(Last Updated on : 22/01/2009)
The history of Indian independence, starting from the farthest 17th century with the British arrival to Indian ports, was never looked as serious threat. In fact, British entry into India had commenced with a very different aspect of trading and establishing business ties with Indian royals and imperial homes. However, as time passed by, British East Company
was established in the early years of 18th century, which was significant to rewrite Indian history to a considerable extent. The shrewd officers serving the Company slowly gathered momentum in the sly, to take over the country as a whole and establish firm English administration. With the historic Sepoy Mutiny
in 1857, the Company rule abolished, thereby directly annexing the country directly under the Queen's rule from England. By this period, revolutionaries and nationalists had yelled the cry to freedom until death, resolving never to yield 'native' blood under British pressure.
Significant occurrences had passed by since the late 19th century, with umpteen Indians joining the battle cry for freedom from the supremely painful and deceitful British domination. Aggression and disorder, unruliness was the order of the day, the British high-rankers sadistically enjoying every moment of Indian slavery and repression. After the infamous Indigo Rebellion, the agitation for freedom movement in India gained greater momentum. Meanwhile, a bunch of natives, educated and intelligent enough to learn the English mode of ruling, had wholly grasped the clandestine English policy of divide and rule. Hence, English education among the new generation of native people brought fresh light of ideas and testament to fight against the British Government and achieve independence. In order to attain such a high-flying mission in near future, young guns as well as olds, had to chalk out a desperate way to reach the Indian mass in every remote corner. This led to publishing and printing of vernacular and local language newspapers from secret hide-outs. The law could still not touch these wondrous men, making British commissions worried to take immediate action. Seditious spreading of news would not do well to the rulers in the long run. Anti-English sentiments were spreading by the hour in India, and vernacular journalism was slowly getting stronger to convey the aspiration of independence to the common people.
In this terrible light, the Vernacular Press Act was passed to forcibly suppress the freedom of native press in the year 1878. Vernacular Press Act, 1878 was looked at as an exceedingly debatable measure, quashing the autonomy of vernacular press. Viceroy Lord Lytton
is significantly noted for his most disputed press policy, which led to the enactment of the Vernacular Press Act on 14 March, 1878. He was of the opinion that vernacular press was directly provocative for rebellion against the British Empire
. Earlier, the Dramatic Performances Act
, 1876 was passed to quash the writing and representing of the allegedly subversive plays, which Britishers looked at as creating anti-administrative from every angle. Vernacular Press Act (1878) was aimed at quashing inflammatory propaganda through vernacular newspapers. While introducing the Bill, the Law Member of the Council had actually recounted how the vernacular newspapers and periodicals were circularising inflammatory propaganda against the authorities. Viceroy Lord Lytton strongly had stigmatised 'native' newspapers published in the vernacular and local languages as "mischievous scribblers preaching open sedition". He also had willfully commented that the averred intention of most of the vernacular newspapers was to put an end to the British Raj.
The newspapers that made the government most disturbed and hurriedly pass the Vernacular Press Act in 1878, were Somprakash, Sulabh Samachar, Halisahar Patrika, Amrita Bazar Patrika, Bharat Mihir, Dacca Prakash, Sadharani and Bharat Sanskarak. The said papers were declared and acknowledged to have been topping the inflammatory movement against the government. Vernacular Press Act had dictated its foremost rule to submit to the police every proof sheet of substances of papers prior to publication. The crux of the seditious news was ordained to be determined by the police and significantly not by the judiciary. Under the Vernacular Press Act, several newspapers were penalised, with their editors being send off behind the bars.
Quite evidently, this highly controversial inhibitory measure contained in the Vernacular Press Act came under brutal criticism. Every native association, regardless of religion, caste and creed, condemned the measure publicly and kept their condemnations and protestations alive. Each outstanding leader from Bengal and India decried the Act as uncalled-for and entirely unjustified and demanded for its straightaway pullout. The newspapers and creator of news themselves kept on audaciously criticising the oppressive measure without an end. The nationalists truly were forever bold in facing the wrath from the forefront, never once wavering to oust Vernacular Press Act, along with the makers. The upcoming administration of Lord Ripon
re-examined the developments, in the light of an inflamed unruly India, consequent upon which the Act was finally withdrawn.