Iconic book market in Delhi closed over traffic concerns, but sellers look to fight it out.

Published : Aug 21, 2019 14:19 IST

The Sunday book bazar on Netaji Subhash Marg in Delhi’s Daryaganj, in happier times for both vendors and customers.

The Sunday book bazar on Netaji Subhash Marg in Delhi’s Daryaganj, in happier times for both vendors and customers.

No one knows when the Sunday book bazar in Daryaganj, Delhi, began. Many of those involved in the trade guess the origin to be in the late 1960s. However, mystery surrounds its genesis, its relocation to Daryaganj from behind the Red Fort, and its founders. But about one thing book lovers are clear—its growth and the iconic stature it gained as the place to go to for cheap and rare books. While students and kabadiwale (local scrap dealers) were the main sources of books for the market, a sizeable number came from families looking to dispose of books, rare or otherwise, after the death of their erstwhile owners.

But the market has been closed for more than a month now and may soon be a thing of the past if the Delhi Police have their way. On July 3, the Delhi High Court banned all weekly bazars on Netaji Subhash Marg on the basis of a report of the traffic police that proposed closing the road to hawkers and squatters because it witnessed “high traffic volumes throughout the day”.

The traffic police had no interest in preserving the book market that is a part of Delhi’s heritage and were more concerned about the lack of space for pedestrians owing to “encroachment” of the footpath by the booksellers.

But do the traffic police have a case for evicting the so-called encroachers when pedestrians themselves have no grievance? The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (North) followed up on the High Court’s order and closed the Sunday pavement market completely, leaving 277 book sellers without a livelihood and in distress. They are now fighting in multiple ways against the violation of their fundamental right to pursue a profession of their choice.

Regular buyers at the market from Delhi, Aligarh, Lucknow, Faridabad and even abroad have given the booksellers testimonials urging the authorities to reverse their action. Several of the book sellers have adopted innovative methods like getting interested buyers to look at unsold stocks in their warehouses. While the ban has prevented them from going ahead with fresh purchases, they seem desperate to sell the unsold stuff and possibly consider an alternative means of livelihood.

The vendors have opposed the proposal to relocate to the nearby Ramlila Maidan on the grounds that it is considered unsafe for women. The alternative locations offered were also considered unsuitable by the association representing them.

Just what makes an area a no-hawking zone remains unclear as officials of the MCD use their discretion to decide the question.

“Court order not meant for Patri Kitaab Bazaar”

Kanupriya Dhingra, a PhD scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, shares with Frontline her concerns about the future of the Sunday Book Bazar. Excerpts from an interview:

Tell us about your interest in the Sunday Book Bazar .

My research is on the parallel book markets of Delhi, and is supported by the Felix Scholarship Trust. It is still at a nascent stage and the ban on the Sunday Bazar is a new, dramatic turn in my scholarly pursuits.

You have been in touch with the book sellers. What are they telling you?

The sellers told me that the Delhi High Court’s directive was meant for the Kabadi Bazar and not Daryaganj Patri Kitaab Bazar. Nevertheless, the Patri Kitaab Bazar was forced to shut down too, whereas it wasn't supposed to be so since this market is subjected to a different legal case, which is still going on. But because of lack of clarity this market was also closed. More than a month has passed, and the vendors are still waiting for a resolution from the authorities––either a proper relocation or setting up the bazar as usual on Netaji Subhash Marg or Asaf Ali Road.

What will the book sellers do as an alternative?

Most of the vendors have no other alternative to earn their livelihood and it will be difficult for them to make a change now, which is also because most of them are old and have spent a considerable amount of their lives in this profession. The Patri Kitab Bazaar was never established formally. It grew over time, on its own. The consumers are being affected as well, as most of the books that are available here are not available elsewhere. Quite a few people travel from all over India just to buy books here and they claim that now they have no other source. The removal of the market will be a loss for the city too, besides the vendors and buyers.

What does a market like this contribute to Delhi’s heritage?

Etymologically speaking, word “darya” means river and “ganj” means market. Trade happened here across a canal, which is nowhere to be found now. However, notwithstanding the passage of time, the essence of this space lies in it being a market. The vendors claim that the authenticity of the space is of a bazar in principle and it should remain like that. Besides, Daryaganj book bazar embodies one of Delhi’s several identities.

How are the vendors fighting the eviction order legally?

SEWA [Self Employed Women’s Association] has been providing the vendors legal and social services. It has had a share in establishing the Tehbazaari system of licensing in the market, where each seller is given a licence for a specific area where they can display their commodities on a makeshift arrangement against payment of a fixed remuneration.

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