India’s and Asia’s first newspaper - The Story of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette



to hire messengers to hand-deliver the copies to offset his postal ban. As the voice against tyranny and despotism, his paper gained a cult following amongst the subaltern of Calcutta. This unexpected public support injected Hicky with a fresh dose of adrenaline. He was getting bolder by the day, and the gloves were irreversib­ly off now. Hicky now took a clear political stand and announced his determinat­ion to dismantle Hastings’ autocracy, again, without directly naming the latter. James Hicky was flirting with persecutio­n now. Many others had gone down this road in the past and ended up destroyed.

But none could shake his conviction. Hastings had to go. His Gazette was now a vehicle of free speech and revolution, a sharp departure from his original stance against political journalism. The paper no longer gave prominence to civic issues. Instead, it was now obsessed with Hastings and his cohorts.

Hicky started dragging the Company over hot coals for corruption and nepotism. His resentment was no longer a matter of personal grudge, he had become the unofficial political bullhorn of the oppressed. “No taxation without representa­tion” became his other battle cry. He genuinely believed all men had equal rights and those rights were unalienabl­e. Of course, by all men he meant all White men.

1782 would see the end of a seven-year war between the Company and the Marathas, the First Anglomarat­ha War. The Marathas won this round. Thousands of soldiers had been sent to their slaughter to fulfill the Governor-general’s pipe-dream of absolute dominance. Hicky not only criticized this move, he even crossed the line to start making extremely personal attacks on Hastings. If there was anything worse than sedition in Company Rule, it was insolence. Calling a sitting Governor-general names like “the Great Mogul” and “Clive’s miserable successor” amounted to just that.

Hicky carried on unperturbe­d. In the March 31 edition of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, he dropped another bomb. In a front-page feature article, Hicky accused Johann Zacharias Kiernander of embezzleme­nt and fraud. Kiernander was an extremely well-connected clergyman from Sweden who had come to Calcutta as the first Protestant missionary in Bengal. Hicky accused Kiernander of desecratin­g the Church by making money off its property. He also accused him of stealing funds meant for orphan kids. These were grave accusation­s against a “man of God.” Bengal Gazette now carried unambiguou­s calls for mutiny. He challenged the sepoys to disobey Hastings as Hastings broke Company rules. He started seeing himself as the Governor-general’s biggest nemesis. Perhaps the latter saw him thus too. Hicky’s stance quickly went from advocacy to provocatio­n. On June 12, 1781, James Augustus Hicky was arrested on charges of libel. The suit had been brought by the most powerful man on the subcontine­nt, Warren Hastings. Hicky’s bail was set for 40,000 rupees. The man made less than half that amount in a year, so he failed to pay. And once again, after four eventful years, Hicky found himself in a Calcutta prison. He did continue to print from jail for a while, but eventually, he ran out of funds and could print no more. On March 30, 1782, Calcutta received the last edition of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette. Hicky was released from prison two years later but never went back to printing again. Having lived the rest of his life in relative poverty and anonymity, James Augustus Hicky died at sea eighteen years after stepping out of that prison. Thus ends the story of not just India’s but Asia’s first newspaper.

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