Kathputli Colony - A Case Study

By Ananya Delhi

The following case study is based on secondary literature and non-structured qualitative interviews conducted with 15 families currently residing in the transit camp at Anand Parbat.  Further, telephonic interviews were also conducted with founder members of the NGO Humans For Humanity who have been involved with the community since the demolition in 2017. 

The colony was named after the itinerant puppeteers who established a cluster of makeshift tents on the outskirts of Delhi. Belonging to the group recognized as Ghumantu or Khanabadosh, this artistic community hailing from Rajasthan survived through the patronage received from the nobility. The constant movement from one place to another also gave the community its unique social structure. The interviews revealed that they practiced exogamy where each new location of performance served as a potential space for establishing a marital association with other artistic groups of the same community.  The fluid nature of residence and occupation was accompanied by strict purdah practices.  Stories performed by puppeteers served the dual purpose of entertaining the crowd and communicating political ideas.  From historically depicting stories that pitted Rajput against Mughals, this relationship continued in the Post Independence era, where the art of performers was central in spreading awareness of various government policies to the remote areas marked by low levels of literacy. 

The formation of the Kathputli colony opposite Shadipur depot around the 1950s marked the process of permanent settlement. However, the coming together of the diverse artistic group was on land officially owned by Delhi Development Authority ( DDA), and thus there was a  constant threat of eviction.  The first demolition of Jhuggis in the Kathputli colony took place on 25th May 1976 during the national emergency as part of the beautification drive in the capital city ( Dubey,2016).  Over the next few years, with similar demolition of surrounding slums, the members organized around the artistry, leading to the formation of Bhule BisreBhisre Kalakar Cooperative.   This unification was facilitated by Sarthi, an organization working for a traditional artist headed by prominent designer and scenographer, Rajeev Sethi ( Dubey, 2016).   The members collectively wrote a letter "Purarvyavastha: Humara Vikalp,"  A Statement from people of Shahdipur Depot  Jhuggi  Colony (1976), signed by  138 heads of family stating, 

‘The question of resettlement itself would be no problem for us, but please let this not interfere with our aspiration. We the undersigned are willing to surrender the land allotments given to us as separate members in favor of an area where we can live and work side by side’  ( Dubey, 2016; Sarthi Archives,  1976)  

Along with this, attempts were made to come up with an alternative resettlement plan for artists called 'Anandgram'  which would include both housing and working space along with facilities like open-air theatres and hostels. The plan envisaged to restore rural lifestyle, provide a stage for street performers thus developing it as a site of tourist attraction created through participatory resettlement strategies.  This initiative was further supported by the NGO Kalakar Trust, headed by the wife of Congress Minister Capt. Satish Sharma and her sister.  But the non-execution of the plan is the direct corollary of the contention between the plans of urban development as put forth by DDA and inclusive restoration as demanded by residents. The authorities based on the assessment of real state potential of land gave primacy to multi-storeyed flats.  The plans of DDA further gained ground with growing tension between artist and non-artist community over-involvement of latter in resettlement project and setting up of an independent open theatre in the name of Kalakar Trust on the land allocated for the development of Anandgram.  As a result, communities' claim for an alternative structure was neglected and in 2007, Kathputli Colony was selected as Delhi's First in-situ slum rehabilitation project.  The project thereafter planned under the Rajiv Awas Yojana was marked by greater involvement of both Private actors and Non-governmental organizations. This model of Public-Private Partnership and an increased role of NGO needs to be placed in the context of discursive shift that took place post the intervention of the World Bank that criticized the extent of government engagement in programs of household provision, changing its role from 'provider' to 'enabler' of housing to the poor ( Dubey,2016). Consequently, in 2009, Raheja Developers were allotted 5.22 hectares of land at 6.11 crores ( though the expected total cost was approximately 254.27 crores) to rehabilitate Kathputli Colony along with the permission to use a section of land for commercial gain ( Adler et al, 2013). The existing housing structures were considered a misuse of land in a context of growing aspiration to become a world-class city ( Dupont, 2011). The developers announced the construction of Raheja Phoenix consisting of 54 luxury flats including 'sky club and helipad' along with creating a 15 storey high rise apartment for Kathputli residents, both the projects having separate entry and exit points, thus 'claiming that the builders were providing a solution to the problem of the slum by merging the rich and the poor in one ecosystem’  while simultaneously making statements that ‘nobody wants poor people to be their neighbor’ ( Adler et al 2013; Dubey 2016).  

Previous studies conducted have highlighted the lack of a participatory approach ( Dupont and Saharan,2014)  and legal loopholes in the implication of the scheme ( Banda et al, 2013; Dubey, 2016).  The surveys were undertaken by DDA also revealed methodological inaccuracies as only 2754 out of approximately 3100 households were identified for rehabilitation.  Further, the negotiation that took place between  Pradhan ( heads) from different communities and officials had a limited impact as a large part of the population remain excluded and unaware of the developments.  As a result, only a section of the population ( around 400 families)  with proper identification documents were shifted to a transit camp at Anand Parbat,  while some were shifted to Narela ( Sultan,2017) for two years time period required for completion of the project. 

The economic disparity between the socially stratified community determined the sentiment regarding the relocation as it marked improvement of condition for some, while degradation for others ( Adler et al. 2013).  Studies pointed that women, in general, were in greater support of the redevelopment project given the paucity of infrastructural facilities that affected their daily functioning ( Dubey 2016). But the project induced a new set of structural challenges by uprooting the community from its familiar context.  Interviews conducted for this research revealed that forced displacement disproportionately impacted children, elder, and disabled women. Women engaged in home-based production were severely affected along with an increased restriction on mobility. Children earlier attending school located in the vicinity of the colony were forced to drop out due to relocation, drying up of funds and increased transportation costs. DDA's claim of providing the transit camps with governmental schools ( Kathputli Colony, 2014)  had limited impact as most of the children haven't returned to school since the demolition and new challenges faced with the shift to digital mode of learning.  The delay of the project by 2 years was a cause of serious discomfort among women residing in Anand Parbat, given the lack of sanitation facilities, cramped living conditions and growth rates of unemployment.  Women relocated to settlements in  Narela were restricted from using firewood for cooking thus increasing their difficulties as a cylinder or cooking gas remained an unaffordable commodity ( The Wire, 2018).  

The pandemic-induced challenges had a deleterious impact as they exacerbated the existing deprivation faced by the community.  Financial stress due to lack of employment opportunities as traditional skills of the artist is now considered a 'dying art', the residents with minimum education qualification working at construction sites lost their job due to nationwide lockdown. Interviewees revealed that the restriction on mobility and norms of social distancing made it difficult for women to work as vendors and run their small shops in the transit camps. Though the majority of the residents at Anand Parbat were vaccinated given they had proper documents available, the scarcity of food, lack of private spaces for women, and increased care work in a context of uncertainty severely impacted the mental and physical health, the intensity of which varied along gender lines. 



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