It is the sort of place you will not find unless you are looking for it. Even if you find the address in Hardevpuri near Shahdara, you will not know where to knock. There is no signboard that will tell you this is Gautam Book Center. “A signboard will attract the attention of those who don’t like our books,” explains AK Gautam.
These are not books of pornography or an underground militia. These are books on caste.
“I have no memories of caste discrimination in Baghpat where I grew up or in the army, where I was a havaldar,” says his father SS Gautam. But then the elder Gautam took an early retirement and came to Delhi, where he took up a government job. “In a government office they discriminate against a Dalit in such a way as to tell you that you are worthless.” That was incidentally the turn of a fortuitous decade. 1990 marked the birth centenary of Ambedkar, helping catalyse the Dalit movement. Gautam met a Marathi Dalit professor who taught, did a radio show and also sold books in the Parliament street celebrations on Ambedkar’s birthday in ’92.
“I thought one man shouldn’t do so much work, we should share it.” That’s how Gautam Book Center was born in ‘94, and became his son AK Gautam’s life.
They collected hundreds of catalogues from publishers and booksellers across the country and ordered all books on caste and Ambedkar. “In those days such books weren’t so easily available as they are now,” says Gautam junior. In no time the word spread and anything published on caste reaches the room in Hardevpuri as if on its own.
As they started to take their book stalls to exhibitions, book fairs and events across to country – they have held 2,500 such till date – scholars joined Ambedkarite activists as their clients, Eleanor Zelliot, Gail Omvedt and Sukhdeo Thorat amongst them. His son sold books, the elder Gautam began reading a lot. He discovered how, for instance, his own caste, Jatavs (formerly ‘Chamars’), have 1155 sub-divisions within them. “The man who pulls the dead animal won’t skin it, the one who skins it won’t tan it into leather, the one who tans it won’t make a shoe, the one who makes shoes is different from one who mends it!” says Gautam. If you visit him, he will very likely ask your caste and tell you more about it than you know. If he likes you, he will take you inside his home where a very small room is full of a private collection from floor to ceiling.
Gautam Book Center now publishes as well, mostly in Hindi. Among the publications is a book by SS Gautam himself, on sayings from different languages about different castes. He collected nine books of Indian sayings to cull out this collection on caste. Doing this, he realised there were too many insults against women in them, so he compiled one on women.
“Caste is the axis of Indian society,” he says. He’d like to see more research on upper castes now.
“How are they taking Dalit assertion? What about their own world of caste? That’s what nobody is researching.”
(First published in The Caravan.)
5 thoughts on “Gautam Book Centre”
Heartening to see that Ambedkar’s writings still have a hope of reaching out to the average Joe on the street. The man was the owner of one of the sharpest intellects our country has seen. Kudos, Gautam Book Centre. You’re doing a great service to the nation. :)
Thanks for this wonderful post… this is a must-visit in future trips to Delhi!
Hats off to the two Gautams. The senior one rightly said, “caste is the axis of Indian
society” which is what many educated progressive Indians ( particularly of the Leftist/
Marxist brand) fail to grasp. Many of us think that we can wish away the caste feeling,
but the reality is that we are all (excepting a few thousands) born into it, absorbed into
it and our subconscious mind is tainted by it so fully and deeply. May be at its origin, the
caste system was conceived as divisions of labor but in practice over the centuries they
became mutually exclusive; That is why even today intercaste marriages (not to speak
of inter-religious weddings) are few and rather grudgingly tolerated. In some cases, it has even led to murder! I believe only a kind of reformation from within in Hinduism can challenge this madness and finally kill it. Reformations that will question Manusmritis
and the mythologies of creation proving that this system is designed to oppress the
weak and the lowly, to dominate by depriving access to knowledge, to the Veda ( literally
that which is known; Veda as revelation is a hoax invented by the high caste pundits;
inspired, intuited, yes; but not “revealed”) It is not by converting ourselves into Budhism
that we can root out caste, but it is by condemning, ignoring and not adhering to any caste
practice and belief that we become Budhists! Did Budha found Budhism? Buck up young
people of India to usher in an India Gautama the Enlightened will be proud of.
That’s it. A very nice piece, one could not agree more with SS Gautam.
Caste is not only the axis of indian society it is also the only basic, eternal, unchanging, carved in stone identity, religions that are supposed to have no castes, like Islam and Christianity and religions that rose in protest against the discriminations of caste have all been appropriated and moulded appropriately to become adjustable to the mould of caste identity, So we have Saiyed, Sheikh, Pathan so called upper castes and all others are low caste, the whole non-sense of Ashraf and Razeel. In Cristianity there are the Brahmin and Kshatriya converts and the other converts, so also in Sikkhism, the Rajput and Jat Sikhs on the one hand and the Mazhabi Sikhs on the other.
I know of one Dalit woman, who was employed in a central government office, as a cleaning staff, what else, who no one had ever asked for a glass of water. Of another, an academic, a non dalit, who was for years kept out of seminars, symposia, consultations, workshops etc because those in-charge of organising such events, thought that he was a dalit. It was these gentlemen who shamefacedly confessed their complicity to him, once they found out that he was not a Dalit, but one of them.
And this cuts across the sub continental borders.
It is only the upper castes in all religions who have cornered all benefits of what ever development India has seen and it is these who insist that there is no caste discrimination in our society.