India's Newspaper Revolution: Capitalism, Politics and the Indian-Language Press 1977-1999

By Babbili, Anantha | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

India's Newspaper Revolution: Capitalism, Politics and the Indian-Language Press 1977-1999


Babbili, Anantha, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


India's Newspaper Revolution: Capitalism, Politics and the IndianLanguage Press 1977-1999. Robin Jeffrey. New York: St Martin's Press, 2000. 234 pp. $65 hbk.

Scholars have often produced comparative journalism studies and scrutinized international joumalism practice overwhelmingly through the lens of the English language. Most of the studies in the Western academia in the last four decades have been limited in the sense that they concentrated on the English-language press of a non-English speaking country

Refreshingly, Robin Jeffrey's work provides a tacit departure from the norm. Challenges that India provides to a Western scholar, indeed to an India-born scholar, are too numerous to explain and too enormous to comprehend. The world's largest democracy that surpassed a billion mark in population recently has more than twenty-five official languageson top of 1,100 distinct vernacular languages and dialects. An anthropologist friend of mine in India is fond of telling me that scholars find one language or a dialect every year in India that has not been counted earlier in official statistics. In India, this is only a beginning. Scholars, both Indian and foreign, are faced with a magnitude of complexity in culture, tradition, and social ethos they rarely experience in any part of the world.

Out of this baffling milieu, the author has produced a first-rate analysis of one of the most significant aspects of Indian democracy: the vernacular press. India's vibrant journalistic history has been documented rigorously both in India and in Britain. The advocacy journalism practiced by Mahatma Gandhi during the struggle for freedom from colonial rule of Great Britain, the early editors' penchant for social reforms such as eradication of the caste system, equality for women, and the creation of a secular India have all made their way into history books. In a typical post-colonial habit, even Indian scholars hitherto fore focused on the English language newspapers of India. What makes Jeffrey's efforts different is his quest for understanding of the role Indian newspapers play in churning out their editions day after day in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, Bengali, and other prominent languages of southern and northern India.

The author admits his lack of fluency in languages of the subcontinent but he is familiar with the Devangiri script and, at least, two Indian languages. That in itself is refreshingly original for a media scholar. I was also impressed with his grasp of contemporary Indian politics, economic history, and the singularly important role the rural press plays in the maintenance of the world's largest, and often unmanageable, democratic governance. The author has a clear picture of the evolving India, its sense of direction, and its prominent place in a high-tech world. …

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