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Just ahead of the ‘wedding season’, when these street performers earn the maximum throughout the year, the demolition drive has not only uprooted their houses, it has also snatched potential livelihood opportunities from the artists of Kathputli Colony. (representative image) Wikimedia

New Delhi, November 3, 2017 : On an ideal evening, one would have found newly made dolls resting on large beds on the terraces here, artists rehearsing to the beats of the dhol, and freshly carved wooden artifacts decorated along the walls as the smell of fresh paint would fill a densely populated neighborhood.

Welcome to Kathputli Colony – the hub of artists who perform at international events and travel across sees with diplomats; the ambassadors of traditional Indian art forms. The place, brimming with the rustic charm of the rich Indian arts, has been home to the world’s largest community of street performers- they have been a family of over 3,500 artists.



An artist from Kathputli Colony with his puppet during happier times. Wikimedia

Kathputli Colony, which translates to ‘puppet’, brings together a myriad of craftspeople and performing artists – magicians, artists, puppeteers, acrobats, dancers, snake charmers, and singers.

This neighborhood now, however, is a victim of urbanization.

A walk into West Delhi’s Kathputli Colony on any normal day would have exposed you to the myriad of colors and art forms brimming in the neighborhood. But on October 31, you would have only found four backhoe loaders (diggers) bringing several houses down to rubble, as the residents stood as spectators or scouted for belongings before their house was completely shattered. Fallen electricity poles and sewage water now lined the streets that were previously populated with newly made puppets as demolitions by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) officials were carried out with full force.

Ten months after the DDA had started demolishing houses at the Kathputli Colony for a redevelopment project aimed at providing concrete settlement to the artists, more people were forcibly evicted from their houses on October 31.

The in-situ redevelopment project at Kathputli Colony had been announced in 2009 under a public private partnership between the DDA and Raheja Developers Limited.

The residents of the colony had stood united against the demolitions; however, the DDA has finally succeeded in evicting these artists from their settlement.

Kathputli Colony Redevelopment Plan

The redevelopment project is a partnership between the DDA and Raheja Developers Limited, a real estate firm, under which flats have been stipulated to be built in place of the slums at Kathputli Colony.

For the construction period, the residents of the slum are to be shifted to makeshift arrangements made at a camp in Anand Parbat and Narela.

As per the plan, the residents will be able to shift to the flats after they are ready within a period of two years.

According to official reports, this project is touted to be the first step towards building and ensuring a slum-free Delhi.

According to a press statement released by the DDA, it was revealed that the demolition activities are being carried out in compliance with the High Court’s orders. It was also revealed that the DDA is shifting residents of the colony to the transit camps in Anand Parbat and Pocket G-7, G-8, Narela, as per the orders of the High Court. “Accordingly, arrangements have been made by DDA to provide transportation to transit camp at Anand Parbat, and Narela; ambulance for medical care and ample supply of food and drinking water at all the three sites,” the statement read.

A Look At The Reality

Previously brimming with colors and talent, the Kathputli Colony now stands deserted amid rubble. Outside broken houses and closed shutters of shops that remain, sit people surrounded by furniture, utensils, trunks and mattresses.

The road leading to Kathputli Colony is now populated with tv sets, air coolers, brooms, buckets, chairs and clothes stacked in a messy manner that previously filled the nearly 500 houses that were razed by the DDA authorities.

Along them stand displaced artists and their families, which include children as young as newborns, who have taken shelter on the roads and under the Shadipur Depot flyover.

Just ahead of the ‘wedding season’, when these street performers earn the maximum throughout the year, the demolition drive has not only uprooted their houses, it has also snatched potential livelihood opportunities from these artists.

The residents have been asked to relocate to Narela, an industrial area at a distance of 30 kms from the Kathputli Colony, where these artists are not hopeful to find any alternate opportunities. Additionally, travelling 30 kms back to West Delhi will not be affordable, which has further dampened their spirits.

Loopholes

1. In 2014, when reports of demolitions first surfaced, DDA Vice-chairman Bavinder Kumar was quoted as saying in a report by The Indian Express that no force would be used to relocate the residents of the Kathputli Colony to the makeshift arrangement in Anand Parbat. The same argument was cited preceding the demolition drive on October 31.

However, DDA’s action was protested by local residents and activists, which resulted in police using force. Consequently, reports of a lathi-charge by the police were soon to surface immediately following the beginning of the drive around noon on October 31. Additionally, the slum area was also tear-gassed.

According to multiple reports, Annie Raja (secretary) and Philomina John (general secretary (Delhi)) of the National Federation of Indian Women backed by CPI, were also injured during the drive. Philomina Johan, aged 77, who fractured her leg due to coarse action by the police, told The Wire that the police force was primarily male.

The two were later admitted to Ram Manohar Lohia hospital.

There are also reports of several people inhaling the tear gas, with reports of the death of a toddler upon gas inhalation published by The Telegraph among others.

According to DCP (Central Delhi) Mandeep Singh Randhawa, “mild force involving tear gas was used during the demolition process.”

The officer added that the locals pelted stones at the officers which left nine police personnel injured.

2. The DDA authorities maintained that regular announcements were being made through loud speakers about the demolition drive. Further, they asserted that a notice for eviction had been officially issued three months ago.

However, as per the DDA website, the most recent official notice is dated December 22, 2016.


Interface of the DDA notices on their webpage. DDA Website

The displaced artists of
Kathputli Colony have already
become kathputlis (puppets)
at the hands of DDA
as questions on their future
looms large.

These loopholes in the demolition drive further shed light on the larger abnormalities in the issue –

  • Are the transit camps at Anand Parbat and Narela sufficient to accommodate all residents of Kathputli Colony?
  • Just ahead of winters, how safe will be the makeshift arrangement being provided to residents?
  • How does the DDA or the government plan to provide livelihood to the displaced artists?
  • Will the proposed EWS flats be ready in time?
  • What will be the procedure to allot the flats to the artists?
  • Will the displaced Kathputli Colony residents be able to afford the flats made under the PPP?

As these questions continue to haunt the minds of the displaced Kathputli Colony residents, they continue to struggle alongside roads and under flyovers in West Delhi.


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