Mathrubhumi begins its centenary celebrations

From freedom fighting to building an inclusive democratic nation

Mathrubhumi begins its centenary celebrations in March 2022. Photo Mathrubhumi

On 18 March 2022, the centenary celebrations of the Mathrubhumi daily and news media group were inaugurated with the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi acknowledging the role of the print media in the freedom struggle and the continued tasks of establishing democracy and nation-building. He said that “Mathrubhumi is a key part of the glorious tradition of newspapers and journals founded all across India to unify the people of our nation against colonial rule.

“If we look back at our history, several greats have been associated with some or the other [news] paper. Lokmanya Tilak nurtured Kesari and Mahratta. Gopal Krishna Gokhale was associated with Hitavada. When we remember Mahatma Gandhi, we also remember his works in Young India, Navjivan, and Harijan.

“Several leading lights such as Shri KP Kesava Menon, KA Damodar Menon, Kerala Gandhi Shri K Kelappan, and Kuroor Neelakandan Namboodiripad, have been associated with Mathrubhumi. I would like to remember MP Veerendra Kumar, who oversaw the rapid growth of Mathrubhumi. We will never forget his efforts to uphold India’s democratic ethos during the Emergency. He was a great orator, scholar, and was passionate about the environment,” the prime minister added.

Mathrubhumi began as a tribune of the Indian freedom struggle when its founders began collecting money to establish the paper in February 1922 in Kozhikode in Kerala. It began publication a year later on 18 March 1923 which was also near the first anniversary of Gandhi’s arrest by British officials on 10 March 1922 for sedition – a charge for which he was sentenced to prison for six years. 

The founders’ mission statement was universal, calling for the upliftment of the downtrodden all over the world, for political freedom, political and social equality while championing the unity of Kerala, and taking pride in the diversity of the country. The paper’s brightest chapters include the agitations spearheaded by its founders for temple entry that changed India’s thinking about the social sickness of untouchability. 

As Rajmohan Gandhi writes on the occasion, “Mathrubhumi’s centenary is a milestone where the modern traveler who pauses to ask questions can find extraordinary answers. He learns that the courageous Malayalis who founded Mathrubhumi one hundred years ago thought that climbing one steep mountain would not be satisfying enough. They wished to climb at least three. They wanted India’s independence from the British. They wanted social equality among Kerala’s separated castes and outcastes. And they wanted to keep different religious communities on a common platform.

“Each goal was crazy, and the founders made their project crazier still by telling themselves that they would take a difficult route to reach the summit – the route of logic (pointing out that humanity was one), of personal example, and risk. They would risk imprisonment. They would risk opprobrium. “The British will call us disloyal. So will our own traditionalists. Let them. Liberty and equality demand an uphill climb.

“History has recorded that for the historic Vaikom Satyagraha (1924-25) the initiative was taken by the Mathrubhumi founders and their reform-driven associates. Gandhi responded, and India’s social and political future changed. History has also recorded that Vaikom’s biggest achievement was not that one hoary temple reluctantly opened some of its doors to long-excluded human beings. Vaikom’s amazing achievement was that Malayalis everywhere, and Indians everywhere, realized that untouchability was a sickness that Indian society had to face and overcome.”

Begun as a thrice-weekly newspaper in Kozhikode in March 1923, the news media group currently publishes the daily from multiple centers in Kerala and several national metros. The group currently has several other periodicals and digital and electronic platforms. In the past more than a decade since 2011, it has modernized its infrastructure and printing plants with significant investments. Its largest plant with new double-width presses and automated mailrooms in Kozhikode was officially inaugurated last year. Mathrubhumi is currently building a new cultural and literary center in Kaloor in the heart of Kochi.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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