, directly or indirectly, of fomenting such opposition as aforesaid: provided that nothing in this order shall be deemed to apply to any matter communicated by the Central Government or a provincial government to the press for publication.


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