What is Vernacular Press Act 1878?

Vernacular Press Act is a controversial and suppressive act that was enacted in 1878 by the then  Viceroy of India Lord Lyton to curb the freedom of the Indian-languages’ press.

Let’s learn.

Let us discuss the background of the British Empire and try to explore the real motive behind the implementation of the Vernacular Press Act.

Ruthless Lord Lytton

Lord Lytton was appointed the Viceroy of India in 1876. He remained the Viceroy of India up to 1980. His tenure as viceroy was remembered by his ruthlessness and suppressive policies in India. There were mainly two reasons behind an uproar against the Lytton in India.

  • During Lytton’s period, India was suffocating from a widespread famine caused by crop failure in 1876. In the meanwhile, Lord Lytton paid full attention to Delhi Darbar. Lord Lytton decided to hold an Imperial Assemblage at Delhi on 1st January 1877 for the ‘Queen of Great Britain and Ireland’ He declared Queen Victoria as ‘Empress of India’. In spite of the deaths of millions out there, Lord Lytton’s irresponsive attitude caused deaths between 6.1 million and 10.3 million.
  • The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80) created huge restrain in the economy and the government was severely criticised on multiple publications across India at that time.

Such ruthless and irresponsive acts created an outburst of accumulated grievances of the masses, that was eventually reflected through the Indian press.

There was a widespread protest against Lytton’s policies in India. The protests were even fueled by the seditious and provocative writings of the vernacular press against the British govt. Hence, Lord Lytton introduced the  VPA in 1878.

What is Vernacular Press Act1 878?

The British govt enacted the Vernacular Press Act, 1878 to suppress the indigenous press and to curb their freedom of speech to restrain them from criticising the government’s policy. It is to be noted that, there was an existing law against sedition in the form of  Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code which was introduced in 1870 to repress seditious acts in any form. VPA, 1878 added another layer curb on the Freedom of speech and freedom of the indigenous press in British India.

Note:Vernacular‘ means ‘the language or the dialect spoken by the common people in a particular country or can be called an indigenous language in short. The VPA 1878, introduced by Lytton (1876-80), was also known as the ‘Gagging Act’ 

Provisions of the Vernacular Press Act, 1878

  • District Magistrate was empowered to call upon the publisher of any Vernacular newspaper to force into an undertaking with the government to ensure that they would not publish anything that criticises the government’s policy and may further instigate the people to create disaffection and chaos against the government.
  • The publishers were made obliged to deposit the security amount to get the permission and in case of infringement of the provision of the act, the security amount was forfeited.
  • The printing machines and the offices were subjected to be seized on repeated occurrence.
  • All the proof sheets of newspaper or any form of vernacular writing were to be submitted to the government for final censor before publication.
  • The decision of the District Magistrate was considered final and unalterable and there was no provision to appeal against the decision in the court of law.
Note: The most controversial feature of the act was that there was no provision for an appeal in the court of law. There was vivid discrimination between English newspapers and the newspapers of the native language.

The Impact of The Vernacular Press Act, 1878 on Indians

  • Amrita Bazar Patrika, started in 1868 by Sisir Kumar Ghosh and Moti Lal Ghosh as a Bengali newspaper but forced to become an English Newspaper to keep its existence.
  • Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar‘s Som Prakash was banned and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar presented a reassurance of allegiance towards the government, the publication was in 1880.
  • Dacca Prakash, Sulabh Samachar, Halisahar Patrika, Bharat Mihir, Sadharani, Bharat Sanskarak etc. were declared as the top seditious publications against the government.
  • All the regional associations and political leaders of India immediately condemned and demanded its immediate withdrawal of the VPA, 1878.

Repulsion of Vernacular Press Act, 1878

The act was completely repealed by Lord Ripon, the successor of Lord Lytton in 1881. He tried to establish a liberalized administration, lowered the salt tax, tried to stabilize land taxes, passed the local self-government act in 1882. He also ended the Second Anglo-Afgan war in 1880. With the repulsion of the act, he gave native-language newspapers the freedom equal to those in English. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Vernacular Press Act passed in 1878?

The British govt enacted the Vernacular Press Act, 1878 to suppress the indigenous press and to curb their freedom of speech to restrain them from criticising the government’s policy.

  • Why was the Vernacular Press Act passed in 1878?

Vernacular Press Act, 1878 was passed to suppress the indigenous press and to restrain them from criticising the government’s policy.

  • What is the another name of the Vernacular Press Act?

Vernacular Press Act, 1878, introduced by Lytton (1876-80) was also known as the ‘Gagging Act’ as the act was very discriminatory.

  • Who passed the Vernacular Press Act?

Lord Lytton (1876-80) passed the discriminatory and oppressive Vernacular Press Act to suppress indigenous publications.

  • Who repealed the vernacular press act in 1881?

Lord Ripon, the successor of Lord Lyton repealed the Vernacular press act in 1881 in order to create a more liberalised administration.


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