The Press was the chief instrument for carrying out the main political tasks during the India’s freedom struggle. Discuss. Also mention British actions to curb efforts of the press. (250 words)
Indian press began to spread its roots in the 1870s. During 1870 to 1918 powerful newspapers emerged during these years under distinguished and fearless journalists. Both the English and vernacular press started by prominent Indian leaders acted as catalysts to the freedom struggle. The British were kept troubled by the national awakening caused by the press.
Note: you can mention names and editors of newspapers – for example — 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, Sudharak under G.K. Gokhale, Indian Mirror under N.N. Sen, Voice of India under Dadabhai Naoroji, Hindustani and Advocate under G.P. Varma and Tribune and Akhbar-i-Am in Punjab, Indu Prakash, Dnyan Prakash, Kal and Gujarati in Bombay, and Som Prakash, Banganivasi, and Sadharani in Bengal.
Role of press in freedom struggle
- The Press was the chief instrument for carrying out the main political tasks i.e. political propaganda, education, and formation and propagation of nationalist ideology to arouse, train, mobilize and consolidate nationalist public opinion.
- Even the work of the National Congress was accomplished during these years largely through the Press.
- The resolutions it took and the proceedings of its meetings were propagated through newspapers. Nearly all the major political controversies of the day were conducted through the Press.
- Interestingly and naturally, nearly one-third of the founding members of the INC in 1885 were journalists.
- In fact, almost all the major political leaders in India either owned a newspaper or were contributing their writings to one or the other.
- The circulation was not confined only to cities or large towns. Newspapers used to reach remote villages. A reader would then read them to the others who, most probably, were not able to read.
- Gradually the trend of libraries started all over the country. A single newspaper would be made the center of a local ‘library’. The main assets used to be a table, a bench or two or a charpoy.
- Every piece of news or editorial comment would be read or heard and discussed thoroughly.
- The newspapers were started to be considered as political educator and reading or discussing them became a form of political participation.
- Newspapers were not published with business intentions but as a national or public service. They were patronized and financed by rich, aware philanthropists.
- It played the role of an institution of opposition for the Government
British actions to curb efforts of press
- Since 1870 Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code stated that ‘whoever attempts to excite feelings of disaffection of the Government established by law in British India’ was to be punished with transportation for life or with imprisonment upto three years or for any term.
- Indian journalists used tricks to stay outside the Section 124A. They would publish anti-imperialist extracts from London-based socialist and Irish newspapers or letters from radical British citizens. Indian (British) Government could not discriminate against the Indians in taking action against them without punishing the offending Britishers too.
- The Vernacular Press Act of 1878, against Indian language newspapers, was passed at a single sitting of the Imperial Legislative Council.
- The Act ordered the confiscation of the printing press, paper and other materials of a newspaper if the Government believed that it was publishing instigative materials and had flouted any warning from the government.
- Nationalist public bodies and the Press campaigned against this Act. Eventually, it had to be repealed in 1881 by Lord Ripon.
One of the most prominent journalists, activists and Congressman was Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He owned two newspapers, one in Marathi called Kesari and another in English called Mahratta. His growing agitation accumulated many leaders and led many movements. That is why he started to be called Lokamanya Tilak. These activities led to his arrest and trial. But Indian Press did not let its role get diminished.