The printing press was brought to India by the Portuguese missionaries in the 15th century.
From the beginning of the 19th century, the politically conscious Indian had realized the importance of the free press. Bengal Gazette was the first Indian newspaper in 1780.
Wellesley curtailed freedom of the press in 1798 it was for Englishmen in India to prevent the French from publishing anything that harmed the English.
Press: A tool for the national movement
The later part of the 19th century didn’t involve mass movement and mobilization of the masses. It was limited to the political education of the masses, the formation, and the propagation of nationalist ideology. It was in this that the press became a chief instrument in arousing, mobilizing, training, and consolidating nationalist public opinion.
The initial years of the congress were of heavy dependence on the press to propagate its resolutions, debates, and meetings to the people. Congress didn’t have an organization for carrying out political work.
Role of the Press
The influence of the press extended beyond cities and towns and even beyond literate viewers. As even in rural areas the newspapers were being read by a person to ten others.
A local library became a center of political participation as it was read and the news items were discussed by all.
Newspapers thus had become political educators as well as tools of political participation.
Political controversies were conducted through the press. It also played an institutional role in opposition to the government.
As every act and policy of the government came to be heavily criticized in the press. The task of exposing colonial rule was done through it.
However, doing all this was challenging as various laws and sections existed that punished even mild forms of dissent against the government. To circumvent these sections journalists used clever language and quotations from the British media in such a way that the reader would feel it was a critique of the government. Sarcasm, irony, and mock seriousness were other forms of critique.
The national movement too defended the press whenever the government tried to curtail its freedom. Freedom of the press became an integral part of the national movement. E.g. vernacular press act was passed by Lord Lytton to curb the freedom of the press of Indian language readers. This was due to fact that their readership went beyond the middle class. The draconian act provided for confiscation of the press and was later repealed by Lord Ripon.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak – Leader of the Extremists
The most notable journalist-activist was B. G. Tilak who founded Kesari [Marathi] and Maharatta [English] papers with the help of G. G. Agarkar. He was known as the Father of Indian Unrest.
He propagated anti-British content using simple but direct language. In the year 1893, he started the Ganesh festivals, and in the year 1896 Shivaji festival stimulated nationalism amongst young Maharashtrians.
He was sentenced to 18 months in prison for allegedly supporting the Chapekar brothers in their killing of Rand the official in charge of plague operations in Pune.
Although Tilak had condemned the act as that of a fanatic he also criticized the government’s tactics against plague-affected people. When he was tried he denied having any intention of preaching disaffection against the rulers.
Tilak became an all-India hero after this episode and the tile of Lokmanya was given to him.
In 1908 when bomb attacks became common on the government. It again resorted to harsh measures against the press. At this time though Tilak condemned the attacks against individuals and the use of violence. But he held the government’s attitude responsible for it. For this article again Tilak was sentenced to 6 yrs in prison in Mandalay, Burma.