To commemorate the ‘75th Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav,’ the Department of Hindi, University of Hyderabad (UoH) in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) held an International Webinar on ‘Proscribed Hindi-Urdu Print and Colonial Historiography’ on 15-17, November, 2021. It was a ‘three days conference’ which was divided into ten different sessions in the languages English, Hindi, and Urdu that was hosted via Google Meet.

The inaugural session started with a welcome note from Prof. Gajendra Pathak, PI of the hosting IOE project and Head of the Hindi Department. Dr  Ravikant Co-PI of the project and Associate Professor of History from CSDS presented the brief introduction of the seminar. Professor R. S. Sarraju Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the UoH was the Guest of Honour of the International Seminar who graced the occasion with his inaugural address. The chairperson for the Session was Professor V.Krishna, Dean, School of Humanities of the UoH. The inaugural session was enriched with the presence of distinguished speakers like Prof. Shahid Amin, Prof. Wendy Singer and Prof. Mini Chandran.

 Following sessions were graced by speakers like Prof. Anindita Mukhopadhyay, Prof. Chaman Lal,  Prof.Charu Gupta, Prof.Aparna Vaidik, Dr.Pragya Dhital,  Prof.Devika Sethi, and Dr Manisha Pandey Tiwari ,Prof. Ravibhushan, P

In the left Professor R. S. Sarraju and Professor V. Krishna in the right speaking about the conference and its relevance in today’s era.

Professor Ravi Kant convening the lecture series.

Academic Intelligentsia’s Lecture:

Professor Shahid Amin speaking in the lecture series.

Shahid Amin is a former Professor of History who currently holds an emeritus position at Delhi University. He has been a visiting fellow at Chicago, Colombia, Princeton, and several other universities. He was the founding member of the editorial collective known as Subaltern Studies that changed the perspective to interpret colonial historiography. The title of his lecture is; Print, Subversion, and Proscription. Prof. Amin delivered deeper into the nuances of subversion, he explained that a subversion is a form of popular expression (such as Main Teri Zaban Nikal Lunga) that is commonly found in every language. Hence, in every society subversion transposes through a medium that is orality or pronoun of power which inverts the position of an individual in a class/caste-based hierarchical society. Subversion can be announcements, rumours, Uranghai, Munadib, etc. He further says that one is not born, rather one becomes a nationalist, he broadly touched upon a point that nationalists are a product of one’s own society and listening, speaking, responding in an appropriate way are its common modes. He moved further and spoke about the Gandhian movement (the 1920s-30s) in the context of subversion and proscription. As an example he said, Gandhi was prevented by the British officials from entering into Punjab after the Rowlett Act (considerably an act of subversion) and those newspapers which reported extensively on Punjab were immediately proscribed by the British (considerably an act of proscription). The colonial state was strict on those nationalist materials whose very title (Gore Kutto Ka Haramipan, Dum Kati Sarkar) seemed provocative to the language of the state. Interestingly, a large number of works that were proscribed had been authored by so to say upper caste males which shed light on the nature of leadership and mobilisation of that time. The title of various poems and pamphlets in the era of the non-cooperation movement was filled with anger against the British and precisely it was written in such a fashion that could largely mobilise masses. The paintings and picture (Swaraj Ki Ladayi by Prabhu Dayal) that used mythology to show their dissent was also proscribed by the colonialists for the very reason that it was considered subversive in the eyes of the British government. He sharply pointed in his concluding remarks that these works also reflect the Indian social structure and attitude of the society towards women and Dalits because they were mostly authored by the upper caste North Indian males. The language and sentiments though which lots of these works have articulated its idea are reflective of the maligned society of pre-independent India. In fact, in some ways, the nationalist discourse of which these artworks represented goes against Mahatma Gandhi’s core values of reforming the caste-based hierarchical Indian society.

Question and Answer Session:


  1. Aparna Vadik: The pamphlets were produced by upper-caste men who may not have been well versed in Hindi and these pamphlets were also casteist and sexist. Would they have been less so if the men were upper class and well educated?
  2. Shahid Amin: My reading was based on a large survey of the material. I was trying to point out the examples of nationalist outpouring without flagging. My analysis was not based on the name and the parentage of the pamphleteers, while referring to a discursive word that it shows, perhaps there are rarest examples where somebody isn’t a casteist and still writing in a particular way. I was trying to suggest not to get stuck in the constant manner in which one shows an attitude within North Indian society or other places.

Professor Wendy Singer Speaking about her topic.

Wendy Singer is a historian of South Asian studies, her primary area of study is on the anti-colonial movements to the development of the post-independent state. She has worked extensively on oral narratives and rural politics of Bihar in the 1930s. She is the Roy T. Wortman Professor and Director of Middle East at Kenyon College in the United States. She has been recently awarded the Kenyon’s Distinguished Faculty Award (2021-22). The title of her lecture is; Orality and Print in the Archives: What we can learn from Banned Materials. Singer said she has procured most of the banned materials from the British Library and Madras National Archives which are quite similar to the oral narratives that she collected at her field research, the multi-lingual barrier is the core issue of the topic since there is a versatile number of Indian languages. She addressed in the lecture through portraying a specific example which is a pamphlet known as The “Autobiography of Khadi” a 1922 compilation of political songs and commentary on Bihar. The central part of the song is the significance of Khadi as a political symbol of Indian nationalism. In the song, the author shifts gender in the lines. This material emerged (the 1920s-30s) in rural Bihar through the development of printing presses that produced nationalist literature, religious tracts, autobiography, family history, and flyers that were distributed to mobilise masses. She delved further and pointed out that even though these works had been proscribed by the Britishers it could not stop the production of the materials on a larger scale. She has categorised the importance of these materials in three specific ways, firstly, the procured materials comprised of songbooks and poems help us to delve deeper into the relationship between oral-written sources of the past. Secondly, it speaks about the political resistance of the past and the threat perception of the colonial government that in turn led to the banning of subversive materials. Thirdly, it opens a space to compare local history across the geographic regions of India which has been written in different languages. The ongoing translation of oral-written works explains it as a form of protest and a source of history (Rethinking Research, 1986). She asked herself, what rhetoric of political resistance was most resonant across time and space in the past? And answered that it can be understood through looking into the ‘idea of shamefulness.’ The concept of shamefulness has been commonly encountered several times in the materials. In her fieldwork dissertation, she noticed that the people she interviewed resonated with the proscribed material that she procured from the British archives. The British government banned any materials which they perceived seditious and antagonistic against the Raj through judicial legislation (Indian Act 1910). However, it has been noticed that banning materials such as songbooks could not stop the circulation of songs because oral material continues to be sung and shared. It’s worth notable that the pamphlet confiscated by the colonialist was preserved in public records, whereas the songs themselves were preserved in private lives. As a concluding remark, she explained the essence of shamefulness in the Indian nationalist movement. The high virtue of the women of those times and the moral sentiments Indians attached to certain natural things has occupied a larger space in their lives, and within this context, any actions of the British government through the use of laws and power defiled the sense of moral sanctity of the native Indians. Also, it is worth noting that the women songs in the Khadi movement were by and large written by men in the countryside.

Question and Answer Session:


  1. Ravi Kant: I am just wondering to know a particular thing that you showed in your presentation. The original title, ‘Khadi ki Aatmakatha,’ is it just called autobiography or something else?
  2. Wendy Singer: It’s just known as ‘Aatmakatha.’ The work which I have is named as Aatmakatha.

Professor Mini Chandran speaking about her topic.

Mini Chandran is a Professor of English at Humanities and Social Sciences in IIT Kanpur, Her area of specialisation are literature and censorship, translation studies, Indian literature and literary theory. She is the author of a book; The Writer, the Reader, and the State: Literary Censorship in India. The title of her talk is; Liberally Illiberal: The Nature of Proscription in British India. Professor Chandran spoke about the nature, contradiction, ambiguity within the policy of British censorship in India. The censorship of the colonial British government was swung back and forth from repression (strict control of censorship) to toleration (freedom of expression). She explained the title of her lecture that the illiberalism of the British government was tempered by a lot of liberal impulses within the British hierarchy in India. In her chronological explanation of censorship in India, she marked the point that censorship was gradually taken over by the British in the late eighteenth century. In the initial rule of the East India Company, the Britishers did not consider the journalistic impulses of India a threat to its rule possibly for the reasons they perceived such as; Indian literature dealt mostly with mythological and religious nature and the other reason could be colonialists had their own mercantile interest. The first victim of colonial censorship was Scotishmen James Augustus Hicky that started his press; The Bengal Gazette, Hickey was later deported back to England for his subversive writings against Lord Warren Hastings. In 1799, Lord Wellesley imposed a system of pre-censorship and made it mandatory for the printing press to have licenses. The initial examples showed the combination of coercive and punitive measures used by the British government. It’s important to view that the laws were not uniformly controlled till 1818. However, in 1823, the government passed an ordinance that reiterated the government’s right to control the printed materials in the form of licenses. Despite all these attempts to stifle the native voices through the passage of anti-press legislation and ordinances the net of literature could able to bypass the strict measures of the British Empire culminating in the 1857s Sepoy mutiny. In the aftermath of 1857, the laws intensified with instituting Licensing Act or Gagging Act of 1857. Macaulay drafted a criminal law that formally became the Indian Penal Code of the 1860s. Britishers also started keeping track of the work of different South Asian languages that gradually led to the rise of the Vernacular Press Act of 1878 (scrutinizing language newspapers). The failures of the mutiny of 1857 made the British government realise the drawbacks of the system. Precisely, it led them to create an effective bureaucratic system of communication intelligence that was directly controlled by the London office. All the information was passed through Civil Servants of Indian districts back to London. Numerous laws were carried out by colonialists such as the Press and Registration of Books Act 1967 to preserve, register, and track the books. However, the native officers who were hired to translate and summarise these books often documented their personal judgements on the books, consequently, the reports that reached London was transformed into refracted reality. Likely, it was a major reason that the censorship could not catch some of the subversive works and they failed to understand the pulse of the masses. In fact, the colonial government censorship was not intelligent enough to rectify seditious materials when they saw it. She said the British government answered anything or everything through constituting laws in the moment of crisis. In the 1870s, the threat from religious fanatics led to the imposition of law against sedition (Section 124 A), growing Hindu-Muslim tension led to the imposition of Section 153 A. Though, a whole lot of laws had been passed on the papers, the official implementation of the laws remained lackadaisical. The colonial censorship became harsher, the attempt of subversive groups to circumvent these laws also became innovative (the subversive groups sold the proscribed literature under the disguise of the books like Oliver West). Such acts led to the passage of The Press Act 1910 which increased and enforced the bureaucratic control on press freedom. However, it again failed on the ground because the guidelines and procedures were not followed properly. She said the outbreak of World War I was a major breakthrough that revolutionary groups intensified their activities that in turn led to even harsher restrictions. But the harsh restrictions on the press increased its popularity too. British officials like Edwin Montagu was against the arbitrary-restrictive laws of the British because it was giving more credence to the opposition. Hence, the modified law was instituted again as The Press Act 1921. Finally, she concluded that the censorship was synchronizing with the high nationalist value and various British funded Newspapers to build the image of the Britishers. They could not enforce the proscription with its full seal because it could give a bad image to the liberal face of the British government.

 Professor Anandita Mukhopadhyay in the left and Rajiv Velicheti over the Right chaired their respective sessions.

Professor Chaman Lal speaking about his topic.

Chaman Lal is a former professor of Hindi translation at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is an honorary advisor to Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, Delhi Archives of the Delhi Government. He has authored a book; The Bhagat Singh Reader. The title of his lecture is; Proscribed Literature and Bhagat Singh. He said, in the history of freedom struggle the writings of Bhagat Singh and the literature produced on Bhagat Singh has been proscribed in great numbers in comparison to any other writing of the freedom fighters in the Indian national movement by the colonial government. He cited an example from a book; The Hanging of Bhagat Singh: The Banned Literature by Dr Gurudev Singh Sidhu. He said that in a particular volume on proscribed literature where it was written that British officials proscribed nearly 125 writings on Bhagat Singh. He spoke, Sidhu’s working book whose title; Martyr Vs. The Raj: Proscribed Publication on Bhagat Singh. In this planned book Sidhu has listed 208 proscribed publications on Bhagat Singh. The proscribed writings are in 11 languages; Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Sidhi, Hindi, and English. Most numbers of his writings which are banned in Hindi, Tamil, and Urdu are the maximum numbers. The banned writing includes poems, books, essays, etc. Professor Lal said further, the prime accused of the Lahore Conspiracy Case Jitendranath Sanyal alongside Bhagat Singh, Sukdev, Rajguru was acquitted from the case. Later Sanyal wrote a collection of writing immediately after Bhagat Singh’s hanging. His English writing and the Hindi translation of his collection was immediately proscribed by the British government. The editor of Bhavishya that carried out the translation of Sanyal’s work was also prosecuted and ironically Sanyal who was acquitted in the prime case was later imprisoned for two years. It’s an interesting fact that around 139 Bhagat Singh’s writings had been proscribed by the colonialists without any briefing in different Indian languages including English. There are around 24 writings that the British Raj categorised as objectionable materials. The states and provinces under British rule used various banning laws to proscribe publications of Bhagat Singh and Bengal province stands at the top. In his lecture, he marked numerous proscription laws and legislation instituted by the British government. In his concluding remarks, he marked upon something important that most of such laws that was constituted by the British government have been sadly continued to be in the stature of the post-independent India, in Pakistan, and even at Bangladesh. He said it’s a moment of crisis for us as we are still living under these draconian-colonial laws in India.

Question and Answer session:


  1. Ravi Kant: I would like to ask Professor Lal that how long did this journal ‘Bhavishya’ carried on?
  2. Chaman Lal: Although I do not have a definite idea of its timeline, though as per as my limited knowledge Ram Lal Sayghal previously worked with Pandit Sundar Lal. Though, I don’t remember the specific name of the journal, later he started his own journal in 1920 or so.

 Charu Gupta speaking about her topic.

Charu Gupta is an associate professor of History at the University of Delhi. She is the editor of Gendering Colonial India: Reforms, Print, Caste, and Communalism. She is the author of Sexuality, Obscenity, Community: Women, Muslims, and The Hindu Public in Colonial India. The title of her lecture is; Erotic, Hateful, and Seditious: Proscription of Pleasurable, Communal, and Communist Writing in Hindi Print. She addressed in her lecture that we have to look beyond the mere proscribed materials, instead we have to open our understanding on what ought to be proscribed. The materials that were considered objectionable and those works which escaped the clutches of the domination from above. She said although censorship flourished in the colonial period, there were major instances of its drawbacks too which punctured the foundational stone of censorship. Here vernacular opened a space for the robust articulation of freedom. The vernacular used the local idioms like symbols in altogether simple ways. She marked an important point that apart from the British proscription, there was indeed a subtle form of proscription that existed in the Indian society in the form of dominant caste/class, indigenous elites, and patriarchy and so on. The indigenous elites and Hindu middle class promoted informal proscription that was classified into several categories such as; obscene, hateful, and seditious. In this limelight, it is important to carefully look at the nuances of proscription. The overgrown Nationalist Hindu middle class and a section of British colonisers that represented themselves on a civilizational mission looked at the topic of pleasure and sexuality as common vices in a society of which Professor Gupta called upon as a form of ‘moral panic’ of Hindu middle class that further institutionalized colonial proscription (Section 292, Section 293, Section 294 of Indian Penal Code). The British government primarily focused on seditious literature which is why most of the literature that dealt with pleasure in the form of advertisements and magazines escaped formal censorship. Interestingly, it altogether became a medium to provide knowledge of sex at a cheaper price that led to the democratisation of pleasure when proscription was on its zenith. There was also heavy outrage to proscribe the materials that were considered hateful in society, some laws were passed by the British government to proscribe materials, despite that on the ground the hateful literature circulated, and it could not prevent the riots or religious violence in the society. The communist literature had to face the proscription too. In her concluding remarks, she made a significant remark that proscription has always remained a failed enterprise in pre-independent India.

Question and Answer Session:


  1. Anandita Mukhopadayay: When you are looking at proscribed literature erupting out of the interstices of censorship. Is there any kind of caste/class distinction which explicitly indulged into those sorts of literature that was celebrated in those particular times of proscription?
  2. Charu Gupta: While there was anxiety among the upper and middle class about obscene literature, they made a distinction between erotica and obscenity which was considered tolerant enough through the point of view of elites. Such as the cultured elites to read Kali Dasa’s work that was equally erotic in comparison to any other kind of erotic texts because erotica reached within the masses in a distorted fashion which became a problem. Although the actual side was that there was the prevalent distinction between elite presses, and the common presses or the elite writers and the common writers the subject that they take up was breaking down in the market forces because there was a new kind of social norms like marriage, a relationship was also coming into play. The lines between elites and popular were blurred in the society.


  1. Divya Rai: Could you please reflect upon a point that there was this tendency of erasure towards literature that was supposedly obscene or immoral at the end of the indigenous elites. If there was a tendency of erasure how did it impact the proliferation of that literature?
  2. Charu Gupta: I agree with your point. There were certain kinds of say for instance oral narratives like Kajri that was largely an authorless form of song which could be erotic at times. It was sung largely by low caste women what happened at the colonial period is that they moved to print, and largely men started authoring that there’s an erasure of that kind of female authorless culture that vanished.

Professor Aparna Vaidik speaking about her topic.

Aparna Vaidik formerly taught at Georgetown University, USA, offering courses such as Nation and Nationalism, the Indian Ocean in Age of Empire, The Politics of Violence, Gandhi and World History and Colonialism and Culture. She is the author of the book, My Son’s Inheritance: A Secret History of Lynching and Blood Justice in India. She currently teaches at Ashoka University. The title of her lecture is; Sedition and Conspiracy. Professor Vaidik addressed in her lecture the legal history of trials (the 1890s-1940s), the nationalist press and several individuals voices was suppressed through the mechanism of proscription. However, it’s an interesting fact to note that despite colonial proscription was aimed to suppress the print industries through the trials that occurred in that period, it was rather remarkable that the print industries thrived due to these trials. She said the press reportage on the trials became a medium to familiarise the language of dissent to the public. The proscription was not merely about banning the words, instead, the whole language of resistance was threatened by the extraordinary powers it provided to proscription. She moved further and spoke about the ‘trial of Oscar Wilde’ in England in 1895, Wilde was not simply tried for same-sex love, rather the trial showed that he was incarcerated for the words that he used to express his passion for men. The words that displayed ‘inappropriate affection’ or ‘disaffection’ in his language was a matter of trial. In that way, we can understand the significant element of sedition is about the words that display disaffection in society that threatens governments. She embarked upon a point that there was a ‘presumed affection’ between the state and the people or the tacit consent of the colonised and the British rule in India which was ruptured by those who showed their disaffection to the state through the medium of speech and writing. Due to this, the colonialists used a discursive state of siege to justify their extraordinary legislation against those who showed disaffection through means like writing or speech. The journalists and revolutionaries who were thrown into gallows under the British trials were cast out of the body politic and categorised as traitors and terrorists in colonial India. The trials showed a new sense of criminality was associated with disaffection. She asked some major questions in her lecture, If the colonial state is known for using coercive powers then, why did they opt for revolutionary trials? How did the history of revolutionary conspiracy trials further our understanding of sedition? And she answered, the historiography of colonial trials speaks about the failures of these trials in the context of a miscarriage of justice and railing of the revolutionaries, but a deeper analysis of the revolutionary trials showed us that it is the keynote ‘conspiracy’ which provided the ground to the colonial government to hold trials against the revolutionaries. She said, the British used the intention of crime, the verbalisation of crime, and the collective engagement in the crime was later manifested in the form of conspiracy and established as an evident fact to hold colonial trials under laws like sedition. The definitional elasticity of the word conspiracy provided the British government ample ground to have trials against the revolutionaries. In her concluding remarks she spoke, the failure of the imperial government to contain revolutionary actives in pre-independent India led to the enactment of more draconian legislations. It empowered the British colonialists to enact extraordinary laws. So, in this way may be the success of the imperialists lie in their failure.

Question and Answer Session:


  1. Anandita Mukhopadhyay: It’s just my comment on your work. I feel that there’s no binary division between the colonial state and the colonised, but there’s a space of completely hidden, you can see the tip of the iceberg but you cannot gage the depths to which a new kind of political vocabulary has penetrated that might be the third space the colonial space has no grip over. It is a colonial state in fear, but perhaps the understanding of its own that it is not feeling powerless. Since it is panicking, doesn’t it open the path to failure?
  2. Aparna Vaidik: My answer is, as a historian I am not looking for any agreements, rather I presume there are disagreements, which means I don’t see the colonial state as one single whole. There are heterogeneous elements and they might not add up. Over time I started drifting away and my focus changed to revolutionaries, and instead of taking a broad chunk of time, I took a particular unit of analysis in terms of time duration in history. While looking at trial history, I found ample agreements between different levels of the government. I asked myself a question, at what time a state closes its ranks? Then I began to think whether it’s a failure or its ability to close rank due they belonged from the native groups. Here the larger argument I came across the state generally functions in the manner I noticed in my earlier records that is failure.


 Dr. Pragya Dhital speaking on her topic.

Dr Pragya Dhital is a British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Queen Mary University of London. She completed her PhD at SOAS in 2016. She is currently researching political pamphlets in the proscribed publication collection. The title of her presentation was ‘The Proscribed Publication in Colonial India and Contemporary Britain’. In her presentation, she talked about the archival investments in proscribed literature. She tried to build connections between proscribed literature all over the world. She had something of ethnographic experience working in an archive in a British Memory Institution and from her research and speaking to current and previous British Library staff. She talked about how both the physical items and their records were being maintained and how their contents were being disseminated. The collection started systematically put together by the Government of India from 1910 onwards. But the collection was only made available to the public in 1968 because of the efforts of an American scholar Nigel Gerard Barrier. The key point of her presentation was to point out the relationship of the archive to proscribed literature and what the archives can tell us about proscription. She told that there are some plans to digitize the collection as part of the British Library’s ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print project but they’re still quite hard to access and surprisingly little known and not much studied outside of India and in Britain particular. She argued that the negligence of this kind of materials in Britain is arguably partly a result of anxiety about how to deal with a period still not taught in British schools and a state-sanctioned form of multiculturalism that seeks to enlighten difficult histories which might interfere with the project of integration through cultural exchange. For example, most of the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and partition in Britain barely mentioned the independent struggle at all. Britain’s colonial history and slavery and the imperial parts are not really taught in British schools. But the change in the demography of students who go to higher education institutions in Britain like the students who are the first ones from their families to come to a university, the students coming from diaspora backgrounds from various parts of Africa and Asia and their positive response towards proscribed literature are actually creating a difference. Dr. Dhital also talked about the proscribed publications in context of popular cheap. To give an example of that she talked about a ‘Black lives matter’ protest held on 6th June, 2020 where there were handmade banners, everything was handwritten as the protest was during the pandemic period and there were no offices opened and printers and all were not available to all the people and yet they held a protest using whatever material was to hand. It was indeed an attempt to write record and present a message. Many banners feature demands to include Black British history in the British Education curriculum. So, the proscribed history in Britain was basically challenged by the cheap pamphlets which ultimately proved Dr. Dhital’s point. Dr. Dhital through her presentation argued about what it means to have proscribed literature preserved in the archive and the importance of manifestos as both political and literary documents.

 Dr. Devika Sethi speaking about her topic.

Dr. Devika Sethi is an assistant professor at IIT Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India. The title of her presentation was ‘To Ban, Not to Ban, or to Unban: Understanding the Ban formula’. In her presentation she argued that does the danger of certain ideas dissipate with time? What are the motivations behind the banning and the subsequent unbanning of certain texts? Dr. Sethi in her paper focused on colonial sensors assuming that they have a certain rationale that’s why she talked about something called ‘ban formula’. In support of her argument she case studied two proscribed texts of colonial-era which were subsequently unbanned too. The first text was the ‘Independence of the Congress Pledge’ which was popularized by the Indian National Congress in 1930. This was not banned in 1930 but it was banned in 1937 which was an election year when the provincial elections were going to take place and the pledge was unbanned in 1938. From colonial files it is known that the British government wanted to ban the pledge because of the mentioning of ruining Indian economically, politically, culturally, spiritually. Every year on 26th January the pledge would be recited in public maidans all over the country translated in local languages. The argument for banning he pledge was given that when a person like Nehru who in an election campaign or even before that read the pledge then it’s okay but when a public recitation is happening and that too repeatedly by large groups of people then it’s a problem. So, one ingredient of ban formula is- numbers, size and how many people are involved. In 1937 the Government of India sent a notice to all the provincial governments to ban the pledge as it would be challenge for the government in an election year. But interestingly, there were arguments that were against the banning of the pledge. The Governor of Madras, Lord Erskine wrote to the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow that there are some ideological as well as some practical problems why Madras is not in favour of ban. He said that the banning would give prominence to a document that would otherwise pass unnoticed. So, here the other constituent of the formula is publicity- a dilemma that all censors face because when someone ban something, more people want to watch/read that. Lord Erskine also wrote that since Nehru as Congress president had been saying things without any interference from the authorities, it therefore seemed unfair to ban at this time. Another ingredient of ban formula is- if something has been in circulation for a long time, it either becomes old-fashioned or it becomes less dangerous. In 1943 when the pledge was revised, it was more radical than the previous one. Then the Madras government without issuing any notification pressurized the publication houses not to print the pledge. So there was an informal attempt to ban the pledge in 1943. While talking about the ‘ban formula’, Dr. Sethi said about the cost-benefit analysis- whether it is worth it to ban or not and also about the context of any content that becomes important while banning something. The history of the pledge reveals he tension between the urge to ban and the sure knowledge that a ban would bring the congress more popularity. Although there were several versions of the pledge but the sentiments expressed in all were anti-colonial yet it was the context and not the content of the pledge that determined the chances of it being banned in any given year. Dr. Sethi’s 2nd case study was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s book ‘The Indian Struggle’. The book was published abroad, in London. So, it was banned under the sea customs act that dealt with the imported literature. The reasons for wanting to ban the book were that- the book accuses the British of driving a wedge between Hindus and Muslims, it argues that left wing methods are more successful than right wing methods and it also says that the terrorists are so called terrorism martyrs and all acts of terrorism are acts of retaliation. Government of India thought this book justifies terrorism and this needs to be banned and in 1935 the book was banned. But in 1938, after a request from UP Government there was a discussion whether it should be unbanned or not. In that discussion so many officials thought that what Bose is saying now is old-fashioned because too many people have been saying this. So, in a sense they were acknowledging the failure of censorship. Bose was actually critical of moderate Gandhian tactics in the book. One official said that in a sense Bose is actually criticizing the Congress so let the book come out into the world and let the Indians read it. As a result of these, the book was unbanned in 1939, eve of the Second World War. In conclusion, it is pretty much clear that what determines a ban is the context rather than the content because the text is not changing but the times are changing.

Questions and Answers Session:

  1. Divya Rai: Preference of context over content when it came to proscription and the case studies were after 1930s. But the very first instance of Vernacular Press Act was in 1878. So, the idea of context over content was there before 1930s or is it something which is later development?

And there was another question asked by Dr. Charu Gupta

  1. Dr. Charu Gupta: If context is all that’s important then is there any ban formula?

To answer both these questions Dr. Divya Sethi replied-

  1. Dr. Divya Sethi: Both questions are about the generalizability of the ban formula. Generalizability in terms of time. Content is not irrelevant. It is important but context is what leads to banning. So it can even be extended to 1878. Ban formula is not a fix formula. And surely there is no ‘ban formula’. It’s basically a catchy phrase but yes the context somehow dominates over content while it comes to ban something.
  2. Dr. Sethi gave an example of Satyabhakt and said if two books by the same author, having similar themes got published and then one is banned and one is not then it surely has to do something with the context.

 Dr. Manisha Pandey Tiwari speaking about her topic.

Dr. Manisha Pandey Tiwari is a faculty member of Department of History in Abeda Inamdar College, Pune University. The title of her presentation was ‘Suppression of Freedom of Expression: Censorship and Proscription in British India’. In her lecture she focused on the emergence of proscription in British India, proscription policies during British Period, role of printing press in the freedom struggle and various press acts by which the proscription policy of British Government was defined. The emergence of Indian Publication industries in 18th century actually complicated the political life of British rule in India. The British Government didn’t want Indians to criticize it severely and at the same time it wanted to give certain kind of freedom also. The functioning of the British government involved coordination within the bureaucratic chain whose work was to keep an eye on what Indians are writing, what literary works are being produced. Later on, the relationship between the government and the press was based on hostility. The government wanted stability of its rule in India while the press was inclined towards nationalism. As the mass movements or direct challenges would go up, the hostilities would go up. There came the proscription. From the very beginning there was no uniform or set policy of British Government in India in regard to Press control. But the government felt the need of it and they brought certain acts by which their proscription policies were defined. It all started in 1823 with the Adam Regulations Act in Bengal which introduced licensing in India for the first time. Then in 1835 there came Metcalfe Act which was quite liberal which discontinued the licensing part. Then in 1857, Viceroy Canning reintroduced licensing. Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867 made it necessary for every book to have got registered by the government. Then in 1878, the Vernacular Press Act which demanded high security and confiscation by the district administration for anything which was found objectionable. The policies of Lord Curzon increased the intensity of nationalism and as a result of this intensity more literary works were coming out in the press. So press became a key instrument to reveal the repressions, ill policies of British government and to educate masses. The government passed Press Acts of 1908 & 1910. As per these acts, judicial action could be taken against the editors, against the publication houses, properties could be confiscated. Then Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908, Official Secrets Act & the Defence of India Act of 1914 also strengthened the arms of Govt in controlling press and publication houses. During the First World War so many events took place. The Rowlatt bill, Jalianwala Bagh Massacre etc. added fuel to the fire of nationalism and nationalist literary works. Intense nationalist ideas were expressed through the printed material which was banned and therefore the banning also started t increase. Socialist and in particular Communist literature- basically the translations of works by Marx and Lenin began to circulate and were inevitably proscribed. In 1922, as the tide of non-cooperation movement went down much, much of 1910s acts were repealed in the Press Law Repeal and Amendment Act. Some major examples of proscribed literature what Dr. Pandey gave were Tilak’s ‘Kesari’ and Gandhi’s ‘Harijan’ that were prosecuted for being seditious.

Research Scholar Presentations:

 The respective participants speaking about their topic.


Sudipta Shaw has completed her MA in Sociology from University of Hyderabad. The title of the paper which she presented was ‘British India and the changing narratives towards heterosexualization of Islamic Literature’. She discussed about how the British Government deliberately tried to portray the Islamic Literature in India as something which is totally based on heterosexuality and has nothing to do with the homo-erotic relationship. She talked about Firaq Gorakhpuri who criticized the British Government’s attempt to heterosexualize the Islamic Literary works. Firaq Gorakhpuri pointed out the the portrayal of homosexual desire in Islamic Literature. Urdu poetry was influenced by Persian poetry and in Persian poetry the Muse, the beloved used to be a ‘a beautiful boy’. Indian Sufis followed this too. To give an example she talked about Khusroo whose Muse, ‘Pir’ was Hazrat Nizamuddin, a male. She argued that the British not only colonized the lands of India but also the minds of Indians. Therefore, the Islamic literature needs to be reread and themes of gender and sexuality needs to be looked critically.

Dr. Prabal Agarwal is an Assistant Professor at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University. The title of his presentation was ‘Banned writings of Ram Prasad Bismil & the colonial response between 1916 and 1927’. Bismil’s first book was ‘America ko Swadhinta Kaise Meeli’ which was published in 1916. He also wrote a pamphlet called ‘Deshvashiyon ke naam Sandesh’ in 1916. His book was proscribed by the Government of UP. It was said that the book openly incites Indians to follow the examples of Americans. In that book foreign rule was said to be responsible for famines and all other miseries in India. Bismil argued in the book that Indians must learn the lesson that there is no sin in taking up the sword to attain freedom. Throughout his presentation Dr. Agarwal discussed about how the colonial masters termed Bismil’s work as seditious and anarchist propaganda and banned most of his books and pamphlets. Yet they somehow continued to be republished and circulated illegally and played an important role in raising anti-colonial sentiments in the people of Hindi-Urdu heartland.

Neha Gautam is currently pursuing her PhD and she is a research scholar at University of Hyderabad. The title of her lecture is; Reflection on Proscribed Visual Representations: Censor on Visual Culture in Colonial State (1900-1947). She spoke about the emergence of the visual culture pertaining to the development of the print capitalism in the beginning of the twentieth century. She said, there’s a gradual shift in the past image culture in the colonial era. She also noted that visual culture remained contested, with the emphasis on the visual production and its consumption. The colonial government used the strict laws to control sedition in pre-independent India. Despite, this created an uproar in the British circles to start various court cases against numerous individuals, but it did not worked the way British government thought so. Historians have used numerous sources while documenting historiography, but the most common source have ever used was the visual archive. Print media has remained into circulation along with the visual culture in that era which made the millions of people to be part of a big community in those days. The diverse visual archives led to the construction of public sphere and mass consciousness. She concluded, the politics of visual culture played a diverse role in terms of contributing to the consolidation of the nationalist movement of the first half of twentieth century.

Rajashree Sarma is pursuing her masters at University of Delhi. The title of her lecture is; The Domain of Contest over Press: The ‘Kuli Pratha’. She said, in the earlier twentieth century there was a growth of Hindi press that led to proscription and banning of controversial books. The work by Thakur Laxman Singh’s Kuli Pratha shows the perspective of the colonized being. The nationalists took the endangered perspective in their discourse. It’s a noteworthy point that the endangered diaspora appeared in the forefront of the nationalist movement that was proscribed by the British government. She has used the holistic perspective to explain her point of view on the subject. It’s a significant thing of that era proscription was used as a tool of repression. She concluded, printed Hindi works were significant element that shaped the nationalist movement and it also brought the irony of the faith of the government on the free press.

 The respective scholars presenting their ideas.

Zahra Ahmed has been pursuing her Masters in English from women college, Patna. The title of her lecture is; Proscribed text and colonial historiography: Analysing Angaray and Rangila Rasul. She said, India was a diverse country and it has its rich culture. The century of rule of British government in India marked with divisive policy to repress Indians. Blasphemy law was particularly used by the colonial government to repress Indian nationalist voice. In turn we could see Muslims violently protested against the book Rangila Rasul causing religious strife and the repeal of the Press Act 1920. Numerous Hindi-Urdu text were proscribed in the colonial era. The British government flourished in India on the might of the larger Indians who worked on the behalf pf the colonial government. Yet, we see proscription that was heavily enforced on the very Indians who worked for the colonial government. In her concluding remarks, she mentioned, proscribed books were usually those that had defamatory content in it. The revolt against the traditional norms help us to understand the history of Hindi-Urdu literature.

Takbeer Salati is a research scholar from Maulana Azad National Urdu University. The title of her lecture is; Manto of 292: Boo a Text of Colonial forbidden Reading. She spoke about the list of laws that were quite prevalent in the era of writers like Saadat Hasan Manto. Such writers were the faces who challenged the British Raj through their writing. Section 292 is a law that dealt with the question of obscene literature. Such work of art has been prohibited by the colonial government. Manto and Chugtai were the dissenting voices who challenged this section of law. The books like Boo or Liaaf were proscribed by the colonial government. The historical background is significant here as the Quit India movement was on its peak and the proscription of the books that dealt with the freedom of expression was an epitome matter. Although the content of the books such as Boo was considered largely by the masses as obscene, and precisely this was the reason that it challenged the social norms. In her conclusion she said, Manto tried to show the dark side of the society through producing literate whose language was not parliamentary and that led the British to ban his books through laws like section 292.

Divya Rai is pursuing her PhD from the University of Hyderabad. The title of her lecture is; Politics of Proscription: The Congress-Raj Power Dynamic and Free Speech in Colonial India from 1937-39. She said the context of her paper situates within the era of provincial autonomy of the Indian National Congress party. She has tried to look upon the legal nuances of proscription, the deployment of power through the use of legislations like sedition, and a definition of political prisoners. Congress was emerged as a victorious party which was looked held as people’s government. Here the idea of free speech turned out to be the most contested part of that era. Though, congress was the victim of the repression when they were in the opposition. When the congress managed to consolidate the power they inherited the similar nature of repression of their colonial masters. It’s noteworthy point that she made, that the attitude of the congress varied from the different constituencies it was governing. Congress couldn’t actively worked against the proscription and it was not uniform. In her conclusion she said, the proscription was brought by the colonial government, but once Congress came to power they weren’t different than their predecessors.

Garvita Singh has pursued her Integrated Masters in Sociology from the University of Hyderabad. Her title of the lecture is; The Dramatic Performances Control Act of 1876: Creation of Middle Class ‘Public’ Opinion. She spoke about the significance of numerous anti-revolutionary acts that were passed in late nineteenth century. She goes on further that Bengal presidency had two important theatre culture (proscenium staging and commercial public theatre), interestingly, the urban bourgeoisie Bengalis imitated the European model of proscenium staging that was meant for upper class elites. Whereas the commercial public theatre was the other medium of bourgeoisie entertainment. She particularly mentioned all the differences and similarities between these two theatres. There were few sets of patriotic songs have been inculcated that was supposed to foster patriotism at Bengal presidency (Bharat Mata Song). Whereas the songs portrayed the plight of marginalised section (Neel Darpan Song). These were the essential reasons why the British colonial policing intensified and numerous laws were enacted to curb the voice of those who used theatre as a medium of expression.


Report by

Dr Ashutosh Kumar Pandey for the IOE Project RC1-20-028