In the year 1877, a significant development took place in the legal history of India. Lawyer Thiruvarur Muthuswamy Iyer became the first Indian to be appointed to the bench of the High Court of Madras. His appointment though became a bone of contention for a rapidly developing press in the country. The rise of an Indian to the post was severely criticised by The Native Public Opinion, a journal that had lately fallen in the hands of individuals who were opposed to the general current of educated Indian opinion. It was during this period that a weekly journal was founded in Madras with the objective of countering the propaganda being carried out against Iyer by the Native Public Opinion.
The Hindu that came into being on September 20, 1878, was a landmark moment in the history of journalism in Madras. “Its growth, with the growth of newspapers in other Provinces, marked the growth of Indian nationalism,” writes the Madras Tercentenary Celebration Committee in the book it published to celebrate 300 years of Madras city. Published by a group of six people, including four law students and two teachers — T. Rangacharya, P. V. Rangacharya, D. Kesava Rao Pantulu and N. Subba Rao Pantulu, led by G. Subramania Iyer and M. Veeraraghavacharyar — it soon turned into a tri-weekly newspaper by 1883 and then to an evening daily in 1889.
By the turn of the century, it had emerged as one of the dozen papers being published across India to oppose the policies of the British Raj and the European press that it supported and promoted within the Indian subcontinent. With a seed capital of nothing more than a rupee and twelve annas, the inaugural issue of the journal was published in 100 copies at Srinidhi press in Chennai. Carrying an editorial titled ‘Ourselves’, the inaugural edition of the newspaper spoke at length on the necessity of unity among the colonised people in pursuit of “fairness and justice”.
In the 140 years since The Hindu was founded, a majority of its contemporaries have died away, but it remained, adapting to and responding to the changed epochs of Indian history as the country passed from the hands of colonial rulers to those of an Independent government and the seven decades thereafter. In the course of these years, the newspaper changed hands. In 1905 it was purchased by lawyer S. Kasturi Ranga Iyenger, whose family continues to publish the daily. At the time of his purchase, the newspaper lacked any kind of organisation and financial independence, both of which Iyenger provided. “He established the truth of the proposition that the secret of the success of a newspaper was unbending independence, accuracy, efficient service, thoroughly businesslike methods and unsullied character on the part of the conductors,” writes Madras Tercentenary Celebration Committee.
At present it continues to largely adhere to the core values propounded by Iyenger at the time he purchased its publication and holds the reputation of breaking some of the most critical news reports of the past decades. Its coverage of the Bofors arms deal scandal in the late 1980s had decided the tone of political discourse on the subject.