With books ranging from farmers’ issues to Bhagat Singh’s biography, a makeshift library set up by a group of five at the Ghazipur border saw many protesters making a beeline on Sunday afternoon.
Reading the first few pages of ‘Sultana ka Sapna’ — a 1905 novel by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain that envisions a utopian feminist society — Sukhbeer Singh (75), a farmer from a village in Western UP, said: “I always read in times of trouble. But I didn’t bring any books with me when I left. I will borrow Rs 50-100 from my son so that I can buy a few now.”
The selection was carefully curated by the team — mostly about farmers or freedom fighters, along with some translated speeches and works of literature.
Alok, a microbiologist who works in Delhi and is among the organisers, said people can buy the books at reasonable rates ranging from Rs 5 to Rs 30 or borrow them: “We are from a group called Vikalp Manch. We are from different backgrounds — some of us are students, I work as a microbiologist. But we share a love for books and hope to engage with the protesters. Many of them read a lot back in their villages but since they did not carry anything to read, we decided to do this.”
“I have been around farmers since I was young and can understand their issues,” said the 31-year-old who hails from UP’s Jaunpur.
Priced at Rs 5, a booklet about the three farm bills was a best-seller. By early evening, almost everyone in the vicinity had a copy while others enquired about other books and took suggestions from the group.
Manoj Yadav (22), a farmer from UP’s Prayagraj, said: “There is a book about the farmers’ protest in 2018. My father was here then but I couldn’t participate. I look forward to reading it.”
He purchased three other books and borrowed another three: “I want to read so that I can go back to my village and educate others about these topics.”
Runny (20), another member, who is originally from Baghpat, has a farming background but decided to pursue academics. Yet, farmers’ issues feature prominently in this Jamia graduate’s life and work. He said, “We have meetings every week where we discuss a number of issues. Some of our friends also contribute to a journal about farmers, while we help with compiling, translation, and proofreading.”
The youngest in the group is 17-year-old Utsa Parveen, who grew up seeing members meet up as her father is an active member. She said, “We had a similar set up at Singhu border recently, with mostly Punjabi books.”
The other volunteers were Shalu Panwar (22) from Aligarh, and Mohit Kumar (25) from Shamli. Depending on the location and interests of the reader, the five gave personalised reading recommendations to farmers. The books will be available every day and the group said they would replenish their stock and get more books once all are sold out. They also sang ‘mera rang de basanti chola’ as the farmers watched and said they plan to organise more cultural activities at the site.
The volunteers said they are a youth group that seeks to provide alternate forms of writing and arts.
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