Women, Press and Protest in British and French India, 1928-48

Principal Investigator: Dr. Jane Chapman

Research Assistants (2): Dr. Sadie Clifford; French language researcher TBC

Administrative Assistant: Rebecca Inkley

Tamil translator: TBC

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council


This project, running until 30 June 2011, studies the impact of women's economic and political protest on and through newspaper contributions, revealing two hidden aspects. First women's protest role in the forgotten French outpost of Pondicherry, the main centre of population amongst small scattered territories ruled by France from the 17th century to 1962. Second the case of the collapse of The Pioneer newspaper (famous for employing Kipling), when advertisers withdrew their support due to pro-nationalist coverage of female boycotts. There will be a touring exhibition of the project findings to all three countries, a website resource for schools and content from both research projects will appear in a series of articles and as part of a book entitled Gender, Citizenship and the Media (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), co-authored with Kate Lacey.


 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. For The 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.


Touring Exhibition
The findings of the project will be disseminated internationally during 2011 with a touring exhibition of female pioneers in the nationalist cause , displayed as blown up photos , pamphlets and newspaper articles. Exhibition venues will include the foyers of important libraries in India, Britain and France.


A website for schools
The project findings can be used for schools project work as part of the UK Empire curriculum. These, along with exhibition venues and dates (see above) will also be posted by Lincoln University in 2010 and 2011.