Recently a seminar was held at Srinagar on “The History of publishing books in Kashmir and the responsibility of the media in the present scenario”. Many scholars presented their points of view. It urged me too to delve in to the subject of ‘development of press in Srinagar in thirties and forties’. As rightly quoted by the historian late Dr. M Ishaq Khan that there was not a single newspaper printed or published in the J&K State as late as 1924. Only Government Gazette was the official weekly with a circulation of 900. The newspapers that were read by a limited number of people came from the neighboring province of the Punjab. The people of the state had thus no paper of theirs through which they could express their views on various social and political problems.
However the papers imported from Lahore into the dominion of Maharaja covered a substantial information regarding Kashmir affairs. Their influence on the educated class of Kashmiris was plenty. The newspapers after a couple of fitful starts took roots in the capital city of Kashmir drawing its strength from the power of Press in the Punjab, besides a more serious note was gradually introducing into discussion. The implications of these changes were felt by the Government. The most important recommendation of Galancy Commission provided for the freedom of the press and platform a free association of the people for political activity.
The first person to start in Srinagar an Urdu weekly Vitasta was Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz in 1932. This was followed by the Martand, the Sadaqat, the Haqiqat, the Kashmir-i-Jadid, the Al-Barq, the Bekar, the Khalid, the Hidayat, the Kesri, the Desh, the Rahbar, the daily Hamdard, the daily Khidmat, the Paigam, the Kashmir Guardian, the Islah, the Vakil, the Hurriyat, the Nur and the Muslim.
Thus the newspaper in Srinagar turned to be a real power in the public life. The strength of press in Srinagar arose from the organization of the liberal opinion against corruption and misrule. The Vitasta served the cause of social reform in Kashmir. It held Maharaja’s rule responsible for inaction against those who indulged in bad habits and other social evils like child marriages and juvenile smoking etc. The weekly Hamdard was started by Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz with the collaboration of Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah on August 1, 1935, with the purpose of laying foundation of “the progressive nationalism in the J&K State.” Its editorials often advocated political reform and public awakening of the people of the State. The conversion of Muslim Conference to National Conference is attributed mainly to the active writings of this weekly, though the former continued to function even after the founding of the nationalist party in the State.
When Mr. Bazaz disassociated from Shaikh Sahib, the Hamdard became a daily, when it gathered some courage to discus political, social and economic issues. It tried to reveal official secrets, rough up the administration and thereby earn their antipathy.
The Sadaqat, the Haqiqat, the New Yug and the Khalid supported the political movement started by Shaikh Saheb and his associates. The daily Khidmat initially edited by Moulana Masudi was the organ of All J&K National Conference. The Nur was brought out by Mohi-ud-Din Nur, championing the cause of the nationalists and also wrote a great deal about the distress of the laborers and cultivators. The paper boldly took the administration to task and highlighted the corrupt practices of some high officials.
Leftist ideas were advocated by the Desh of Pt. Kashyap Bandhu. The Islah was a Qadyani inspired paper, which supported the two nation theory. The Khidmat and the Muslim covered mostly the religious issues of the Muslims of the State. The Hurriyat published by Moulana Yousuf Shah advocated the cause of a separate Muslim State. The Martand belonged to Sanatan Dharam Yuvak Sabha & represented the political views of the minority of the State. It was the first paper of the state published daily. It had a circulation of 1900 in the beginning. It dwelled on the backwardness of the Pandit community & attacked social evils like child marriage, dowry and maltreatment of Hindu daughters-in-law by their mothers-in-law.
Among the English weeklies, Kashmir Times was a standard one & advocated independent views in public affairs. Pandit Gwashalal Koul was one of the founders of English weekly in Srinagar. He edited his weekly in 1934. Later in 1939 he started the Kashmir Chronicle.
With this account it is evident that the press in Srinagar made a rapid progress during 1931 and 1947. By the year 1946 three dailies were published from the city. On a number of occasions, the Government managed to counter popular journalistic opinions by issuing a stream of counter statements through the columns of the favoured section of the Press. Thus in 1946, the Press in Srinagar was emerging as an effective organ of public opinion. From the editorial comments, it was evident that the standard of journalism was improving.
Before 1947, the Legislative Assembly in J&K State, afforded little scope for the ventilation of the grievances of the people. Under these conditions, the press was unrivalled as a vehicle of popular will and opinion. The journalists of the time were drawn from the common people. Any enterprising person from the middle class could bring out a paper, be his own editor, publisher & proprietor. It is noteworthy that the freedom of press granted in 1932 coincided with the significant developments on the political plane in the sub-continent. The press offered unprecedented opportunity for the dissemination of the ideas and the popular leaders like Shaikh Abdullah, Prem Nath Bazaz, Maulana Masudi, Kashyap Bandhu many others were naturally attracted to journalism. The Association of the people from the different strata and sections of Kashmiri society made the press the best media of public opinion.
In providing momentum and leadership to political discussions, the role of press has been significant. Though the editors of the papers of Srinagar were devoid of a degree or diploma in journalism, yet they were gifted with commonsense and courage in discussing the social, economic and political problems. They were realistic and relentless in their criticism of the rulers. Thus the press during the period 1932-47 was responsible for creating a forceful public opinion and political consciousness and presenting the public point of view on important matters to the Government of Maharaja.
The press has gone a sea change after 1947 and with the increase of education and readership, besides turmoil of events; the demand of newspapers too has multiplied, with the result that presently we have more than forty local dailies and online news services available in J&K State. In spite of the availability of online news services, the thirst for the printed news papers cannot be quenched. The press continues to influence and shape the public opinion as before. In this connection some of the leading English dailies like Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Times, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Images, Kashmir Reader, Kashmir Observer etc; and in Urdu The Daily Aftab, Kashmir Uzma,The Srinagar Times, The Chattan, The Uddan etc. are the few among the long list of the popular dailies.
With the development of publishing of newspapers, the publishing of books by the publishers in the local printing presses also received a boost. The early printing presses that came into existence here were Government printing press, Kohinoor printing press, Noor Mohammadi press, Falah-i-Aam press, Vasanta printing press, Shalimar Art printing press, Broca’s press, National printing press etc. Before their existence, most of the Persian and Arabic books were published outside J&K State particularly by Munshi Nolkishore press and other presses at Lahore, Amritsar, Kanpur, Lucknow, Agra, Bombay, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Karachi etc. However now there is a mushroom growth of printing presses here, but quality printing is still preferred by the book publishers from outside the state.
With the modern electronic printing, it has become now possible to print a book in a matter of days both in color and black & white. The whole process of printing and publishing has got exceedingly revolutionized. At the same time with the availability of the books on internet, the habit of reading books is dwindling, but in spite of all this development, a book continues to be one’s best friend and has its own charm against the advanced internet facility.