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Kathputli Colony: Puppets on a string

Kathputli Colony, home to puppeteers, dancers, singers and folk artists, has been in turmoil ever since it was taken up for in-situ redevelopment in 2014. With tension escalating over the past month, The Indian Express attempts to understand why residents are refusing to leave their homes

Written by Aranya Shankar | New Delhi |
Updated: November 4, 2017 9:15:53 pm
badami-devi Badami Devi shows an album with photos of performers from the colony, posing with Bollywood celebrities. Express Photo by Abhinav Saha

The first thing one notices while entering Badami Devi’s home at Kathputli Colony are the certificates and awards for performances displayed proudly on a wall. An album with photos of performers from the colony, posing with Bollywood celebrities such as Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna and Karisma Kapoor is kept carefully as proof of the family’s legacy. Devi vividly remembers her trips to Germany, Japan and France, where she performed as a singer as part of a troupe. But those days are long gone now.

Devi’s is not an isolated case. Among the websites thrown up by a Google search of Kathputli Colony are and, which offer ‘walks’ in the area. By paying $50 per person, anyone can take a guided tour of the area and see folk performances. Many artistes, who once took pride in representing the country on the international stage, now make ends meet by entertaining anyone who pays for such walks.

A changed scenario

For the last few years, Kathputli Colony has been in the news, not for achievements of the residents but rather for their struggles. The colony at Shadipur is the first slum taken up for in-situ redevelopment in the capital, which is part of the Delhi Masterplan 2021.

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demolition DDA officials demolish houses vacated by those who shifted to the camp. Express Photo by Abhinav Saha

A private firm, Raheja Developers, had got the contract after winning a bid by paying Rs 6.11 crore in 2009. As per the contract, they had to create temporary housing for 2,800 families at a transit camp. In two years, apartment complexes — comprising two-room flats — are supposed to come up at the colony for residents to shift back into.

When the AAP came to power, it alleged that the DDA had given the land — which the party claims is worth Rs 1,000 crore — at a throwaway price.

The firm is also supposed to provide amenities to the residents on 60 per cent of the 5.22 hectare area. In return, it gets to create its own complex in the rest of the area. When they move into the apartments, residents of the colony are supposed to pay Rs 1.12 lakh as beneficiary contribution, and Rs 30,000 as maintenance.

A total of 527 families moved to the camp in Anand Parbat in 2014, but many others are refusing to leave till a court gives them in writing that they will not lose their homes.

katputli-759 Approximately 2,800 families are to be relocated from Kathputli Colony to a transit camp in Anand Parbat, set up by Raheja Developers. Express Photo by Abhinav Saha

Life under a shadow

Established in the late 1960s-early 1970s, the colony is inhabited by puppeteers, dancers, musicians, magicians and performers originally from Rajasthan. They were later joined by folk artists and migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.

In the last couple of years, and especially in the last month, several slum-dwellers have resisted attempts by the DDA to relocate them to the camp. “This colony is named after the work we do, the art we know. Today, we are barely able to go to work and display our heritage to the world because we fear losing our land. What will be the identity of this colony, or our own identity, if our work suffers?” Devi says.

After the death of her husband, and the relocation, Devi had to drastically cut down on work. “Every prop needed for a dance performance — kachhi ghodi, brass pitchers for Bhavai dance, stilts, and costumes — are packed and kept. My work has suffered so much that I had to mortgage my jewellery, which is essential for our performances, for Rs 1 lakh,” she says.

katputli759 Sharda Bhatt, a dancer and mother of three. Express Photo by Abhinav Saha


A familiar story

The situation isn’t very different in other parts of the colony — divided into camps mostly named on the basis of regions. At Gujarati Basti, Sharda Bhatt, a dancer and a single mother of three, is battling unemployment. Her husband, a drug addict, left three years ago. “I’ve performed across the world. My visa application is pending with the French Embassy but I don’t feel like going anymore. We fear our house will be broken down,” she says. It doesn’t help that the shifting period has coincided with the artistes’ peak work season. “I charge Rs 500-700 per show. But this season has been rough. I’ve only been able to go for a few shows. I have no money to even eat properly,” she says.

The DDA has repeatedly said nobody would be forced to sign slips telling them to leave. But with stories of people allegedly being coerced to sign doing the rounds, residents can’t help but worry. “My children haven’t been to school in the last month,” says Bhatt. Sandhya (10), her youngest, says, “What if we go to school and they break our house? Where will we look for our mother?” she says.

In limbo

The situation is worse for those whose names are not on the list of 2,641 beneficiaries the DDA has made. A senior official from Raheja Developers said, “Anyone with a jhuggi and valid documents will be given a house, even if his name is not on the list… Those who are creating hurdles are doing so on the directions of foreign-funded NGOs…”

The mistrust among residents comes from the fact that many think the entire process was opaque, and that many of the pradhans (there are 12 in total) did not represent their interests during talks with the DDA. In 2012, the then Delhi labour minister Ramakant Goswami, also the area MLA, had said “it was a mistake not to take artisans on board during the planning stage”.

katptli A total of 527 families moved to the camp in Anand Parbat in 2014. Express Photo by Abhinav Saha.

Researchers from the Centre for Policy Research, and AAP Jhuggi Jhopdi Cell secretary Sundeep Narwani, said there were loopholes in the contract drawn up to shift residents. “The contract doesn’t name the DDA anywhere even though it’s supposed to be a tripartite contract… It doesn’t specify responsibilities of Raheja and DDA if the two-year timeline for completion of the project is extended,” says Persis Taraporevala from CPR.

Narwani said, “There’s an issue with the timeline because the DDA is using the 2011 cut-off (residents have to establish they have resided in the area before 2011) whereas the DUSIB cut-off is 2015.”

In a complaint to the SHO of Ranjit Nagar police station dated June 3, 2014, AAP leader Ashish Khetan had said, “… Kathputli Colony is only a short drive from Rajiv Chowk, so it stands to reason that its market rate will be much higher… Government land worth thousands of crores has been sold for only Rs 6.11 crore.”

A senior official from Raheja Developers, however, said DDA stamps were being put on each agreement handed to residents, and that if they were to delay the project by more than two years, they would be fined by DDA.

DDA principal commissioner J P Agarwal said, “There is no arbitrariness in the contract; I have had more than 20 meetings with stakeholders, and all were more than convinced. We have got it vetted from all quarters; we have no objection lodged from anyone. Only anti-social elements with vested interests are creating a problem.”

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