The Portuguese missionaries were the first to bring printing press to Goa in the mid-sixteenth century. The first books were printed in Konkani language. By 1674, about 50 books had been printed in Konkani and Kannada Languages. Catholic priests printed the first Tamil book in 1579 at Cochin. They printed the first Malayalam book in 1713.
From 1780, James Augustus Hickey began to edit the Bengal Gazette. It was a weekly magazine. Hickey also published a lot of gossip about the senior officials of the Company. Governor General Warren Hastings persecuted Hickey. Warren Hastings encouraged the publication of officially sanctioned newspapers to protect the image of the colonial government.
The first Indian newspaper was the weekly Bengal Gazette which was brought out by Gangadhar Bhattacharya.
Print culture helped in initiating new debate on religious, social and political issues in India. Many existing religious practices were criticized. Rammohun Roy published Sambad Kaumudi from 1821 to criticize the orthodox views in the Hinduism. The Hindu orthodoxy commissioned the Samachar Chandrika to counter his opinions. In 1822, publication of two Persian newspapers began, viz. Jam – i- Jahan Nama and Shamsul Akhbar. Bombay Samachar (a Gujarati newspaper) appeared in the same year.
In north India, the ulama began to publish cheap lithographic prints which contained Persian and Urdu translations of holy scriptures. They also published religious newspapers and tracts. The Deoband Seminary was founded in 1867. It published thousands upon thousands fatwas about proper conduct in the life of Muslims.
Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas was printed from Calcutta in 1810. From the 1880s, the Naval Kishore Press at Lucknow and the Shri Venkateshwar Press in Bombay published many religious texts in vernaculars.
Print helped in bringing the religious texts within reach of the common masses. It also helped in shaping the new political debate. It also helped in connecting the people from various parts of India; by carrying news of one part to another.
Initially, people got to read the novels which were written by European writers. But people could not relate to those novels because they were written in the European context. Many writers emerged who began to write in the Indian context. People could correlate with the theme and characters of such novels in a better way. Many other new forms of writing also came into origin; like lyrics, short stories, essays about social and political matters, etc.
A new visual culture was taking shape by the end of the nineteenth century. Many printing presses started to produce visual images in large numbers. Works of painters; like Raja Ravi Varma were produced for mass circulation through printing.
By the 1870s, caricatures and cartoons were being published in journals and newspapers. They commented on various social and political issues.
Many writers wrote about the lives and feelings of women. Due to this, readership among middle-class women increased substantially. There were many liberal husbands and fathers who stressed on women’s education. While some women got education at home, some others went to schools as well. This was the time, when many women writers also began to express their views through their writings.
Conservative Hindus and Muslims were still against women’s education. They thought that a girl’s mind would be polluted by education. People wanted their daughters to read religious texts but did not want them to read anything else.
While Urdu, Tamil, Bengali and Marathi print culture had developed early, Hindi printing began seriously only from the 1870s.
Very cheap small books were brought to markets in nineteenth century Madras towns. These books were sold at crossroads so that poor people could buy them. Public libraries were set up from the early twentieth century which helped in increasing the access to books. Many rich people set up library in order to assert their prestige in their area.
Before 1798, the colonial rulers were not too concerned with censorship. Initially, the control measures were directed against Englishmen in India who were critical of Company misrule.
After the revolt of 1857, the attitude to freedom of the press changed. The Vernacular Press Act was passed in 1878. The Act provided the government with extensive rights to censor reports and editorials in the vernacular press. In case of a seditious report, the newspaper was warned. If the warning was ignored, the press was liable to be seized and the printing machinery confiscated.
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