Indian journalism between 1780 and 1880 can be divided into three phases: Anglo–Indian, Indo–Anglian, and Indian Language journalism. We do not use “Vernacular” for the third phase because the term has an etymological connection with “verna,” which also means “a native slave.”
By this term, we mean newspapers started by Englishmen in India mainly for the communication needs of people from the British Isles settled in the British provinces in India for commercial, administrative, military, and trade purposes.
The early English newspapers did not spring from any indigenous need; they emerged from petty social and political dissatisfactions of the Britishers settled in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, and other British provinces. They were English newspapers started by English settlers for fellow-English citizens. Starting from Hicky’s Gazette, there is a fairly long list of social and commercial English newspaper editors and businessmen. Prominent among them were commercial journalists such as James Silk Buckingham and Sir William Hunter, and intellectuals such as William Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward, who were also missionaries, journalists, writers, and teachers, in the 18th century; and Robert Knight, T. J. Bennett, and F. M. Coleman in the 19th century. Robert Knight was the founder-editor of the Times of India (Bombay) first, and then of the Statesman (Calcutta). There were Rudyard Kipling, Charles Lawson, Pat Lovett, and many other bright Englishmen as editors and journalists working in different English newspapers in various parts of India.
By “Indo-Anglian,” we mean English newspapers started or edited by Indians. Gangadhar Bhattacharya was among the earliest, if not the earliest, Indian to start a newspaper in English. Under the influence of the philosopher, Brahmo Samaj leader, writer, and public speaker Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Bhattacharya started the Bengal Gazette, which lasted for four years from 1816. The paper inaugurated the trend among educated Indians with sound knowledge of English to start newspapers. The trend has lasted for nearly two centuries, and it is likely to last as long as the use of English as a medium of communication and education lasts in India.
In fact, all the famous English newspapers of India that were started in subsequent decades of the 19th century—including the Hindu, the Indian Express, and the Hindustan Times—were following the tradition started by Bhattacharya. Although English is claimed as the mother-tongue only by an infinitely small number of Indians compared to the total population, it exercises considerable influence on the administrators and the educated sections of different linguistic areas of India, even in the 21st century.
The leaders of the Indian Independence movement, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, had their English newspapers to spread their nationalist ideas that helped in the freedom struggle. The services of Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, G. Subramonia Iyer, and others in the Madras Presidency, where the Hindu was started in 1878, and those of the Ghosh brothers who started the Amrit Bazaar Patrika (first in Bengali and then in English in 1868) will always be remembered in Indian journalism history.
Indian Language Journalism
In June 1818, the Serampore (Srirampur, near Calcutta) missionaries started the first Indian-language newspaper of India, namely, Digdarsan (“World vision”). It was soon followed in October 1818 by another Bengali newspaper, the Samachar Darpan (“The Mirror of News”) by the same Serampore trio.
The Bengali nationalists and patriots started newspapers, an example of which was Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Samwaad Kowmudi. Roy, who led the Bengal Renaissance, set an example for other intellectuals in various provinces, and by the middle of the 19th century, there were newspapers in Indian languages all over the country. Although their circulation was small, these newspapers played a significant role in spreading nationalism and patriotism, at least among the literate and educated Indians.
The mid-19th century also saw the establishment of printing presses in different linguistic areas. Printed primers and proverb collections as well as secular, religious, and literary magazines became common. Many of these led to standard prose, grammatical rules and norms, dictionaries, vocabulary lists, and collections of pithy and poetic sayings. Above all, secular newspapers dealt with economic and political issues of interest to a large number of educated Indians, particularly in regions where Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Punjabi, Assamese. Oriya, or Urdu were spoken.