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Why was the Vernacular Press Act of 1878 passed?

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  • Last Updated : 19 Jul, 2022
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In British India, the Vernacular Press Act (1878) was approved to reduce the privilege of the Indian press and halt the expression of condemnation regarding British strategies. Particularly, the opposition expanded with the start of the second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880). The government-endorsed the Vernacular Press Act of 1878 to balance the native press so as to supervise strong public points of view and rebellious writing creating misery for the government. The Act was suggested by Lytton, at that time Viceroy of India, and was unitedly voted by the Viceroy’s Council on 14 March 1878.

The act does not include English language reportings as it was defined to check rebellious writing in ‘publications in Oriental languages’ all around the country, but not for the South. In this way, the British completely distinguished against the (non-Anglophone language) Indian Press. The act permitted the government to impose limitations on the press in the below ways:

  • Patterned on the Irish press act, this act enabled the government with boundless liberty to inspect reports and columns in the Vernacular press.
  • Eventually, the government kept an efficient trace of Vernacular newspapers.
  • If writing published in the newspaper was considered rebellious, that newspaper was alerted.

Historical events

The press occasionally caused trouble for the profits of the business. The first newspaper, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, was forbidden in 1782 because of disapproval of the East India Company. After that newspaper editor, William Duane was expelled. Because of the press’s disapproval, Richard Wellesley, first Marquess Wellesley managed the press in 1799, on the report which the press had to get the consent of the government prior to the printing of any parchments including ads. 

At the time of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the “Gagging Act” had been approved by Lord Canning which aimed to balance the creation of printing presses and to stop the voice of all printed subjects. All presses need to have a license from the government, with differentiation between printings in English and other native languages. 

The Act also said that no printed matter shall challenge the intentions of the British Raj, thus bringing loathing and disrespect and gripping illegal opposition to its orders. After that, the British Government found that the Gagging Act was not powerful enough to suppress all nationalist beliefs, it invented a more violent law, created little by Sir Ashley Eden and Sir Alexander John Arbuthnot, Bengal’s Lieutenant Governor.

When the Vernacular Press Act was passed, there were 35 vernacular papers in Bengal, which also includes the Amrita Bazar Patrika, the editor of which was Sisir Kumar Ghose. Sir Ashley Eden sent for him and presented to provide to his paper regularly if he was willing to give him final editorial acceptance. Ghose refused the proposal, and said that “there has to be at least one honest journalist in the land.”  The Vernacular Press Act is said to be grown after this incident. When the Act was passed, Sir Ashley said in a speech that 45 rebellious writings were printed in 15 different vernacular papers that were shown to him before the Act was approved.

The Vernacular Press Act said that any justice or Police Commissioner had the power to name any printer or publisher of a newspaper to take up a bond, pledge not to print a particular type of substance, and could seize any printed matter it considered terrible. 

The Act enables for reporting to police all the evidence papers of contents before printing, what was rebellious news was to be noticed by the police and not by the justice. Under this Act, many of the sheets were fined, and their editors were sent to jail. They were subjected to previous prudence. The pretentious party could not look for remedy in a judicature. 

Warnings were given to the Indian language press. That included:

  • Treason of democratic organizations.
  • Alarming and brutal events.
  • Invalid claims against British officials or members.
  • Imperil law and order to interrupt the usual working of the state.
  • Warnings to internal safety.
  • All of the above were punishable by law, but no remedy could be given in any court in the land.


The British government was at a pace to approve the bill without noticing any reactions anyway, the bill was not printed in the normal papers in Calcutta and the North-Western regions were the slowest in acquiring details. 

The Amrita Bazar Patrika in Calcutta had made itself into an all-English weekly in less than a week of passing the Vernacular Press Act, publications in the north were thinking of the particular regions of the act, regardless of two weeks of its existence. The subsequent years saw the arrival and vanishing of many Bengali publications in quick progression, failing to obtain assistance with their scarcity of language and opinion.

After the publishers came to know of the regions, the oppressive calculations experienced powerful resistance. All the local unions irrespective of religion, caste, and creed condemned the measure and kept their objections moving. All the notable heads in Bengal and India opposed the Act as unforgivable and invalid and demanded its instant removal. The newspapers often criticized the Act constantly. 

Then after, the management of Lord Ripon accessed the growth of the Act and finally withdrew it in 1881. But, the displeasure it created among Indians assisted in India’s growing independence movement. The Indian Association, which is one of the predecessors of the Indian National Congress, was one of the Act’s biggest opposers. The pivotal order for a legal lawsuit in case of an allegation of balance against an editor was not at all admitted by the government. But, in October 1878 the act was changed in minor regard; the presentation of evidence before printing was no longer claimed, despite the bail bond continued.

Sample questions

Question 1: What does the Act of Vernacular mean?


In British India, the Vernacular Press Act (1878) was approved to reduce the privilege of the Indian press and halt the expression of condemnation regarding British strategies.

Question 2: Who stopped Vernacular Press Act and in which year?


The management of Lord Ripon reviewed the growth of the Act and finally withdrew it in 1881.

Question 3: Why Vernacular Act was withdrawn?


Because of the Vernacular Press Act of 1878, the press was suppressed, and some vernacular press people were summoned. Due to this, an extensive public yelled against this act. Lord Ripon, who was the successor of Lord Lytton, later withdrew the act. But, the resistance it created among Indians became one of the leading forces behind India’s growing independence movement.

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