Bhushan Vidyarthi 1937-2021

It was eight decades ago that a journalist in colonial Kenya devoted his newspaper, the Colonial Times, to exposing the evils of British colonialism in Kenya and India. He became the first journalist in Kenyan history to be jailed on charges of ‘sedition’, not once but twice. His name was Girdhari Lal Vidyarthi. The paper folded in 1962, Girdhari Lal passed away in 1985 in Nairobi, but the story does not end there.

Colourprint, a printing cum publishing press, was established in the 70s by Vidyarthi’s three sons: Anil, Sudhir and Bhushan. Bhushan, born in 1937, was the oldest and therefore head of the firm. Their father’s earlier fight against colonialism was now transformed into a crusade against poverty and injustice, and for championing freedom of the press. Here was a business venture with a vision and a mission!

Moi took over from Kenyatta I and the noose of dictatorship got tighter still and freedom of the press was an early victim. Colourprint rose to the occasion and printed what many others would not dare. And they paid the price! From having its press fire-bombed and printing machinery vandalised to repeated confiscation of the already printed and bound books, magazines and journals; the authorities stopped at nothing to dissuade Bhushan Vidyarthi and his brothers.

 In April 1995, in the era of multi-partyism, Colourprint printed Gatabaki’s Finance exposing some explosive allegations. Anil Vidyarthi was hauled off to jail and charged with sedition, but later released. A court case followed two years later and six decades after his father was jailed for sedition by the British colonialists, the Kenya Government repealed the law of sedition.

Some of the publications which had so enraged the Government were Bedan Mbugua’s Beyond, Pius Nyamora’s Society, Brian Tetley’s Men Only and Salim Lone’s Viva Magazine and Kenneth Matiba’s book Kenya – Return to Reason. Colouprint printed the posters for the opposition candidates and in effect ended up being the printers for the Second Liberation. At one point the police arrested Bhushan’s young son Sanjeev and the totally innocent young man was dumped into a police cell overnight.

Bhushan was a devoted member of his Arya Samaj community, and chairman of both its Nairobi and Eastern African bodies. He followed in the footsteps of his illustrious grandmother Mathura Devi Horra, who over a century ago was one of the founders and the first president of Arya Samaj Women Wing.

In 2009, Bhushan suffered the terrible loss of his wife Kamlesh.  Ever creative, he then took up painting which also helped him to stay on top of his Parkinson’s.  Bhushan’s was a life devoted to country and community. The Hon. Raila Odinga, on hearing of his death said: ‘I have never known a more generous and forgiving person in his community. He died a patriot.’ AwaaZ extends deepest condolences to his children Sandeep, Sanjeev and Sanmeet.