Yogesh Gambhir/Role of Press on Intellectual Awakening: A Study of Vernacular Newspapers in the Context of Indian Nationalism

Yogesh Gambhir,


DRV DAV Centenary Public School,

Phillaur, Punjab, India.



The Press, which is regarded as an important part of Modern life has acquired slowly a versatile position after the great revolt of 1857 and onwards. The introduction of Printing Press in India was an event of revolutionary significance in the life of Indian People. The awakening and growth of National consciousness among them gave rise to the nationalist press. In the overall fight for freedom, Press played a very important role, as the British published newspapers supported their interests. As a result so many vernacular newspapers were started by the Indians to awaken Indians against the British policies, though they supported different interests. The important vernacular newspapers before independence were The Times of India, The Tribune, Pioneer, Amrit Bazar Patrika, The Bengal Gazette, The Daily Milap etc.The Present paper will explore how this print Media covered the various events and popular feelings till the attainment of freedom of our country. How these newspapers adopted, adjusted, renewed itself to meet the needs and exigencies of the changing time before independence.

Key words:  Nationalist Press, Vernacular, Awakening, Media, Freedom, Independence.

The liberal attitude of Lord William Bentick and Sir Charles Metcalfe towards the press, the developed means of transport and communication and the spread of education provided an unprecedented opportunity for the press to grow in India. Press became a very powerful source to express individual thoughts and views. The first printed newspaper of India was in English edited and published by James Augustus Hicky, an employee of East India Company. It was named as Bengal Gazette which came out on 29th January, 1780. The name Bengal Gazette might be given because at that time Bengal was the richest state of India. The only purpose was to highlight their policies, interests and to promote western education. Prominence of English newspapers remained for quite a long time. But after the revolt of 1857, awakening among Indians were at the peak, because the nationalist leaders very well understood the intentions of the Britishers. Though the revolt of 1857 was a major set back to Indians, but on the other side. Britishers also got a lesson, that India were now fully awakened. Many harsh policies were made against the Indians immediately after the revolt of 1857. The revolt was suppressed after bitter fighting for ever a year, though peace was not restored until 1859. The British rulers followed a ruthless and indiscriminate policy of vengeance, thousands of people were hanged in delhi, Lucknow and other Places.

A “Gagging Act” had been passed following the Indian Rebellion of 1857 which sought to regulate the establishment of printing presses and to check the content. All presses had to have a license from the government with no distinction between publications in English and other regional languages. The Act also held that no printed material shall spread anything against the motives of the British Raj, tending to bring it hatred and contempt and exciting unlawful resistence to its orders. It was clearly mentioned in a book by M.G Aggarwal which is a tribute to Indian freedom fighters. The role of women freedom fighters was also very well written in his book. Indian Patriots like Mangal Pandey and Rani Laxmi Bai along with other patriots fought together to drive out British from India. The brave acts of these two heros of the 1857 revolt and others were beautifully compiled by Bipan Chandra and Mridula Mukherjee in their book. The book is actually like a journey of India’s freedom struggle till independence. Eventually the educated Indians started propagating the western culture not to support Britishers but to awaken the Indian by reading books on different revolutions etc. So that common masses could also start reacting against British policies and present their grievances. English newspapers highlighted the treatments given to Indian freedom fighters and general masses who showed dissatisfaction or resentment against them just to scare Indians. Though some vernacular newspapers were there like Mumbai Samachar in Gujrati, Samachar Sudhavarshan in Hindi, Kannada Samachar in kannada, Darpan in Marathi, Tamil Patrika in Tamil. These all newspapers were the pioneer newspaper in their respective languages. But their area of circulation was limited as a result complete unity was made among Indians. Same was endorsed by Aneeta Rani in her book where she mentioned that The civil and military gazette was considered to be one of the most powerful Anglo-Indian papers in Punjab. In 1876 it became daily paper and its headquarter was shifted to Lahore. The Punjab native newspaper witnesses a slow and halting pace of progress, as their sale and circulation were limited. But the indigenous press began to reflect the ferment within the society of Punjab. What happened in one part of India, the other part was not aware of Britishers were totally against the Indian Press, because they had realized nationalist press as a danger to their stay in India. But they never wanted to leave India at any cost.

Britishers started imposing several restrictions on Indian press. When the British Government found that the Gagging Act was not potent enough to repress all Nationalist sentiments, it created a more forcible law, designed in part by Sir Alexender John Arbuthnot and Sir Ashley Eden, Lieutenant Governer of Bengal. At that time the Vernacular Press Act was passed, there were thirty five vernacular papers in Bengal, including the Amrita Bazar Patrika, the editor of which was one Sisir Kumar Ghose. Sir Ashley Eden summoned him and offered to contribute to his paper regularly if he gave him final editorial approval. Ghose refused, and remarked that “there ought to be at least one honest journalist in the land.” The Vernacular Press Act might be said to have grown from his incident. About the time the Act was passed, Sir Ashley remarked in a speech that forty five seditious writings published in fifteen different vernacular papers were presented to him before the Act was finalized. Lord Lytton passes vernacular press act, which authorized the magistrate to confiscate the Printing presses of any Indian language newspapers preaching dissatisfaction against the British. The Act provided for submitting to police all the proof sheets of contents of papers publication. What was seditious news was to be determined by the police, and not by the judiciary. Under this Act many of the papers were fined, their editors jailed. Thus they were subject to prior restraint. The affected party could not seek redress in a court of law. This was done primarily to suppress Indian nationalist feelings and to threaten them. As a result, some vernacular newspapers became English ones and Madras saw the emergence of new daily ‘Hindi’ and Lahore ‘The Tribune’. Dayal Singh Majithia had felt the need of publishing an English paper after the act. Surendere Nath Banerjee an active member of India National Congress also helped him by providing him the infrastructure for this purpose. Surendre nath Banerjee stated in ‘A Nation in the Making’ that he persuaded Dyal Singh Majithia to start the newspaper at Lahore and purchased for him at Calcutta the first press for the Tribune. It was read by English educated section of the society both Hindus and Sikhs. At almost some Arya Samaj also established DAV educational institutions in Punjab and other places to the reform the Indian society. One of the reason that Tribune was established was to campaign against establishing a university in Lahore which was to give predominant position to languages like Sanskrit and Arabic with English. Soon Tribune became very popular and patriotic Vernacular newspapers. Tribune always takes about the free expression at the time when India was leading the freedom. The same was published by V.N Datta in his work, where he attempts to after a comprehensive history of the Tribune from its publication to present and its contribution in the freedom struggle. This was the real birth of India vernacular press. Thereafter many other prominent India language newspaper emerged as Aaj (1920), Ananda Bazar Patrika (1922), Sakar (1931), Mathrubhumi (1930). Lahore at that time was the most important centre for the publication of newspapers, journals, weeklies and the monthlies.

It is well known fact that during independence movement, Press was subjected to series of hard ships and hurdles by the reigning British imperialist masters. Freedom of expression and propagation of Ideas among the masses were restricted through various laws. Strict actions were taken by the British. The book by Aurobindo Mazumdar is a heavily documented One – Judgements of the presiding magistrates and of the judges of High Court, Cases of Section and the after alleged offences with which the editors, publishers and printer’s newspapers and magazines were charged on some pretext or the other. But by this time Indians were also determined and adamant to do what ever they could do, to get rid of British rule from India. All the newspapers which were owned by the Britishers till the end of 18th century had no role at all in developing national consciousness. However growth of Indian press though it was less in number under the Indian editorship became a formidable weapon in integrating the people of India and fostering deep sense of patriotism. The newspapers and their articles revealed the economic disasters of the people and blamed the British rulers for the impoverishment of the Indians. Mridula Mukherjee in her book make a study of Punjab under colonial rule and examined the economic facets of the life of the Punjab Peasants which brought economic nationalism among them. The author has well attempted in her work to delineate the nature of forces that were buffeting the Peasants, once they became a part of the modern world of colonialism. The author has made an extensive use of data collected from govt. archives and private papers in India and Britain, as well as the village surveys etc. Harish Chandra Mukherjee, the editor of the Hindu patriot published a true picture of the exploitation of the peasantry of indigo planters not only the farmers, but industries also suffered a serious set back as all raw materials of industries were sent from India to England. The British goods were sold in India and this led to the decline of the handicraft. On the similar lines, policy of social discrimination was also followed by the English. All high posts were monopolised by the Europeans. But with the help of Nationalist Press, these grievances of the Indians, became the headlines of many vernacular newspapers. Press became one of the major factor responsible to the tremendous growth of Indian Nationalism. The most significant feature of the Indian history during the second half of the nineteenth century was the growth of press and nationalism for different factors the sense of nationalism developed among the people, and Indians started writing on political and administrative grounds and as a result of Indian National Congress was established in 1885. Literary activities of the litterateurs contributed a great deal to the national awakening. The intelligentsia such as poets, philosophers, writers and other literary persons have had always played a key role in awakening the people. It was famous Indian patriot Bankim Chandra who was the first to address the motherland as ‘Maa’ (i.e mother). This identification of the motherland with mother inspired Indians with a deep sense of Nationalism. Not only Bankim Chandra but many other writers such as Rajnikanta Gupta, Dinabandhu Mitra etc. through their writings inculcated a spirit of Patriotism among the people of our country. Press provided them a platform to express their views and through their published articles in newspapers and in the books to expose the destructive nature of the foreign rule and at the same time urged upon the people to unite against the foreign rulers. The Press also helped in the growth of provincial literatures and cultures, which were provincial in form and national in content. By this the opinion travels across the boundaries. The editors commenced a very high reputation at the time of the birth of Indian national Congress. Editors represented the voice of Indians through their words. They were given due respect which is clear from the fact that they were offered the frontline seats in the first ever congress session held in Bombay in Dec, 1885 included some of the editors of Indian Newspapers. There were many congress presidents who had either been the editors or had started the publication of their newspapers. Like Ferozeshah Mehta and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya who acted as President of Indian National Congress started Bombay Chronicle and Hindustan newspapers respectively. Our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru of the country also founded the National Herald. There was not a single province in India which did not produce a journal or newspaper to uphold the cause of freedom struggle.

Socio religious reform movements also played a key role in promoting nationalism and intellectual awakening among the masses. The religious and social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who is also known as the Pioneer of Nationalist Press, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda tried to reform Hindu society and religion through their literature printed in books or Newspapers. Raja Ram Mohan Roy himself published journals in Bengali, Persian, Hindi and English to educate the Public on various current issues. Samvad Kaumudi was the most important journal broughtout by him. Another organization in northern India which aimed to strengthen Hinduism through reform was the Arya Samaj. Numbers of newspapers were those to present the public opinion, and upto great extent they had a great impact on the British. Britishers were at one point of time scared of Indian freedom fighters and press in particular. Under the influence of Arya Samaj and its principles a new newspaper was founded by Mahashey Khushal Chand Ji later known as Mahatma Anand Swami Ji Saraswati known as The Daily Milap in Urdu in 1923. Mahashay Khushal Chand ji belonged to a freedom fighter family also known a Milap family who fought tooth and nail for the freedom of the country. Before this newspaper one another newspaper in Urdu was in circulation called Zamindara. The purpose of starting this newspaper in Urdu was, that most of the people in north were Urdu speakers. Though it was started to propagate the ideas and principles of Arya Samaj, but gradually it started covering each and every incident also related with British brutalities with Indians. The editors of this newspaper were Sh. Ranbir and Chander Parkash Ji. In one of the edition of the newspaper. The Kakori Train conspiracy case was very well covered by the paper and awakened the masses about the conspiracy. The arrival of Simon Commission was a set back to the Indian people. People raised the slogans like ‘Simon go back’ showed black flags to show their resentment. An all India Hartal was called to send the commission back England as these proposals were against the Indians. Lala Lajpat was assaulted by Police at Lahore with Lathis. As a result Lala Lajpat Rai, died on 17th November, 1928 due to injuries. The injustice done to Indians and Leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai became the headlines of all the newspapers. Newspapers helped a lot in uniting the people as a result Indians decided to observe 26th January, 1930, as first Independence Day. Gandhi already became the international figure by that time. He launched another movement called civil disobedience movement in 1930. The first phase was launched on March 5, 1931. All the newspapers supported this movement whole heartedly by covering each and every aspect of the movement. The newspaper headline of The Daily Milap of April 6, 1930, mentioned clearly the wave of Indians and there unity to support Gandhi Ji and the movement. Another historic incident which shattered Indians badly and lowered down the morale was the execution of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev om 23rd March, 1931. All the leading newspapers like The Tribune, The Times of India, The Daily Milap highlighted this brutal act of Britishers. The headline of 24th March, 1931 of Tribune was “Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev executed”. It was criticized at international level also and covered by various newspapers like by “Daily Workers” New York on 25th March, 1931. The news was “Lahore government executes 3 Rebels”. The detailed news mentioned how Bhagat Singh and other rebels were tortured and executed by the Britishers Series of incidents happened after execution of Bhagat Singh, but the struggle for independence was not ended rather more intensified.

Regularly, new newspapers were added with a sole aim to present public opinion and to awaken the masses. One of the leading Urdu newspaper of that time i.e The Daily Milap started publishing the newspaper in Hindi also in 1930 with same name, so that it could reach in more hands. The second world was started in 1939. The newspaper headlines of The Daily Milap of 6th April 1939, 19th April 1939, 24th April 1939, 1 May 1939, 21 November 1939, 24th November 1939 stated that how Indians started agitations like Satyagrah, Non-cooperation. Gandhi Ji’s contribution towards society, and Subhash Chandra Bose’s resignation inspite of the strict restrictions on the newspapers to publish such news like compulsory involvement of India in the war. The two main headlines of the newspapers added fuel to the fire of freedom struggle. The headline on 17th December, 1940 “Akela Bharat Vartman Yudh Ka Ant Karega” and “Mein Desh ke Jahaj ke Captain hoon” by Gandhi motivated the Indians and a result under the leadership of Gandhi ji, Quit India movement was launched in 1942. The movement is considered as the last phase of Indian National Movement. But unfortunate thing for India at that time was demand of a separate state by Muslims. This was a result of British divide and rule policy, and they became successful seeing the disunity in India. On the other hand by the end of 2nd World War. It was very clear to them that their stay in India was almost over. But very cleverly they announced the elections on 21st August, 1945 to the centre and provincial legislative assemblies. They main motive was to divide the seats between the unionists and the League. The same with more details are written by Ian Tablot in his article on The 1946 Punjab elections. Media also tried its level best to unite both the unionists and the league but the seed which was sowed by the Britishers bore its fruit. India was divided into the parts India and Pakistan as per Lord Mountbatten plan made on 3rd June 1947 and announced on 4th June 1947. There was a mixed feeling prevailed among the masses at that time, happiness and joy for the freedom, but simultaneously sadness for division and separation. Almost all major newspaper not only in India but at international level also the cover page of 15th August, 1947 i.e Friday was covered with historic news only like

  • The times of India: Birth of India’s freedom.
  • The Statement: Two Dominions are born political freedom to one-fifth of human race.
  • The New York Times: Two Indian Nations emerge on word June.
  • Morning News: Sovereign Pakistan and India born.

To conclude, press was a powerful factor in building and developing Indian nationalism and nationalist movement, social, cultural, political or economic. Since Press was a powerful weapon of the nationalist struggle, the Indians Nationalists staunchly fought for its freedom throughout the Indian Nationalist movement. The press alone made possible exchanged of views among different social groups of different parts of the country inspite of repressive press laws by the British govt. Press became a weapon in the hands of Indians to proclaim to the masses, Principles, Programmes and Methods of democratic reconstruction of the Indian society. It fostered intellectual awakening among the masses such was the role of the press in the building up of an increasingly strong national sentiment and consciousness among the Indian people, in the development and consolidation of their growing national movement.


Works Cited

  • Aggarwal, M.G. Freedom Fighter of India, New Delhi: Publishing House, 2008. Print
  • Datta, V.N. Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, New Delhi: Pragati Publications, 2000. Print
  • Mazumdar, Aurobindo. Indian Press and Freedom struggle, Madras: Orient Longman Limited,1993.Print
  • Mukherjee, M Chandra, B. Colonial zing Aggriculture, The Myth of Punjab Exceptionalism, New Delhi: Sage Publications,2005.Print
  • Rani, Aneeta. Evolution of the Press in Punjab 1855 – 1910, The Punjab Past and Present. 21 (1987).Print
  • Talbot, Ian. The 1946 Punjab election, Modern Asian Studies, (1980):208-203.Print
  • n. pag.web.16.11.2015.www.wikipedia.org
  • n. pag.web.18.11.2015.www.paperdesign.in
  • n. pag.web.19.11.2015.www.trcollege.net
  • n. pag.web.20.11.2015.www.sanskritmagazine.com

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