This is the story of a forgotten newspaper that was in a league of its own, a banned daily that fueled India’s first war of independence, the indomitable Payam-e-Azadi.
On the afternoon of 29 March 1857, Mangal Pandey, a sepoy of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry in Barrackpore, rebelled against his commanders, marking the inception of the Great Indian Sepoy Rebellion.
A month earlier, Dewan Azimullah Khan, the secretary of Nana Saheb, returned from England and Constantinople with a French printing press and a great vision of publishing a patriotic firebrand newspaper.
Azimullah, who grew up as an orphan, was a brilliant intellectual with sharp political acumen. He was the Muslim advisor at a Hindu court and the mastermind behind the Sepoy rebellion.
Payam-e-Azadi, aka ‘The Message of Freedom’ was born as a daily newspaper, written in Hindi and Urdu, and printed in Lithopress. Mirza Bedar Bakht, one of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s descendants, was appointed as the chief editor.
Payam-e-Azadi was first published in February 1857 from Delhi and later appeared in several parts of British India and by May, 1857 the Daily had declared its open support to the rebellion.
The sharp and impactful editorials did wonders in mobilizing and motivating the masses to the cause of the rebellion and became a symbol of resistance against the divisive and communal policies of the Company.
The editors wrote, “Hindus and Muslims of India! Rise, brothers, rise. Among all the blessings bestowed by God to man, the most valuable is liberty. Can that mean, treacherous tyrant, be able to deprive us forever? No, never.”
“The Britishers will try to set up Hindus against Muslims and Muslims against Hindus. But brothers, do not fall into their trap and treachery. Hindus, Muslims, brothers – forget all your petty differences and stand on the battlefield under one banner.”
The fiery editorials posed a mammoth threat to the empire. The newspaper was promptly banned for an indefinite period. Bedar Bakht was brutally tortured, forced to eat pork meat and then hanged till death.
Payam-e-Azadi had rattled the mighty British empire so much that when they took control of Delhi, they searched every home for copies of Payam-e-Azadi and if found, each member of that house was hanged to death.
Indian press should be forever indebted to Azimullah Khan and Bedar Bakht who taught the fundamentals of fearless journalism in front of a ruthless authority. Payam-e-Azadi has been largely forgotten today, so are its values, spirit and spine.
- Man behind the war of independence 1857/Lutfullah
- Syed, La presse de la liberté: Journée d’études organisée par le Groupe de Travail edited by Eve Johansson