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A library to spark conversations about caste

An upcoming library in Nagpur aims to make books about liberty and justice easily accessible to all

For some sections of society, access to books is still a privilege.
For some sections of society, access to books is still a privilege. (File photo/iStock)

When Yogesh Maitreya, founder of Panther’s Paw Publication, a six-year-old publishing house dedicated to Dalit and Bahujan literature, was a child, reading seemed like a “very utopian thing”. Books had to be bought; access to knowledge was a privilege. “There are still hardly any spaces where people can browse and read freely, especially books that would lead them to think on the principles of justice, equality and liberty,” says Maitreya, whose memoir Water in a Broken Pot (2023) recalls his struggles to pursue a life of reading and writing. “It has been very difficult for some sections of society to have access to such ideas in the form of books at all.”

Also read: Yogesh Maitreya on his memoir

It is this idea that is driving him to raise funds for a Library of Emancipation, on which he has started work in Nagpur. He plans to have books that inspired him as a young man–including Annihilation of Caste by B R Ambedkar, Black Skin White Mask by Franz Fanon, Notes on the Native Son by James Baldwin, The Will to Change by bell hooks, My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay, and Baluta by Daya Pawar. The library will also have titles from Panther’s Paw.

Located within the office of Panther’s Paw, the library will also be a natural extension of his mission as a writer and publisher, says Maitreya. It will focus on curating anti-caste literature which “abnormalises the existence of caste”, as well as “literature of emancipation” from across the world, which “makes us realise and understand the various forms of oppression and how people have responded to them”. 

When it opens, the Library of Emancipation will have at least 2,000 books and space for 6-7 people to browse and read. Maitreya, who has been raising funds by selling bundles of Panther’s Paw books, says the goal is to work “towards the idea of a local literary community, where more people get invested in (anti-caste) ideas, and will put these ideas into action to make it our reality”. 

He hopes that readers will be “positively stimulated” after a visit, explaining that his “intervention is also aimed at helping those who cannot afford to and yet are willing to invest in ideas, get access to such books”.

Also read: Setting the record straight on Ambedkar

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