Chapman, Jane (2012) Press, protest and freedom movements in British and French India 1928-48: do subalterns speak? In: Research paper to Department of Modern History, 6th October 2010, 1st February 2012, Macquarie University, and the Centre of South Asian Studies, Cambridge University.
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ABSTRACT : Press, Protest and Freedom Movements in British and French India 1928-48 - do subalterns speak?
This paper enquires into the effect (as opposed to simply the existence) of female direct action as communicated in print publications, and female influence on newspapers themselves. It takes two specific examples- first, The Pioneer in British India during a short lived period when this venerable establishment daily (famous for employing Rudyard Kipling) had a liberal editor -F.W.Wilson- who sympathized with the ‘Freedom Movement’. Second, it looks at French India, and in particular the first and only surviving anti establishment Tamil newspaper from the colonial period to the present- the weekly Swandanthiram.
How far did women use these organs as an empowering voice during the twilight years of the Raj and during a period in French territories when the seeds for independence movement were first sown? This paper argues that study of press problematises post colonial theory in terms of how far disempowered people can speak, but that the evidence of these two case studies supports the post-Gramsci’ist concept of counter
hegemony, in particular the way it has been applied to minority communications (by John Downing (1984, 2001), also by Murdock (2000), Cottle, (2000) and Chapman, (2007).
Analysis of The Pioneer shows clear evidence of Wilson’s liberalism in terms of an increases in coverage of female protest – both peaceful educative lobbying, and to a lesser extent, direct action, sometimes involving violence and arrests. He also increased the number of photos of Indian people and letters by them, and encouraged advertisers who were affected by (largely female led) economic boycotts, to advertise more in order to re-gain business. In the case of French India, research also revealed the crucial part played in protest by economic factors- mainly hardship in the textile industry, and protracted strikes where women led picketing. In Pondicherry and other French territories, lack of civil liberties and an unfair voting system further disenfranchised the majority of the population who suffered severe economic deprivation. In fact it was a combination of sporadic censorship and class solidarity that led to the origins of nationalism emerging in communications.
The Pioneer’s traditional western ‘bad news’ values ensured coverage of female direct-
action - riots, boycotts, cloth burning and strikes helped to promote the cause of freedom movement and also demonstrated Congress Party’s organisational capabilities as a ruling party at a time (1928-33) when most of the male leaders were in jail. However, The Pioneer itself became part of the economic and ideological maelstrom that it was reporting on when Wilson was removed and the paper was sold to a consortium of Indian princes. Findings in both territories show that communications by nationalist women represented a politicising move from private to public spheres. Public communications helped to weaken the economic morale of business and administrative authority and increased solidarity for freedom movements. This in turn illuminates the relationship between press, economics and ideology in a colonial context, demonstrates the importance of economic factors in rise of nationalist movements and acts as a reminder of the way historically the press used is connected to basic civil, political and economic rights.
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