The poster war of Indian freedom struggle
Posters played a big role during the pre-independence era and were effectively used by the British to suppress dissent, while the Indian leaders actively led the freedom struggle using posters to unite countrymen to fight the British.
The Regional Archives Office, Prayagraj division, came across these rare posters – nearly nine decades old – in police files of freedom fighters. These were confiscated by the British at the time of the arrest of freedom fighters and submitted in court as evidence against them.
According to Prayagraj regional archive officer Amit Agnihotri, the posters printed by freedom fighters in Hindi and stuck at public places were recovered from police files of freedom fighters, dumped for around nine decades in record rooms of different district collectorates of UP, including Prayagraj, Hamirpur, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, and others.
“The posters made by the freedom fighters carried the message of unity against the British by boycotting its services like railways, post and telegraph, etc for hitting the British economy. The headline on one poster reads ‘Rail, Dak, Taar ko Tahas-Nahas Kar Dijiye’ (Destroy railway, post and telegraph services). It explains that derailing British economy would result in non-payment of salaries to police and army, which in turn, would force Indians engaged in the police and army quit their jobs and join the freedom struggle. This would also bring an end to excesses committed on freedom fighters by Indians appointed by British in its police force,” he said.
The poster also warned that if Indians did not boycott using British services, freedom fighters would be forced to damage the infrastructure of railway, post and telegraph.
However, to counter such posters put up by freedom fighters, British officials got posters designed in Hindi in picture story form conveying the message that breaking law by organising ‘satyagrahs’ or any other form of revolt, was wrong and illegal. The poster written in red ink narrates the fate of an untrained car driver meeting with an accident. It compared the Congress to the untrained driver. The British-made posters promoted the message that Congress leaders lacked experience and were damaging Indians by provoking them to revolt against the British.
The poster also carried a couplet in Hindi of eminent poets conveying the message of doing good and refraining from the evil ways of freedom fighters.