The Indian Periodical Press and the Production of Nationalist Rhetoric by Sukeshi Kamra (review)
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Reviewed by
Sukeshi Kamra, The Indian Periodical Press and the Production of Nationalist Rhetoric (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. xi + 236, $95/£55 cloth.

Upon receiving Sukeshi Kamra's The Indian Periodical Press and the Production of Nationalist Rhetoric, I turned straightaway to its sources. Much to my surprise, instead of a lengthy list of newspapers and periodicals, the works cited named fewer than a dozen journals. The mystery is clarified in the introduction: in this volume, Kamra draws upon the Native Newspaper Report (NNR), a weekly report of Indian-language newspapers compiled by officials of the (British) Government of India and widely circulated among civil servants. As Kamra writes, "A number of the newspapers on which this study draws have left no trace other than the record of the NNRs," while the archives of those that remain are "fragmentary" (14). That newspapers were treated as ephemera is something readers of VPR know only too well; in a colonial context where many periodicals had small readerships or very short runs, the ephemerality of such print media is redoubled. Additionally, any comprehensive, single-author study of the "Indian periodical press" would require an individual capable of reading some half-dozen languages, at the very least Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, and Punjabi. (In 1875, Kamra reports, there were 478 Indian-run newspapers, most in vernacular languages [67].) This is the context in which Kamra draws on the NNR's coverage of Indian-language newspapers in the period roughly between 1870 and 1910, providing us with a rich, if mediated, access to dozens of newspapers. Readers looking for more direct access to Indian periodicals will need to revise expectations raised by the book's expansive title.

Kamra's primary focus is on the government's surveillance of the Indian press and its attempts at censorship. The NNRs are exhibit A in the history of this surveillance; however, Kamra argues that they were "not solely an [End Page 581] imperial tool" (10). Aware that it was being watched, the Indian press used the opportunity, within the constraints imposed on it, to communicate with the government. Much of this communication occurred in a language that was by turns genuflecting or self-abasing and critical of colonial policies. Here lies the crux of Kamra's argument: in the post-1857 period, the Government of India required its Indian subjects to demonstrate loyalty; any and all signs of critique were read as hostility, rebellion, or sedition. The growing Indian press deployed the requirement of loyalty "tactically" (a phrase Kamra relies on extensively) for protection as it commented on or critiqued government policies. Each time the government introduced more stringent measures or brought a paper to trial—as in the introduction of Section 124A of the Penal Code that criminalized "feelings of disaffection," which Kamra discusses in chapter 2; in the 1891 trial of the Bangavasi discussed in chapter 3; in the 1898 trial of Bal Gangadhar Tilak; in the spate of injunctions against radical presses between 1906 and 1910 discussed in chapter 4—it merely propelled the press to further criticism, thus paving the way for the rise of anti-colonial nationalism. Kamra argues that what the "law effected [was a transformation] of complaint into counterdiscourse" (124).

Given her reliance on a highly mediated archive that excerpted and translated for its own bureaucratic and imperial purposes, Kamra relies on a method of "reading against the grain" (another oft-repeated phrase). In almost every case, she reads resistance or critique in the passages she cites from the NNRs. In some cases, such readings are warranted, for instance when the Amrita Bazar Patrika, excerpted in the Bengal NNR, writes, "The English know full well that they have not gained possession of this country by mere force of arms . . . [but by] their decided superiority to us in various respects and our veneration for them. . . . But with the increasing period of their administration of this country, our regard for them is becoming gradually lessened. . . . That sentiment of veneration is gradually dying away, because of the mean, unwise, unjust, and oppressive acts of men of the lowest class in England, who come to India with no other purpose...