May 26, 2022
The Beginning of Press in Odisha
The birth of print media in Odisha owe it to the Christian missionaries, who established the first printing press in Odisha (at Cuttack) in 1837 known as Cuttack Mission Press to print the New Testament and other religious books. By this time, however, rapid development in publication of non-religious, general interest and text books had taken place in other states of India with adoption of Lord Maculay’s education policy in 1835. Odia was adopted as the court language in 1839 after prolonged demand.
All this created an atmosphere conducive to publication of books and periodicals. Cuttack Mission Press brought out the first Odia journals Gyanaruna (1849) and PrabodhaChandrika (January, 1856), andArunodaya(1861). Though it had some news content, these periodicals were considered to be the missionaries’ mouthpiece for propagation of their religion.
The first Odia newspaper, in the real sense, to be published was the weekly UtkalDeepika by Gourishankar Ray on August 4, 1866. It was born at a time when Odisha was beleaguered with many problems. A devastating famine (Na-ankaDurbhikha) was underway, which wiped out one third of the population Odisha. There was a campaign to undermine Odia language. In fact questions were raised about the very existence of the language. Odia literature needed a strong fillip. The society was weighed down by superstitions and badly needed reform. A nationalist movement was slowing taking shape in different parts of the country, most notably in neighbouring Bengal. It was in this critical juncture that UtkalDeepika took birth.
Early Years of press in Odisha
Early years of press in Odisha were notable for four distinct features, besides discharging their primary function of disseminating news and information.
- social reformist role
- contribution towards the development of Odia language and literature
- their role in the movement for unification of Odia speaking areas, and
- shaping a nationalistic identity
Many Odia newspapers and periodicals, starting from UtkalDeepika, like their counterparts in other states of India, notably in Bengal and Maharashtra tried to fight against superstitions and age-old regressive customs. Almost all the publications tried to develop Odia language both in terms of content and scale. Several literary magazines were published. Many of the publications actively engaged in the language movement to wrest the rightful place for Odia language and for the unification of Odia speaking areas into a separate province. There were attempts to stir nationalistic feeling among the readers. However, it took time for Odia press to join the freedom movement. In fact it happened visibly after Gandhi visited Odisha on March 23, 1921.
UtkalDeepika, the first newspaper of Odisha also set a benchmark for Odia press.It played a very significant role in socio-political life of Odisha. It brought the plight of common people to the notice of the concerned authority. It constantly highlighted the impact of the famine and suggested measures that should and could be taken. It strived for the development of Odia language and literature and protection of Odia interests. It fought for theamalgamation of outlying Odia-speaking areas, which remained scattered under different provincial administrations by launching a vigorous campaign. It tried to engage with people’s issues. It encouraged people to write letters to the paper regarding their problems. UtkalDeepika continued publication till 1936.
BalasoreSambadVahika, published on July 1868 from Balasore with Fakir Mohan Senapati and Govind Chandra Patnaik as the editors also worked relentlessly for the development of Odia language.
UtkalDarpan first published as a monthly literary magazine on January 1, 1873 with the patronage of Raja BaikunthanathDeyplayed a pioneering role in taking up the cause of unification of Odia speaking areas. Raja BaikunthanathDey of Balasore played an important role in shaping of modern Odisha. Besides working relentlessly for the development of Odia language and literature he fought for unification of Odisha. In fact it was he and BichitranandaPatnaik of Cuttack, who sent the first proposal for unification of scattered Odia speaking tracts under single administration in 1875.UtkalDarpanwas converted into a fortnightly on 1875 and a weekly on 1877 with general interest content including business and politics. It closed down around 1885, primarily because it earned the wrath of the British administration for its anti-government articles.
In the last three and half decades of the 19th century a number of newspapers were published in Odia from different parts of Odisha. Besides other reasons like the growth of education, closer engagement of people with socio-political issues and events, growth in the number of printing presses was contributed to the growth of newspapers. Many printing presses were established in different parts of Odisha in the last three decades of 19th century, for instance BalasoreUtkala Printing Company (1868), Balasore De Press (1873), UtkalaHitaisini Press at Cuttack (1873), PuriBhaktidayini Press (1874), Ganjam Press (1875), Mayurbhanj Press (1879), Bamanda Press (1885), JagannathBallav Press (1887), Binod Press (1897), Puri Printing Company (1890), Arunodaya Press (1893), Raya Press, Cuttack (1894), Darpanaraja Press (1899), Vinod Press, Balasore (1899), UtkalDarpan Press (1902), etc. These printing presses helped the growth of newspapers and journalism.
SambalpurHiteisini, a weekly was published on May 30, 1889 with NilamaniVidyaratna (1867-1923) as the editor from JagannathBallav Press at Deogarh under the patronage of Sir BasudevSudhal Deb (May 16, 1850-November 19, 1903), Raja of Bhamra. It closed down on March 3, 1923 mainly because of the lack of royal patronage. It its 34 years of existence, SambalpurHiteisiniplayed a stellar role in several fields. It was instrumental in introducing Odia in administrative works instead of Hindi in Sambalpur. It championed the cause of unification of Odia speaking areas. It worked for the development of Odia language and literature. It also tried to create a nationalistic feeling, not exactly anti-British bit pro-pan-India.
In the early part of the twentieth century, swadeshi movement in Bengal and some other states like Maharastra and Punjab had gained momentum and it had some impact on Odisha’s political and social life. Both Oriya O Nava Sambad and UtkalDeepika gave strong support to the swadeshi movement. So did several other newspapers and periodicals. However, they could not ignite a movement like Jugantar, which strived for armed confrontation with the British. Even the death of BaghaJatin and his comrades in a battle with the British Police on September 1915 failed to create a ripple. The movement for the unification of Odisha, however, got more prominence and priority.
In 1903, the Odias of Ganjam under the leadership of Raja of Khallikote, HariharMardaraj and with the guiding inspirations of PanditNilamaniVidyaratna formed GanjamJatiyaSamitito demand for the unification of Ganjam, then a part of the Madras presidency with other Odia speaking areas. Vidyaratna started an Odia weekly paper PrajaBandhu from Rambha, Ganjam to espouse the cause of the Odias and the unification movement. The other papers of Ganjam of this period were Weekly Odia Hitavadinifrom Berhampur, GanjamGunaDarpan from Digapahandi and UtkalVasi from Ichhapur (now in Andhra Pradesh). These papers campaigned for the formation of a separate Odisha province based on Odia language and also to advance the cause of the freedom movement.
The growth of newspapers and journalism was very slow in the initial years. According to a list prepared by MrutyunjayRath and NatabarSamanatray (1983), between 1849 (Janaruna) and 1900 (Alochana) only 62 publications came out from Odisha. It included half a dozen English publications too. The growth remained slow in the next quarter of a century too. Jyotirmayee Dash (2013) blamed the two Acts promulgated by the British rulers for this slow growth: Newspapers (Incitements of offences) Act in 1908 by Lord Minto and the Press Act in 1910. However, growth of regional language journalism was slow in the initial years all over the country. It happened with all languages. There were several reasons. Literacy rate was very low. In 1901 the literacy rate of India was just 5.4 per cent. Female literacy rate was not even 1 per cent. In 1911 census the literacy rate increased to just 5.9 per cent. Female literacy rate just touched 1 per cent. In 1921 and 1931 census the literacy rates were 7.2 and 9.5 per cent respectively. The problem was more in case of Odia language because it had to struggle against heavy odds to establish itself. Lack of text books in Odia impeded Odia education. It was only after 1869 that text books began to be written in Odia in different subjects. There were not many schools either. It was Radhanath Ray (28 September 1848 – 17 April 1908), who established a number of schools all over the state as Inspector of Schools. He also wrote a number of text books. The first College inOdisha was established in January 1868 with only six students on roll. It was then known as Cuttack College and was affiliated to the University of Calcutta. Two years later the name was changed to Ravenshaw College after Thomas Edward Ravenshaw, then officiating commissioner. The printing technology was in its infancy. Communication was a huge problem.
New phase of journalism
In 1913, a new phase of journalism began in Odisha under the leadership of SashibhusanRath (January 1, 1885- March 19, 1943), one of the doyens of Odia journalism. On April 13, 1913 (Odia new year’s day) he published the weekly Asha, which enjoyed support and patronage of stalwarts of that period like PanditGopabandhu Das, PanditNilakantha Das, PanditGodavarish Mishra- all of them great freedom fighters and scholars. They later became editors of powerful newspapers. Until 1917, they maintained very intimate contacts with Asha by regularly writing in its columns. Asha kindled new hopes in the minds of the people of Odisha and particularly the people of Ganjam who were zealously agitating for the formation of a separate Odisha province and development of Odia language and literature.
In the next decades gradually nationalistic ideas and philosophy began to be reflected in newspapers and periodicals. The Press began to assert its power and influence over masses and became a formidable force for social reform and political awakening. It started demanding political power.
This was a unique feature of journalism in Odisha: working for the dual identity- as a member of a province with a distinct linguistic identity and a country. Interestingly there was no conflict or even skirmish between the two identities thanks to the level-headedness of the political leaders and the press inOdisha. As a result of the persistent demand Odisha became the first separate province on linguistic basis in India in 1936.
It was Gandhi who played an important role in steering the Odia people and Press towards the nationalistic freedom movement based on his mantra of satya and ahimsa and strategy of non-cooperation and satyagraha.
Gandhi and Odia Press
Mahatma Gandhi visited Odisha for the first time on March 23, 1921, to propagate his ideas of the Noncooperation Movement. Between 1921 and 1946 he visited Odisha eight times. His visit had a profound impact on the socio-political condition of Odisha. It galvanized people to join the national freedom movement. Gandhi was the icon, around which people and press in Odisha rallied round. So much so that a newspaper was published titled Gandhi Samachar (editor: NiranjanPattnaik) in 1927 on the eve of Gandhi’s visit to Odisha, it covered the tour program and speeches delivered by Gandhi on a daily basis. However, among the newspapers which played a stellar role in the freedom movement were DainikAsha, Samaja, and Prajatantraand Nabeen.
Besides being vociferous to securing the unification of the outlying Odia areas under one administration, DainikAshaalso spread the message of the freedom movement till 1942 when it changed hands.
Samajapublished by PanditGopabandhu Das fought for freedom from the day it was launched in 1919. With time Samaja became synonymous with the national movement and was used as a mouthpiece of the Indian National Congress to rouse the latent patriotism of the Odia people.
Together with the Samaja, Prajatantra played an active role in the freedom struggle. It first started publication as a weekly from Balasore on October 2, 1923. Dr. HarekrushnaMahatabpublished the weekly with the twin objective of portraying the condition of people and carrying on the campaign against British imperialism. Its publication was planned at the Swaraj Ashram, Cuttack, which was one of the centers of the freedom movement. JatiyaKaviBirakishore Das was associated with Prajatantra from the planning stage. Prajatantra started publishing from its own printing press on January 27, 1926, but ceased publication on December 28, 1930, in protest against the Press Ordinance of the British government. However, after one and a half-decade of struggle, it reappeared on August 8, 1947, as a daily.
During the Civil Disobedience Movement in the 1930s, the British authority imposed stringent restrictions on nationalist newspapers, which led to the closure and suspension of publication of several nationalist newspapers. They also tried to counter the nationalist movement by playing a newspaper against the other and by dispensation of selective patronage. BothSamaja and Prajatantra were forced to suspend their publication for some time. However, they continued their fight against subjugation and achieved freedom.
It will not be true to say that the Odia press en masse fought for freedom following Gandhi’s path. There have been several other voices. In 1931 a paper titled SatyaSamacharwas published by BiswanathKar. It enjoyed the patronage of the British Government. It opposed the Labana (salt) Satyagrah and in a way supported the British Government. Through this paper, the British authority sought to mold public opinion in its favor. But non-cooperation of the public forced the closure of the paper.
There were few other papers that opposed or did not support Gandhi’s strategy of freedom struggle. However, the majority of the Press in Odisha followed Gandhi.
The daily edition of Nababharatedited by PanditNilakantha Das (1884-1966) came out in 1942 to support the new local government and the war effort of the British government. It was also patronized by the Government and got financial support. It closed down, soon after the war ended. PanditNilakantha Das also published the weekly Lokmata from Cuttack in 1935. It was the mouthpiece of the Congress party and was a very influential paper.
GodabarishMohapatra founded and edited a journal called Niankhunta (“The Fire-fling”) which ran for about 27 years (1938-1964). It critiqued all political parties including Congress. He also published a daily titled Janata, which was also very critical of Congress.
Noted writer BagabatiCharanPanigrahi had brought out a weekly, Krushakfrom Cuttack in 1938, which espoused the cause of the farmers. Sabathia weekly was edited by BatakrushnaChoudhury in 1938 which fully supported the PrajaAndolan of Dhenkanal. These papers also form part of the freedom struggle.
Pre-independence newspapers of Odisha as in other provinces of India were mostly engaged with social issues, pressing local identity-related issues, and freedom movements. In Odisha, Mahatma Gandhi had a profound influence on Odia people and the press, although other and even dissenting voices were not nonexistent. Almost all social and political leaders were actively involved either in editing or producing or running newspapers, a trait one finds across the country.
Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee teaches journalism at IIMC, Dhenkanal. He has published a book titled History of Journalism in Odisha besides seven other books on mass communication.