World’s largest artist colony on the verge of demolition

Kathputli colony to be redeveloped


December 27, 2016

/ By / New Delhi

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The world’s largest collective of street performers is being forced to leave their permanent establishment which is also a mark of their identity besides their profession. In a bid to redevelop their colony and thus, their lives, the demolition of the Kathputli colony has begun.

Once referred to as the land of snake charmers, monkey tamers and puppeteers, India shelters the largest establishment of street performers in its capital, New Delhi. The colony is called Kathputli, literally puppet, and houses about 2,800 families all of which perform for a living. These families have magicians, singers, painters, dancers, acrobats and puppeteers among other artists who reside in this almost 40-year-old colony, now a slum.

Spread over 5.2 hectares, the slum is being uprooted in a public-private-partnership. An agreement between the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and a private developer, is aiming at constructing multi-storey buildings here as part of an in-situ rehabilitation plan. The residents will get flats in the new buildings, a space for commercial use.

But the residents are not happy with their sudden displacement with some not even leaving their premises for their daily chores. “I am scared to leave my house. I have even stopped going to work, fearing they will demolish it when I am not present,” Savitri, a folk singer, told Indian media.

The residents were not prepared for this eviction from their abodes. Locals said that the notices to evacuate were only issued last week asking the residents to keep their documents ready to determine if they are eligible for relocation at the designated transit camp. While some families have already shifted, many refuse to leave their houses in the puppet colony. The reasons are varied; some are facing issues related to logistics, some fear they might never be able to return as they don’t trust the authorities, some have sentimental values attached to the place and some fear losing their identity.

“The colony got its name from the puppeteers of the Rajasthani Bhat community, which migrated here in the 1950s and formed the colony. But, if the colony is demolished, puppeteers will lose their identity and livelihood. Also, there is no guarantee of coming back. I don’t trust the authorities,” says Ashok Bhatt, a puppeteer.

For better or for worse?

The developers, Raheja Builders, are trying to accommodate the 2,800 families in a transit camp set near the Anand Parbat industrial area in the capital. With metal and electronic workshops in the vicinity, dingy lanes in the neighbourhood, small rooms with no toilets or kitchens, the transit camp is far from inhabitable. The allotted rooms are packed in rows and one common bathroom has been allotted to eight units per row, women are cooking in the open and this strange place doesn’t even have a grocery in its vicinity; life is definitely not a smooth ride for now.

But, the authorities are choosing to look away. “These are minor inconveniences for their own greater good in the long run. See, the Transit Camp is only meant to be a temporary residence,” says Sanjay Sachdev, AGM, Raheja Builders.

Anyway, the bulldozing of the Kathputli colony has begun, uprooting homes and hopes. There is anger among people but to maintain calm, over 500 police and paramilitary personnel have been deployed. Residents are raising slogans, resolute on not leaving, while authorities remain conveniently oblivious to their owes.

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