The Vernacular Press Act was passed by the British Government in India in 1878 to put a tighter control over newspapers and magazines in Indian languages. Lord Lytton was the Viceroy of India at that time. In this act, there was a provision of strict action for printing such material in magazines, which is likely to cause discontent among the public against the British rule. Actually this law was brought to suppress the linguistic newspapers. The very next day after the passage of the Indigenous Press Act, Amrit Bazar Patrika, published in Bengali from Kolkata, made itself an ‘English daily’ newspaper. Its editor was Shishir Kumar Ghosh.
Hundreds of indigenous newspapers and magazines were confiscated under this act. The press was locked. To awaken the national consciousness among the countrymen, litterateur Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1894) brought Vande Mataram of ‘Anand Math’ which became the cause of anger of the British rulers. Several copies of ‘Anandmath’ were burnt inciting Muslims (Encyclopdia Britannica: Ramesh Chandra Dutt).
The Vernacular Press Act became much infamous and was repealed by Lord Ripon after a change of power in England in 1881 and the old 1867 law continued. The Indian Newspapers Act, 1910E was brought by the British Government to re-establish control over Indian newspapers, reviving all the abhorrent provisions relating to the Vernacular Press Act.
Indian newspapers began to gain a foothold through the press in the 1870s. Indian newspapers openly criticized the administration of Lord Lytton. In particular, the inhuman treatment of the British Government towards the victims of the famine of 1876-77 was strongly criticized.
Along with this, the spread of anti-British newspapers also started increasing and they were not limited to the middle class readers, but they started reaching the common Indian citizens as well. It was natural for this to create panic in the British government.
Vernacular Press Act 1878
The British government was angered by the constant criticism of the British government by Indian newspapers and suddenly started repression against Indian newspapers and in 1878 implemented the Vernacular Press Act. This law was made to curb linguistic newspapers because the British government felt a great danger from their side.
Why was the Vernacular Press Act enacted?
It was clear that the local language newspapers were constantly creating an atmosphere among the general public against the British government. The decision to introduce the Vernacular Press Act of 1878 was taken abruptly and the matter was strictly secrecy and the Legislative Council passed the bill only after a few minutes of deliberation.
What was Vernacular Press Act
The law provided that “If the Government considers that any domestic newspaper is publishing seditious or anti-government material or is disobeying the warnings of the Government, the Government of British India shall, including that newspaper, its owner and the press.” Seize it and take legal action against him..”
Indians oppose the Vernacular Press Act
Indian nationalists strongly opposed this law. A huge public meeting was held in the town hall of Calcutta regarding this issue. This was the first major protest over a public issue. The struggle against this law by the Indian press and other organizations also waged a struggle, as a result of which Lord Ripon withdrew this law in 1881.
Role of Indian newspapers against British Government
There are many interesting examples of how cleverly the Indian press acted against the oppressive moves of the British government. Indian newspapers at times fooled the British bureaucracy. Take the matter of Vernacular Press Act, in fact this law was specially made for ‘Amrit Bazar Patrika’, at that time the newspaper was published in both English and Bengali languages. The purpose of the law was to take a cursory action against this newspaper, but the next day after the law came into force, the British officers were stunned.