Plight of the Daryaganj booksellers

The threat of the rains plus no assurance from authorities that they will not be relocated again has dampened the spirit of booksellers of the now displaced Daryaganj book market

Published: 19th September 2019 07:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th September 2019 07:58 AM   |  A+A-

Swati Janu, a community architect, showed up at the venue in solidarity for the booksellers.

Swati Janu, a community architect, showed up at the venue in solidarity for the booksellers.

Express News Service

Usually, Sundays at Daryaganj’s famous book market would begin with cheerful voices of book lovers on spotting their favourite book at the pavement bookstalls. Instead, the Sunday of September 15 started with a tussle between the police and the booksellers at this 50-year-old heritage book market.

On July 3, the Delhi High Court had ordered the booksellers who inhabit this market at Daryaganj’s Netaji Subhash Marg and Asaf Ali Road (the stretch running from Delite Cinema to Golcha Cinema), to relocate to Mahila Haat opposite Broadway Hotel.

This order came in after traffic police submitted a report which said “high traffic volumes throughout the day”. A board at the exit of Delhi Gate Metro Station 3 now announces this relocation.

ALSO READ | All is not lost: Delhi's Daryaganj book mart 2.0 reopens with some hope at new venue

But the sellers are unhappy with the court’s decision and have been protesting at their old spot with banners.

“This has been going on since four weeks. The police have even confiscated our books and not given us a receipt. Few vendors were taken to the police station. We don’t mind shifting, but our only request to the authorities is to give us this instruction in writing rather than doing it verbally,” says Sumit Verma, who’s been selling school and college textbooks at the pavement since 20 years.

Pointing to the legalities is Manoj Kumar Mehra, general secretary of the National Hawker Federation. “According to the 2014 Street Vendor Act, natural markets where street vendors have conducted business for over 50 years shall be declared as heritage markets, and the street vendors in such markets shall not be relocated. This rule can be executed only through the Town Vending Committee formed last year.”

The Morning standard spotted a perfect rendition symbolic to the bookwallahs’ struggle at the pavement – VS Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now.

It’s priced Rs 599 on but was bought at Rs 100, despite not being a pirated copy. This travelogue by the late writer takes into account issues of gender, caste and class, among others. “Even this is a class struggle,” notes Rashee Mehra, a senior research associate at Indian Institute of Human Settlements, referring to the booksellers’ protests.

“These people are marginalised, and authorities think it is easy to suppress their voices. Whenever an area is being beautified, the authorities first think of removing the street vendors.”

(From left) Booksellers and members from the public protesting at the old Daryaganj address of the famous book market after they were made to relocate to (above) Mahila Haat | ( Photo | Arun Kumar )

Meena Agarwal, who’s been selling books here with her husband for over 18 years, finds it inconvenient to display their books at the new location of Mahila Haat.

“Carrying the heavier lots from an elevated structure is taxing for the labourers and us. One can easily slip and fall carrying that kind of weight. We want our old place back,” says Agarwal holding up a placard demanding her right.

Pointing that the book market was found to be the cause of traffic jams in the area by many people she quips, “Tell me one place where there’s no traffic problems. Whenever it rains, wherever in Delhi, traffic comes to a halt.”

Karan Singh Grover, a bookseller who donates books to NGOs, says he’s unclear why they have been told to move. “Or for how long we will be allowed to stay at the new venue. No promise has been made by the authorities that they will not ask us to move again.”

It had freshly-rained at Mahila Haat on Sunday. The ground was wet with small puddles located very close to the books spread out for display.

ALSO READ: Daryaganj Sunday book market in Delhi may be shifted ‘near ITO’

The Daryaganj market used to bustle with 250 sellers, but this reporter spotted only 30-40 sellers at the new location even till late noon. However, Varsha Joshi, IAS Commissioner North Delhi Municipal Corporation, in her Twitter statement, dismissed a news article that reported the presence of 30 shops.

Her tweet says, “Er, when you visited *in the morning*, there were 30 stalls. When you *asked* me for data, in the afternoon, there were 139 stalls; we have received payment accordingly. I hope this is clarified in the web version instead of giving out the notion that I’m lying.” Joshi remained unavailable for comment despite reaching out to her many times.

One seller, on the condition of anonymity, said that the authorities had not made any provisions to protect the books for the rains. “We had to set up the books at 9:00 am instead of 7:00 am
because it had rained. Also, the shaded area is small and only a few can occupy it.”

Anant Kumar is a polio patient who came from Benaras in 1999 to sell fiction and course material for competitive exams with his brother. “I find it difficult to walk on elevated ramps or stairs.

Daryaganj’s shaded footpaths used to protect us both from heat and rain. It is a matter of one day in a week. But it is futile to hope that a government official drawing a fat salary would understand the struggle of a roadside bookseller.

Not everyone can afford brand new course material for competitive exams, which costs around Rs 15,000. Students buy second-hand course material from us at Rs 800-Rs 1,000. Many of those kids have become doctors, engineers and IAS officials.”

Swati Janu, a community architect, showed up at the venue in solidarity for the booksellers. “When we see self-organised markets and informal markets like these being disrupted, we feel we can’t do anything. But if we as citizens come together and communicate such concerns to elected representatives, things will surely change.”

Kanupriya Dhingra, a research scholar studying the iconic book market feels that this relocation is not just a dynamic physiognomic change, but also a cultural shift.

“From a heritage Sunday Patri Kitaab bazaar, it’s now a haat, a book-market. A signal that there will be a shift in how the new space will function. The aesthetics of walking on streets of Daryaganj shall remain absent from the closed, controlled space of Mahila Haat.”


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