Lala Mulk Raj Saraf: Father of Journalism in Jammu and Kashmir

Rachna Vinod
‘The power of Press, you must know, is neither a gift bestowed on us by any capitalist nor an estate conferred on us by any Government. It’s a trust placed in our hands by the people and to use it honestly is our conscientious duty. We should not be led rather misled, by any communal considerations nor anything else should ‘dwarf’ us in the efficient discharge of our public duties. The power of Press should certainly be exercised without any fear, favour or prejudice in uprooting cruelty and injustice and in advocating the cause of the oppressed and the down-trodden, the inarticulate labourers and farmers, and the dumb-driven indigents. No heed should be paid to any sectoral or communal narrow or personal consultations. We should not be sentimental but realistic and should whole heartedly follow the dictates of natural laws in this respect…”
These are the ever relevant words from the Presidential Address delivered by Lala Mulk Raj Saraf, the father of journalism in Jammu and Kashmir at the Newspapers Editors Conference held in Srinagar August 20,1942. These are the words of undaunted, fearless great visionary who against all odds and constant confrontation at many steps was able to realise his dream focussed single-minded and laid the foundation of journalism in the erstwhile vast princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. While we are on our way to celebrate 75th Anniversary of Indian Independence, We cannot help paying tribute to the patriots like Lala Mulk Raj Saraf who made it possible for the present generation to enjoy this independence and feel free to participate in great celebrations of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav along the way.
Born on April 8,1894 at Samba in Jammu district Lala Mulk Raj Saraf didn’t have a pleasant childhood as at the turn of 20th century plague epidemic played havoc and his whole family except he and his elder 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 got opportunity to study many. newspapers and magazines available free of cost in college library and the reading room. Writing for college magazine and a Kashmiri magazine published from Lahore, his interest in the political and social conditions of his home state Jammu and Kashmir developed fast. Attracted by powerful personality and equally powerful pen Lala Lajpat Rai, Mulk Raj Saraf got an opportunity to work as sub-editor of famous daily newspaper, a household word throughout the Urdu-knowing world, ‘Bande Matram’. Awakening and bustle in Lahore constantly reminded him of helplessness 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 then vast princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, made him study the feasibility of a newspaper in the State. Not discouraged by the warnings to start a newspaper in princely State, he bade goodbye to Lahore and settled down in Jammu to work on his project of a newspaper in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Inspite of this being the heartfelt desire of the then ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh to see a newspaper in his State, the persistent communication about request to start a newspaper and a printing press and denial by the authorities took three years to grant permission on 26th April1924 to start a newspaper in the State. 24th June1924 became a Red Letter Day in the history of Jammu and Kashmir when the first regular issue of weekly newspaper in Urdu, ‘Ranbir ‘ meaning ‘the knight of battlefield’ made its appearance. Thus foundation of journalism in Jammu and Kashmir was laid and rightly in later years Lala Mulk Raj Saraf came to be known as Father of Journalism in the State of Jammu and Kashmir then comprising Jammu, Kashmir and Laddakh and now divided in two Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, the other being Union territory of Laddakh.
In British India, Mahatma Gandhi, in pursuance of his civil disobedience movement, started the historic march to Dandi to break salt law on March 12,1930. It created a great stir in the whole country which led to his arrest which resulted in spontaneous hartals and processions throughout the country including Jammu. All these events, the unprecedented hartal and the biggest demonstration in the history of Jammu, the procession of donkey with a European hat on, the bonfire of foreign clothes, the national slogans and last but not the least the insulting behaviour towards the Britisher civic chief Mr. Wakefield were prominently published the following day in the form of special edition of the Ranbir. This upset Mr Wakefield, and the British ingenuity resulted in an order from the then ruler to stop publication of the only newspaper from the State. The Ranbir was thus sacrificed at the altar of political exigency.
Fearless journalist Lala Mulk Raj Saraf started another newspaper ‘Amar’ from Lahore and then another ‘Mashir’ till Ranbir was permitted to re-appear after the lapse of more than 18 months on November 13,1931. Jammu had remained without any newspaper publication and Ranbir remained the only newspaper still. This period of 18 months had witnessed many political upheavals. From August 30,1943 the Ranbir began to be published twice a week. It was on December 1,1946, the Ranbir was allowed to appear as a daily. 1946 was also the year which marked the centenary year of the Amritsar Treaty between the British India East Company and Maharaja Gulab Singh. The treaty laid the foundation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Ranbir issued a voluminous special issue titled ” Jammu and Kashmir Encyclopaedia” which has been recognised as a document of great historical importance.
The persistent demand of Ranbir for the accession of State to India upset the then authorities and once again order was served for closure of the newspaper on June 1947. While a great deal of harm had already been done, Mahatma Gandhi paid a visit to Maharaja in Srinagar in July 1947. There was a change in authorities and once again order prohibiting publication of Ranbir was withdrawn on August 26,1947. The stand of the Ranbir was vindicated but, alas, the State had a golden opportunity to accede to the Indian Union in time. The Ranbir re-emerged on September 10,1947, when the all important question of the State’s relationship with India was still impending solution. On October 23,1947, the armed tribesmen from Pakistan crossed into Kashmir through Muzaffarabad. They were soon on their way to Srinagar. At Garhi, the Chief of the Dogra Army, Brigadier Rajinder Singh had to lay down his life to stop advance of the marauaders. On the night of October 24, the Dussehra day, Srinagar city was plunged into darkness as the powerhouse at Mahoora had been badly damaged by the raiders. India was asked for military aid to save the State from Pakistan’s unprovoked aggression. The Government of India took decision to give military aid to drive out the armed tribesmen. The Ranbir of course, hailed the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India although the delay in effecting a change of far-reaching significance had left much to be desired. The State was fully experiencing the horrors of a full-scale war.
The relaxation of the State Press Laws resulted in publication of several newspapers and periodicals from the State but there was no magazine for children. Lala Mulk Raj Saraf brought out the first monthly magazine ‘Rattan’ for the children in December 1934. Soon it was regarded as one of the three best edited magazines of the country. Unfortunate partition of the country dislocated the arrangements for the publication of the Rattan because some of the services of some of its artists and calligraphists based in Lahore were no more available. The Rattan made its last appearance in September,1947, when it was at the height of its glory.
Following extract from Lala Mulk Raj Saraf’s Presidential Address at the fourth India Adult Education Conference at Srinagar on August 39,1943 clearly reflects his farsightedness about the role and importance of education irrespective of age and which was and is still followed by many social welfare schemes:-
” Those who feel with me that Adult Education is a significant need of times should not feel discouraged by the present indifferent attitude of the government. They should rather take it up as a challenge to their sense of self-respect and patriotism and intensify the movement by all means at their disposal… It is not activity that can be taken up in a light mood or with a view to gaining the goodwill of those whose favours some workers are anxious to earn. Adult education, apart from raising the civic standard of the people and training them, both men and women, for better living, is a potent weapon in a country like India, which is on threshold of great social and political advancement. Adult education is a serious buisness, which will claim the whole earnestness, intelligence and patriotism of those engaged in it…”
Following citation was read out as Mr. Mulk Raj Saraf was awarded Padma Shri by the President at the Durbar Hall of Rastrapati Bhavan on April 3,1976.
‘ Shri Mulk Raj Saraf (81) is a veteran journalist of Jammu and Kashmir, with a career of half a century of distinguished journalism as well as social service to his credit.
“Shri Saraf graduated in 1919 and thereafter abandoned a law course at Lahore to start his journalistic career as a sub-editor of the famed 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 freedom struggle, the paper had its share of troubles when its publication was banned in 1930 because of its allegedly ” subversive propaganda” in connection with Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest at that time. The ‘Ranbir’ re-appeared in September that year and in critical times that followed, ‘Ranbir’played an important role in mobilising popular resistance against Pakistan aggression. Between 1934 and 1947 Shri Saraf also brought out ‘Rattan’ which was the foremost Urdu journal 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 throwing light on various facets of the life of the State. Recently, Shri Saraf has gifted to the Jammu University, for research, all the files of the ‘Ranbir’and ‘Rattan’.
Shri Saraf has always associated himself with larger social cause of a constructive character.
With his long and distinguished services in the cause of journalism, Shri Saraf is rightly regarded as the father of journalism in Jammu and Kashmir”.
(The author is Trustee, The Jamna Devi Gian Devi Saraf Trust founded by late Lala Mulk Raj Saraf and his son late Sh. Om Prakash Saraf)