At a time when Christian missionaries were propagating their religion in the state, two young Hindu men in Amritsar set out to counter it with a 20 by 26-inch four-page newspaper. Little did they know that ‘Akhbaar Sri Darbar Sahib Sri Amritsar Ji’, printed on lithographic limestone, would go into history as the first Punjabi […]
At a time when Christian missionaries were propagating their religion in the state, two young Hindu men in Amritsar set out to counter it with a 20 by 26-inch four-page newspaper. Little did they know that ‘Akhbaar Sri Darbar Sahib Sri Amritsar Ji’, printed on lithographic limestone, would go into history as the first Punjabi newspaper.
Experts feel that even after 150 years, by and large Punjabi journalism is still to grow out of its religious boundaries.
“The newspaper was started on March 1, 1867. So, this year marks 150 years of Punjabi journalism,” says Prof Narinder Singh Kapoor, former dean, Punjabi University, Patiala.
Prof Narinder Singh has documented ‘Akhbaar Sri Darbar Sahib Sri Amritsar Ji’ as the “first-ever Punjabi newspaper published in Gurmukhi script” in his Punjabi book ‘Development of Punjabi Journalism’.
Munshi Hari Naryan was the editor of the newspaper and Firaya Mal, the manager. The two were followers of Hindi language.
Priced at two annas, the handwritten newspaper would carry a picture of Darbar Sahib on the masthead and the matter — mainly translated from other papers — was set in two columns.
The name — ‘Akhbaar Sri Darbar Sahib Sri Amritsar Ji’ — gave the impression that the newspaper was inclined towards Sikh religion but, in reality, the fortnightly from Amritsar was started for the propaganda of Hindu religion and would use Hindi written in Gurmukhi script.
“It was a pro-establishment newspaper as it didn’t have a single word on the anti-British Kuka Movement,” Prof Kapoor says.
As per different works on the history of Punjabi journalism, this paper was followed by a bilingual Hindi and Gurmukhi paper ‘Sukib Sambodhni’, which was brought out by Pandit Santokh Singh in 1875.
“Most of the newspapers in Punjabi brought out over the next 40 years were religiously-driven,” says Dr Megha Singh, former assistant editor, Punjabi Tribune. He is the author of a book titled ‘History of Punjabi Journalism’.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Punjabi newspapers started gaining ground as a weapon of resistance to the British colonial rule. Historians term first 19 years of the 20th century as a vibrant period in the history of Punjabi journalism, when 80 newspapers were brought out, but most of them did not last a year. Those were the times when distinction between views and news was easily made.
The Ghadar uprising and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre gave birth to political journalism in Punjabi language. Charan Singh ‘Shaheed’ was the most popular journalist of those times.
According to historians, the next 15 years of journalism starting from 1920 was influenced by the Akali movement.
It is remembered as the “most glorious period”.
“The popularity of Punjabi newspapers was such that they would sell in black. A large section of society learned Punjabi only to know what was being reported in the newspapers,” says Prof Kapoor.
This phase is marked by ‘invention of headlines’, beginning of publication of advertisements, and contribution to the development of modern Punjabi literature.
When it comes to contemporary times, experts feel that the maximum space in Punjabi journalism is still captured by newspapers started on communal lines.
“Like most newspapers in other languages, Punjabi journalism has failed to set new trends,” says Prof Kapoor.
About the current scenario, Navjit Johal, former head of the journalism department, Punjabi University, feels that except for one or two organisations, Punjabi journalism is not attracting the best of talent because of low salaries.