Rast Goftar – the first Parsi newspaper

Dadabhai Naoroji was its editor…
This is the front page of the Parsi newspaper ‘Rast Goftar’ of February 1861. Did you know about it? I didn’t. And I have been a newspaperman and an editor all my working life. ‘Rast Goftar’ meant ‘The Truth Teller’. This was an Anglo-Gujarati daily first published in Bombay in 1854 by Dadabhai Naoroji and Kharshedji Cama to champion social reform among Parsis in India.
The story, according to Wikipedia, is that a riot between Parsis and Muslims over the printing of a picture of Prophet Mohammed in 1851 was the immediate cause of the founding of ‘Rast Goftar’. As riots in Bombay flared up alarmingly, Parsis reportedly became disillusioned with their leaders, and Dadabhai Naoroji started the paper with the purpose of voicing the grievances of his people.
Back in the day postal rates tended to limit the circulation of newspapers to local or nearby areas. But sometimes enthusiasm for a cause led the managers of a paper to distribute several copies of each issue free. Thus, the founders of the ‘Rast Goftar’ lost some 10,000 rupees by distributing the first issues of the paper free, impatient at the state of Parsi society, obviously in a hurry to reform it.
In 1857 the proprietors in Bombay converted their property into a joint-stock concern so that Nasarvanji Cama, who had financed the paper from the beginning, would not be the sole loss-bearer. K. R. Cama, Sorabji Shapoorji Bengalee and Navrozji Fardunji all became proprietors. The local governments subsidized it by subscribing to a certain fixed number of copies of the journal.
In 1858, circulation rose from 432 to 852, a number then unheard of for native journalism. The content widened from exclusively Parsi topics to larger questions of Indian politics. During the Rebellion of 1857, the paper remained loyal to the British, and even began the first English columns, mostly written by Navrozji Fardunji, a 19th century reformer, academic, activist and freedom fighter.
By the 1870s ‘Rast Goftar’ was one of the four daily newspapers operating in Bombay, and it was not only vigorous in itself, but was also the cause of vigor in other journals either by way of antagonism or support. That’s about all I can tell you about the ‘Rast Goftar’. I don’t know when it ceased publication and why. If any Parsi can come up with this delectable slice of history, I would be grateful.

MARK MANUEL

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