The Age of Industrialisation In 1900, a popular music publisher E.T. Paull produced a music book that had a picture on the cover page announcing the ‘Dawn of the Century’ (Fig. 1). As you can see from the illustration, at the centre of the picture is a goddess-like figure, the angel of progress, bearing the flag of the new century. She is gently perched on a wheel with wings, symbolising time. Her flight is taking her into the future. Floating about, behind her, are the signs of progress: railway, camera, machines, printing press and factory. This glorification of machines and technology is even more marked in a picture which appeared on the pages of a trade magazine over a hundred years ago (Fig. 2). It shows two magicians. The one at the top is Aladdin from the Orient who built a beautiful palace with his New words Orient – The countries to the east of the Mediterranean, usually referring to Asia. The term arises out of a western viewpoint that sees this region as premodern, traditional and mysterious 103 The Age of Industrialisation Chapter V magic lamp. The one at the bottom is the modern mechanic, who with his modern tools weaves a new magic: builds bridges, ships, towers and high-rise buildings. Aladdin is shown as representing the East and the past, the mechanic stands for the West and modernity. These images offer us a triumphant account of the modern world. Within this account the modern world is associated with rapid technological change and innovations, machines and factories, railways and steamships. The history of industrialisation thus becomes simply a story of development, and the modern age appears as a wonderful time of technological progress. These images and associations have now become part of popular imagination. Do you not see rapid industrialisation as a time of progress and modernity? Do you not think that the spread of railways and factories, and construction of high-rise buildings and bridges is a sign of society’s development? How have these images developed? And how do we relate to these ideas? Is industrialisation always based on rapid technological development? Can we today continue to glorify continuous mechanisation of all work? What has industrialisation meant to people’s lives? To answer such questions we need to turn to the history of industrialisation. In this chapter we will look at this history by focusing first on Britain, the first industrial nation, and then India, where the pattern of industrial change was conditioned by colonial rule. Activity Give two examples where modern development that is associated with progress has lead to problems. You may like to think of areas related to environmental issues, nuclear weapons or disease. All too often we associate industrialisation with the growth of factory industry. When we talk of industrial production we refer to factory production. When we talk of industrial workers we mean factory workers. Histories of industrialisation very often begin with the setting up of the first factories. There is a problem with such ideas. Even before factories began to dot the landscape in England and Europe, there was large-scale industrial production for an international market. This was not based on factories. Many historians now refer to this phase of industrialisation as proto-industrialisation. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, merchants from the towns in Europe began moving to the countryside, supplying money to peasants and artisans, persuading them to produce for an international market. With the expansion of world trade and the acquisition of colonies in different parts of the world, the demand for goods began growing. But merchants could not expand production within towns. This was because here urban crafts and trade guilds were powerful. These were associations of producers that trained craftspeople, maintained control over production, regulated competition and prices, and restricted the entry of new people into the trade. Rulers granted different guilds the monopoly right to produce and trade in specific products. It was therefore difficult for new merchants to set up business in towns. So they turned to the countryside. In the countryside poor peasants and artisans began working for merchants. As you have seen in the textbook last year, this was a time when open fields were disappearing and commons were being enclosed. Cottagers and poor peasants who had earlier depended on common lands for their survival, gathering their firewood, berries, vegetables, hay and straw, had to now look for alternative sources of income. Many had tiny plots of land which could not provide work for all members of the household. So New words Proto – Indicating the first or early form of something when merchants came around and offered advances to produce goods for them, peasant households eagerly agreed. By working for the merchants, they could remain in the countryside and continue to cultivate their small plots. Income from proto-industrial production supplemented their shrinking income from cultivation. It also allowed them a fuller use of their family labour resources. Within this system a close relationship developed between the town and the countryside. Merchants were based in towns but the work was done mostly in the countryside. A merchant clothier in England purchased wool from a wool stapler, and carried it to the spinners; the yarn (thread) that was spun was taken in subsequent stages of production to weavers, fullers, and then to dyers. The finishing was done in London before the export merchant sold the cloth in the international market. London in fact came to be known as a finishing centre. This proto-industrial system was thus part of a network of commercial exchanges. It was controlled by merchants and the goods were produced by a vast number of producers working within their family farms, not in factories. At each stage of production 20 to 25 workers were employed by each merchant. This meant that each clothier was controlling hundreds of workers. 1.1 The Coming Up of the Factory The earliest factories in England came up by the 1730s. But it was only in the late eighteenth century that the number of factories multiplied. The first symbol of the new era was cotton. Its production boomed in the late nineteenth century. In 1760 Britain was importing 2.5 million pounds of raw cotton to feed its cotton industry. By 1787 this import soared to 22 million pounds. This increase was linked to a number of changes within the process of production. Let us look briefly at some of these. A series of inventions in the eighteenth century increased the efficacy of each step of the production process (carding, twisting and spinning, and rolling). They enhanced the output per worker, enabling each worker to produce more, and they made possible the production of stronger threads and yarn. Then Richard Arkwright created the cotton mill. Till this time, as you have seen, cloth production was spread all over the countryside and carried out within village households. But now, the costly new machines could be purchased, set up and maintained in the mill. Within the mill all the New words Stapler – A person who ‘staples’ or sorts wool according to its fibre Fuller – A person who ‘fulls’ – that is, gathers – cloth by pleating Carding – The process in which fibres, such as cotton or wool, are prepared prior to spinning processes were brought together under one roof and management. This allowed a more careful supervision over the production process, a watch over quality, and the regulation of labour, all of which had been difficult to do when production was in the countryside. In the early nineteenth century, factories increasingly became an intimate part of the English landscape. So visible were the imposing new mills, so magical seemed to be the power of new technology, that contemporaries were dazzled. They concentrated their attention on the mills, almost forgetting the bylanes and the workshops where production still continued. Activity The way in which historians focus on industrialisation rather than on small workshops is a good example of how what we believe today about the past is influenced by what historians choose to notice and what they ignore. Note down one event or aspect of your own life which adults such as your parents or teachers may think is unimportant, but which you believe to be important. 1.2 The Pace of Industrial Change How rapid was the process of industrialisation? Does industrialisation mean only the growth of factory industries? First: The most dynamic industries in Britain were clearly cotton and metals. Growing at a rapid pace, cotton was the leading sector in the first phase of industrialisation up to the 1840s. After that the iron and steel industry led the way. With the expansion of railways, in England from the 1840s and in the colonies from the 1860s, the demand for iron and steel increased rapidly. By 1873 Britain was exporting iron and steel worth about £ 77 million, double the value of its cotton export. Activity Look at Figs. 4 and 5. Can you see any difference in the way the two images show industrialisation? Explain your view briefly. Second: the new industries could not easily displace traditional industries. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, less than 20 per cent of the total workforce was employed in technologically advanced industrial sectors. Textiles was a dynamic sector, but a large portion of the output was produced not within factories, but outside, within domestic units. Third: the pace of change in the ‘traditional’ industries was not set by steam-powered cotton or metal industries, but they did not remain entirely stagnant either. Seemingly ordinary and small innovations were the basis of growth in many non-mechanised sectors such as food processing, building, pottery, glass work, tanning, furniture making, and production of implements. Fourth: technological changes occurred slowly. They did not spread dramatically across the industrial landscape. New technology was expensive and merchants and industrialists were cautious about using it. The machines often broke down and repair was costly. They were not as effective as their inventors and manufacturers claimed. Consider the case of the steam engine. James Watt improved the steam engine produced by Newcomen and patented the new engine in 1781. His industrialist friend Mathew Boulton manufactured the new model. But for years he could find no buyers. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were no more than 321 steam engines all over England. Of these, 80 were in cotton industries, nine in wool industries, and the rest in mining, canal works and iron works. Steam engines were not used in any of the other industries till much later in the century. So even the most powerful new technology that enhanced the productivity of labour manifold was slow to be accepted by industrialists. Historians now have come to increasingly recognise that the typical worker in the mid-nineteenth century was not a machine operator but the traditional craftsperson and labourer. In Victorian Britain there was no shortage of human labour. Poor peasants and vagrants moved to the cities in large numbers in search of jobs, waiting for work. As you will know, when there is plenty of labour, wages are low. So industrialists had no problem of labour shortage or high wage costs. They did not want to introduce machines that got rid of human labour and required large capital investment. In many industries the demand for labour was seasonal. Gas works and breweries were especially busy through the cold months. So they needed more workers to meet their peak demand. Bookbinders and printers, catering to Christmas demand, too needed extra hands before December. At the waterfront, winter was the time that ships were repaired and spruced up. In all such industries where production fluctuated with the season, industrialists usually preferred hand labour, employing workers for the season. A range of products could be produced only with hand labour. Machines were oriented to producing uniforms, standardised goods for a mass market. But the demand in the market was often for goods with intricate designs and specific shapes. In mid-nineteenth-century Britain, for instance, 500 varieties of Source A Will Thorne is one of those who went in search of seasonal work, loading bricks and doing odd jobs. He describes how job-seekers walked to London in search of work: ‘I had always wanted to go to London, and my desire … was stimulated by letters from an old workmate … who was now working at the Old Kent Road Gas Works … I finally decided to go … in November, 1881. With two friends I started out to walk the journey, filled with the hope that we would be able to obtain employment, when we get there, with the kind assistance of my friend … we had little money when we started, not enough to pay for our food and lodgings each night until we arrived in London. Some days we walked as much as twenty miles, and other days less. Our money was gone at the end of the third day … For two nights we slept out – once under a haystack, and once in an old farm shed … On arrival in London we tried to find … my friend … but … were unsuccessful. Our money was gone, so there was nothing for us to do but to walk around until late at night, and then try to find some place to sleep. We found an old building and slept in it that night. The next day, Sunday, late in the afternoon, we got to the Old Kent Gas Works, and applied for work. To my great surprise, the man we had been looking for was working at the time. He spoke to the foreman and I was given a job.’ Quoted in Raphael Samuel, ‘Comers and Goers’, in H.J. Dyos and Michael Wolff, eds, The Victorian City: Images and Realities, 1973. Source Activity Imagine that you are a merchant writing back to a salesman who has been trying to persuade you to buy a new machine. Explain in your letter what you have heard and why you do not wish to invest in the new technology. hammers were produced and 45 kinds of axes. These required human skill, not mechanical technology. In Victorian Britain, the upper classes – the aristocrats and the bourgeoisie – preferred things produced by hand. Handmade products came to symbolise refinement and class. They were better finished, individually produced, and carefully designed. Machine-made goods were for export to the colonies. In countries with labour shortage, industrialists were keen on using mechanical power so that the need for human labour can be minimised. This was the case in nineteenth-century America. Britain, however, had no problem hiring human hands. 2.1 Life of the Workers The abundance of labour in the market affected the lives of workers. As news of possible jobs travelled to the countryside, hundreds tramped to the cities. The actual possibility of getting a job depended on existing networks of friendship and kin relations. If you had a relative or a friend in a factory, you were more likely to get a job quickly. But not everyone had social connections. Many job-seekers had to wait weeks, spending nights under bridges or in night Fig. 9 – Workers in an iron works, north-east England, painting by William Bell Scott, 1861. Many artists from the late nineteenth century began idealising workers: they were shown suffering hardship and pain for the cause of the nation. This painting shows the homeless in London applying for tickets to stay overnight in a workhouse. These shelters were maintained under the supervision of the Poor Law Commissioners for the ‘destitute, wayfarers, wanderers and foundling’. Staying in these workhouses was a humiliating experience: everyone was subjected to a medical examination to see whether they were carrying disease, their bodies were cleansed, and their clothes purified. They had to also do hard labour. shelters. Some stayed in Night Refuges that were set up by private individuals; others went to the Casual Wards maintained by the Poor Law authorities. Seasonality of work in many industries meant prolonged periods without work. After the busy season was over, the poor were on the streets again. Some returned to the countryside after the winter, when the demand for labour in the rural areas opened up in places. But most looked for odd jobs, which till the mid-nineteenth century were difficult to find. Wages increased somewhat in the early nineteenth century. But they tell us little about the welfare of the workers. The average figures hide the variations between trades and the fluctuations from year to year. For instance, when prices rose sharply during the prolonged Napoleonic War, the real value of what the workers earned fell significantly, since the same wages could now buy fewer things. Moreover, the income of workers depended not on the wage rate alone. What was also critical was the period of employment: the number of days of work determined the average daily income of the workers. At the best of times till the mid-nineteenth century, about 10 per cent of the urban population were extremely poor. In periods of economic slump, like the 1830s, the proportion of unemployed went up to anything between 35 and 75 per cent in different regions. The fear of unemployment made workers hostile to the introduction of new technology. When the Spinning Jenny was introduced in Source B A magistrate reported in 1790 about an incident when he was called in to protect a manufacturer’s property from being attacked by workers: ‘From the depredations of a lawless Banditti of colliers and their wives, for the wives had lost their work to spinning engines … they advanced at first with much insolence, avowing their intention of cutting to pieces the machine lately introduced in the woollen manufacture; which they suppose, if generally adopted, will lessen the demand for manual labour. The women became clamorous. The men were more open to conviction and after some expostulation were induced to desist from their purpose and return peaceably home.’ J.L. Hammond and B. Hammond, The Skilled Labourer 1760-1832, quoted in Maxine Berg, The Age of Manufactures. Source New words Spinning Jenny – Devised by James Hargreaves in 1764, this machine speeded up the spinning process and reduced labour demand. By turning one single wheel a worker could set in motion a number of spindles and spin several threads at the same time. Discuss Look at Figs. 3, 7 and 11, then reread source B. Explain why many workers were opposed to the use of the Spinning Jenny. the woollen industry, women who survived on hand spinning began attacking the new machines. This conflict over the introduction of the jenny continued for a long time. After the 1840s, building activity intensified in the cities, opening up greater opportunities of employment. Roads were widened, new railway stations came up, railway lines were extended, tunnels dug, drainage and sewers laid, rivers embanked. The number of workers employed in the transport industry doubled in the 1840s, and doubled again in the subsequent 30 years. Let us now move to India to see how a colony industrialises. Once again we will look not only at factory industries but also at the non-mechanised sector. We will limit our discussion primarily to textile industries. 3.1 The Age of Indian Textiles Before the age of machine industries, silk and cotton goods from India dominated the international market in textiles. Coarser cottons were produced in many countries, but the finer varieties often came from India. Armenian and Persian merchants took the goods from Punjab to Afghanistan, eastern Persia and Central Asia. Bales of fine textiles were carried on camel back via the north-west frontier, through mountain passes and across deserts. A vibrant sea trade operated through the main pre-colonial ports. Surat on the Gujarat coast connected India to the Gulf and Red Sea Ports; Masulipatam on the Coromandel coast and Hoogly in Bengal had trade links with Southeast Asian ports. A variety of Indian merchants and bankers were involved in this network of export trade – financing production, carrying goods and supplying exporters. Supply merchants linked the port towns to the inland regions. They gave advances to weavers, procured the woven cloth from weaving villages, and carried the supply to the ports. At the port, the big shippers and export merchants had brokers who negotiated the price and bought goods from the supply merchants operating inland. By the 1750s this network, controlled by Indian merchants, was breaking down. The European companies gradually gained power – first securing a variety of concessions from local courts, then the monopoly rights to trade. This resulted in a decline of the old ports of Surat and Hoogly through which local merchants had operated. Exports from these ports fell dramatically, the credit that had financed the earlier trade began drying up, and the local bankers slowly went bankrupt. In the last years of the seventeenth century, the gross value of trade that passed through Surat had been Rs 16 million. By the 1740s it had slumped to Rs 3 million. Activity On a map of Asia, find and draw the sea and land links of the textile trade from India to Central Asia, West Asia and Southeast Asia. While Surat and Hoogly decayed, Bombay and Calcutta grew. This shift from the old ports to the new ones was an indicator of the growth of colonial power. Trade through the new ports came to be controlled by European companies, and was carried in European ships. While many of the old trading houses collapsed, those that wanted to survive had to now operate within a network shaped by European trading companies. How did these changes affect the life of weavers and other artisans? 3.2 What Happened to Weavers? The consolidation of East India Company power after the 1760s did not initially lead to a decline in textile exports from India. British cotton industries had not yet expanded and Indian fine textiles were in great demand in Europe. So the company was keen on expanding textile exports from India. Before establishing political power in Bengal and Carnatic in the 1760s and 1770s, the East India Company had found it difficult to ensure a regular supply of goods for export. The French, Dutch, Portuguese as well as the local traders competed in the market to secure woven cloth. So the weaver and supply merchants could bargain and try selling the produce to the best buyer. In their letters back to London, Company officials continuously complained of difficulties of supply and the high prices. However, once the East India Company established political power, it could assert a monopoly right to trade. It proceeded to develop a system of management and control that would eliminate competition, control costs, and ensure regular supplies of cotton and silk goods. This it did through a series of steps. First: the Company tried to eliminate the existing traders and brokers connected with the cloth trade, and establish a more direct control over the weaver. It appointed a paid servant called the gomastha to supervise weavers, collect supplies, and examine the quality of cloth. Second: it prevented Company weavers from dealing with other buyers. One way of doing this was through the system of advances. Once an order was placed, the weavers were given loans to purchase the raw material for their production. Those who took loans had to hand over the cloth they produced to the gomastha. They could not take it to any other trader. As loans flowed in and the demand for fine textiles expanded, weavers eagerly took the advances, hoping to earn more. Many weavers had small plots of land which they had earlier cultivated along with weaving, and the produce from this took care of their family needs. Now they had to lease out the land and devote all their time to weaving. Weaving, in fact, required the labour of the entire family, with children and women all engaged in different stages of the process. Soon, however, in many weaving villages there were reports of clashes between weavers and gomasthas. Earlier supply merchants had very often lived within the weaving villages, and had a close relationship with the weavers, looking after their needs and helping them in times of crisis. The new gomasthas were outsiders, with no long-term social link with the village. They acted arrogantly, marched into villages with sepoys and peons, and punished weavers for delays in supply – often beating and flogging them. The weavers lost the space to bargain for prices and sell to different buyers: the price they received from the Company was miserably low and the loans they had accepted tied them to the Company. New words Sepoy – This is how the British pronounced the word sipahi, meaning an Indian soldier in the service of the British In many places in Carnatic and Bengal, weavers deserted villages and migrated, setting up looms in other villages where they had some family relation. Elsewhere, weavers along with the village traders revolted, opposing the Company and its officials. Over time many weavers began refusing loans, closing down their workshops and taking to agricultural labour. By the turn of the nineteenth century, cotton weavers faced a new set of problems. 3.3 Manchester Comes to India In 1772, Henry Patullo, a Company official, had ventured to say that the demand for Indian textiles could never reduce, since no other nation produced goods of the same quality. Yet by the beginning of the nineteenth century we see the beginning of a long decline of textile exports from India. In 1811-12 piece-goods accounted for 33 per cent of India’s exports; by 1850-51 it was no more than 3 per cent. Why did this happen? What were its implications? As cotton industries developed in England, industrial groups began worrying about imports from other countries. They pressurised the government to impose import duties on cotton textiles so that Manchester goods could sell in Britain without facing any competition from outside. At the same time industrialists persuaded the East India Company to sell British manufactures in Indian markets as well. Exports of British cotton goods increased dramatically in the early nineteenth century. At the end of the eighteenth century there had been virtually no import of cotton piece-goods into India. But by 1850 cotton piece-goods constituted over 31 per cent of the value of Indian imports; and by the 1870s this figure was over 50 per cent. Cotton weavers in India thus faced two problems at the same time: their export market collapsed, and the local market shrank, being glutted with Manchester imports. Produced by machines at lower costs, the imported cotton goods were so cheap that weavers could not easily compete with them. By the 1850s, reports from most weaving regions of India narrated stories of decline and desolation. By the 1860s, weavers faced a new problem. They could not get sufficient supply of raw cotton of good quality. When the American Source C The Commissioner of Patna wrote: ‘It appears that twenty yeas ago, a brisk trade was carried on in the manufacture of cloth at Jahanabad, and Behar, which has in the former place entirely ceased, while in the latter the amount of manufacture is very limited, in consequence of the cheap and durable goods from Manchester with which the Native manufactures are unable to compete.’ Quoted in J. Krishnamurty, ‘Deindustrialisation in Gangetic Bihar during the nineteenth century’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 1985. Source Source D Reporting on the Koshtis, a community of weavers, the Census Report of Central Provinces stated: ‘The Koshtis, like the weavers of the finer kinds of cloth in other parts of India, have fallen upon evil times. They are unable to compete with the showy goods which Manchester sends in such profusion, and they have of late years emigrated in great numbers, chiefly to Berar, where as day labourers they are able to obtain wages …’ Census Report of Central Provinces, 1872, quoted in Sumit Guha, ‘The handloom industry in Central India, 1825-1950’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review. Source Civil War broke out and cotton supplies from the US were cut off, Britain turned to India. As raw cotton exports from India increased, the price of raw cotton shot up. Weavers in India were starved of supplies and forced to buy raw cotton at exorbitant prices. In this, situation weaving could not pay. Then, by the end of the nineteenth century, weavers and other craftspeople faced yet another problem. Factories in India began production, flooding the market with machine- goods. How could weaving industries possibly survive? 4 Factories Come Up The first cotton mill in Bombay came up in 1854 and it went into production two years later. By 1862 four mills were at work with 94,000 spindles and 2,150 looms. Around the same time jute mills came up in Bengal, the first being set up in 1855 and another one seven years later, in 1862. In north India, the Elgin Mill was started in Kanpur in the 1860s, and a year later the first cotton mill of Ahmedabad was set up. By 1874, the first spinning and weaving mill of Madras began production. Who set up the industries? Where did the capital come from? Who came to work in the mills? 4.1 The Early Entrepreneurs Industries were set up in different regions by varying sorts of people. Let us see who they were. The history of many business groups goes back to trade with China. From the late eighteenth century, as you have read in your book last year, the British in India began exporting opium to China and took tea from China to England. Many Indians became junior players in this trade, providing finance, procuring supplies, and shipping consignments. Having earned through trade, some of these businessmen had visions of developing industrial enterprises in India. In Bengal, Dwarkanath Tagore made his fortune in the China trade before he turned to industrial investment, setting up six joint-stock companies in the 1830s and 1840s. Tagore’s enterprises sank along with those of others in the wider business crises of the 1840s, but later in the nineteenth century many of the China traders became successful industrialists. In Bombay, Parsis like Dinshaw Petit and Jamsetjee Nusserwanjee Tata who built huge industrial empires in India, accumulated their initial wealth partly from exports to China, and partly from raw cotton shipments to England. Seth Hukumchand, a Marwari businessman who set up the first Indian jute mill in Calcutta in 1917, also traded with China. So did the father as well as grandfather of the famous industrialist G.D. Birla. Capital was accumulated through other trade networks. Some merchants from Madras traded with Burma while others had links with the Middle East and East Africa. There were yet other Jeejeebhoy was the son of a Parsi weaver. Like many others of his time, he was involved in the China trade and shipping. He owned a large fleet of ships, but competition from English and American shippers forced him to sell his ships by the 1850s. Dwarkanath Tagore believed that India would develop through westernisation and industrialisation. He invested in shipping, shipbuilding, mining, banking, plantations and insurance. commercial groups, but they were not directly involved in external trade. They operated within India, carrying goods from one place to another, banking money, transferring funds between cities, and financing traders. When opportunities of investment in industries opened up, many of them set up factories. As colonial control over Indian trade tightened, the space within which Indian merchants could function became increasingly limited. They were barred from trading with Europe in manufactured goods, and had to export mostly raw materials and food grains – raw cotton, opium, wheat and indigo – required by the British. They were also gradually edged out of the shipping business. Till the First World War, European Managing Agencies in fact controlled a large sector of Indian industries. Three of the biggest ones were Bird Heiglers & Co., Andrew Yule, and Jardine Skinner & Co. These Agencies mobilised capital, set up joint-stock companies and managed them. In most instances Indian financiers provided the capital while the European Agencies made all investment and business decisions. The European merchant-industrialists had their own chambers of commerce which Indian businessmen were not allowed to join. 4.2 Where Did the Workers Come From? Factories needed workers. With the expansion of factories, this demand increased. In 1901, there were 584,000 workers in Indian factories. By 1946 the number was over 2,436, 000. Where did the workers come from?In most industrial regions workers came from the districts around. Peasants and artisans who found no work in the village went to the industrial centres in search of work. Over 50 per cent workers in the Bombay cotton industries in 1911 came from the neighbouring district of Ratnagiri, while the mills of Kanpur got most of their textile hands from the villages within the district of Kanpur. Most often millworkers moved between the village and the city, returning to their village homes during harvests and festivals. Over time, as news of employment spread, workers travelled great distances in the hope of work in the mills. From the United Provinces, for instance, they went to work in the textile mills of Bombay and in the jute mills of Calcutta. R.D. Tata, Sir R.J. Tata, and Sir D.J. Tata. In 1912, J.N. Tata set up the first iron and steel works in India at Jamshedpur. Iron and steel industries in India started much later than textiles. In colonial India industrial machinery, railways and locomotives were mostly imported. So capital goods industries could not really develop in any significant way till Independence. Getting jobs was always difficult, even when mills multiplied and the demand for workers increased. The numbers seeking work were always more than the jobs available. Entry into the mills was also restricted. Industrialists usually employed a jobber to get new recruits. Very often the jobber was an old and trusted worker. He got people from his village, ensured them jobs, helped them settle in the city and provided them money in times of crisis. The jobber therefore became a person with some authority and power. He began demanding money and gifts for his favour and controlling the lives of workers. The number of factory workers increased over time. However, as you will see, they were a small proportion of the total industrial workforce. Source E Vasant Parkar, who was once a millworker in Bombay, said: ‘The workers would pay the jobbers money to get their sons work in the mill … The mill worker was closely associated with his village, physically and emotionally. He would go home to cut the harvest and for sowing. The Konkani would go home to cut the paddy and the Ghati, the sugarcane. It was an accepted practice for which the mills granted leave.’ Meena Menon and Neera Adarkar, One Hundred Years: One Hundred Voices, 2004. Source Source F Bhai Bhosle, a trade unionist of Bombay, recollected his childhood in the 1930s and 1940s: ‘In those days, the shift was 10 hours – from 5 pm to 3 am – terrible working hours. My father worked for 35 years; he got the asthma like disease and could not work any more…Then my father went back to village.’ Meena Menon and Neera Adarkar, One Hundred Years: One Hundred Voices. Source 5 The Peculiarities of Industrial Growth European Managing Agencies, which dominated industrial production in India, were interested in certain kinds of products. They established tea and coffee plantations, acquiring land at cheap rates from the colonial government; and they invested in mining, indigo and jute. Most of these were products required primarily for export trade and not for sale in India. When Indian businessmen began setting up industries in the late nineteenth century, they avoided competing with Manchester goods in the Indian market. Since yarn was not an important part of British imports into India, the early cotton mills in India produced coarse cotton yarn (thread) rather than fabric. When yarn was imported it was only of the superior variety. The yarn produced in Indian spinning mills was used by handloom weavers in India or exported to China. By the first decade of the twentieth century a series of changes affected the pattern of industrialisation. As the swadeshi movement gathered momentum, nationalists mobilised people to boycott foreign cloth. Industrial groups organised themselves to protect their collective interests, pressurising the government to increase tariff protection and grant other concessions. From 1906, moreover, the export of Indian yarn to China declined since produce from Chinese and Japanese mills flooded the Chinese market. So industrialists in India began shifting from yarn to cloth production. Cotton piece-goods production in India doubled between 1900 and 1912. Yet, till the First World War, industrial growth was slow. The war created a dramatically new situation. With British mills busy with war production to meet the needs of the army, Manchester imports into India declined. Suddenly, Indian mills had a vast home market to supply. As the war prolonged, Indian factories were called upon to supply war needs: jute bags, cloth for army uniforms, tents and leather boots, horse and mule saddles and a host of other items. New factories were set up and old ones ran multiple shifts. Many new workers were employed and everyone was made to work longer hours. Over the war years industrial production boomed. After the war, Manchester could never recapture its old position in the Indian market. Unable to modernise and compete with the US, Germany and Japan, the economy of Britain crumbled after the war. Cotton production collapsed and exports of cotton cloth from Britain fell dramatically. Within the colonies, local industrialists gradually consolidated their position, substituting foreign manufactures and capturing the home market. 5.1 Small-scale Industries Predominate While factory industries grew steadily after the war, large industries formed only a small segment of the economy. Most of them – about 67 per cent in 1911 – were located in Bengal and Bombay. Over the rest of the country, small-scale production continued to predominate. Only a small proportion of the total industrial labour force worked in registered factories: 5 per cent in 1911 and 10 per cent in 1931. The rest worked in small workshops and household units, often located in alleys and bylanes, invisible to the passer-by. In fact, in some instances, handicrafts production actually expanded in the twentieth century. This is true even in the case of the handloom sector that we have discussed. While cheap machine-made thread wiped out the spinning industry in the nineteenth century, the weavers survived, despite problems. In the twentieth century, handloom cloth production expanded steadily: almost trebling between 1900 and 1940. How did this happen? This was partly because of technological changes. Handicrafts people adopt new technology if that helps them improve production without excessively pushing up costs. So, by the second decade of the twentieth century we find weavers using looms with a fly shuttle. This increased productivity per worker, speeded up production and reduced labour demand. By 1941, over 35 per cent of handlooms in India were fitted with fly shuttles: in regions like Travancore, Madras, Mysore, Cochin, Bengal the proportion was 70 to 80 per cent. There were several other small innovations that helped weavers improve their productivity and compete with the mill sector. The intricate designs of hand-woven cloth could not be easily copied by the mills. New words Fly shuttle – It is a mechanical device used for weaving, moved by means of ropes and pullies. It places the horizontal threads ( called the weft) into the verticle threads (called the warp). The invention of the fly shuttle made it possible for weavers to operate large looms and weave wide pieces of cloth. Certain groups of weavers were in a better position than others to survive the competition with mill industries. Amongst weavers some produced coarse cloth while others wove finer varieties. The coarser cloth was bought by the poor and its demand fluctuated violently. In times of bad harvests and famines, when the rural poor had little to eat, and their cash income disappeared, they could not possibly buy cloth. The demand for the finer varieties bought by the well-to-do was more stable. The rich could buy these even when the poor starved. Famines did not affect the sale of Banarasi or Baluchari saris. Moreover, as you have seen, mills could not imitate specialised weaves. Saris with woven borders, or the famous lungis and handkerchiefs of Madras, could not be easily displaced by mill production. Weavers and other craftspeople who continued to expand production through the twentieth century, did not necessarily prosper. They lived hard lives and worked long hours. Very often the entire household – including all the women and children – had to work at various stages of the production process. But they were not simply remnants of past times in the age of factories. Their life and labour was integral to the process of industrialisation. We have seen how British manufacturers attempted to take over the Indian market, and how Indian weavers and craftsmen, traders and industrialists resisted colonial controls, demanded tariff protection, created their own spaces, and tried to extend the market for their produce. But when new products are produced people have to be persuaded to buy them. They have to feel like using the product. How was this done? One way in which new consumers are created is through advertisements. As you know, advertisements make products appear desirable and necessary. They try to shape the minds of people and create new needs. Today we live in a world where advertisements surround us. They appear in newspapers, magazines, hoardings, street walls, television screens. But if we look back into history we find that from the very beginning of the industrial age, advertisements have played a part in expanding the markets for products, and in shaping a new consumer culture. When Manchester industrialists began selling cloth in India, they put labels on the cloth bundles. The label was needed to make the place of manufacture and the name of the company familiar to the buyer. The label was also to be a mark of quality. When buyers saw ‘MADE IN MANCHESTER’ written in bold on the label, they were expected to feel confident about buying the cloth. Fig. 26(a) Fig. 26(b) Fig. 26(a) – Manchester labels, early twentieth century. Images of numerous Indian gods and goddesses – Kartika, Lakshmi, Saraswati – are shown in imported cloth labels approving the quality of the product being marketed. Fig. 26(b) – Maharaja Ranjit Singh on a Manchester label. Historic figures are used to create respect for the product. But labels did not only carry words and texts. They also carried images and were very often beautifully illustrated. If we look at these old labels, we can have some idea of the mind of the manufacturers, their calculations, and the way they appealed to the people. Images of Indian gods and goddesses regularly appeared on these labels. It was as if the association with gods gave divine approval to the goods being sold. The imprinted image of Krishna or Saraswati was also intended to make the manufacture from a foreign land appear somewhat familiar to Indian people. By the late nineteenth century, manufacturers were printing calendars to popularise their products. Unlike newspapers and magazines, calendars were used even by people who could not read. They were hung in tea shops and in poor people’s homes just as much as in offices and middle-class apartments. And those who hung the calendars had to see the advertisements, day after day, through the year. In these calendars, once again, we see the figures of gods being used to sell new products. Like the images of gods, figures of important personages, of emperors and nawabs, adorned advertisement and calendars. The message very often seemed to say: if you respect the royal figure, then respect this product; when the product was being used by kings, or produced under royal command, its quality could not be questioned. When Indian manufacturers advertised the nationalist message was clear and loud. If you care for the nation then buy products that Indians produce. Advertisements became a vehicle of the nationalist message of swadeshi. Conclusion Clearly, the age of industries has meant major technological changes, growth of factories, and the making of a new industrial labour force. However, as you have seen, hand technology and small-scale production remained an important part of the industrial landscape. Look again at Figs. 1 and 2. What would you now say of the images they project? Write in brief Discuss Project work Select any one industry in your region and find out its history. How has the technology changed? Where do the workers come from? How are the products advertised and marketed? Try and talk to the employers and some workers to get their views about the industry’s history. Project


Print Culture and the Modern World

It is difficult for us to imagine a world without printed matter. We find evidence of print everywhere around us – in books, journals, newspapers, prints of famous paintings, and also in everyday things like theatre programmes, official circulars, calendars, diaries, advertisements, cinema posters at street corners. We read printed literature, see printed images, follow the news through newspapers, and track public debates that appear in print. We take for granted this world of print and often forget that there was a time before print. We may not realise that print itself has a history which has, in fact, shaped our contemporary world. What is this history? When did printed literature begin to circulate? How has it helped create the modern world?

Fig. 1 – Book making before the age of print, from Akhlaq-i-Nasiri, 1595.

This is a royal workshop in the sixteenth century, much before printing began in India. You can see the text being dictated, written and illustrated. The art of writing and illustrating by hand was important in the age before print. Think about what happened to these forms of art with the coming of printing machines.

In this chapter we will look at the development of print, from its beginnings in East Asia to its expansion in Europe and in India. We will understand the impact of the spread of technology and consider how social lives and cultures changed with the coming of print.

Print Culture and the Modern World

Chapter V

1. The First Printed Books

The earliest kind of print technology was developed in China, Japan and Korea. This was a system of hand printing. From ad 594 onwards, books in China were printed by rubbing paper – also invented there – against the inked surface of woodblocks. As both sides of the thin, porous sheet could not be printed, the traditional Chinese ‘accordion book’ was folded and stitched at the side. Superbly skilled craftsmen could duplicate, with remarkable accuracy, the beauty of calligraphy.

New words

Calligraphy – The art of beautiful and stylised writing

The imperial state in China was, for a very long time, the major producer of printed material. China possessed a huge bureaucratic system which recruited its personnel through civil service examinations. Textbooks for this examination were printed in vast numbers under the sponsorship of the imperial state. From the sixteenth century, the number of examination candidates went up and that increased the volume of print.

By the seventeenth century, as urban culture bloomed in China, the uses of print diversified. Print was no longer used just by scholar-officials. Merchants used print in their everyday life, as they collected trade information. Reading increasingly became a leisure activity. The new readership preferred fictional narratives, poetry, autobiographies, anthologies of literary masterpieces, and romantic plays. Rich women began to read, and many women began publishing their poetry and plays. Wives of scholar-officials published their works and courtesans wrote about their lives.

Fig. 2 a – A page from the Diamond Sutra.

This new reading culture was accompanied by a new technology. Western printing techniques and mechanical presses were imported in the late nineteenth century as Western powers established their outposts in China. Shanghai became the hub of the new print culture, catering to the Western-style schools. From hand printing there was now a gradual shift to mechanical printing.

1.1 Print in Japan

Buddhist missionaries from China introduced hand-printing technology into Japan around ad 768-770. The oldest Japanese book, printed in ad 868, is the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, containing six sheets of text and woodcut illustrations. Pictures were printed on textiles, playing cards and paper money. In medieval Japan, poets and prose writers were regularly published, and books were cheap and abundant.

Belonging to the mid-13th century, printing woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana are a Korean collection of Buddhist scriptures. They were engraved on about 80,000 woodblocks. They were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2007.


Fig. 2b – Tripitaka Koreana

Printing of visual material led to interesting publishing practices. In the late eighteenth century, in the flourishing urban circles at Edo (later to be known as Tokyo), illustrated collections of paintings depicted an elegant urban culture, involving artists, courtesans, and teahouse gatherings. Libraries and bookstores were packed with hand-printed material of various types – books on women, musical instruments, calculations, tea ceremony, flower arrangements, proper etiquette, cooking and famous places.

Kitagawa Utamaro, born in Edo in 1753, was widely known for his contributions to an art form called ukiyo (‘pictures of the floating world’) or depiction of ordinary human experiences, especially urban ones. These prints travelled to contemporary US and Europe and influenced artists like Manet, Monet and Van Gogh. Publishers like Tsutaya Juzaburo identified subjects and commissioned artists who drew the theme in outline. Then a skilled woodblock carver pasted the drawing on a woodblock and carved a printing block to reproduce the painter’s lines. In the process, the original drawing would be destroyed and only prints would survive.

Box 1

Kitagawa Utamaro, born in Edo in 1753, was widely known for his contributions to an art form called ukiyo (‘pictures of the floating world’) or depiction of ordinary human experiences, especially urban ones. These prints travelled to contemporary US and Europe and influenced artists like Manet, Monet and Van Gogh. Publishers like Tsutaya Juzaburo identified subjects and commissioned artists who drew the theme in outline. Then a skilled woodblock carver pasted the drawing on a woodblock and carved a printing block to reproduce the painter’s lines. In the process, the original drawing would be destroyed and only prints would survive.

Fig. 3 – An ukiyo print by Kitagawa Utamaro.

Fig. 4a – A morning scene, ukiyo print by Shunman Kubo, late eighteenth century.

A man looks out of the window at the snowfall while women prepare tea and perform other domestic duties.

2. Print Comes to Europe

For centuries, silk and spices from China flowed into Europe through the silk route. In the eleventh century, Chinese paper reached Europe via the same route. Paper made possible the production of manuscripts, carefully written by scribes. Then, in 1295, Marco Polo, a great explorer, returned to Italy after many years of exploration in China. As you read above, China already had the technology of woodblock printing. Marco Polo brought this knowledge back with him. Now Italians began producing books with woodblocks, and soon the technology spread to other parts of Europe. Luxury editions were still handwritten on very expensive vellum, meant for aristocratic circles and rich monastic libraries which scoffed at printed books as cheap vulgarities. Merchants and students in the university towns bought the cheaper printed copies.

New words

Vellum – A parchment made from the skin of animals

As the demand for books increased, booksellers all over Europe began exporting books to many different countries. Book fairs were held at different places. Production of handwritten manuscripts was also organised in new ways to meet the expanded demand. Scribes or skilled handwriters were no longer solely employed by wealthy or influential patrons but increasingly by booksellers as well. More than 50 scribes often worked for one bookseller.

Fig. 4b – Jikji

The Jikji of Korea is among the world’s oldest existing books printed with movable metal type. It contains the essential features of Zen Buddhism. About 150 monks of India, China and Korea are mentioned in the book. It was printed in late 14th century. While the first volume of the book is unavailable, the second one is available in the National Library of France. This work marked an important technical change in the print culture. That is why it was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2001.

But the production of handwritten manuscripts could not satisfy the ever-increasing demand for books. Copying was an expensive, laborious and time-consuming business. Manuscripts were fragile, awkward to handle, and could not be carried around or read easily. Their circulation therefore remained limited. With the growing demand for books, woodblock printing gradually became more and more popular. By the early fifteenth century, woodblocks were being widely used in Europe to print textiles, playing cards, and religious pictures with simple, brief texts.


Imagine that you are Marco Polo. Write a letter from China to describe the world of print which you have seen there.

There was clearly a great need for even quicker and cheaper reproduction of texts. This could only be with the invention of a new print technology. The breakthrough occurred at Strasbourg, Germany, where Johann Gutenberg developed the first-known printing press in the 1430s.

2.1 Gutenberg and the Printing Press

Gutenberg was the son of a merchant and grew up on a large agricultural estate. From his childhood he had seen wine and olive presses. Subsequently, he learnt the art of polishing stones, became a master goldsmith, and also acquired the expertise to create lead moulds used for making trinkets. Drawing on this knowledge, Gutenberg adapted existing technology to design his innovation. The olive press provided the model for the printing press, and moulds were used for casting the metal types for the letters of the alphabet. By 1448, Gutenberg perfected the system. The first book he printed was the Bible. About 180 copies were printed and it took three years to produce them. By the standards of the time this was fast production.

Fig. 5 – A Portrait of Johann Gutenberg, 1584.

The new technology did not entirely displace the existing art of producing books by hand. 

In fact, printed books at first closely resembled the written manuscripts in appearance and layout. The metal letters imitated the ornamental handwritten styles. Borders were illuminated by hand with foliage and other patterns, and illustrations were painted. In the books printed for the rich, space for decoration was kept blank on the printed page. Each purchaser could choose the design and decide on the painting school that would do the illustrations.

In the hundred years between 1450 and 1550, printing presses were set up in most countries of Europe. Printers from Germany travelled to other countries, seeking work and helping start new presses. As the number of printing presses grew, book production boomed. The second half of the fifteenth century saw 20 million copies of printed books flooding the markets in Europe. The number went up in the sixteenth century to about 200 million copies. 

This shift from hand printing to mechanical printing led to the print revolution.

New words

Platen – In letterpress printing, platen is a board which is pressed onto the back of the paper to get the impression from the type. At one time it used to be a wooden board; later it was made of steel


Fig. 6 – Gutenberg Printing Press.

Notice the long handle attached to the screw. This handle was used to turn the screw and press down the platen over the printing block that was placed on top of a sheet of damp paper. Gutenberg developed metal types for each of the 26 characters of the Roman alphabet and devised a way of moving them around so as to compose different words of the text. This came to be known as the moveable type printing machine, and it remained the basic print technology over the next 300 years. Books could now be produced much faster than was possible when each print block was prepared by carving a piece of wood by hand. The Gutenberg press could print 250 sheets on one side per hour.

Fig. 7 – Pages of Gutenberg’s Bible, the first printed book in Europe.

Gutenberg printed about 180 copies, of which no more than 50 have survived. 

Look at these pages of Gutenberg’s Bible carefully. They were not just products of new technology. The text was printed in the new Gutenberg press with metal type, but the borders were carefully designed, painted and illuminated by hand by artists. No two copies were the same. Every page of each copy was different. Even when two copies look similar, a careful comparison will reveal differences. Elites everywhere preferred this lack of uniformity: what they possessed then could be claimed as unique, for no one else owned a copy that was exactly the same. 

In the text you will notice the use of colour within the letters in various places. This had two functions: it added colour to the page, and highlighted all the holy words to emphasise their significance. But the colour on every page of the text was added by hand. Gutenberg printed the text in black, leaving spaces where the colour could be filled in later.

Fig. 8 – A printer’s workshop, sixteenth century.

This picture depicts what a printer’s shop looked like in the sixteenth century. All the activities are going on under one roof. In the foreground on the right, compositors are at work, while on the left galleys are being prepared and ink is being applied on the metal types; in the background, the printers are turning the screws of the press, and near them proofreaders are at work. Right in front is the final product – the double-page printed sheets, stacked in neat piles, waiting to be bound.

New words

Compositor – The person who composes the text for printing

Galley – Metal frame in which types are laid and the text composed

3. The Print Revolution and Its Impact

What was the print revolution? It was not just a development, a new way of producing books; it transformed the lives of people, changing their relationship to information and knowledge, and with institutions and authorities. It influenced popular perceptions and opened up new ways of looking at things.

Let us explore some of these changes.

3.1 A New Reading Public

With the printing press, a new reading public emerged. Printing reduced the cost of books. The time and labour required to produce each book came down, and multiple copies could be produced with greater ease. Books flooded the market, reaching out to an ever-growing readership.


You are a bookseller advertising the availability of new cheap printed books. Design a poster for your shop window.

Access to books created a new culture of reading. Earlier, reading was restricted to the elites. Common people lived in a world of oral culture. They heard sacred texts read out, ballads recited, and folk tales narrated. Knowledge was transferred orally. People collectively heard a story, or saw a performance. As you will see in Chapter 8, they did not read a book individually and silently. Before the age of print, books were not only expensive but they could not be produced in sufficient numbers. Now books could reach out to wider sections of people. If earlier there was a hearing public, now a reading public came into being.

But the transition was not so simple. Books could be read only by the literate, and the rates of literacy in most European countries were very low till the twentieth century. How, then, could publishers persuade the common people to welcome the printed book? To do this, they had to keep in mind the wider reach of the printed work: even those who did not read could certainly enjoy listening to books being read out. So printers began publishing popular ballads and folk tales, and such books would be profusely illustrated with pictures. These were then sung and recited at gatherings in villages and in taverns in towns.

New words

Ballad – A historical account or folk tale in verse, usually sung or recited

Taverns – Places where people gathered to drink alcohol, to be served food, and to meet friends and exchange news

Oral culture thus entered print and printed material was orally transmitted. The line that separated the oral and reading cultures became blurred. And the hearing public and reading public became intermingled.

3.2 Religious Debates and the Fear of Print

Print created the possibility of wide circulation of ideas, and introduced a new world of debate and discussion. Even those who disagreed with established authorities could now print and circulate their ideas. Through the printed message, they could persuade people to think differently, and move them to action. This had significance in different spheres of life.

Fig. 9 – J.V. Schley, L’Imprimerie, 1739.

This is one of the many images produced in early modern Europe, celebrating the coming of print. You can see the printing press descending from heaven, carried by a goddess. On two sides of the goddess, blessing the machine, are Minerva (the goddess of wisdom) and Mercury (the messenger god, also symbolising reason). The women in the foreground are holding plaques with the portraits of six pioneer printers of different countries. In the middle ground on the left (figure encircled) is the portrait of Gutenberg.

Not everyone welcomed the printed book, and those who did also had fears about it. Many were apprehensive of the effects that the easier access to the printed word and the wider circulation of books, could have on people’s minds. It was feared that if there was no control over what was printed and read then rebellious and irreligious thoughts might spread. If that happened the authority of ‘valuable’ literature would be destroyed. Expressed by religious authorities and monarchs, as well as many writers and artists, this anxiety was the basis of widespread criticism of the new printed literature that had begun to circulate.

Let us consider the implication of this in one sphere of life in early modern Europe – namely, religion.

In 1517, the religious reformer Martin Luther wrote Ninety Five Theses criticising many of the practices and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. A printed copy of this was posted on a church door in Wittenberg. It challenged the Church to debate his ideas. Luther’s writings were immediately reproduced in vast numbers and read widely. This lead to a division within the Church and to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s translation of the New Testament sold 5,000 copies within a few weeks and a second edition appeared within three months. Deeply grateful to print, Luther said, ‘Printing is the ultimate gift of God and the greatest one.’ Several scholars, in fact, think that print brought about a new intellectual atmosphere and helped spread the new ideas that led to the Reformation.

New words

Protestant Reformation – A sixteenth-century movement to reform the Catholic Church dominated by Rome. Martin Luther was one of the main Protestant reformers. Several traditions of anti-Catholic Christianity developed out of the movement

3.3 Print and Dissent

Print and popular religious literature stimulated many distinctive individual interpretations of faith even among little-educated working people. In the sixteenth century, Menocchio, a miller in Italy, began to read books that were available in his locality. He reinterpreted the message of the Bible and formulated a view of God and Creation that enraged the Roman Catholic Church. When the Roman Church began its inquisition to repress heretical ideas, Menocchio was hauled up twice and ultimately executed. The Roman Church, troubled by such effects of popular readings and questionings of faith, imposed severe controls over publishers and booksellers and began to maintain an Index of Prohibited Books from 1558.

New words

Inquisition – A former Roman Catholic court for identifying and punishing heretics

Heretical – Beliefs which do not follow the accepted teachings of the Church. In medieval times, heresy was seen as a threat to the right of the Church to decide on what should be believed and what should not. Heretical beliefs were severely punished

Satiety – The state of being fulfilled much beyond the point of satisfaction

Seditious – Action, speech or writing that is seen as opposing the government 

Fig. 10 – The macabre dance.

This sixteenth-century print shows how the fear of printing was dramatised in visual representations of the time. In this highly interesting woodcut the coming of print is associated with the end of the world. The interior of the printer’s workshop here is the site of a dance of death. Skeletal figures control the printer and his workers, define and dictate what is to be done and what is to be produced.


Write briefly why some people feared that the development of print could lead to the growth of dissenting ideas.

Source A______________________________________________________________________

Fear of the book

Erasmus, a Latin scholar and a Catholic reformer, who criticised the excesses of Catholicism but kept his distance from Luther, expressed a deep anxiety about printing. He wrote in Adages (1508):

‘To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books? It may be that one here and there contributes something worth knowing, but the very multitude of them is hurtful to scholarship, because it creates a glut, and even in good things satiety is most harmful ... [printers] fill the world with books, not just trifling things (such as I write, perhaps), but stupid, ignorant, slanderous, scandalous, raving, irreligious and seditious books, and the number of them is such that even the valuable publications lose their value.’

4. The Reading Mania

Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries literacy rates went up in most parts of Europe. Churches of different denominations set up schools in villages, carrying literacy to peasants and artisans. By the end of the eighteenth century, in some parts of Europe literacy rates were as high as 60 to 80 per cent. As literacy and schools spread in European countries, there was a virtual reading mania. People wanted books to read and printers produced books in ever-increasing numbers.

New words

Denominations – Sub groups within a religion

Almanac – An annual publication giving astronomical data, information about the movements of the sun and moon, timing of full tides and eclipses, and much else that was of importance in the everyday life of people

Chapbook – A term used to describe pocket-size books that are sold by travelling pedlars called chapmen. These became popular from the time of the sixteenth-century print revolution

New forms of popular literature appeared in print, targeting new audiences. Booksellers employed pedlars who roamed around villages, carrying little books for sale. There were almanacs or ritual calendars, along with ballads and folktales. But other forms of reading matter, largely for entertainment, began to reach ordinary readers as well. In England, penny chapbooks were carried by petty pedlars known as chapmen, and sold for a penny, so that even the poor could buy them. In France, were the “Biliotheque Bleue”, which were low-priced small books printed on poor quality paper, and bound in cheap blue covers. Then there were the romances, printed on four to six pages, and the more substantial ‘histories’ which were stories about the past. Books were of various sizes, serving many different purposes and interests.

The periodical press developed from the early eighteenth century, combining information about current affairs with entertainment. Newspapers and journals carried information about wars and trade, as well as news of developments in other places.

Similarly, the ideas of scientists and philosophers now became more accessible to the common people. Ancient and medieval scientific texts were compiled and published, and maps and scientific diagrams were widely printed. When scientists like Isaac Newton began to publish their discoveries, they could influence a much wider circle of scientifically minded readers. The writings of thinkers such as Thomas Paine, Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau were also widely printed and read. Thus their ideas about science, reason and rationality found their way into popular literature.

Box 2_______________________________________________________________________

In 1791, a London publisher, James Lackington, wrote in his diary:

‘The sale of books in general has increased prodigiously within the last twenty years. The poorer sort of farmers and even the poor country people in general who before that period spent their winter evenings in relating stories of witches, ghosts, hobgoblins … now shorten the winter night by hearing their sons and daughters read them tales, romances, etc. If John goes to town with a load of hay, he is charged to be sure not to forget to bring home Peregrine Pickle’s Adventure … and when Dolly is sent to sell her eggs, she is commissioned to purchase The History of Joseph Andrews.’

This is how Mercier describes the impact of the printed word, and the power of reading in one of his books:

‘Anyone who had seen me reading would have compared me to a man dying of thirst who was gulping down some fresh, pure water … Lighting my lamp with extraordinary caution, I threw myself hungrily into the reading. An easy eloquence, effortless and animated, carried me from one page to the next without my noticing it. A clock struck off the hours in the silence of the shadows, and I heard nothing. My lamp began to run out of oil and produced only a pale light, but still I read on. I could not even take out time to raise the wick for fear of interrupting my pleasure. How those new ideas rushed into my brain! How my intelligence adopted them!’

Quoted by Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, 1995.

Source B

4.1 ‘Tremble, therefore, tyrants of the world!’

By the mid-eighteenth century, there was a common conviction that books were a means of spreading progress and enlightenment. Many believed that books could change the world, liberate society from despotism and tyranny, and herald a time when reason and intellect would rule. Louise-Sebastien Mercier, a novelist in eighteenth-century France, declared: ‘The printing press is the most powerful engine of progress and public opinion is the force that will sweep despotism away.’ In many of Mercier’s novels, the heroes are transformed by acts of reading. They devour books, are lost in the world books create, and become enlightened in the process. Convinced of the power of print in bringing enlightenment and destroying the basis of despotism, Mercier proclaimed: ‘Tremble, therefore, tyrants of the world! Tremble before the virtual writer!’

Source B_______________________________________________________________________

This is how Mercier describes the impact of the printed word, and the power of reading in one of his books:

‘Anyone who had seen me reading would have compared me to a man dying of thirst who was gulping down some fresh, pure water … Lighting my lamp with extraordinary caution, I threw myself hungrily into the reading. An easy eloquence, effortless and animated, carried me from one page to the next without my noticing it. A clock struck off the hours in the silence of the shadows, and I heard nothing. My lamp began to run out of oil and produced only a pale light, but still I read on. I could not even take out time to raise the wick for fear of interrupting my pleasure. How those new ideas rushed into my brain! How my intelligence adopted them!’

4.2 Print Culture and the French Revolution

Many historians have argued that print culture created the conditions within which French Revolution occurred. Can we make such a connection?

Three types of arguments have been usually put forward.

First: print popularised the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers. Collectively, their writings provided a critical commentary on tradition, superstition and despotism. They argued for the rule of reason rather than custom, and demanded that everything be judged through the application of reason and rationality. They attacked the sacred authority of the Church and the despotic power of the state, thus eroding the legitimacy of a social order based on tradition. The writings of Voltaire and Rousseau were read widely; and those who read these books saw the world through new eyes, eyes that were questioning, critical and rational.

New words

Despotism – A system of governance in which absolute power is exercised by an individual, unregulated by legal and constitutional checks

Second: print created a new culture of dialogue and debate. All values, norms and institutions were re-evaluated and discussed by a public that had become aware of the power of reason, and recognised the need to question existing ideas and beliefs. Within this public culture, new ideas of social revolution came into being.

Third: by the 1780s there was an outpouring of literature that mocked the royalty and criticised their morality. In the process, it raised questions about the existing social order. Cartoons and caricatures typically suggested that the monarchy remained absorbed only in sensual pleasures while the common people suffered immense hardships. This literature circulated underground and led to the growth of hostile sentiments against the monarchy.

How do we look at these arguments? There can be no doubt that print helps the spread of ideas. But we must remember that people did not read just one kind of literature. If they read the ideas of Voltaire and Rousseau, they were also exposed to monarchical and Church propaganda. They were not influenced directly by everything they read or saw. They accepted some ideas and rejected others. They interpreted things their own way. Print did not directly shape their minds, but it did open up the possibility of thinking differently.


Imagine that you are a cartoonist in France before the revolution. Design a cartoon as it would have appeared in a pamphlet.

Fig. 11 – The nobility and the common people before the French Revolution, a cartoon of the late eighteenth century.

The cartoon shows how the ordinary people – peasants, artisans and workers – had a hard time while the nobility enjoyed life and oppressed them. Circulation of cartoons like this one had an impact on the thinking of people before the revolution.


Why do some historians think that print culture created the basis for the French Revolution?

5. The Nineteenth Century

The nineteenth century saw vast leaps in mass literacy in Europe, bringing in large numbers of new readers among children, women and workers.

5.1 Children, Women and Workers

As primary education became compulsory from the late nineteenth century, children became an important category of readers. Production of school textbooks became critical for the publishing industry. A children’s press, devoted to literature for children alone, was set up in France in 1857. This press published new works as well as old fairy tales and folk tales. The Grimm Brothers in Germany spent years compiling traditional folk tales gathered from peasants. What they collected was edited before the stories were published in a collection in 1812. Anything that was considered unsuitable for children or would appear vulgar to the elites, was not included in the published version. Rural folk tales thus acquired a new form. In this way, print recorded old tales but also changed them.

Women became important as readers as well as writers. Penny magazines (see Fig. 12) were especially meant for women, as were manuals teaching proper behaviour and housekeeping. When novels began to be written in the nineteenth century, women were seen as important readers. Some of the best-known novelists were women: Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot. Their writings became important in defining a new type of woman: a person with will, strength of personality, determination and the power to think.

Lending libraries had been in existence from the seventeenth century onwards. In the nineteenth century, lending libraries in England became instruments for educating white-collar workers, artisans and lower-middle-class people. Sometimes, self-educated working class people wrote for themselves. After the working day was gradually shortened from the mid-nineteenth century, workers had some time for self-improvement and self-expression. They wrote political tracts and autobiographies in large numbers.

Fig. 12 – Frontispiece of Penny Magazine.

Penny Magazine was published between 1832 and 1835 in England by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. It was aimed primarily at the working class.

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Thomas Wood, a Yorkshire mechanic, narrated how he would rent old newspapers and read them by firelight in the evenings as he could not afford candles. Autobiographies of poor people narrated their struggles to read against grim obstacles: the twentieth-century Russian revolutionary author Maxim Gorky’s My Childhood and My University provide glimpses of such struggles.

5.2 Further Innovations

By the late eighteenth century, the press came to be made out of metal. Through the nineteenth century, there were a series of further innovations in printing technology. By the mid-nineteenth century, Richard M. Hoe of New York had perfected the power-driven cylindrical press. This was capable of printing 8,000 sheets per hour. This press was particularly useful for printing newspapers. In the late nineteenth century, the offset press was developed which could print up to six colours at a time. From the turn of the twentieth century, electrically operated presses accelerated printing operations. A series of other developments followed. Methods of feeding paper improved, the quality of plates became better, automatic paper reels and photoelectric controls of the colour register were introduced. The accumulation of several individual mechanical improvements transformed the appearance of printed texts.


Look at Fig. 13. What impact do such advertisements have on the public mind? 
Do you think everyone reacts to printed material in the same way?

Printers and publishers continuously developed new strategies to sell their product. Nineteenth-century periodicals serialised important novels, which gave birth to a particular way of writing novels. In the 1920s in England, popular works were sold in cheap series, called the Shilling Series. The dust cover or the book jacket is also a twentieth-century innovation. With the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s, publishers feared a decline in book purchases. To sustain buying, they brought out cheap paperback editions.

Fig. 13 – Advertisements at a railway station in England, a lithograph by Alfred Concanen, 1874.

Printed advertisements and notices were plastered on street walls, railway platforms and public buildings.

6. India and the World of Print

Let us see when printing began in India and how ideas and information were written before the age of print.

6.1 Manuscripts Before the Age of Print

India had a very rich and old tradition of handwritten manuscripts – in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, as well as in various vernacular languages. Manuscripts were copied on palm leaves or on handmade paper. Pages were sometimes beautifully illustrated. They would be either pressed between wooden covers or sewn together to ensure preservation. Manuscripts continued to be produced till well after the introduction of print, down to the late nineteenth century.

Fig. 14 – Pages from the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva, eighteenth century.

This is a palm-leaf handwritten manuscript in accordion format.

Manuscripts, however, were highly expensive and fragile. They had to be handled carefully, and they could not be read easily as the script was written in different styles. So manuscripts were not widely used in everyday life. Even though pre-colonial Bengal had developed an extensive network of village primary schools, students very often did not read texts. They only learnt to write. Teachers dictated portions of texts from memory and students wrote them down. Many thus became literate without ever actually reading any kinds
of texts.

Fig. 15 – Pages from the Diwan of Hafiz, 1824.

Hafiz was a fourteenth-century poet whose collected works are known as Diwan. Notice the beautiful calligraphy and the elaborate illustration and design. Manuscripts like this continued to be produced for the rich even after the coming of the letterpress.

Fig. 16 – Pages from the Rigveda. 

Handwritten manuscripts continued to be produced in India till much after the coming of print. This manuscript was produced in the eighteenth century in the Malayalam script.

6.2 Print Comes to India

The printing press first came to Goa with Portuguese missionaries in the mid-sixteenth century. Jesuit priests learnt Konkani and printed several tracts. By 1674, about 50 books had been printed in the Konkani and in Kanara languages. Catholic priests printed the first Tamil book in 1579 at Cochin, and in 1713 the first Malayalam book was printed by them. By 1710, Dutch Protestant missionaries had printed 32 Tamil texts, many of them translations of older works.

The English language press did not grow in India till quite late even though the English East India Company began to import presses from the late seventeenth century.

From 1780, James Augustus Hickey began to edit the Bengal Gazette, a weekly magazine that described itself as ‘a commercial paper open to all, but influenced by none’. So it was private English enterprise, proud of its independence from colonial influence, that began English printing in India. Hickey published a lot of advertisements, including those that related to the import and sale of slaves. But he also published a lot of gossip about the Company’s senior officials in India. Enraged by this, Governor-General Warren Hastings persecuted Hickey, and encouraged the publication of officially sanctioned newspapers that could counter the flow of information that damaged the image of the colonial government. By the close of the eighteenth century, a number of newspapers and journals appeared in print. There were Indians, too, who began to publish Indian newspapers. The first to appear was the weekly Bengal Gazette, brought out by Gangadhar Bhattacharya, who was close to Rammohun Roy.

Source C________________________________________________________________________

As late as 1768, a William Bolts affixed a notice on a public building in Calcutta:

‘To the Public: Mr. Bolts takes this method of informing the public that the want of a printing press in this city being of a great disadvantage in business ... he is going to give the best encouragement to any ... persons who are versed in the business of printing.’

‘Bolts, however, left for England soon after and nothing came of the promise.

7. Religious Reform and Public Debates

From the early nineteenth century, as you know, there were intense debates around religious issues. Different groups confronted the changes happening within colonial society in different ways, and offered a variety of new interpretations of the beliefs of different religions. Some criticised existing practices and campaigned for reform, while others countered the arguments of reformers. These debates were carried out in public and in print. Printed tracts and newspapers not only spread the new ideas, but they shaped the nature of the debate. A wider public could now participate in these public discussions and express their views. New ideas emerged through these clashes of opinions.

This was a time of intense controversies between social and religious reformers and the Hindu orthodoxy over matters like widow immolation, monotheism, Brahmanical priesthood and idolatry. In Bengal, as the debate developed, tracts and newspapers proliferated, circulating a variety of arguments. To reach a wider audience, the ideas were printed in the everyday, spoken language of ordinary people. Rammohun Roy published the Sambad Kaumudi from 1821 and the Hindu orthodoxy commissioned the Samachar Chandrika to oppose his opinions. From 1822, two Persian newspapers were published, Jam-i-Jahan Nama and Shamsul Akhbar. In the same year, a Gujarati newspaper, the Bombay Samachar, made its appearance.

New words

Ulama – Legal scholars of Islam and the sharia ( a body of Islamic law)

Fatwa – A legal pronouncement on Islamic law usually given by a mufti (legal scholar) to clarify issues on which the law is uncertain

In north India, the ulama were deeply anxious about the collapse of Muslim dynasties. They feared that colonial rulers would encourage conversion, change the Muslim personal laws. To counter this, they used cheap lithographic presses, published Persian and Urdu translations of holy scriptures, and printed religious newspapers and tracts. The Deoband Seminary, founded in 1867, published thousands upon thousands of fatwas telling Muslim readers how to conduct themselves in their everyday lives, and explaining the meanings of Islamic doctrines. All through the nineteenth century, a number of Muslim sects and seminaries appeared, each with a different interpretation of faith, each keen on enlarging its following and countering the influence of its opponents. Urdu print helped them conduct these battles in public.

Among Hindus, too, print encouraged the reading of religious texts, especially in the vernacular languages. The first printed edition of the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas, a sixteenth-century text, came out from Calcutta in 1810. By the mid-nineteenth century, cheap lithographic editions flooded north Indian markets. From the 1880s, the Naval Kishore Press at Lucknow and the Shri Venkateshwar Press in Bombay published numerous religious texts in vernaculars. In their printed and portable form, these could be read easily by the faithful at any place and time. They could also be read out to large groups of illiterate men and women.

Religious texts, therefore, reached a very wide circle of people, encouraging discussions, debates and controversies within and among different religions.       

Print did not only stimulate the publication of conflicting opinions amongst communities, but it also connected communities and people in different parts of India. Newspapers conveyed news from one place to another, creating pan-Indian identities.

Source B______________________________________________________________________

Why Newspapers?

‘Krishnaji Trimbuck Ranade inhabitant of Poona intends to publish a Newspaper in the Marathi Language with a view of affording useful information on every topic of local interest. It will be open for free discussion on subjects of general utility, scientific investigation and the speculations connected with the antiquities, statistics, curiosities, history and geography of the country and of the Deccan especially… the patronage and support of all interested in the diffusion of knowledge and Welfare of the People is earnestly solicited.’

Bombay Telegraph and Courier, 6 January 1849

‘The task of the native newspapers and political associations is identical to the role of the Opposition in the House of Commons in Parliament in England. That is of critically examining government policy to suggest improvements, by removing those parts that will not be to the benefit of the people, and also by ensuring speedy implementation. 

These associations ought to carefully study the particular issues, gather diverse relevant information on the nation as well as on what are the possible and desirable improvements, and this will surely earn it considerable influence.’

Native Opinion, 3 April 1870.

8. New Forms of Publication

Printing created an appetite for new kinds of writing. As more and more people could now read, they wanted to see their own lives, experiences, emotions and relationships reflected in what they read. The novel, a literary firm which had developed in Europe, ideally catered to this need. It soon acquired distinctively Indian forms and styles. For readers, it opened up new worlds of experience, and gave a vivid sense of the diversity of human lives.

Other new literary forms also entered the world of reading – lyrics, short stories, essays about social and political matters. In different ways, they reinforced the new emphasis on human lives and intimate feelings, about the political and social rules that shaped such things.

By the end of the nineteenth century, a new visual culture was taking shape. With the setting up of an increasing number of printing presses, visual images could be easily reproduced in multiple copies. Painters like Raja Ravi Varma produced images for mass circulation. Poor wood engravers who made woodblocks set up shop near the letterpresses, and were employed by print shops. Cheap prints and calendars, easily available in the bazaar, could be bought even by the poor to decorate the walls of their homes or places of work. These prints began shaping popular ideas about modernity and tradition, religion and politics, and society and culture.

By the 1870s, caricatures and cartoons were being published in journals and newspapers, commenting on social and political issues. Some caricatures ridiculed the educated Indians’ fascination with Western tastes and clothes, while others expressed the fear of social change. There were imperial caricatures lampooning nationalists, as well as nationalist cartoons criticising imperial rule.

Fig. 17 – Raja Ritudhwaj rescuing Princess Madalsa from the captivity of demons, print by Ravi Varma.

Raja Ravi Varma produced innumerable mythological paintings that were printed at the Ravi Varma Press.

8.1 Women and Print

Lives and feelings of women began to be written in particularly vivid and intense ways. Women’s reading, therefore, increased enormously in middle-class homes. Liberal husbands and fathers began educating their womenfolk at home, and sent them to schools when women’s schools were set up in the cities and towns after the mid-nineteenth century. Many journals began carrying writings by women, and explained why women should be educated. They also carried a syllabus and attached suitable reading matter which could be used for home-based schooling.

But not all families were liberal. Conservative Hindus believed that a literate girl would be widowed and Muslims feared that educated women would be corrupted by reading Urdu romances. Sometimes, rebel women defied such prohibition. We know the story of a girl in a conservative Muslim family of north India who secretly learnt to read and write in Urdu. Her family wanted her to read only the Arabic Quran which she did not understand. So she insisted on learning to read a language that was her own. In East Bengal, in the early nineteenth century, Rashsundari Debi, a young married girl in a very orthodox household, learnt to read in the secrecy of her kitchen. Later, she wrote her autobiography Amar Jiban which was published in 1876. It was the first full-length autobiography published in the Bengali language.

Fig. 18 – The cover page of Indian Charivari.

The Indian Charivari was one of the many journals of caricature and satire published in the late nineteenth century.

Notice that the imperial British figure is positioned right at the centre. He is authoritative and imperial; telling the natives what is to be done. The natives sit on either side of him, servile and submissive. The Indians are being shown a copy of Punch, the British journal of cartoons and satire. You can almost hear the British master say – ‘This is the model, produce Indian versions of it.’

Source E______________________________________________________________________

In 1926, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein, a noted educationist and literary figure, strongly condemned men for withholding education from women in the name of religion as she addressed the Bengal Women’s Education Conference:  

‘The opponents of female education say that women will become unruly … Fie! They call themselves Muslims and yet go against the basic tenet of Islam which gives Women an equal right to education. If men are not led astray once educated, why should women?’

Since social reforms and novels had already created a great interest in women’s lives and emotions, there was also an interest in what women would have to say about their own lives. From the 1860s, a few Bengali women like Kailashbashini Debi wrote books highlighting the experiences of women – about how women were imprisoned at home, kept in ignorance, forced to do hard domestic labour and treated unjustly by the very people they served. In the 1880s, in present-day Maharashtra, Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai wrote with passionate anger about the miserable lives
of upper-caste Hindu women, especially widows. A woman in a Tamil novel expressed what reading meant to women who were so greatly confined by social regulations: ‘For various reasons, my world is small … More than half my life’s happiness has come from books …’

While Urdu, Tamil, Bengali and Marathi print culture had developed early, Hindi printing began seriously only from the 1870s. Soon, a large segment of it was devoted to the education of women. In the early twentieth century, journals, written for and sometimes edited by women, became extremely popular. They discussed issues like women’s education, widowhood, widow remarriage and the national movement. Some of them offered household and fashion lessons to women and brought entertainment through short stories and serialised novels.

Fig. 19 – Ghor Kali (The End of the World), coloured woodcut, late nineteenth century.

The artist’s vision of the destruction of proper family relations. Here the husband is totally dominated by his wife who is perched on his shoulder. He is cruel towards his mother, dragging her like an animal, by the noose.

In Punjab, too, a similar folk literature was widely printed from the early twentieth century. Ram Chaddha published the fast-selling Istri Dharm Vichar to teach women how to be obedient wives. The Khalsa Tract Society published cheap booklets with a similar message. Many of these were in the form of dialogues about the qualities of a good woman.

In Bengal, an entire area in central Calcutta – the Battala – was devoted to the printing of popular books. Here you could buy cheap editions of religious tracts and scriptures, as well as literature that was considered obscene and scandalous. By the late nineteenth century, a lot of these books were being profusely illustrated with woodcuts and coloured lithographs. Pedlars took the Battala publications to homes, enabling women to read them in their
leisure time.

Fig. 20 – An Indian couple, black and white woodcut.

The image shows the artist’s fear that the cultural impact of the West has turned the family upside down. Notice that the man is playing the veena while the woman is smoking a hookah. The move towards women’s education in the late nineteenth century created anxiety about the breakdown of traditional family roles.

Fig. 21 – A European couple sitting on chairs, nineteenth-century woodcut.

The picture suggests traditional family roles. The Sahib holds a liquor bottle in his hand while the Memsahib plays the violin.


Look at Figs. 19, 20 and 21 carefully.

What comment are the artists making on the social changes taking place in society?

What changes in society were taking place to provoke this reaction?

Do you agree with the artist’s view?

8.2 Print and the Poor People

Very cheap small books were brought to markets in nineteenth-century Madras towns and sold at crossroads, allowing poor people travelling to markets to buy them. Public libraries were set up from the early twentieth century, expanding the access to books. These libraries were located mostly in cities and towns, and at times in prosperous villages. For rich local patrons, setting up a library was a way of acquiring prestige.


Look at Figs. 19, 20 and 21 carefully.
What comment are the artists making on the social changes taking place in society?
What changes in society were taking place to provoke this reaction?
Do you agree with the artist’s view?

Fig. 22 Lakshminath Bezbaruah (1868–1938)

He was a doyen of modern Assamese literature. Burhi Aair Sadhu (Grandma’s Tales) is among his notable works. He penned the popular song of Assam, ‘O Mor Apunar Desh’ (O’ my beloved land).

From the late nineteenth century, issues of caste discrimination began to be written about in many printed tracts and essays. Jyotiba Phule, the Maratha pioneer of ‘low caste’ protest movements, wrote about the injustices of the caste system in his Gulamgiri (1871). In the twentieth century, B.R. Ambedkar in Maharashtra and E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker in Madras, better known as Periyar, wrote powerfully on caste and their writings were read by people all over India. Local protest movements and sects also created a lot of popular journals and tracts criticising ancient scriptures and envisioning a new and just future.

Workers in factories were too overworked and lacked the education to write much about their experiences. But Kashibaba, a Kanpur millworker, wrote and published Chhote Aur Bade Ka Sawal in 1938 to show the links between caste and class exploitation. The poems of another Kanpur millworker, who wrote under the name of Sudarshan Chakr between 1935 and 1955, were brought together and published in a collection called Sacchi Kavitayan. By the 1930s, Bangalore cotton millworkers set up libraries to educate themselves, following the example of Bombay workers. These were sponsored by social reformers who tried to restrict excessive drinking among them, to bring literacy and, sometimes, to propagate the message of nationalism.

9.  Print and Censorship

Before 1798, the colonial state under the East India Company was not too concerned with censorship. Strangely, its early measures to control printed matter were directed against Englishmen in India who were critical of Company misrule and hated the actions of particular Company officers. The Company was worried that such criticisms might be used by its critics in England to attack its trade monopoly in India.

By the 1820s, the Calcutta Supreme Court passed certain regulations to control press freedom and the Company began encouraging publication of newspapers that would celebrate Britsh rule. In 1835, faced with urgent petitions by editors of English and vernacular newspapers, Governor-General Bentinck agreed to revise press laws. Thomas Macaulay, a liberal colonial official, formulated new rules that restored the earlier freedoms.

Box 4 _________________________________________________________________________

Sometimes, the government found it hard to find candidates for editorship of loyalist papers. When Sanders, editor of the Statesman that had been founded in 1877, was approached, he asked rudely how much he would be paid for suffering the loss of freedom. The Friend of India refused a government subsidy, fearing that this would force it to be obedient to government commands.

Box 5 ________________________________________________________________________

During the First World War, under the Defence of India Rules, 22 newspapers had to furnish securities. Of these, 18 shut down rather than comply with government orders. The Sedition Committee Report under Rowlatt in 1919 further strengthened controls that led to imposition of penalties on various newspapers. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Defence of India Act was passed, allowing censoring of reports of war-related topics. All reports about the Quit India movement came under its purview. In August 1942, about 90 newspapers were suppressed.

After the revolt of 1857, the attitude to freedom of the press changed. Enraged Englishmen demanded a clamp down on the ‘native’ press. As vernacular newspapers became assertively nationalist, the colonial government began debating measures of stringent control. In 1878, the Vernacular Press Act was passed, modelled on the Irish Press Laws. It provided the government with extensive rights to censor reports and editorials in the vernacular press. From now on the government kept regular track of the vernacular newspapers published in different provinces. When a report was judged as seditious, the newspaper was warned, and if the warning was ignored, the press was liable to be seized and the printing machinery confiscated.

Source F_______________________________________________________________________

Gandhi said in 1922:

‘Liberty of speech ... liberty of the press ... freedom of association. The Government of India is now seeking to crush the three powerful vehicles of expressing and cultivating public opinion. The fight for Swaraj, for Khilafat ... means a fight for this threatened freedom before all else ...’

Despite repressive measures, nationalist newspapers grew in numbers in all parts of India. They reported on colonial misrule and encouraged nationalist activities. Attempts to throttle nationalist criticism provoked militant protest. This in turn led to a renewed cycle of persecution and protests. When Punjab revolutionaries were deported in 1907, Balgangadhar Tilak wrote with great sympathy about them in his Kesari. This led to his imprisonment in 1908, provoking in turn widespread protests all over India.

Write in brief

1. Give reasons for the following:

a) Woodblock print only came to Europe after 1295.

b) Martin Luther was in favour of print and spoke out in praise of it.

c) The Roman Catholic Church began keeping an Index of Prohibited books from the mid-sixteenth century.

d) Gandhi said the fight for Swaraj is a fight for liberty of speech, liberty of the press, and freedom of association.

2. Write short notes to show what you know about:

a) The Gutenberg Press

b) Erasmus’s idea of the printed book

c) The Vernacular Press Act

3. What did the spread of print culture in nineteenth century India mean to:

a) Women

b) The poor

c) Reformers


1. Why did some people in eighteenth century Europe think that print culture would bring enlightenment and end despotism?

2. Why did some people fear the effect of easily available printed books? Choose one example from Europe and one from India. 

3. What were the effects of the spread of print culture for poor people in nineteenth century India?

4. Explain how print culture assisted the growth of nationalism in India.


Find out more about the changes in print technology in the last 100 years. Write about the changes, explaining why they have taken place, what their consequences have been.

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