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Women, Press and Protest

The subject

Although a lot has been written about British rule in India- the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Empire- historians are just beginning to  acknowledge the important role that women played in the nationalist cause, even though at the time Gandhi openly talked of the importance of female contributions. How those women, who led economic boycotts of British goods, used print communications, has never been specifically studied.

This project takes a particular period (1929-32) in Lucknow and the United Provinces region, when protests were led by women from the Nehru family, and attempts to quantify the impact on the leading English language newspaper in the area- The Pioneer.  The project also rediscovers the forgotten and hidden history of Tamil speaking women in the French region of Pondicherry- a favourite tourist beauty spot today.

Awareness of French Indian territories

France had colonial settlements in India right up to 1962. In the biggest city and area – Pondicherry – the nationalist movement was Tamil speaking and the area returned a communist deputy to the Paris Chamber of Deputies. According to his memoirs, indigenous women played an important part in the freedom movement. Political awareness of the need for colonial freedom first became a concrete phenomenon during three 2 year long textile strikes in French and European owned mills, and after the violent death of 12 pickets in 1936. Women picketed on a daily basis, and continued to be active in 1948 when government hired armed gangs of thugs roamed around villages, setting fire to houses in order to pressurise the local population not to support the nationalist cause. This project investigates ways that newspapers framed these issues and the way in which print communications were used by rebels.

Research methods

The project uses economic history methodology to quantify the influence of female protesters. ForThe Pioneer newspaper, researchers are comparing the frequency and incidence of boycott editorial coverage with a decline in advertising revenue when advertisers withdrew their support following the conversion of the then British editor – F.W.Wilson – to the nationalist cause. Researchers are also looking for evidence of the influence of Nehru on Wilson’s thinking, as the two men were close friends. Finally, the project is measuring the amount of attention given to female protest in other newspapers.