Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Judging from the historical facts, we have to give credit to the British rule for the advent of Journalism in India. The newspaper, therefore, came to India as an lien product, which was in fact forced upon us. This is because even our great nationalist leaders in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not entertain the idea of learning English (called Mlechhas' language). The English were contemptuously referred to as Mlechhas—the depraved/degraded people whose moral standards were considered abysmally low and despised.
The East India Company, which was ruling the country, was not favourably disposed to the press; the officials of the Company were suspicious of journalists and newspapers from the very beginning. The officials were intolerant of any kind of criticism. The notional support that the press in India got emanated from the control of press by the Englishmen who drew strength from the power of press in England.

It was James Augustus Hicky who earned the distinction of launching in India the first English newspaper. The first publication of Hicky came to the stalls/readers on January 29, 1780 in Kolkata. It was named Bengal Gazette alias Calcutta General Advertiser. The paper had two sheets with three columns on each page and it was published weekly. The paper declared it as a "weekly political and commercial paper open to all parties but influenced by none."
The contents of the paper included items taken from English newspapers in England, letters from local nd rural readers, items of gossip and scandal of interest to the European community. Hicky had reserved to himself a column to talk to his readers directly. There was also a poet's column in his paper. The paper was called as scurrilous and witty. Hicky and his paper came under extraordinary surveillance by the administration. The paper earned the enmity of Warren Hastings, the Governor-General and other high ups, most notable being Chief Justice, Elizah Impey. The administration was very annoyed because of the undesirable reporting—about pivate lives of the persons in high positions and even others like soldiers. Hicky lampooned Hastings and called him, "Sir F. Wronghead", "the Great Moghul" and the "Dictator."
Hicky reported an imaginary concert programme and linked the name of Sir Elijah Impey with a contract for a bridge that had gone to his cousin. All the impotant or notable personalities of Kolkata appeared in Hicky's Gazette with nicknames. There was one smart, intelligent lady who was reported repeatedly and thereby she kept the "gossip" busy for at least ten years; Miss Eruma Wrangham was mentioned under various nicknames for gossips, and she seemed to enjoy the malice. In Hicky's columns, she appeared under various names—"Chinsurah Belle", or "Turban Conquest" or "Hookah Turban", etc.
A rival paper, Indian Gazette, appeared in the world of jounalism in Kolkata, in the same year, 1780,, in which Hicky introduced his Gazette; the rival paper gave setback to Hicky. The rival paper was much better in quality; it had four pages of 16 inches long, the types were better; it had three columns and it was well printed. On the other hand, Hicky's paper was having two pages of shorter size, crudely printed, having only two columns. Hicky found that his customers were deserting him. In a fit of anger, he attacked Swedish missionary, John Zachariah Kiermander; Hicky suspected him of having supplied types to his rival. He also attacked the proprietors of Indian Gazette, Peter Read and B. Messinck, salt merchant and theatrical producer, respectively. As if it were not enough, the authorities granted Indian Gazette postal facilities; the same facilities were denied to Hicky's paper.
Hicky complained to his readers about the step-motherly treatment meted out to his paper. It was suggested to him that he should approach Mrs. Hastings for her intervention, which he rejected, saying: "there is something so sneaking and treacherous in going clandestinely to fawn and take advantage of a good natured woman to draw her into a promise to getting that done which I knew would be highly improper to ask her husband, though his unbounded love for his wife would induce him to comply with."
Hicky and Hastings were not on good terms with each other. Hicky was habitually, and with malice and ridicule, reporting and giving publicity to the social life of the European community in Kolkata. While announcing marriages and engagements, he also published news of engagements anticipated and he utilized this to hit those he disliked.
After giving him long tether for considerable time, and ignoring the suggestions of strong action against Hichy from the members of his Council, Hastings finally took action against him for defamation on two counts in June, 1781. Hicky was convicted and sentenced to two years' imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 2,000. The Chief Justice awarded damages to Hastings of Rs. 500 but Hastings waived it. Although Hicky was in prison, his paper continued to appear regularly, and mysteriously his column too appeared in the same defiant tone.
The paper had great public support. Hastings took action second time in March, 1782. This resulted in confiscation of his types: on appeal to the Clerk of King, the King's judges released his types. This decision was hailed by Hicky as protecting the liberty of the press. But that was the end of Hicky's Gazette, which had barely a life of two years.
Hicky had done some printing job for the Company—he printed on order 16,800 sheets—and submitted bill for value of Rs. 35,092. The authorities said that the full number of sheets were not supplied and the printing was also defective. The payment, was approved for only Rs. 6,711. Hicky wrote about his claim to Hastings. Hastings ordered payment of Rs. 6,711 on the condition that he gave acquittal for all demands, that is for full and final paymnt. Hicky was adamant as before and insisted on full payment. So, he did not accept the offer. Towards the end of his life, Hicky consented to the offer of lower payment due to extreme penury faced by his large family while he was in prison, but it took long time to get the money.
If Hicky was indomitable, Hastings was equally, if not more, revengeful. With the aid of the Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Elizah Impey, he resolved to kill Hicky's paper. He instituted suit after suit against Hicky and at last succeeded in crushing both the paper and its editor.



  2. Hi, it is good to see someone writing about India GK. Great buddy keep going.