Dalit-led publishers alleged discriminatory behaviour by the organisers of the Chennai Book Fair through a statement released on December 13 by the Tamil Nadu Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department (AD&TW). According to the statement, there is caste-based discrimination in how stalls are alloted at the annual book fair organised by the Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India (BAPASI) and regarding how membership to the association is allocated. The book fair, held at Chennai’s YMCA grounds, draws huge crowds every year in January and/or February. The statement refers to a complaint by Pa Amutharasan, who runs the publishing house Thadagam. According to Amutharasan, BAPASI favours only its own members while allotting stalls, charging them a considerably lower fee. In the statement, Amutharasan also alleges that despite repeated applications for membership, BAPASI has denied him the same, never giving a reason for dismissal of the application in writing.
Speaking to TNM, Amutharasan alleged that BAPASI favours its members in allotment of stalls at the Chennai fair and regarding notifications about fairs in other districts, and that when publications such as his Thadagam apply for membership, they are not accepted and are given “no written communication on what grounds the application has not been accepted. Neither is there any clarity about the criteria for granting membership.” Amutharasan added that the process of even securing a stall each year at the book fair is a gruelling task. “In 2020, I had to ask others to write letters on my behalf, and beseech the organisers before I got a stall. It wasn’t until the last moment that I got a stall. The next year, anticipating that I would have to do all this again, I planned well in advance. This year, I wasn’t given a stall at all,” he said.
Vasugi Baskar, editor of Neelam Publications, founded by director Pa Ranjith, made similar allegations while speaking to TNM. “We won’t know until the last minute whether we have a stall or not. While other publishers are in the process of setting up stalls, we are still trying to find out if we will be at the book fair or not. It makes it extremely difficult to organise promotional materials like standees or posters. Even after our stall is confirmed, BAPASI gives us trouble over posters or art works, particularly when they are of Dr BR Ambedkar. There is discrimination even after we’ve secured a place at the fair,” he stated. Vasugi also said that Neelam’s application for membership into BAPASI has not been accepted, but no written intimation has been given on what grounds their application was rejected, adding that this lack of transparency makes their work harder.
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