Lala Mulk Raj Saraf: Father of Journalism in Jammu and Kashmir – Jammu Kashmir Latest News | Tourism
“The power of the press, you must know, is neither a gift given to us by a capitalist nor a domain bestowed on us by a government. It is a trust placed in our hands by the people and to use it honestly is our duty of conscience. Rather, we should not be misled by community considerations, nor should anything else “overshadow” us in the effective performance of our public duties. Surely the power of the press should be exercised without any fear, favor or prejudice to root out cruelty and injustice and to uphold the cause of the downtrodden and downtrodden, the inarticulate workers and farmers and the dumb paupers. No attention should be paid to close or personal sectoral or communal consultations. We should not be sentimental but realistic and should wholeheartedly follow the precepts of natural laws in this regard…”
These are the ever relevant words of the presidential speech delivered by Lala Mulk Raj Saraf, the father of journalism in Jammu and Kashmir, at the newspaper editors conference held in Srinagar on August 20, 1942. These are the words of a a great fearless and fearless visionary who against all odds and constant confrontation at many stages was able to achieve his focused and determined dream and laid the foundations of journalism in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. As we are on our way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, we cannot help but pay tribute to the patriots like Lala Mulk Raj Saraf who enabled the current generation to enjoy this independence and feel free to participate in the great celebrations of Azadi Ka. Amrit Mahotsav along the way.
Born on April 8, 1894 at Samba in Jammu district, Lala Mulk Raj Saraf did not have a pleasant childhood as at the turn of the 20th century, the plague epidemic took its toll and his entire family except him and his older brother, was wiped out. He worked hard for his survival and education. Finally, he graduated from the then Prince of Wales College, now named Government Gandhi Memorial College, Jammu, where he had the opportunity to study extensively. newspapers and magazines available free of charge in the college library and in the reading room. Writing for an academic magazine and a Kashmiri magazine published in Lahore, his interest in the political and social conditions of his home state of Jammu and Kashmir grew rapidly. Attracted by the powerful personality and equally powerful pen of Lala Lajpat Rai, Mulk Raj Saraf had the opportunity to work as deputy editor of the famous daily, a household word in the Urdu-speaking world, “Bande Matram “. The awakening and bustle of Lahore constantly reminded him of the impotence of the people of his state where there was not a single newspaper. Working in the Bande Matram, the constant urge to start a newspaper in the sprawling princely state of Jammu and Kashmir led him to investigate the feasibility of a newspaper in the state. Not discouraged by the summons to launch a newspaper in the princely state, he bid farewell to Lahore and moved to Jammu to work on his newspaper project in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Although it was the sincere desire of then-ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh to see a newspaper in his state, the persistent communication regarding the request for the establishment of a newspaper and a printing press and the refusal of the authorities took three years to grant permission on April 26, 1924 to establish a newspaper in the state. June 24, 1924 became a red day in the history of Jammu and Kashmir when the first regular issue of a weekly Urdu newspaper, “Ranbir”, which means “knight of the battlefield”, made its appearance. Thus the foundation of journalism in Jammu and Kashmir was laid and rightly in the following years Lala Mulk Raj Saraf became known as the father of journalism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir then comprising Jammu , Kashmir and Laddakh and now divided into two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, the other being the union territory of Laddakh.
In British India, Mahatma Gandhi, as part of his civil disobedience movement, launched the historic march to Dandi to break the Salt Law on March 12, 1930. This created a great stir throughout the country which led to his arrest which resulted in spontaneous hartals and processions all over the country including Jammu. All these events, the unprecedented hartal and the biggest demonstration in the history of Jammu, the donkey procession with a European hat, the bonfire of foreign clothes, the national slogans and last but not least the insulting behavior towards the British civic leader Mr. Wakefield were prominently published the next day as a special edition of the Ranbir. This upset Mr Wakefield, and British ingenuity resulted in an order from the then ruler to halt publication of the state’s only newspaper. The Ranbir was thus sacrificed on the altar of political exigency.
Intrepid journalist Lala Mulk Raj Saraf started another newspaper “Amar” in Lahore, then another “Mashir” until Ranbir was allowed to reappear after more than 18 months on November 13, 1931. Jammu was left without any publication of newspaper and Ranbir remained the only newspaper still. This 18-month period had witnessed many political upheavals. From August 30, 1943, the Ranbir began to be published twice a week. It was December 1, 1946, the Ranbir was allowed to appear as a daily. 1946 was also the centenary year of the Treaty of Amritsar between the British India East Company and Maharaja Gulab Singh. The treaty laid the foundation for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Ranbir published a voluminous special issue titled “Jammu and Kashmir Encyclopaedia” which has been recognized as a document of great historical significance.
Ranbir’s persistent demand for the accession of the state to India upset the authorities of the time and once again the order was issued for the closure of the newspaper in June 1947. While much trouble had already was done, Mahatma Gandhi visited the Maharaja in Srinagar in July 1947. There was a change of authority and once again the order forbidding the publication of Ranbir was withdrawn on August 26, 1947. The Ranbir’s position was justified but, alas, the state had a golden opportunity to join the Indian Union in time. The Ranbir reappeared on September 10, 1947, when the most important issue of state relations with India was still looming. On October 23, 1947, armed Pakistani tribesmen entered Kashmir through Muzaffarabad. They were soon on their way to Srinagar. In Garhi, the leader of the Dogra army, Brigadier Rajinder Singh had to give his life to stop the advance of the marauaders. On the night of October 24, Dussehra Day, the city of Srinagar was plunged into darkness as the Mahoora Power Station had been badly damaged by looters. India was asked for military aid to save the state from Pakistan’s unprovoked aggression. The Indian government took the decision to grant military aid to drive out the armed members of the tribe. The Ranbir, of course, welcomed Jammu and Kashmir’s joining India, although the delay in implementing far-reaching change left much to be desired. The state was fully experiencing the horrors of a full-scale war.
The relaxation of state press laws resulted in the publication of several state newspapers and periodicals, but there was no children’s magazine. Lala Mulk Raj Saraf published the first monthly magazine “Rattan” for children in December 1934. Soon it was considered one of the three best-edited magazines in the country. The ill-fated partition of the country upended the publication arrangements of Rattan as some of the services of some of its Lahore-based artists and calligraphers were no longer available. Rattan made its last appearance in September 1947, when it was at the height of its glory.
The following excerpt from the presidential address of Lala Mulk Raj Saraf at the Fourth Indian Conference on Adult Education in Srinagar on August 39, 1943 clearly reflects his insight into the role and importance of education regardless of the age and which was and is still followed by many social protection programs: –
“Those who agree with me that adult education is an important need of our time should not feel discouraged by the current attitude of government indifference. Rather, they should take it up as a challenge to their sense of self-respect and patriotism and intensify the movement by any means at their disposal… It is not an activity that can be undertaken lightly or with a view to gaining goodwill of those whose favors some workers are eager to curry. Adult education, in addition to raising the civic level of people and training them, men and women, for a better life, is a powerful weapon in a country like India, which is on the threshold of a great social and political progress. Adult education is a serious business, which will demand all the seriousness, intelligence and patriotism of those who engage in it…”
The following quote was read while Mr. Mulk Raj Saraf received Padma Shri by the President at the Durbar Hall in Rastrapati Bhavan on April 3, 1976.
‘Shri Mulk Raj Saraf (81) is a veteran journalist from Jammu and Kashmir, with a career spanning half a century of distinguished journalism as well as social service to his credit.
“Shri Saraf graduated in 1919 and later dropped out of a law course in Lahore to start his career as a journalist as deputy editor of the famous nationalist newspaper “Bande Matram” under Lala Lajpat Rai. In 1924, Shri Saraf founded, as editor, the very first newspaper in Jammu and Kashmir under the name “Ranbir”. Later, as an advocate of the struggle for freedom, the newspaper had its share of trouble when its publication was banned in 1930 because of its so-called “subversive propaganda” in connection with the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi in that time. The “Ranbir” reappeared in September of the same year and in the critical moments that followed, the “Ranbir” played an important role in mobilizing popular resistance against Pakistani aggression. Between 1934 and 1947, Shri Saraf also published “Rattan”, which was the first Urdu newspaper for children.
Now in his eighties, Shri Mulk Raj Saraf continues to be active, interested in original and diverse forms of journalism. He has published nearly half a dozen books illuminating various facets of state life. Recently, Shri Saraf donated all records of ‘Ranbir’ and ‘Rattan’ to University of Jammu for research.
Shri Saraf has always associated herself with a broader social cause of a constructive character.
With his long and distinguished service to the cause of journalism, Shri Saraf is rightly regarded as the father of journalism in Jammu and Kashmir”.
(The author is trustee of the Jamna Devi Gian Devi Saraf Trust founded by the late Lala Mulk Raj Saraf and his late son Sh. Om Prakash Saraf)