Strings of the Katputhli Colony – Delhi

By Nidhi Batra

Katputhli colony in Delhi is set to become one of the first redevelopment of a ‘slum precint’, following the famous SRA Model of Mumbai where  a private developer builds high rise apartments for the slum dwellers and other commercial and residential development on the same plot from which he extracts his costs and profits and makes this project of redevelopment through private players a profitable one.

However, does the profit reach equally to the real residents and the new developer?! Residents of Katputhly colony do not call their settlement a slum – infact in many circles it is identified as ‘living heritage’. This colony is atleast 40 years old and is house to the mystic of the Delhi city – puppeteers, magicians, folk singers, painters, dancers, acrobats, jugglers and storytellers etc.

Located near the Najafgarh Industrial Area which is seeing commercial revamp, this ‘slum’ becomes a prime area that needs to be resettled. Raheja Developers was awarded a 5.22ha project at Kathputli Colony near Shadipur Depot for Rs 6.11 crore in 2009 for in-situ redevelopment of this settlement. Now, the surveys are done, new plans are made and residents learnt that they have to be shifted to a transit camp in Anand Parbat area of Delhi.

To oppose such a move, representatives from the colony along with area MLA R.P. Singh met Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung on Friday.According to the plans that were drawn , the vibrant community of puppeteers and performers that are residents of the colony, will be shifted to transit camps temporarily, until private developer Raheja builds multi-storey flats at the current location to accommodate the 3,200 or more families residing there.

“If we are shifted into flats then how will all the wood workers, singers who practice their skills, idol makers, puppeteers who make 15 feet tall puppets, those of us who walk on 15-foot tall stilts, rickshaw pullers, weavers, tailors, painters, construction workers, rope makers, toy makers, magicians, sanitation workers, drummers who play dhols that weigh 50-60 kgs and many others workers and artisans who live here be able to sustain our work and livelihood,” the letter to the L-G stated. “It seems like our lives and all the traditions of our country that we have preserved over the years will cease to exist if this project is implemented,” added the letter.

Dalip Pardhan from the Bhatt Samaj, who resides in the area and makes Kathputlis and pagdis for marriages, said the residents will prefer to be allotted plots instead of being given flats in the area. “We came to know that our land has been sold off to Rahejas and they plan to build malls and multi-storey luxury apartments,” he said. “Why isn’t the land, which belongs to the DDA, retained and given to us to continue practising our art and crafts?”

Residents such as Subedar Verma and magician Aziz Khan said that there has been no notification on the eviction date and moving 5-6 kilometres away will also be a problem for their children, who have to commute to schools. “A few days ago, we received calls from the builder and we were told that our Kathputli Colony would be shifted to a transit camp in Anand Parbat within the next two weeks. Newspaper articles have said that DDA will set up a five-day camp and provide them with allotment letters,” further stated the letter.

The letter also questioned the method by which DDA has conducted a survey to review the number of families residing in the area and has pointed out anomalies in the “PPP contract” between DDA and the private builder.

Here are the conflicting ‘opinions’ about the resettlement and the authenticity of the ‘participatory process’ followed in this resettlement programme:

DDA Website: http://kathputlicolonydda.com/index.asp

And voices of the people of Kathputhli Colony: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Kathputli-Colony-Delhi/604606192938523

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This page on facebook states the description as follows:

This page is an online platform to document and share stories of the residents of Kathputli Colony, Shadipur Depot, New Delhi.
This is an attempt to not just raise awareness on their present stature but also to unearth and share their history, trace their lives in a humble attempt to go closer, to let go of that invisible apathy we at times get enveloped by.

A colony that is an eclectic mix of artists from various parts of India as well as non-artists, Kathputli Colony might be “rehabilitated” to give way to a development project. However the uncertainty that hovers around the rehabilitation scheme as well as their supposed return once the project is over, is most stark. For instance, the current number of households in DDA Survey are more than the number of flats being provided during rehabilitation; also, since the colony has not been allowed to view the list of people receiving a flat, they still don’t know who have been excluded. There is no written affirmation to the colony.It is orally claimed that once construction is over, the colony would be allowed to come back and stay next to gated communities with the spirit of harmony and inclusion which we so rarely hear of in this country.

But this is not a protest page to be brimming with biases (at least we will sincerely try not to do so), we would attempt at bringing different perspectives at one place in all sincerity and request to you all to contribute.

But! This is not just about social media dialogue, this si to inspire initiatives offline.

This issue which has been in news for quite some time, asks us to reflect on two aspects of our society which strongly emerge from it:

1. What is the space of art in our society? What is the identity of these artists who have preserved their tradition for long, have represented India in multiple international festivals and platforms, yet have not even been provided the dignity of profession, dignity of life.

Why is art celebrated selectively in our country? Where is a public policy in art to assist these artists? to ensure sustenance, to ensure that there is a reason for their children to respect what their parents do for a living.

2. What is our society’s concept of justice? So you remove a person from a house he built as per his requirement and say you are doing justice by putting him in a flat where you did not even care to discuss the plan with any recipient?

These are people whose lifestyle demands a certain kind of housing which flats will not allow, be it lakdi ka chulha or access to audience, the flats devoid them of even their most basic needs, money to get food, ability to cook food.

They ask, if they will be living in flats, in a certain society, how will they then perform on streets? How will they practice in a building as they do in their low lying spaces? How will they manage to survive since they are not fit for other professions, they are not literate, they are performers. What would then a flat get them if their context is not even considered in the design? Why is their context not considered? Because this is a favor in your eyes? What do you expect they should do? What about those who dont get a flat? Where do they go? What if they end up being scattered? What if their art is lost…forever?

One hint: Why can the artists not be provided an experiential space like an artist colony designed and built as per their contextual needs and serving as a performance and entertainment center? All they want is to make sure that their art continues to live through them with dignity and gets an audience that has now been unfortunately reduced to birthday parties and random shows. Won’t it be great for tourism, great for culture within the city?

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Here are some lingering thoughts:

Development process seems to be in a fix – How does one ensure social equity through private means. Is PPP really a mode of development for projects that require ‘social justice’ or better how does one mould the PPP mode such that it is able to fulfill the needs and desire of both parties – the residents and the developer. Haus Khas village, once just a lal dora urban village of Delhi has now transformed in to an upmarket gentrified locale – could that be a solution to Katputhli colony – is going 15 storeys high really feasible in this area and for these residents – could the developer not figure a high density but low rise development for this area? Has the process of planning and survey really been participatory…. and so many more…

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One thought on “Strings of the Katputhli Colony – Delhi

  1. Rashid Faridi February 23, 2014 at 9:23 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Jugraphia Slate.

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