Police apologise to roaming bookseller

By Jyoti Punwani

THIS must be the first time the Mumbai police has apologised in writing without a court order. Salim Sabuwala, lawyers clerk and mobile bookseller, is today the proud owner of a written apology from P N Suryavanshi, senior police inspector of Nirmal Nagar Police Station, for having seized nine of his books as objectionable on a complaint by Madan Trivedi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on April 27.

The books Namdeo Dhasals award-winning Golpitha, Govind Pansares Shivaji Kon Hota, Prof M M Deshmukhs Shivrajya and Ramdas aani Peshwai, and Sacchi Ramayan, a translation of Periyar Ramaswamys Ramayan-The True Story. It was this book that invited the wrath of the BJP at the Kherwadi Ambedkar Jayanti rally where Salim had put up a pavement stall near a gutter.

When they hauled Salim and his books to the police station, accompanied by angry BJP members, the Nirmal Nagar police could never have imagined that their ambitious attempt at censorship would reach the Mantralaya. Home Minister Chhagan Bhujbal had to issue a statement promising action against the concerned police officer after movers and shakers such as Nikhil Wagle (whose critique of the Srikrishna Commission Report was also confiscated), filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, veteran Communist party of India Gopal Reddy, Janata Dal (S) secretary Prof Gopal Dukhande, and veteran socialist Mohammed Kharas stormed into the police station while a 400-strong crowd made up of leftists, human rights and Dalit activists held a dharna outside.

For Salim Sabuvala is no ordinary pavement bookseller. He is the only mobile bookseller in Mumbai who sells progressive/protest literature as a profession. At any anti-Establishment meeting, you will find Salim with his 100-odd Hindi, Marathi and English titles.

Salims is no easy business: 10 days a month, after a full days work, he carts a 30 kg bag full of books from Nariman Point, where he works all day as advocate K K Singhvis clerk, to any part of the city, where a non-Right political meeting is to take place. He has even gone to Mahad and Hyderabad to sell his wares. It was legendary CPI artiste Annabhau Sathes Samagrah Waghmay, published by the Maharashtra government in 1998, which turned Salim into a professional bookseller.

Readers who found it inconvenient to go all the way to the government bookshop at Charni Road requested Salim to buy it for them at an extra charge.

When Salim found he could get Annabhau Sathes book at a discount if he bought them in bulk, he decided to go professional. Within a month, he was selling privately printed copies of the Srikrishna Commission Report, just 10 days after it was tabled. It turned out to be another best seller.

The unique thing about Salims roving bookstall is that it doesnt stock anything apart from protest literature. Ask him why and the 41-year-old Burhani College dropout has no reply. It just never occurred to him to stock a nything else, given his ultra-Left background from the time he was a college student.

Today Salim is a member of no group. But he is one of those rare survivors of the Marxist Leninist movement who still believes in the Revolution. Of course, hes too modest to regard his labour as a contribution to the mov ement. Its a small business to supplement my income, he says. Nor is he overly proud of the solidarity he has received after his detention. Its not me, its because the books are part of the movement that so many people pr otested.

It is this diffidence that misled the Nirmal Nagar police into thinking they were dealing with an ordinary pavement bookseller whose books they could seize and allow their BJP friends to seize. They ignored his protests t hat these were respected authors, nor did they allow him to ring up his employer.

According to Salim, the BJP mob took away books worth Rs 400 from his bag inside the police station. Their easy familiarity there made it difficult for Salim to distinguish between them and the plainclothesmen questioning him.

The difference between the two became clear only when the latter let him go at 3 am with a friendly bit of advice: Stop selling such books or some BJP hothead will attack you from behind one day.

It was obvious to Salim that what got the BJPs goat was that a Muslim was selling Dalit critiques of Hinduism. The irony is that Salim has never thought of himself as Muslim except when the BJP has forced him to during the 92-93 riots, and now again last week.


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Referred by: Niranjan Waghmare
Published on: June 12, 2001
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