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By Manira Chaudhury. June 2014
Manira chaudhary talks about her experiences of Kathputli colony and the artists who make it so special

A day at Kathputli Colony Image

It was over a year ago, I think, when I was visited the Kathputli Colony. It was to assist a lanky American film-maker in his documentary that he had ardently been making for past 2-3 years. As I made my way for the first time through the craney, meandering lanes of the colony, I stole a peak into many a households. Some whiling away the afternoon sleeping, some going about their daily work, none really paying attention towards me or the two white men walking infront of me. It’s that when I realised that people here were used to ‘intruders’ like us, only they called us guests and missed no chance to offer ‘chai’ or ‘samosa’ to us. The documentary dealt with the prospect of the residents “disappearing” due to a proposed DDA (Delhi Development Authority) plan.

The plan in question aims to wipe out all the slums from the face of Delhi and rehabilitate the residents in flats built at the same location by 2021 and they plan to do it by partnering with private builders. In this case, DDA sold off the land to Raheja builders. According to the plan, Raheja is supposed to build the flats in 2 years after the land is vacated. Meanwhile all the residents will stay at a transit camp which has been built by the builder a few kilometres away. But the details of this deal and ethics of their way of working beckons some serious scrutiny according to me.

After a hiatus of some months, I re-visited the colony later last year to do a small errand for the same film-maker. The problem had aggravated by then. DDA officials had started doing the round. The transit camp had been built and a small number of people had already moved out. To me, with the information that was available to me, the situation struck as unfair.  I started meeting more people and attended many community meetings to understand what really was going on. Slowly the picture started getting clearer and I was struck by the way things were functioning and by the lopsided balance between the residents and the authorities. My visits there became as frequent as once or twice a week. With my camera hung around my neck, I looked around for stories. The forthcoming, unsuspicious nature of people won my heart. I was offered tea and food in almost every house that I entered.

It is difficult to feel out of place in this colony. A ghetto of traditional artists where it’s a common sight to see young boys roaming about with huge dhols hung on their back, women sewing colourful fabric on the platform outside their homes and men carving puppets on their terraces, it’s a place where you’ll more often than not notice other ‘outsiders’ like ourselves doing various things- teaching how to dance, learning puppetry or magic tricks, etc. This is a place which welcomes you with open arms. It therefore appears sadly ironical that they themselves are now being asked to move out from there.

In the middle of making a documentary on the situation, I have become more involved with the situation than I ever imagined and without any regrets. My visits there now also involve participating in the meetings, reading out their legal papers to them, writing letters for them, writing to the media about them, etc. I feel everyone deserves to have a voice and if I can be instrumental in raising the decibel of that voice even slightly, I’ll consider my efforts successful.





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