“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers…

An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.

“The Knowledge Library”

Knowledge for All, without Barriers……….
An Initiative by: Kausik Chakraborty.

The Knowledge Library

OUR PAST PART – V – Printing Press And Opium


The printing press came to India from the Portuguese missionaries. However, it was the East India Company that imported presses in the 17th century that boosted the press. English censorship was directed toward Englishmen and Lord Wellesley curtailed freedom of the press to prevent Englishmen from publishing reports about the Company rule.

    • James Augustus Hickey 1780 started The Bengal Gazette or Calcutta General Advertiser, the first newspaper in India, which was seized in 1872 because of its outspoken criticism of the Government.
    • The Company’s officers were worried that these newspapers might reach London and expose their misdeeds. Thus they saw the need for curbs on the press.
    • Censorship of Press Act, 1799, Lord Wellesley enacted this, anticipating the French invasion of India. It imposed almost wartime press restrictions including pre-censorship. These restrictions were relaxed under Lord Hastings, who had progressive views, and in 1818, pre-censorship was dispensed with.
    • Licensing Regulations, 1823, The acting governor-general John Adams, who had reactionary views, enacted these. According to these regulations, starting or using a press without licence was a penal offense. These restrictions were directed chiefly against Indian-language newspapers or those edited by Indians.
    • Press Act of 1835 or Metcalfe Act, Metcalfe (governor-general-1835-36) repealed the obnoxious 1823 ordinance and earned the epithet, “liberator of the Indian press”. The new Press Act (1835) required a printer/publisher to give a precise account of the premises of a publication and cease functioning if required by a similar declaration.
    • Licensing Act, 1857, Due to the emergency caused by the 1857 revolt, this Act imposed licensing restrictions in addition to the already existing registration procedure laid down by Metcalfe Act and the Government reserved the right to stop the publication and circulation of any book, newspaper or printed matter.
    • Registration Act, 1867, This replaced Metcalfe’s Act of 1835 and was of a regulatory, not restrictive, nature. As per the Act, every book/newspaper was required to print the name of the printer and the publisher, and the place of the publication; and a copy was to be submitted to the local government within one month of the publication of a book.
    • VERNACULAR PRESS ACT, 1878 A bitter legacy of the 1857 revolt was the racial bitterness between the ruler and the ruled. After 1858, the European press always rallied behind the Government in political controversies while the vernacular press was critical of the Government. There was a strong public opinion against the imperialistic policies of Lytton, compounded by terrible famine (1876-77), on the one hand, and lavish expenditure on the imperial Delhi Durbar, on the other.
    • The Vernacular Press Act (VPA) was designed to ‘better control’ the vernacular press and effectively punish and repress seditious writing. The provisions of the Act included the following.
    • The district magistrate was empowered to call upon the printer and publisher of any vernacular newspaper to enter into a bond with the Government undertaking not to cause disaffection against the Government or antipathy between persons of different religions, caste, and races through published material; the printer and publisher could also be required to deposit security which could be forfeited if the regulation were contravened, and press equipment could be seized if the offense reoccurred.
    • The magistrate’s action was final and no appeal could be made in a court of law.
    • A vernacular newspaper could get exemption from the operation of the Act by submitting proofs to a government censor. The Act came to be nicknamed “the gagging Act”.
    • There was strong opposition to the Act and finally, Ripon repealed it in 1882. In 1883, Surendranath Banerjee became the first Indian journalist to be imprisoned. In an angry editorial in The Bengalee Banerjee had criticized a judge of Calcutta High Court for being insensitive to the religious sentiments of Bengalis in one of his judgments.
    • Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908 Aimed against Extremist nationalist activity, the Act empowered the magistrates to confiscate press property that published objectionable material likely to cause incitement to murder/ acts of violence.
    • Indian Press Act, 1910 This Act revived the worst features of the VPA — local government was empowered to demand security at registration from the printer/publisher and forfeit/deregister if it was an offending newspaper, and the printer of a newspaper was required to submit two copies of each issue to local government free of charge.

Story of Opium in India

China was a country famous for tea, silk, and porcelain. These products had a huge demand in World trade but mostly the demand was Chinese Tea. To import tea English traders had to pay in gold or silver. The balance of trade was unfavorable and so Englishmen devised a second strategy.

They manufactured Opium in India, smuggled it through traders into China, and sold it to Chinese traders for gold and silver. This was used to pay for Chinese imports. This trade was now in favor of the British but morally damaged the Chinese. The entire nation was now addicted to this drug, it is estimated that 12 million Chinese were opium smokers.

The story of opium production in India is different. The Indian farmers were forced to manufacture opium and this was damaging to them as:

  • They had to sell only to British traders and at a low rate. Thus producing opium wasn’t beneficial for them.
  • Opium was a delicate plant and it had to be nurtured and so farmers didn’t have time for other crops.
  • It had to be grown on the best lands, well-watered and manured. Since usually pulses were grown on such lands they had to be shifted to other lands which were poor infertility. This led to food insecurity
  • Farmers who had no capital to cultivate their lands were offered loans by the government agents. They were to cultivate opium and then had to sell it to the government agents so that the loan could be repaid. But the selling price was too low and the farmers had to take a loan again from the agents for the next crop. this cycle continued.

However, the farmers rioted and refused to accept advances. They cultivated other crops instead. The farmers sometimes would sell opium to other traders who paid a higher price.

Soon farmers outside government areas started making opium. This would then be sold to traders in Calcutta who would ship it to China. Thus the governments’ monopoly over opium was reduced.

Pastorals and the Colonial State

Pastorals had multiple factors to decide as a part of living like where to find suitable pastures or grazing grounds for the herds, how to form a relationship with the farmers so that herds could graze harvested soil and manure the fields, calculate the timing of the movements of the herds so that they could pas uninterrupted and also decide how long herd could stay in one area.

Pastoral life under Colonial rule:

  • Colonials hated the pastorals and treated them like shifting agriculturalists. There was no revenue from the herders and so they were regarded as a nuisance.
  • Colonials wanted to transform all grazing land or open lands for agriculture as this would get the revenue. They offered land to people and gave them concessions to begin cultivation. Wasteland rules were enacted and so open grazing grounds or pastures were brought under cultivation. The pastorals were now facing the problem of finding new grazing grounds.
  • Forests were declared under various Acts as Reserved or Protected. In reserved forests, no access was allowed to people as these provided commercially important timber. Whereas in Protected forests grazing was allowed but it was restricted as the British believed grazing would harm new saplings and prevent the growth of the forest.
  • Permits were issued regulating the timings for which pastors were allowed and the duration of stay was also regulated. This meant that pastorals were to be fined for exceeding stays.
  • Pastorals were constantly moving and difficult to monitor or control. So the British declared them as Criminal Tribes and now there were to be allowed in notified villages only. Their movements were restricted by permits and village police would watch them.
  • Grazing tax was imposed on cattle and contractors would collect these on behalf of the British. These contractors would ask for as much as possible and pass on a fixed percentage to the British and pocket the rest.

Pastorals communities in India

Fig 1: Pastorals in India


Textiles and Colonial State

Indian textiles had a huge demand in the world markets. The Indian cloth was hand-made and exquisite. However, after colonization, the Indian textile industry declined as artisans lost their markets overseas as well as in India. The British policy was to blame for this:


  1. Indian textiles had to compete with machine-made textiles of British manufacturers. A large number of goods made it difficult for Indian manufacturers to compete.
  2. Due to high import duty in Britain, the market of Indian textile was lost as the cloth became noncompetitive.
  3. The British goods also captured the Indian market in Africa, America, and Europe. The Indian weavers and spinners lost their jobs and turned to agriculture or moved to cities or to overseas plantations.
  4. However, not all types of clothes could be made by machines like coarse cloth worn by poor people, and intricately decorated saris with traditional patterns. Sholapur and Mathura emerged as new centers for such weaving activities.
  5.  Traditional demand from royalty also declined as the British conquered these areas.

However, during the First World War, the Indian industry boomed again and recovered its share in the domestic market.


Iron Smiths and Colonial state

The iron industry too was affected by the British policies like the cotton industry.


  1. Forest Acts prohibited the smiths from accessing wood from the Reserved forests from which charcoal would be obtained. This charcoal was necessary for the smelting of Iron.
  2. Permits for accessing forests and fines for violating them were applied to smiths.
  3. Britain saw the industrial revolution and so cheap and efficient techniques were developed for manufacturing Iron.
  4. The Indian market was captured by Britain till the First World War and Indian artisans lost out. Indian blacksmiths too preferred British-made iron.
  5. The traditional royalty was replaced by the Colonial state and saw a demand that existed for iron for manufacturing swords, shields were no more.
  6. The emergence of Indian steel manufacturers who set up huge plants with high investments and had better economies of scale couldn’t be matched by traditional artisans.

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