Osterhammel on India’s “double communications revolution”

“The daily newspaper was a European-American invention that soon spread beyond the North Atlantic area. Where the colonial system offered the opportunities, indigenous educated classes soon took advantage of them to make their voices heard in both local languages and those of the colonial rulers. British India was again an especially clear case in point. Here the press developed in fairly close synchrony with Europe’s, one difference being that the printing press appeared in India at the same time as the newspaper: a double communications revolution. The first English-language paper came out in 1780 in Calcutta; the first in an Indian language (Bengali) in 1818. The Gujarati-language Bombay Samachar, founded in 1822, is still published today (as Mumbai Samachar). Soon there appeared English-language papers produced by Indians. Lithographic technology, which soon spread to smaller cities, was common to all. Another reason why the new medium was taken up so quickly, eagerly, and successfully in India was that the country could build upon a rich culture of written reporting. The years from 1835 to 1857 were a time of vibrant progress, in liberal conditions that people in the German Confederation could only dream of at that time. After the Great Rebellion of 1857–58, the colonial government reacted more heavy-handedly to Indian criticisms and tightened its control of the press, but this never escalated into a muzzling of public opinion. The viceroys valued the press both as a means of communicating with the population and as a source that relayed information and attitudes from Indian society. Together with the English legal tradition that generally tied the hands of the state, these pragmatic considerations explain nineteenth-century India’s significance as a country with a highly developed press system.”

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