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India and the World of Print

India had a very rich tradition of handwritten manuscripts in Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian as well as in various vernacular languages. Manuscripts were written on palm leaves or on handmade paper.

The first printing press came to Goa with the Portuguese missionaries. The Jesuit priest printed several books in Konkani and in Kanara langauges. Catholic priests printed the first Tamil book in 1579 at Cochin and in 1713, the first Malayalam book was printed.

The first commercial paper, Bengal Gazette, a weekly magazine was published by James Augustus Hickey in 1780 in English language. But this was persecuted by Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India.

The first Indian newspaper was the Bengal Gazette brought out by Gangadhar Bhattacharya, who was close to Ram Mohan Roy.

Religious Reforms Through Print

Debates and criticisms were carried through the print media regarding the social practices in India. New ideas were spread and reformers vehemently opposed the social evils in Hindu orthodoxy such as widowhood, sati system, Brahmanical priesthood and idolatry.

Some of the publication from India was Samwad KaumudiSamachar Chandrika, two Persian newspapers—Jam-i-Jahannama and Shamsul–Akhbar—and a Gujarati newspaper, the Bombay Samachar.

The first printed edition of the Hindu religious text was the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas.

Print not only stimulated the publication of conflicting opinions amongst communities, but it also connected communities and people in different parts of India. Newspapers conveyed news from one place to another, creating pan-Indian identities.

New Forms of Publication

Print encouraged literary forms like reading lyrics, short stories, essays about social and political matters. The printing presses used visual images. Painters such as Raja Ravi Varma produced images for mass circulation. Cheap prints and calendars were made available to the poor.
By 1870s, caricatures and cartoons were published in journals and newspapers. These caricatures ridiculed the Indians who followed western culture and instilled nationalistic aspirations among the Indians.

Women and Print

Educated women began writing for the print. Many journals carried writings by women, which supported the education of women. In 1860s, a few Bengali women like Kailashbashini Debi wrote books highlighting the experiences of women. In Maharashtra, Tarabai Shhinde and Pandita Ramabai wrote with passionate anger about the miserable lives of upper caste Hindu women, especially widows.

Print and the Poor People

In Madras, very cheap small books were sold in the markets for the poor people to read. Public libraries were set up during the early twentieth century. Jyotiba Phule, the Maratha pioneer of ‘low caste’ protest movements, wrote about the injustices of the caste system in Gulamgiri in the year 1871. B. R. Ambedkar in Maharashtra and E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in Madras, better known as Periyar wrote on caste system which was read by people all over India.

Kashibaba, a Kanpur millworker, wrote and published Chhote Aur Bade Ka Saval in1938 to show the caste and class exploitation. The poems on Kanpur mill workers were published in a collection called Sacchi Kavitayan written under the name of ‘Sudarshan Chakr’.

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