In the early decades of the 20th century, the government of India became increasingly concerned by the publication and circulation of what they perceived as anti-British or seditious publications. This was a particular concern following the Amritsar massacre which sparked protests across India. One small collection in the India Office Private Papers gives an interesting glimpse of the efforts of government to suppress these publications.
These are a collection of notifications issued by the Government of the United Provinces. The notifications give the legislation used and details of the publication suppressed. A government reviewer had also listed the paragraphs or lines of particular concern. The legislation used was section 99 of the 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure, and section 12 of the Indian Press Act of 1910. These pieces of legislation allowed the authorities to declare such books, newspapers or other documents forfeited to His Majesty. Police officers could then seize them.
One of the defining events, which galvanised the campaign for Indian independence, was the Amritsar massacre. Many Indian writers and publishers took this as a subject in calling for resistance to British rule in India. One collection of poems, “Jallianwala Bagh ka Mahatma”, has the line “Jallianwala Bagh will be immortal in the world”, and in another of the poems is written: “It is Jallianwala Bagh, where the martyrs of the motherland and the gems of the country were robbed”. It goes on to advise the public to consider the Jallianwala Bagh a place of pilgrimage [folio 21].
Another pamphlet in Hindi ,“Gandhi-ki-gazlen”, predicted “Scenes of Jallianwala Bagh will be repeated in every city if this Government is not driven out of this country” [folio 48]. The reviewer noted that the writer urged Indians to follow non-cooperation and emphasised the adoption of swadeshi goods.
The campaign to boycott British goods and use Indian products, known as swadeshi, features in many of the publications. For instance, a pamphlet in Hindi entitled ‘Asahyog Kajli’ encouraged people to use the spinning wheel (charkha) and weave cloth for their use [folio 17].
Another pamphlet in Hindi, “Sawan Swaraj”, written by Sallar Maharaj contain songs with the lines: “By working at charkhas the enemy will disappear from our sight and from India” [folio 19]. The non-cooperation campaigns led by Gandhi are a common theme.
One pamphlet in Hindi, “Swaraj Pratiqya”, collected poems on the subject. One line urged: “Let us take the vow of non-violent non-co-operation with all resoluteness and let us try soon to liberate India from the unlawful possession of the unjust”. A similar tone was taken in another line: “Let there be new sacrifices made on the altar of liberty and let us all be proud of our mother tongue and of swadeshi clothes” [folio 118].
One notification concerns a leaflet in Nepalese addressed to Gurkha troops. Printed and published anonymously it warned: “Just as an insect eats the wall from the inside and makes it hollow in the same way the foreign nation (British) which is deceitful and dishonest is going to make us hollow”. It urges Gurkha soldiers to “Leave the services and protect your brothers” [folio 75].
This article first appeared on British Library’s Untold Lives blog.