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Press


Press Modern newspapers and magazines were introduced in Bengal from the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Hicky's bengal gazette or the Calcutta General Advertiser, was the first newspaper published in Bengal. It began its journey in 1780. Free press in a colonial setting is bound to face problems, because severe censorship barred objective reporting. william bolts, a Dutchman, proposed to start a printing press in Kolkata, the select committee of the Council of fort william ordered him to leave India. James Augustus Hicky, the editor of the Bengal Gazette, was deported from India because he reported about the pillage of the East India Company. Literary magazines received some support from government. The Baptist missionaries of serampore were the first to initiate the publication of newspapers and magazines in Bangla. The first Bangla magazine, digdarshan, edited by john clark marshman of the Baptist Mission, was published in 1818 and continued up to its 26th issue, in 1821. The magazine also published essays in English.

Table 1 Number of newspapers published from East Bengal in the nineteenth century.

Region Nature Time
1847-60 1861-70 1871-80 1881-90 1891-1905 Total
Dhaka Weekly 1 6 6 9 1 23
Fortnightly 1 1 2
Biweekly 1 1
Mymensingh Weekly 4 2 1 7
Fortnightly 2 2
Chittagong Weekly 1 3 4
Fortnightly 1 1 2
Comilla Weekly 2 1 1 4
Fortnightly 1 1
Noakhali Weekly 1 1
Sylhet Weekly 1 1 2
Fortnightly 1 2 3
Pabna Weekly 1 1 2
Fortnightly 1 1
Rajshahi Weekly 1 1 2
Fortnightly 1 1 2
Bogra Weekly 1 1
Jessore Weekly 1 1 2
Rangpur Weekly 2 2
Kushtia Weekly 1 1
Fortnightly 1 1 2
Faridpur Weekly 1 1 2
Barisal Weekly 2 1 2 5
Fortnightly 1 1 2 4

On 23 May 1818 one month after the launch of the Digdarshan, marshman brought out the sumachar durpun. jaygopal tarkalankar and Tarinicharan Shiromani. were also on the editorial board. The magazine had concurrent versions in Persian and in a bilingual form of English and Bangla. The magazine came out as a biweekly from 1832 to 1834 and continued till 1841.

The first Bangla weekly, the Bengal Gazette, edited by a Bengali, came out in May/June 1818. Harachandra Ray was its owner and editor. The publication lasted for a year, but there is no extant copy of the paper.

Several newspapers and magazines in Bangla were published from Kolkata from 1818 to 1830. The first to make its mark was the weekly sangbad prabhakar edited by ishwar chandra gupta in 1831. The magazine gave birth to a new trend, enriching bangla literature, developing Bangla prose and giving birth to a number of writers. The first weekly edited by a Muslim, Sumachar Sabharajendra (7 March 1831) was published the same year.

Table 2 Number of magazines published from East Bengal in the nineteenth century.

Region Nature Time
1847-60 1861-70 1871-80 1881-90 1891-1905 Total
Dhaka Monthly 4 8 10 17 12 51
Fortnightly 1 1 1 3
Weekly 1 1 2
Mymensingh Quarterly 1 1
Monthly 2 7 9 2 20
Chittagong Monthly 2 4 1 7
Comilla Monthly 1 2 3
Noakhali Monthly 1 1
Sylhet Monthly 1 4 5
Pabna Monthly 2 2 2 1 7
Rajshahi Monthly 2 1 5 2 10
Bogra Monthly 1 1
Jessore Monthly 7 5 12
Fortnightly 1 1
Rangpur Monthly 1 5 6
Kushtia Monthly 2 2 1 5
Quarterly 1 1
Faridpur Monthly 2 1 3 6
Quarterly 1 1
Barisal Monthly 3 1 4
Fortnightly 2 2
Biweekly 2 2
Dinajpur Monthly 1 1 2
Khulna Monthly 2 2

A number of weekly, monthly and fortnightly newspapers and magazines, both in Bangla and English, started coming out from Kolkata about this time. However, Bangla publications served different purposes than those in English. While English magazines tried to entertain people and make profits, such publications in Bangla attempted at social reforms and dissemination of knowledge. There were also a few newspapers in Urdu and Persian at the time.

table 3 Total number of newspapers and magazines published from East Bengal in the nineteenth century.

Newspaper Total Magazine Total
Weeklies 58 Quarterlies 4
Fortnightlies 19 Monthly 145
Biweeklies 1 Fortnightlies 6
Advertised 5 Weeklies 2
Without dateline 5
Advertised 7
Grand total 252

Without taking the two newspapers published before 1857 into account, a total of 76 newspapers and 162 magazines (238 publications in all; with advertised publications and the pre-1857 ones, the number stands at 252) were published from 1857 to 1905 in East Bengal. A total of 905 newspapers and magazines were published in undivided Bengal over the period.

Most of the 252 publications from East Bengal, such as dhaka prakash and bengal times, Bandhab (Friends) etc, were weekly and regular. The Dhaka Prakash lasted for about a hundred years. The literary monthly Bandhab, edited by kaliprosanna ghosh, was called the second bangadarshan.

The Sepoy Movement in 1857 not only brought about changes in political and social history, but it also greatly influenced the publications in Bangla. The magazine called somprakash started coming out from this time (15 November 1858), greatly influencing subsequent publications. The somprakash was the first to print serious deliberations on politics and society, subjects which had been relatively absent before this publication.

It is not yet known where and when the first printing press was set up in East Bengal. Of course, many believe that the printing press set up in Rangpur in 1847 to publish rangapur bartabaha was the earliest venture in the printing industry of the area. One year later, in 1848, an English printing press was set up in dhaka. The next press set up in Dhaka was the Dhaka News Press, founded in 1856, which printed the dhaka news.

The publication of newspapers and magazine in Bengal was closely related to the Brahma movement and spread of education in Bengal. Although the Brahma movement was initiated in this region in the 1940's, it did not gain momentum here till the 1860's.

As part of the movement, a number of societies and organisations were founded, which mainly aimed at social reforms and educational expansion. The heads of these institutions are also seen to have started publishing magazines and newspapers. The most influential newspaper of the nineteenth century, Dhaka Prakash, was published by the Brahma Samaj. The people who opposed to Brahma movement also resorted to publications to contain the Brahma activities. Thus, Brahmas, conservative Hindus, Western-educated youth and the burgeoning middle-class, all resorted to newspapers and magazines to establish their respective ideologies.

During 1861-70 a group of upper middle-class intellectuals emerged who tried to enrich literature and initiate social reforms. However, everything centred round Dhaka. During the next twenty years, from 1871 to 1890, the number of newspapers and magazines increased, reaching the countryside. The magazines published at the time focused on a variety of subjects. krishna chandra majumder edited a poetry magazine called kavitakusumavali from Dhaka. Abdur Rahim edited a weekly magazine called Balaravika, advocating women's emancipation, from barisal. An ayurvedic magazine called Rsitattva was published from chittagong; a music magazine called Kaumudi was brought out from mymensingh. A magazine on industry and agriculture, called Baishayiktattva, came out from rajshahi. A magazine for children, Sukhipakhi, was published from jessore. Another magazine called Mahapap Balyabibaha wrote against the custom of child marriage. A popular magazine on science and technology, Saptahik Ramdhanu, was published from Dhaka. The growing readership suggests the development of the middle class. However, the number of publications fell in the 1890's, probably because the momentum of the Brahma movement was waning. The educated Bengali middle-class was also becoming somewhat inactive.

The first newspaper of East Bengal, Rabgapur Bartabaha, was published from rangpur in 1847. The first English newspaper was the Dhaka News, published from Dhaka in 1856. The first poetry magazine published from East Bengal was Kavitakusumavali from Dhaka in 1860. But the two publications that lasted for a long time and greatly contributed to the development of the educated society in East Bengal were the Dhaka Prakash and the Bengal Times.

There were few weekly magazines published from East Bengal during the period, probably because there was lack of infrastructure such as printing presses, skilled compositors, news gathering facilities etc. There were also few magazines edited by Muslims. In all, there were only 15 magazines, most of them monthly, edited by Muslims over fifty years. One reason was perhaps the backwardness of Muslims in every sphere of society.

The circulation of Bangla newspapers was limited in the nineteenth century; the reason being the financial insolvency of the Bengalis of the time. The rich patronised such publications, but did not invest in them. As lower officials of the colonial administration, they thought it safe to invest their money in industry, business or cultivation. Until 1870-80, 17 of the 21 publications were individual ventures and only four were the products of financial co-operation.

The upper and middle classes in West Bengal patronised the publication of newspapers, but publications in East Bengal were not patronised, probably because of absentee zamindars who preferred to live in Kolkata as did nouveau riche. Therefore, newspapers published from East Bengal were either products of collaboration or of political parties or organisations, with others being published by low-income legal practitioners, social reformers, Brahma preachers or teachers. Most publications were one-man shows, with the editor also writing reports and gathering news. It was therefore common for publications to last only as long as the organisation or the organiser lived. A few zamindars patronised some publications, but only to serve their own ends.

Most publications from Dhaka or mofussil towns had extremely limited circulation. According to an official account, the Dhaka News, Dhaka Prakash, Dhaka Darpan and Hindu Hitaisini had a circulation of 300, 250, 350 and 300 copies respectively in 1863. According to another account, the circulation of the Dhaka Prakash increased by only 19 copies in 1867 and the Hindu Hitaisini by 100 copies over the period. The total circulation of ten publications from East Bengal in 1880 added up to 3,277 copies, with the Rajshahi Sumachar, trailing the list with only 31 copies. An account of 1890 says that the total circulation of six publications that year was 2,240 copies, with the Dhaka Prakash topping the list with 1,200 copies. Illiteracy was another reason behind this poor circulation of magazines: Partha Chattopadhyay in Bangla Sangbadpatra O Bangalir Nabajagaran (Bangla Newspapers and the Bengali Renaissance, 1977) points out that the literacy rate at the time was only three percent. Most people, as ramesh chandra majumdar notes, could not read newspapers but would listen while the news was read out to them by someone who was literate.

Generally, a newspaper earns from its circulation and advertisement. With the exception of the Bengal Times, the newspapers published from Bangladesh in the nineteenth century carried almost no advertisements. In most cases, low-priced magazines sold well. For example, two papers priced at one paisa-Shubhasadhini and Hitakari-had a circulation of about 500 to 600 copies. But the publishers could not always keep the prices low because of small readership, illiteracy and lack of purchasing power of the people.

No newspapers are neutral. The nineteenth-century newspapers published from East Bengal were no exceptions. Almost all the newspapers supported one section of the people or the other. For example, the Dhaka News supported the indigo planters; the Dhaka Prakash at first supported the Brahmas and later conservative Hindus; the Babgabandhu was the mouthpiece of the Brahmas; the Gramabarta Prakashika opposed the zamindars and indigo planters and wrote against their repression; and the Bengal Times supported the British rulers.

Most nineteenth-century newspapers were article-based. But for some small news items, most write-ups were elaborate discussions or opinions on a topic or news item. News pieces were mostly local, along with some borrowings from foreign newspapers. Newspapers sometimes printed the news sent by their readers from mofussil towns; and there were 'letters-to-the-editor' columns. Editors put forth their opinions in their issue- or event-based writings. Editorials mainly commented on the zamindary, tenancy, communal harmony, social reforms or British rule. Articles on communities, groups or sections were given considerable importance because Brahmas, Hindus and Muslims all had their own distinctive opinions about society and politics.

There were differences between the English and the Bangla newspapers. While the English publications were progressive, the Bangla newspapers were conservative, reflective of the then social order. In the conflict between the progressive and the conservative, the latter won despite the strength of the former. Newspapers published from East Bengal mainly focused on issues such as regionalism, farmers, zamindars, indigo-planters, tea-planters, the civil service, education, social prejudice, middle-class people and communal harmony. [Muntassir Mamoon]

Bibliography Binay Ghosh, Samayikpatre Banglar Samajchitra (Society of Bengal as reflected in magazines, 5 vols), Kolkata, 1963-1970; Anisuzzaman, Muslim Banglar Samayikpatra (Magazines of Muslim Bengal), Dhaka, 1969; Brajendranath Bandyopadhyay, Bangla Samayikpatra (Magazines in Bangla, 2 vols), Kolkata, 1972 and 1977; Partha Chattopadhyay, Bangla Sangbadpatra O Bangalir Nabajagaran (Newspapers in Bangla and the reawakening of the Muslims), Kolkata, 1977; Muntassir Mamoon, Unish Shatake Bangladesher Sangbad Samayikpatra (Newspapers and magazines published from Bangladesh in the nineteenth century, 8 vols), Dhaka, 1985-1988.