Home Art/Culture How independent publishers ensure Ambedkarite literature continues to reach the masses

How independent publishers ensure Ambedkarite literature continues to reach the masses

People gather to buy books at Shivaji Park grounds on the occasion of Mahaparinirvan Divas

By Daisy K, TwoCircles.net

Every year on December 6, millions of people from all over India gather at Chaityabhoomi in Shivaji Park, Mumbai to pay homage to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. This is just not a gathering to commemorate Dr.Ambedkar’s death anniversary but also an epicentre of a celebration of his legacy, thoughts and ideas. On this day, publishers and booksellers of anti-caste literature come from all over India to set up their stalls on the grounds of Shivaji Park. Such small independent booksellers and publication houses have been a catalyst in spreading the thoughts of Dr. Ambedkar, Periyar, Mahatma and Savitribai Phule and other reformers alike. Every year there are around 300 such stalls which are set up and millions of books are sold. Such presses have ensured that millions of people gains access to books at bare minimum cost. 

A bookseller at Chaityabhoomi showing a copy of the Indian Constitution

70-year old A R Akela of Anand Sahitya Sadan, owner of a small publishing house has travelled from his hometown of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh carrying racks of books via train to set up his stall on the grounds on the occasion of (Mahaparinirvan Divas) Dr. Ambedkar’s death anniversary in Mumbai. Akela runs a small publication in Aligarh and mostly self-publishes his books. His publication has published books on Dr. Ambedkar, Kanshiram, Shahu Maharaj, Buddha, Periyar etc. Akela first came to coming to Mumbai for Mahaparinirvan Divas in 1989 and since then he visits every year. 

A R Akela of Aligarh poses with his new publication on Dr. Babasaheb

Akela, who learned to write at the age of 18, has come out with 12 volumes on the life of Kanshiram. He also recently published a book on the life of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar on the occasion of Constitution Day which is available for Rs. 25. He says, “I have taken inspiration from Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s life. When I started, I could not find any single press or publisher in Aligarh so I decided I will publish these books myself.”

About his experience of Mahaparinirvan Divas, he says, “ I feel this is not just a gathering of people, it is a collective gathering of ideas. I have never experienced such a thing in my lifetime. Millions of books on anti-caste literature are sold here every year, we can say that Bahujan community has a thirst for knowledge. (Ambedkarite) literature is progressive literature, it only talks about humanity. If you take a text like Waiting for Visa, have you seen this text adapted in any Indian syllabus? It is a text by our constitution maker still it doesn’t find a place anywhere. Our real fight is a fight against the caste system and discrimination.” 

Earlier, booksellers would make use of makeshift stalls around the Dadar Beach. For the last 15 years, the bookstalls have been shifted to Shivaji Park grounds. People like Ishwarao Bagde who hails from the Wardha District of Maharashtra has been setting up a stall on Mahaparinirvan Divas since the last 40 years. He recalls, “The demand for the books keeps on increasing every year. Earlier, we used to take the books and sit on the grounds to sell them at Chaityabhoomi. But because of the tidal waves from the beach, many times we used to face a lot of losses each year. Then the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) tried to shift us to Mahim (an area further away from Chaityabhoomi). But we started an Andolan. That is how we were allotted space here on the Shivaji Park grounds.” Even though the BMC has now allocated space for the booksellers, Bagde says that it is a lot of hassle to book these stalls. “The BMC demands that the stall owners should personally visit Mumbai and complete the formalities, which is not possible for small booksellers,” he adds.  

Ishwarao Bagde at his bookstall at Shivaji Park in Mumbai


Another seller, Ashwini Satpute, says, “People here have a love for reading and they are also followers of the philosophy of Ambedkar, the ones who come to us to buy books. One of the major books which get sold is the Constitution Of India, other than that books on Atrocity Act are also in demand, books on the life of Savitribai Phule and Mahatma Phule are also bought by people. We get customers from all over India places like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh also come, for that, we even keep Hindi translations.”

In 1976, a committee was established by the Government of Maharashtra to bring out Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches. Until now, 22 volumes have been published. But these volumes are have now become a rarity with intermittent publishing by the government. 

Maya Kharat of Krantijyoti Samajik Sanstha in Mumbai has been setting up a stall at Chaityabhoomi for last 10 years. Maya Kharat adds, “There is a huge demand for Babasaheb’s Writing and Speeches. Now the government has stopped publishing Ambedkar’s volumes, they only print-specific volumes, like the Volume No.7 (Babasaheb’s Writing and Speeches) was not available since last 5 years, it is only now that the Government has started reprinting it”. 

Krantijyoti Samajik Sanstha has been setting up their stall at Shivaji Park for the last ten years.

Regarding the increasing demand for books she says, “Earlier we used to keep only Dr. Ambedkar’s volume, but now there is more demand. Now there is a demand for books on Pali literature, books on King Ashoka, Therigatha, Maharlok, Shivaji Maharaj etc. The main aim of such books is to create awareness, that people get to understand that what was the situation of the community earlier and what is the situation now. Like Babasaheb said, ‘A person whose mind is not free though he may not be in chains, is a slave’”.