The contributions of Mathrubhumi to the independence movement and the growth of Malayalam language and culture are enormous.
There was discontent among certain Congress party officials in Kerala because established media outlets had ignored the party’s campaign. In other words, they chose to crowdfund a new press. On February 15, 1922, after considerable consideration, the Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Company was officially founded. KP Kesava Menon, K. Madhavan Nair, T.V. Sundaraiyar, Ambalakkattu Karunakara Menon, Kurur Neelakandan Namboodiripad, P. Achuthan, and Dr. AR Menon were the individuals who founded it. Kesava Menon was the company’s first managing director.
Earlier, in 1920, P. W. Sebastian and Kurur Neelakandan Namboodiripad launched a Malayalam newspaper in Thrissur to disseminate the word about the liberation cause. The name of the paper was ‘Lokamanayan’, and P. W. Sebastian was the printer and publisher, and Kurur Namboodiripad was the editor. Within a year, the journal was seized by the British government, and its publisher and editor, Sebastian and Kurur, were arrested and held for six months at Viyyur Jail.
After much difficulty, the Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Company was established. They planned to generate money by selling 20,000 shares for Rs 5. However, it was not a simple task, since even Congress party loyalists were hesitant to purchase one.
When the newspaper was launched in the 1920s, 3475 of the 5000 shares were acquired at a low sum of Rs 5 apiece by 352 different stockholders, 203 of whom bought just one share each. Even in the 1990s, no one individual had more than 225 shares. Mathrubhumi qualified as a “public limited company in the true sense”. With one-third of the board up for election every year, shareholders chose nine directors to serve two-year terms.
Congress was in a practically inert condition in the northern area of current Kerala following the Malabar uprising. When Menon wrote to them, several non-Keralites from the Malayalee diaspora purchased the shares. Meanwhile, a lot of individuals who cared about the same thing worked together to boost sales. Yet the goal remained elusive.
After almost a year of hard work, the Mathrubhumi team was able to purchase a press and a building in 1923. It set them back Rs 21,500. They hardly had Rs 7,500 with them. Menon asked for more time to pay back Rs 14,000, he asked for it. Robinson Road, now known as the KP Kesava Menon Road, was formerly home to the M Press Victoria Press and the office.
It was impossible to publish newspapers due to a lack of press. Later, on the same street, Mathrubhumi purchased a vintage cylinder press from a business called Vidyavilasam Press. The company used it until 1930.
By that time, all of the company’s funds had been depleted. Although the company was short on funds, the board of directors ultimately agreed to begin printing right away.
May 22, 1922: The inaugural meeting of the board was held. In this meeting presided over by its founding editor, KP Kesava Menon, K Madhavan Nair was selected as the company’s first managing director. Kurur Neelakandan Namboodiripad, the company’s founder and publisher, was given stock during the meeting.
The wages of KP Kesava Menon as the editor and Madhava Nair as MD were Rs 150 and Rs 125, respectively. In writing, at least.
The first printing was scheduled for March 18, 1923, the first anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s detention. The newspaper usually came out on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, but because March 18 was a Sunday, it didn’t come out. (It became a daily in the 1930s)
Editorial help for Menon came from P Ravunni Menon, KV Kunjunni Menon, Kozhippurathu Madhava Menon, and TP Chanthukutti Kidavu. They were resolved to write the future themselves.
On March 17th, everyone was a little early to work. Kesava Menon had a general plan for the newspaper’s 10 pages. He also wrote the paper’s mission statement.
Setting the right characters by hand in the evening to get the morning’s proofreading underway
After picking up the first issue of Mathrubhumi, Menon headed back home. In his autobiography, Kazhinja Kaalam, he describes how his relatives’ reactions upon seeing the paper for the first time were like those of parents upon seeing their newborn child.
Kesava Menon’s mission statement hit the mark on every level. Symbolically, it represented all of mankind. It announced its fervent determination to struggle for the liberation of the country and its sympathy with the suffering people throughout the globe. It reminded the readers of the obligations of human life and advocated for turning society into a better planet. It promised that Mathrubhumi would continue to prioritise helping those in need.
The importance of a united Kerala was also acknowledged in the newspaper. It proclaimed the nation’s commitment to maintaining its rich cultural diversity. It promised complete objectivity and emphasised that all people are created equal.
Mathrubhumi was born at a time of upheaval, during the nation’s fight for independence. The newspaper originated during the cultural revolution that swept Kerala in the early twentieth century. The writings of well-known individuals like Mahatma Ayyankali, Sree Narayana Guru, Kumaranasan, Sahodaran Ayyappan, Vakkom Maulavi, and VT Bhattathiripad served as the foundation for its goal and vision.
Even though Mathrubhumi often ran into losses in its early years, it didn’t matter since it wasn’t in the business of making money but rather of fomenting social discontent and tyranny. Before gaining independence, it fought valiantly against British powers.
Officials began to take notice of Kerala’s literate and politically active character in the 1940s when the “British acknowledged that Mathrubhumi reaches every village in the district of Malabar” and “a mischievous attack of the police in Mathrubhumi” is likely to do a great deal of harm among the mass of people who can read but are not able to think for themselves.
Mathrubhumi’s steadfast resistance to the colonial government never faltered. In its effort to speak truth to power, it spared no one, not even its managing director. Due to his participation in the civil disobedience campaign, the Madras High Court sent a notice to Mathrubhumi’s MD, K. Madhavan Nair, requesting an explanation for why he had not resigned as a lawyer. At the hearing, he testified that he was not affiliated with the group. Then, Mathrubhumi published an editorial that criticised Madhavan Nair’s stance. The publication made it perfectly obvious that he shouldn’t have made such a statement while he was actively participating in the battle for independence. Even if the criticism of the newspaper to which he had devoted his life pained him deeply, Madhavan Nair said, it was an act of objectivity and represented the sort of freedom that the publication practised. The following issue had an editorial that effectively ended the discussion.
The paper’s substance and readership expanded over time. Local news from various regions of Kerala and reports from reporters in Mumbai, Delhi, and London were only a few of the many types of writing that were routinely published. Kerala was seeing the beginning of a newspaper that would forever change the state.