From wild buffalo horns to telegraphs and railways

toi independence

By Shreya Kumar

India has seen a lot of changes where the term “communication” is concerned. It has come a long way from Biguls and the indigenous postal system (runners) to the new digitized media, where information is so accessible. Before that urbanization and modernization, people used buffalo horns, drums and plays to spread messages or make announcements. Most people were illiterate, so this way of communication, called the native communication system, was wildly used.

If you would look closely at history, you would find Britishers were the first ones to have brought “modern” means of communication to India. These would not only connect people living in the same town but also different towns with the help of telegrams and railways. This was much more efficient and quick to spread news and information around the country.

When the printing press arrived in India, railways and telegraphs played an important role in the circulation of newspapers to different parts of the country. It also helped to create a sense of belonging among the people by connecting them. Newspaper played a key role in in spreading awareness and leading mass movements and revolts. Slowly, nationalism became a shared notion among people, eventually leading to freedom.

With the introduction of the printing press, vernacular newspapers like Amrita Bazar Patrika, Amar Ujala and Bombay Samachar became very popular. Vernacular press played a huge role in creating a sense of nationalism. This was very evident during the Revolt of 1857, which is sometimes called the first war of independence. Newspapers began to inform people about the oppressive measures taken by Britishers. Therefore, the printing press became a great threat to British rule, and one of the main reasons for the downfall of the colonial rule.

After independence, it was a whole new territory for the press. Journalists were trying to figure out how they would contribute to the growth of India as a nation. The press was very supportive Nehru and his regime. Often, they would cover stories about new constructions and technological developments, like Nehru inaugurating a dam. Nehru said he wanted to have a free press and would never silence them. Also, private players came into play and started owning many media houses. Newspapers started making profits by printing advertisements.

The freedom of the press was suspended during the Emergency. The press had a hostile relationship with Indira Gandhi and found her manipulative and insensitive. After the Emergency, the press was no longer a personal ego-booster of the government. Instead, it embraced its responsibility as a watchdog. From then on, the press has had a love-hate relationship with government, wherein it keeps a check on those in power and sometimes the people in power pay the press to plant stories. Still, Indian press has come a long way, and it will be even more interesting to see its position in respect to digital content in the future.

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Media has always been used as a weapon by leaders and the elite to direct the thoughts of people

toi independence

By Siddhi Jain

The history of Indian media has been one of the most important ones in the world as it has not only been playing a vital role in the development of the country but also because it also played a major role in the Indian freedom struggle. Right from the origins of the Indian media, we can see how deeply it has always been affecting the citizens of the country and their decision making, helping them to uphold the democracy of India by providing them with a platform to maintain and share their individual views and ideas. During the freedom struggle, media worked as the fastest and the most effective tool in uniting native Indians against the British.

For someone who is aspiring to become a journalist, it is undoubtedly essential to know the past and present, and also have a good idea about the future of the media in their country. One needs to know about the power media holds in a country like India, which is till date the largest democracy in the world. What makes the role of media in a democracy much more important is that it is free from the government rule and is the sole source of making the people aware of all that they need to know.

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If one turns back the pages of history, they’ll see that media has always been used as a weapon by the leaders and the elite to direct the thoughts of the people. Even though it is free from the government rule, power of the upper class in the country continues to restrict the Indian media from acting freely in the interest of the country.

To improve the present status and to be able to foresee the future of media, one needs to be well informed about its history and the power it withholds since its origin.

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From biguls to tweets, media continues to create a public sphere

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By Rashi Rajesh

Prompt: Why is it important to study the history of Indian media? 

It is essential as a journalism student and hopefully future journalist to learn about the history of media, especially in India. In the past 72 years Indian media has truly evolved and developed, from telegraphs to 24×7 broadcasting.

Media might have accelerated and modernized with the advent of technology, but the core mission still remains the same. For example, during pre-colonial times, many peasant uprisings and revolts were initiated and mobilized with the bigul — an instrument that was used to gather people and make announcements. In the present day, the bigul could be compared to social media, Twitter in particular, since it helps voice out many issues in our society.

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It is easy to understand the way media created a public sphere in earlier times. During the freedom struggle, the vernacular and regional newspapers acted as powerful platforms to voice nationalistic sentiments and mobilize people. In more recent times, this still occurs: the media created a dialogue and brought in the issue of rape following the Nirbhaya case.

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Indian media played a major role in the nationalistic struggles and helped in bringing about many social reforms. Newspapers like Amrita Bazar Patrika, plays like Nil Darpan and the letters of national leaders are some of the remnants of media that help us imagine what times were like before. They give us a sense of how media was in its primitive stage and we can draw a contrast to it in the present times.

I also think it is interesting in the way it reformed and molded itself to suit its audience through different eras. In this sense, media has grown from its basics, and as budding journalists we can learn and enhance our skills from the mistakes and improvements that media has made on this journey.

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“It helps leaders propagate their ideas to masses”

By Priyanka Jadhav

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Prompt: Why is it important to study the history of Indian media? 

As a communication student there are various reasons why I believe studying history of Indian media is necessary. Our older generation has observed how journals, books and newspapers had a powerful impact with respect to nationalism and patriotism.

In earlier times, one of the Indian media’s primary mission was to spread awareness and create opposition and hatred against British rule. The Bengal Gazette, the first newspaper that India had, was meant to serve interests of European settlers, but as the readers grew, the newspaper started spreading awareness and later began criticising and questioning British colonialism and its rule.

Newspapers grew as a profession along with the growth of India’s economy. As the circulation increased, so did the revenues, and India saw the sale of newspapers increasing and grow as an occupation.

Media has often been a backbone of all the mass movements and riots. Indian media has supported the struggle of freedom towards independence. What we can learn from this is that even though the Britishers tried banning and stopping production of newspapers, even imprisoning Hicky, who started Bengal Gazette, Indian media still produced reports in mass production.

The main reason why we need to study history of Indian media is that today it helps many leaders propagate their ideas to masses. This wasn’t possible through native forms of communication, like musical instruments such as buffalo horn and drums and scrolls and telegrams, which helped peasants to rebel but only let people in small sections know about new information.

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“Giving a larger platform to the people to convey their thoughts to the public”

By Srishti Srivastava

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Prompt: Why is it important to study the history of Indian media?

Indian media throughout history has helped people to know about development, but also shown the struggles made by different reformers and freedom fighters to convey their voice to the local audience. It gives a platform that allows people to know about the incidents happening around them.

During the British rule, local newspapers played an important role in letting their local audiences know about incidents happening around them. One good example is the Amrita Bazar Patrika in Kolkata. This newspaper was started by Sisir Ghosh and Moti Lal Ghosh during the Bengal Presidency of the British Raj (present day in Bangladesh). The Hindu launched in 1878, and started publishing daily in 1889 in Madras. Another nespaper, Malayala Manorama in Kerala, began publishing in March 1890.

The major impact which the Indian media played was to give a huge platform to various parties or individuals to convey their views and opinions to a larger number of audiences. This continued with the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in 1919 and 1920, the Non-Cooporation Movement started by Gandhi, and the creation of the Swaraj Party in 1923.

It has been a huge struggle over 200 years for the Indian media from the time of the British government which still exists in today’s time till present. Today, challenges include facts and issues that are edited or kept unpublished because of ownership or society pressures. There have been alternating periods of freedoms and of restrictions on freedom amounting to repression. But throughout, the Indian media has played an important role in giving a larger platform to the people, be it on social media or in print, to convey their thoughts to the public.

“Earlier media was all about communicating to people”

By Muskan Mascharak

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Prompt: Why is it important to study the history of Indian media?

Indian media has in modern times gained a very one-dimensional definition. Today our concept of media is restricted to digital outreach, televised programs and newspapers. Earlier media was all about communicating to people, through instruments, theatre and messages. Studying the history of Indian media helps us gain perspective about what exactly constitutes media — that is, means used to reach out to a large section of people for a cause.

The history of Indian media has the telegraph, radio, postal systems, theatre and the use of instruments. Not only does learning about Indian media history give us a more versatile definition of the same but also helps us understand the elementary principles on which our current media is based on. For instance, our range of understanding of media gets broadened and we can trace back to the origin of the success of the present media. Radio perhaps evolved into podcasts, handwritten letters into print and the television into digital documentations and documentaries.

When we review the primitive forms of media, we can question its efficacy but in reality, it has always delivered. By uniting individuals, integrating newcomers into urban communities by providing a common set of values and providing a “native public sphere” or the “Indian ecumene” (a sphere of known and habitable space). The effectiveness of these forms of media and communication was ascertained when the British banned some of these, which went onto prove that it was having a desired effect.

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Learning about Indian media history gives us a more comprehensive understanding and helps us trace the evolution that led to present media forms. The story of Indian media evolution can be illustrated by many examples. For instance, The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce started in 1838 — which later went onto be called The Times of India — was a pro-establishment newspaper favoring the British in India. After being bought by the BCCL, not only did it become pro-Indian government, but it has seen evolution and improvement right up to the present day. From one newspaper to now the largest selling English language newspaper with an online readership boost of over 25% growth in readership, 12.7 million visitors and a jump in online readership.

All of Indian media has been influenced and has evolved not only by the political timeline of India but also has been governed by changing preferences of people. It has finally manifested into what we know as media today.

British investment helped information spread — helping anti-colonial sentiment spread, too

By Gehna Mantri

Prompt: Why is it important to study the history of Indian media? 

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Understanding Indian media’s history is necessary because as a student it connects me to the period where native communication methods were used, such as buffalo horns, and drums. Messages travelled from one place to another by foot runners and common people received information from travelers and soldiers. Also, people received information from traditional dance or drama.

This helps us to see how our communication system has evolved over the years. It makes me understand as a journalist student that you have to be able to connect to a widespread audience. Earlier methods of communication could only grab attention of people over a small area when they needed to make announcements. Now as the years have passed by, we are able to communicate with a larger and more varied audience.

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The British extracted wealth and resources from the colonies and invested some of them in technological developments in India. They introduced telegraph and railways which proved to be very helpful in the growth and development of our nation. The introduction of these technologies in India helped in uniting individuals, provide information on a wider scale and to a larger number of people. This made information available to a large number of people and many were informed — which in turn came to haunt the British.

James Augustus Hicky, an Englishman who was an employee in the East India Company, started Bengal Gazette, the first newspaper in India, in 1780. The British introduced the English language in our country. Soon there were many schools and colleges that were mainly English-based, because of which the vernacular press act passed in 1878. Many newspapers had to change their language to English and some even shut down.

Studying the early history of Indian media helps me understand its growth and development till now, and see what is different in the state of the press in the pre-independence and post-independence periods.

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