The Samaja: The Lingering Legacy

Living Legends: 50 Great Indian Newspapers

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee*

What is Malayala Manorama to a Malayali, Anandabazar Patrika to a Bengali, Samaja is to an Odia: not just a newspaper, but a part of his linguistic identity. Like the other two newspapers, Samaja too started with a nationalistic and altruistic mission and with time has grown into an institution. Into its 96th year of publication now, it has not only retained its position as one of the top three largest circulated Odia newspapers but also has held to its legacy of physical social service. What other newspapers are doing now under CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Samaja used to do that and more, when the word CSR was not even in circulation. From providing relief during natural disasters like flood and cyclone to offering scholarships to the needy and meritorious students- Samaja has always been at the forefront of social altruistic activities.

Pandit Gopabandhu Das, one of the greatest social thinker and freedom fighter of Odisha founded The Samaja as a weekly in 1919 with two objectives: a. to highlight the plight of the people of Odisha and to bring it to the notice of the administrators and b. to support the cause of freedom struggle of the country. Eventually, it also contributed to the development of the Odia language and amalgamation of Odia speaking areas into a separate Odisha state.

Samaja was first published on October 4, 1919, from Sakhigopal, about 25 km from Puri. A four-page tabloid-size paper- it was priced at 2 paise per copy and the annual subscription was ₹ 1.50. It was shifted to Puri on January 3, 1925. Two years later on July 28, 1927, it was shifted to Cuttack. Pandit Gopabandhu Das continued his relentless struggle against the British rulers through the columns of the paper. He continued to edit the paper until 1928.

Samaja was handed over to Servants of the People Society (Lok Sevak Mandal) in June 1928. On April 6, 1930, it was made daily. Pandit Gopabandhu was not there to see this eventful beginning of the new life of Samaja. After him, Pandit Nilakantha Das and Pandit Godavarish Mishra became the editors.  Pandit Lingaraj Mishra became the editor in 1930 and continued until 1957. Acharya Harihar Das, Radhanath Rath, Udaynath Sarangi, and Ramchandra Dash became the editors temporarily. Sriharsha Mishra became the editor in 1957 and continued until 1961 while Radhanath Rath became the editor in 1961 and continued until 1998. After him, his daughter Manorama Mohapatra became the executive editor. After her, Sarat Mishra became the editor of the Samaja. Sarat Mishra, a career journalist, had worked in The Amrita Bazaar Patrika in Kolkata and Sambad, Bhubaneswar. He was the editor of Anupam Bharat before he joined Samaja as its editor in 2006. Mishra relinquished editorship of Samaja in early 2010 and Chandrabhanu Pattnaik became the editor for some months. Then Pramod Kumar Mahapatra and after him, Dr. Satya Ray took over the editorial responsibilities as managing editors for some months. On May 12, 2011, Gopal Krushna Mahapatra became the editor and after him, Susanta Mohanty became the editor.

Samaja could engage the attention of both discerning and common people from the very beginning of its publication. With time it evolved and developed. It became synonymous with the national movement and was used as a mouthpiece of the Indian National Congress to rouse the latent patriotism of the Odias. It carried the intended message to every nook and corner of the state. The success of the Samaja fired the imagination of those who realized the potential of this new medium to shape public opinion. With this, journalism as a profession assumed an aura of social respectability. Journalists were regarded as public-spirited persons with intellectual acumen. It was Samaja that set a benchmark in journalism in Odisha both as a mission and as a profession.

Samaja has had the good fortune of having great editors from its beginning. However, it was Radhanath Rath, who gave Samaja its distinct identity and status as a public-spirited, people-focused no-nonsense newspaper. It was he who converted Samaja from a weekly to a daily in 1930- on the day of Dandi March. He became the editor of Samaja in 1946- a responsibility that he shouldered till his death. At his death on 11 Feb 1998, he was the longest-serving editor of India.

Though Samaja is considered as a conservative paper by many media pundits, it has evolved with time and kept pace with technology. It is one of the first Odia newspapers to have an e-paper version. Presently it is published from ten places including Kolkata and Visakhapatnam.

* Head, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Dhenkanal, Odisha

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