Before i discuss the role of Muslim press in India and its importance in shaping the public opinion before the partition, it is imperative that i take a brief look at the history of Muslims, their Invasions in India, the fall of Mughal Empire, British Raj and financial and social condition of Muslims in the 19 century as all of this has a relevance with the political happenings that occurred later on.
Muslims have a very proud history in South Asia and especially in India. The first Muslim foray into India was the invasion of Sindh in 712 A.D lead by Mohammad Bin Qasim who defeated Raja Dahir. After that, Muslims never looked back and invaded India to spread Islam. Muslim rule in India lasted for approximately a thousand years. Countless number of Hindu’s and people from other religions converted to Islam. Some of the great Muslim rulers of India include Mahmud Ghaznavi, Mohammad Ghouri, Qutub –ud-din Aibak, Ghiyas-ud-din Balban, Tipu Sultan and the Mughal emperors like Babar, Aurangzeb, Jehangir, Akbar, etc. and the last Mughal emperor was Bahadur Shah Zafar II, who probably was not as strong as some of the previous Muslim rulers. Bahadur Shah Zafar II took part in the Sepoy Mutiny, 1857 and after its failure he was imprisoned. He died in 1862 and with him the Mughal rule came to an end and that resulted in the end of Muslim dominance in India.
East India Company started trading in India since 1612 and they gradually strengthened their roots in the economy of India and across South Asia. Slowly but gradually, East India Company became so strong in India that they started to influence the rulers and the governance in India. After the 1857 revolt, British officially took control of India and the time period between 1857 till the partition of India in 1947 is called the British Raj.
The situation of Muslims was quite pathetic in the 19 century. Muslims were quite backward as far as the education is concerned and as a result they started to decline in every field of life.
By the start of the 19 century, Muslims had lost control of India and these were the dying moments of Muslim rule in the sub-continent but Muslims were not ready to accept it mentally after such a long rule in India. That is why they always took the British as their enemy, whereas the Hindus took advantage of the situation and got very close to the British by showing them their loyalty. All this caused the British to always give the first priority to the Hindus in every field as they started to adopt the western lifestyle as well.
There was an impression within the British that Muslims were behind the 1857 revolt (mutiny) and they tempted the Hindus and Sikhs as well. The British started to take Muslims as their real enemy. This impression amongst the British was enough to rub salt into the wounds of the Muslims. Muslims were deprived of the better job opportunities and their financial situation got extremely poor. Considering the state of Muslims after the 1857 revolt, it was very important for the Muslim newspapers, magazines and press in general to start creating awareness amongst the Muslims about the importance of education and the modern lifestyle. One of the major reasons behind this was the fear amongst the educated Muslims that the Hindus might get closer to the British Government, which would give them political benefit.
Urdu journalism started in India with Jam-e-Jahan Numa but the real role and history of Urdu press started in 1836, when Maulvi Muhammad Baqar started “Delhi Urdu Akhbar”. After 1836, large number of Urdu newspapers started their operations from different parts of the Sub-continent and the main purpose behind Urdu journalism was to create awareness amongst the Muslims, who were slowly but gradually losing control of India.
In 1830, East India Company declared Urdu as the official language of small government institutions and court of law. Government intended to promote Western Studies in the sub-continent. Since Urdu newspapers were appropriate medium for the purpose, the government used to purchase a certain quantity of newspapers for officials, schools and colleges. The government financially supported some of the newspapers.
Before the evolution of the Two Nation Theory in the 20 century presented by Allama Mohammad Iqbal which meant that Hindus and Muslims of the sub-continent were separate nations and they cannot live together in the same culture. The objective of the Muslim press during that period was generally to educate the Muslims and with the passage of time it emphasized on self-awakening of the Muslims of India, so that they can stand up and fight for their identity, religion and educational and political rights. It ended up changing the public opinion amongst the Muslims to demand and fight not only for the separate identity but also a separate homeland where they can practice their religion and live a life free of slavery. It was because of the press and inspirational leadership that Muslims were able to unite themselves once again after the turmoil of 1857.
With the downfall of the Mughal rule, Britain started offensive invasion in the sub-continent. Wherever the Muslims were in majority, there was quite a significant hatred for the British and people started privately-owned secret handwritten papers in order to induce and stimulate more agony and reaction against the British and especially the East India Company. In the 1857 war of independence, such papers played an important role.
The British rule in India had caused so much unrest amongst the Indians that they decided to revolt against the British. However, the war of independence was a total failure and Indians could not resist against the strong British. At that time, there were a number of daily and weekly English newspapers and magazines which were either owned by the British or the Anglo Indians as compared to the Muslim newspapers which could be counted on fingertips. Muslims had strong press only in Delhi and they tried their level best. Some of the leading newspapers published from Delhi were Delhi-Urdu Akhbar, Sadiq-ul-Akhbar and Siraj-ul-Akhbar. . Because of the British strength, the Muslim press was very much suppressed by the East India Company. As far as journalism and press is concerned, Muslims were detached of journalistic practice and their newspapers were either banned or diminished. Some Muslim newspapers had to shut their business down themselves in fear of the British atrocities.
In 1853, there were approximately 35 vibrant Urdu newspapers but only 12 had survived till 1857 in which just one newspaper was owned by a Muslim. These incidents completely isolated the Muslims from journalism and the journalistic practices in sub-continent. But later on, Muslim press developed significantly with the efforts of some of the great Muslim leaders like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and competed with the Hindu and British press in India.
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was a great Muslim reformer, educationists and politician of the Sub-continent. After the revolt against the British, when the position of the Muslims in the Sub-continent was quite pathetic and Muslims were going through a social and financial crisis, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan came to the forefront and created awareness amongst Muslims about the importance of education and a lifestyle which was closer to the British. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan made sure that the Muslims understood the importance of the modern education and science, so that they could compete with the Hindus and could claim their rights for the job opportunities and a better lifestyle.
Sir Syed started Aligarh Movement, which had a motto of promoting education amongst the Muslims after the revolt of 1857. He fought against the Hindu conspiracies against Urdu. Risala-dar-Asbab-i-Bhagawati-i-Hind, Ahkam-i-Ta’am-i-Ahl-i-Kitab and Loyal Mohammadans of India were some of his best works. He started various schools and colleges where English language was taught with Urdu and Persian. He founded a Scientific Society where he started the periodical which was first called Scientific Society Papers and later, the Aligarh Institute Gazette.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan played a significant role in reshaping the public opinion amongst the Muslims. After 1857, Sir Syed had realized that it is very hard for Muslims to survive with the Hindus but still he was in favour of the United India until the Urdu-Hindi controversy.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan would always be remembered in the history books as a revolutionary leader who gave a new direction to the Muslims of the Sub-continent which took them to the way of independence. Sir Syed’s role can be referred as the root of the making of Pakistan and the separation from the Hindus.
For the purpose of creating awareness amongst the Muslim masses in India, Sir Syed used press to great effect during the late 19 century.
Khilafat movement was an effort by the Indian Muslims to save the Ottoman Empire. It was a pan-Islamic movement between 1919 till 1924. Some of the great journalists of that time like Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar and his brother Maulana Shaukat Ali worked very hard for this cause with lots of other important personalities. The Muslim press and newspapers also played an important role amongst the Muslims about the importance of the Khilafat Movement. Initially the movement was quite successful through strikes and protests all over India but this movement could not gain a lot of success in the long run. However, the role of Muslim press during that time would always be remembered in history with golden words.
Although the Khilafat Movement was not a success, it united the Muslims of Sub-continent and injected a new spirit amongst them which was the real energy behind the independence movement later on.
In the 25 session of All-India Muslim League organized in Allahabad, Dr. Allama Mohammad Iqbal presented the idea of two nation theory which states that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and it is very hard for both of these nations to live together in a same society. Muslims have a completely separate code of conduct for life which is totally opposite to the Hindus, so it is better that Muslims and Hindus should separate and India should be divided in two parts or may be more.
Muslim press played a significant role in India to spread this message in the Muslims of India. It was very important for the Muslims to be united under one platform and one agenda because there was a school of thought amongst the Muslims which was against the separation from Hindus and the division of India. But the Muslim press did a great job in uniting the Muslims and convincing them that they are not left with any other option apart from demanding a separate country for themselves.
Some of the leading journalists of their time, Mohammad Ali Johar, Zafar Ali Khan and Hasrat Mohani were extremely influential amongst the Muslims of India and they did play a huge part in creating political awareness in the country. That era was known for the ‘militant journalism’ because the Muslims press had to face a lot of trouble in the presence of British atrocities.
Some of the leading Muslim owned newspapers which played huge part in the making of Pakistan are as follows:
Jang started its publications from Delhi in 1938. Mir Khalil-ur-Rehman was the founder of this daily newspaper and Mir Javaid was the chairman at that time. The basic goal of Jang was to update the Indian Muslims about the latest happening in the political scene and All Pakistan Muslim League. Jang played a crucial role in the Pakistan movement. Jang believed and practiced freedom of expression. Good Urdu composing was the quality of this newspaper even at the time when there were not much facilities available for the Muslim journalists. Jang also provided International News to its readers.
Nawa-i-Waqt was launched on 23 March 1940 which apparently is the day when the Pakistan Resolution took place in Lahore. Hameed Nizami was the founder of Naw-i-Waqt. It is also one of the pioneers in Urdu reporting with Jang.
The Pakistan Times was launched on 4 February, 1947. It was an English daily and had more significance as it was launched by Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It catered the educated class of Indian Muslim.
Dawn was launched in 1940, again by Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Mr. Pothan Joseph was its first editor and later on in 1945 Mr. Altaf Hussain became the editor of Dawn. The basic motto of Dawn was to represent the Muslims of India and their point of view about the partition.
After the 1857 war of independence, Muslims were deprived of some of the fundamental human rights including Journalistic practices and freedom of speech. Muslims were facing their worst time in the sub-continent since their arrival and the invasion in the area. There were not enough jobs and the financial situation got bad to worse. On top of that, the Hindus were able to convince the British that their actual enemies were Muslims and not the Hindus. British Raj felt that Muslims instigated the Hindus in the 1857 War of Independence. As compared to the Muslims, Hindus did have the press freedom.
In this worst condition, the Muslim leaders and top journalists stood up and changed the destiny of the Indian Muslims by creating awareness amongst them and letting them know that they can no longer afford to neglect modern education and the English language. Slowly but gradually, Muslims were able to stand on their feet again through some inspirational leaders and that would not have been possible without an effective press.
Initially, the Muslim press worked on shaping up the public opinion so that they could understand the political scenario of India at that time and could adjust with the Hindus and the British Raj in a same society and culture. A sequence of events changed the political scenario of India and the press successfully shaped up the public opinion amongst the Muslims of India about the partition and the demand of a separate country. The poetry of Iqbal and some other poets like Hasrat Mohani were inspirational in re-building the morale of the Muslims. They gave them the direction to work upon.Once the Muslims had decided mutually that they do not want anything less than a separate country, the role of the Muslim Newspapers like Dawn, Zameendar, Jang and Nawa-i-Waqt was influencing.
The newspapers made sure that the Muslims are aware of the political activities of their leader Quaid e Azam and All India Muslim League.
Overall, we can say that Muslim press and journalists could not have done a better job considering the circumstances. There were so many difficulties for the Muslim press but they stood up to the challenges and proved their metal by shaping up the public opinion in favor of the partition and eventually carving out a separate homeland in a very short span of time.
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