The rise of press, literature and public opinion: Part II

The rise of press, literature and public opinion: Part II

The Vernacular Press Act, 1878:

  • An unfortunate legacy of the Rebellion of 1857 was the growth of the spirit of racial bitterness among the rulers and the ruled.
    • As a result the European press in India after 1858 was always ranged on the side of the Government in all political controversies.
  • The vernacular press, which had developed and grown on an unprecedent scale since 1857 became more vocal and increasingly critical of governmental policies.
    • This in turn created a strong public opinion critical of the imperialist acts of Lord Lytton.
    • The terrible famine of 1876-71 which took atoll of over six million people and the lavish expenditure on the Imperial Darbar at Delhi in January 1877 made the public opinion and the press restive.
    • Lytton on his part considered the newly rising intellectual class in India as ‘a deadly legacy from Macaulay and Metcalfe’ and tried to stifle their views.
  • The Vernacular Press Act 1878 was designed to ‘better control’ the vernacular press and to empower the Government with more effective means of punishing and repressing seditious writings.
    • The Vernacular Press Act of 1878, directed only against Indian language newspapers, was conceived in great secrecy and passed at a single sitting of the Imperial Legislative Council.
  • Provisions:
    • The Act empowered a District Magistrate with the previous permission of a Local Government to call upon the printer and publisher of any vernacular newspaper to enter into a bond undertaking not to publish anything likely to excite feelings of disaffection against the government or antipathy between persons of different races, castes and religions among Her Majesty’s subjects.
    • The magistrate could further require a publisher to deposit security and to forfeit it if the newspaper contravened the regulation. If the offence reoccurred, the press equipment could seized.
    • The magistrate’s action was final no appeal could be made to a court of law.
    • A vernacular newspaper could get exemption from the operation of the Act by submitting proofs of the paper to a government censor.
  • The worst feature of the Act was that it discriminated between the English press and the Vernacular press and no right of appeal to a court of law was given.
  • Under the Act, proceedings were instituted against The Som prakash, The Bharat Mihir, The Dacca Prakash, The Sahachar and a few other newspapers.
  • The Act partly succeeded in its objective and the tone of the vernacular press became submissive and the vernacular newspapers of the period showed very little originality in thinking and more often largely borrowed from the English press.
  • Lord Cranbrook, the new Secretary of State, objected to the pre censorship clause of the Act on the ground that the censors would have to be Indians and that they would have to, in point of fact, re write the newspapers.
    • Consequently in September 1878 the pre censorship clause was deleted.
    • At the suggestion of the Secretary of State, a Press Commissioner was appointed charged with the duty of supplying authentic and accurate news to the press.
  • Indian nationalist opinion firmly opposed the Act.
    • The first great demonstration on an issue of public importance was organized in Calcutta on this question when a large meeting was held in the Town Hall.
    • Various public bodies and the Press also campaigned against the Act.
    • The Act was in particular aimed at the Amrita Bazar Patrika which came out at the time in both Bengali and English.
      • The objective was to take summary action against it.
      • But when the officials woke up the morning after the Act was passed, they discovered that overnight, the editors had converted it into an English newspaper.
  • The Vernacular Press Act was repealed in 1882 by the Government of Lord Ripon.
    • Ripon, the nominee of the Liberal Government of Gladstone, held the view that the circumstances which justified the Act of 1878 no longer existed.
    • Ripon subjected the entire press to Section 124-A of the IPC which laid down adequate punishments for sediments writings.
    • The Press was free and even the law of sedition was put into use not so frequently.
  • The misery caused by the famine of 1896-97 and the bubonic plague led to discontent in the Deccan and there were cases of violence. The newspaper press played its part in the political controversies.
    • By Act VI of 1898, Section 124 of the Penal Code was restated and amplified and a new Section 153 A was added.
    • Similarly, Section 505 of the Penal Code was amended to punish statements which might lead to public mischief, cause disaffection among the armed forces or induce a person to commit an offence against the state.
  • In 1898, the Government amended Section 124A and added a new Section 153A to the penal code, making it a criminal offence for anyone to attempt ‘to bring into contempt’ the Government of India or to create hatred among different classes, that is vis-a-vis Englishmen in India.
    • This once again led to nation-wide protest.
  • Surendranath Banerjea was the first Indian to go to jail (in 1883) in performance of his duty as a journalist.
    • Popular reaction was immediate and angry.
    • There was a spontaneous hartal in Calcutta.
    • Students demonstrated outside the courts. Demonstrations were held in many other towns of Bengal as also in Lahore, Amritsar, Agra, Faizabad , Poona and other cities.
    • Calcutta witnessed for the first time several largely attended open-air meetings.

Role of Tilak:

  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak is most frequently associated with the struggle for the freedom of the Press during the nationalist movement.
  • In 1881, along with G.G. Agarkar, he founded the newspaper Kesari (in Marathi) and Mahratta (in English).
  • In 1888, he took over the two papers and used their columns to spread discontent against British rule and to preach national resistance to it.
  • In 1893, he started the practice of using the traditional religious Ganapati festival to propagate nationalist ideas through patriotic songs and speeches.
  • In 1896, he started the Shivaji festival to stimulate nationalism among young Maharashtrians.
  • In the same year, he organized an all-Maharashtra campaign for the boycott of foreign cloth in protest against the imposition of the excise duty on cotton.
  • He was, perhaps the first among the national leaders to grasp the important role that the lower middle classes, peasants, artisans and workers could play in the national movement and, therefore, he saw the necessity of bringing them into the Congress fold. Criticizing the Congress for ignoring the peasant.
  • In pursuance of this objective, he initiated a no-tax Campaign in Maharashtra during 1896-97 with the help of the young workers of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha.
    • Referring to the official famine code whose copies he got printed in Marathi and distributed by the thousand, he asked the famine-stricken peasants of Maharashtra to withhold payment of land revenue if their crops had failed.
  • In 1897, plague broke out in Poona and the Government had to undertake severe measures of segregation and housesearches.
    • Unlike many other leaders, Tilak stayed in Poona, supported the Government and organized his own measures against the plague.
    • But he also criticized the harsh and heartless manner in which the officials dealt with the plague- stricken people.
    • Popular resentment against the official plague measures resulted in the assassination of Rand (the Chairman of the  Plague Committee in Poona) and Lt. Ayerst by the Chaphekar brothers in 1898.
    • The Government was determined to teach a lesson to the Press.
      • Tilak was by now well-known as a hostile arid effective journalist. The Government was looking for an opportunity to make an example of him.
      • The Rand murder gave them the opportunity. The British owned Press and the bureaucracy were quick to portray the Rand murder as a conspiracy by the Poona Brahmins led by Tilak.
      • He was arrested under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code on the charge of sedition, that is, spreading disaffection and hatred against the Government.
      • The Judge passed a barbarous sentence of rigorous imprisonment for eighteen months, and this when Tilak was a member of the Bombay Legislative Council.
    • Tilak’s imprisonment led to widespread protests all over the county. Many nationalist newspapers hailed Tilak as a martyr in the battle for the freedom of the Press.
      • Overnight Tilak became a popular all-India leader and the title of Lokamanya (respected and honored by the people) was given to him. He became a hero, a living symbol of the new spirit of self-sacrifice.
  • With the rise of  individual terrorism after Swadesi movement, the Government felt unnerved. Once again newspapers became a major target.
    • Again the Government’s attention turn would towards Lokamanya Tilak, the mainstay of the Boycott movement and militant politics outside Bengal.
    • Tilak wrote a series of articles on the arrival of the ‘Bomb’ on the Indian scene.
    • He condemned the use of violence and individual killings he described Nihilism as ‘this Poisonous tree’ — but, simultaneously, he held the Government responsible for suppressing criticism and dissent and the urge of the people for greater freedom. In such an atmosphere, he said ‘violence, however deplorable, became inevitable.
    • Once again, on 24 June 1908, Tilak was arrested and tried on the charge of sedition for having published some articles.
      • He was awarded the sentence of six years’ transportation and he was sent to a prison in Mandalay in Burma.
      • The public reaction was massive. Newspapers proclaimed that they would defend the freedom of the Press by following Tilak’s example.
      • All markets in Bombay city were closed on 22 July, the day his was announced, and remained closed for a week.
      • The Workers of all the textile mills and railway workshops went on strike for six days.
        • Efforts to force them to go back to work led to a battle between them and the Police.
        • The army was called out and sixteen workers died with nearly fifty others seriously injured.
        • Lenin hailed this as the entrance of the Indian working class on the political stage.’
  • Echoes of Tilak’s trial were to be heard in another court when Gandhiji, his political successor, was tried in 1922 for the same offence of sedition under the same Section 124A for his articles in Young India.
    • When the Judge told him that his offence was similar to Tilak’s and that he was giving him the same sentence of six years’ imprisonment Gandhiji replied: ‘Since you have done me the honor of recalling the trial of the late Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, I just want to say that I consider it to be proudest privilege and honor to be associated with his name.”
    • The only difference between the two trials was that Gandhiji had pleaded guilty (Tilak had pleaded not guilty) to the charges.

The Newspapers (or Press) Act, 1908:

  • The disaffection created by the unpopular acts of Lord Curzon resulted in the growth of an Extremist Party in the Indian National Congress and led to acts of violence. The newspapers of the time often commented adversely on the Government policies.
  • The Government followed a repressive policy and enacted the Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908.
  • Provisions:
    • The magistrates were empowered to confiscate printing presses, property connected thereto of newspapers which published objectionable material which served as incitement to murder or acts of violence ;
    • The Local Government was empowered to annul any declaration made by the printer and publisher of an offending newspaper made under the Press and Registration of Books Act, of 1867; and
    • The newspaper editors and printers were given the option to appeal to the High Court within fifteen days of the order of forfeiture of the press.
  • Under the Newspapers Act of 1908, the Government launched prosecutions against nine newspapers and confiscated seven presses.
    • Several newspapers like Yugantar, Sandhya and Bandemataram stopped publication.

The Indian Press Act, 1910:

  • The Government further sought to strengthen its hands by the Indian Press Act of 1910 which revived the worst features of Lytton’s Press Act of 1878.
  • The Act empowered the Local Government to demand at the time of Registration security of Rs. 500 to 2,000 from the keeper of a printing press or publisher of a newspaper and to forfeit the security and annual the declaration of Registration of an offending newspaper.
  • The Government could allow fresh Registration and may demand a security of Rs. 1,000 to 10,000 and forfeit the fresh security and annul the fresh declaration of Registration as well as confiscate the Press and all copies of such newspapers, books etc., if the newspapers persisted in publishing objectionable material.”
  • The aggrieved party could appeal to a Special Tribunal of the High Court against orders of forfeiture within two months.
  • The printer of every newspaper was required to supply to the Government free of charge two copies of each issue of the newspaper published.
  • The Act gave powers to the Chief Customs Officer to detain all imported packages which contained objectionable material.
  • Under the Act action was taken against 991 printing presses and newspapers.
    • Out of these 286 were warned, in 705 cases heavy securities were demanded.
    • More than $60000 worth of security were forfeited in respect of 300 newspapers.

Defence of India Rules:

  • During the First World War, 1914-18, the Defence of India Rules were promulgated. The executive used the new powers not only for war purposes but also for purposes of repression of political agitation and free public criticism.

Press Committee, 1921 (Sapru Committee):

  • In 1921 a Press Committee was appointed under the chairmanship of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, then Law Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, to review the working of press laws.
  • On the recommendations of the Committee, the Press Acts of 1908, Press Act of 1910 and Press and Registration of Books Act were repealed.

The Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931:

  • The rise of the political movement in the thirties and the Second Civil Disobedience Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi (in 1930) moved the British Government to enact a fresh Press act in 1931 to provide for the better control of the Indian Press.
    • This act revived the provisions of the Press Act of 1910.
  • The Act which gave sweeping powers to the provincial governments in suppressing the propaganda for the civil disobedience movement.
  • The Act sought to punish “words, signs or visible representations which
    • incite to or encourage or tend to incite to or to encourage, the commission of any offence of murder or any cognizable offence involving violence, or
    • directly or indirectly express approval or admiration of any such offence, or of any person, real or fictitious, who has committed or is alleged or represented to have committed any such offence.
  • Other provisions:
    • The owners or keeping of printing presses should be asked to deposit the amount of security.
    • The Government was given the power to declare the security of the press forfeited in certain cases.
    • If a printer applied for fresh declaration, he would be required by a magistrate to deposit a security of Rs. 1,000/ to 10000.
    • If even after the forfeiture of the security and the deposit a new security, the newspaper published objectionable matter, the Provincial Government could forfeit new security also.
    • Provisions which applied to keepers of printing presses equally applied to the publishers of the newspapers.
    • The penalty for printing objectionable material was imprisonment upto 6 months with or without fine.
    • This Act also restrained the publication of the pictures of the leaders of the Civil Disobedience Movement and their news.
  • Under the Press Act 1931 the government took action against many newspapers.
    • The printers and called upon to deposit Rs. 3,000 each for the publishing an publishers of Bombay Chronicle an article by Horniman.
    • The printer and publisher of the Anand Bazar Patrika each received demand for Rs. 1000.
    • A security of Rs. 6000 was demanded from the Amrit Bazar patrika, Rs. 10,000 were deposited by the Liberty of Calcutta.
    • A security of Rs. 6,000 was deposited by the Free Press Journal and later on forfeited by the Bombay Government.
  • In 1932 the Press Act of 1931 was amplified in the form of the Criminal Amendment Act of 1932. The Act was made very comprehensive and expanded to include all possible activities calculated to undermine the Government’s authority.

Foreign Relations Act, 1932:

  • The object of this Act was to penalise publications calculated to interfere with the maintenance of good relations of the Government with friendly foreign states. The necessity of this Act arose when the newspaper criticised the administration in certain states adjoining the frontiers of India.
  • Any book, newspaper or other document containing such specified defamatory matter which tended to prejudice-the maintenance of friendly relations between His Majesty’s Government and the Government of such State, could be retained in the same manner as seditious literature.

Indian States (Protection) Act, 1934:

  • It was passed to prevent unreasonable attacked on the administration of Indian States, empowered the Government to deal with the bands or demonstrations organised on semi military lines for the purpose of entering and spreading disaffection in the territories of Indian States.

Defence of India Act, 1939:

  • The object of this Act was to enable the government to control the newspapers during the Second World War (1939-45).
  • This Act deprived the Press of its freedom.
  • Pre-censorship was reinforced, the Press Emergency Act and the Official Secrets Act were amended and the publication of all news relating to the Congress activities declared illegal.
  • The special powers assumed by the Government during the war ended in 1945.

The Press Enquiry Committee:

  • In March 1947 the Government of India appointed a Press Enquiry Committee and charged it with the duty of examination of the press laws in the light of the fundamental rights formulated by the Constituent Assembly of India.
  • Among the recommendations of the Committee were the repeal of the Indian Emergency Powers Act of 1931, amendments in the Press and Registration of Books Act, modification in Sections 124 A and 153 A of the Indian Penal Code, repeal of the Indian States (Protection against Disaffection) Act, 1932 and the Indian States (Protection) Act, 1934.

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