Excerpts from pages 89-100 of
Freedom Movement and the Press: The Role of Hindi Newspapers,
by Madan Gopal, published in 1990 by
Criterion Publications, New Delhi:
On April 30, 1908, Mrs. and Miss Kennedy were shot dead in Muzzafarpur by revolutionaries who had been deputed to assassinate Presidency Magistrate Kingsford, who had passed stiff sentences on Yugantar and other Calcutta papers. This murder sent a wave of panic among the Europeans, and there was a cry for blood for blood. Khudiram Bose was tried and sentenced to death. While the Moderate newspapers put forward their viewpoint that political murders were against Hindu religion and tradition, the extremist press wrote eulogies for the courageous manner in which the revolutionaries had acted and mounted the gallows.
According to the Rowlatt Committee’s report the tone of the local extemist press became more and more hostile to Government and its influence on schoolboys and students grew more pronounced…
The Swarajya of Allahabad carried a panegyric on Khudiram Bose and articles on such subjects as the ‘Tyrant and the Oppressed’ and ‘Bomb and Boycott’.
The Swarajya paper had made a mark. Lala Har Dayal wrote for it. It reproduced from different newspapers e.g. Hindi Kesari, Veharee, Yugantar, the aricles for which the editors were tried for sedition. Its tone was so hard-hitting that its editor, Shanti Narain, was asked by friends to go slow and adopt a moderate tone. The editor wrote: “The Swarajya had adopted this tone simply to arouse the countrymen from their stupor, so that they may become aware of the degraded condition and of the rigours with which their country is being exploited by foreigners. They are getting poorer daily, and if they continue in this state of bondage under foreign yoke, a time will surely come when they shall be reduced to utter penury. Under these circumstances, the editor feels that the patriot cannot [but] bestir himself and expose the tricks of the tyrants. It is impossible to hoodwink the ruling power by outward professions of loyalty and that it is, therefore, necessary to have moral courage at the present crisis.”
What sort of ideas motivated people to launch newspapers and how selfless and dedicated they were to the cause of the country’s freedom would be clear from what the editor of Swarajya wrote within six months of launching it. In a leader entitled ‘The First Stage’, he wrote: “The first stage of the editorship of Swarajya is over. Its opponents are now smelling sedition in its articles.” The Collector of Allahabad received a letter from the higher authorities directing him to send for the editor of the Swarajya and to inform him that the article entitled ‘Famine and Last Remedy’ published in its issue of February 29 was considered seditious by the Government and that, if the editor published any other articles of a similar nature, he would be prosecuted. Consequently, the Collector sent for the editor, Mr. Narain, and informed him of the Government’s order. Mr. Narain said in reply: “I do not understand what is meant by sedition or what is its import. On considering the articles in Anglo-Indian and Muslim papers, I have come to the conclusion that anything may be written against the country, praise of the Government measures, without any fear of the writers being prosecuted. Take, for instance, the Civil and Military Gazette case. All Indian Vakils and barristers have unanimously declared that its articles were contrary to law. The Indian Association of Lahore asked for the permission of the Government to prosecute the Civil and Military Gazette, but a flat refusal was given.”
The Collector said finally to Narain: “I cannot argue with you in this matter. I have read to you the Government order.” Having said this, he asked Narain to go. Thus the first stage of the Swarajya came to an end.
“What will happen now?” the editor asked. Will Narain be awed by these threats and dive to death taking the Swarajya with him? No, said Narain to the readers. “To expect this to happen will be to underrate him unjustly. Before planning the standard of the Swarajya, he had thought himself to be under a holy standard and so he now thinks himself free and not responsible to any one. If he has any cares, they are that this holy standard should not come down, and that it should be protected after him. If he can be thoroughly convinced of this, he will let the ill-wishers of Mother India know what effect the opponent’s threats would have on him.” Further he added: “Narain thinks himself to be immortal. He is not afraid of any opposing human or internal power. He thinks it his duty to do his work, with the best intentions, and does not look to the consequences. It is his belief that the mission of the Swarajya is divine and that God will help its mission produce in this unfortunate and cowardly province men who will devote their lives, bodies and property to the protection for this holy standard which will ultimately sweep over the whole of India…”…
The Press Law, as it stood in 1908, according to the Rowlatt Committee report, was “wholly insufficient for the emergency which had arisen.” The Jugantar began publication in 1906 and, in the person of its printer and publisher, was successgully prosecuted five times between June 1907 and June 1908. But the imprisonment of the individuals produced no effect. Each time a new printer and/or publisher was found, there was no provision for forfeiture of the press and the paper went on as before. Its sale was so great that, as the Chief Justice pointed out, the crowds seeking to purchase it formed an obstacle in the streets…”…
Government enacted the ‘Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act in June 1908 for the prevention of incitement to murder and to other offences in newspapers…
Wrote the Swarajya in a sarcastic view: “From the time the Government has extended its kind patronage to us, the police have found a new source of amusement. For, we have received complaints from different places in these provinces that the police are dissuading people from buying Swarajya and have even taken recourse to prevent the sale of the paper.”
By November 1908, or within the first year of its existence, two editors of Swarajya, Shanti Narain Bhatnagar and Babu Ram Hari, were prosecuted for sedition. Shanti Narain was given five and half years rigorous imprisonment, and a fine of Rs. 1,000. Followed by Babu Ram Hari’s conviction. He had brought out only eleven issues, and was given 21 years imprisonment and sent to the Andamans. Other Hindi newspapers took notice of these prosecutions. The Bihar Bandhu of December 19, 1908, criticised the stiff sentences. No sooner than Munshi Ram Dass (later Prakashand Saraswati), who wad editing the Bharat Mata of Lahore, got the news of the conviction of Babu Ram Hari than he left by the next available train for Allahabad. In fact, the police officers who arrested him while filing declaration for the paper had travelled by the same train to Allahabad. He had taken over when the press was being auctioned for the realization of the fine of Rs. 1,000. The collector who was trying the case asked in just who was the next candidate for the “Mughal throne”. Mahatma Nandgopal Chopra, who had just arrived from Dehra Dun, stepped forward and filed the declaration! He brought out only twelve issues of Swarajya when he too was arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to 30 years incarceration in the Andamans!
This time as many as twelve people volunteered for the post. No wonder because the Swarajya had once advertised, inviting applications for the post of editor, the remuneration offered being two chapattis and a glass of water every day and ten years imprisonment for every editorial that he wrote!