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Kathputli Colony: Seeking Alternatives

The congested and dilapidated slums of Kathputli Colony can be seen even from the Blue Line of the Delhi Metro. But the aerial view does not tell you what lies beneath that shanty town and the way it is going, probably no one will be left to tell you that story after a few years.

So, the Kathputli Colony (Literally, the colony of puppets), came into existence almost 60 years ago, originally to settle some puppeteers from Rajasthan who lacked a settled address till then due to the itinerant nature of their trade. Originally they only had a few tents but gradually various other types of street performers, musicians, and artisans from different states settled down here permanently. With more than 3000 families, this space soon was overflowing with people but they had no other option.

Over the years it become sort of an offbeat tourist destination, visited by eclectic travellers, writers, and photographers chronicling the dying art forms. They got good stories out of these walks but the life at the colony remained the same. Most of the residents probably would have been content even with the status quo but it was not be. With the rapid growth of Delhi, this area is now surrounded by many other areas that are witnessing a construction boom. At the same time, the government came up with a plan to build better accommodation for the residents and started shifting them to a transit camp a few kilometres away.

Now, that sounded like a good plan on paper but the ground realities are not offering a very rosy picture. Firstly, the project is nowhere near completion after three years and instead, various controversies has crept up, as is evident from the news reports such as this and this.

Also, the standard of living at the transit camp seems to be even worse than the old colony and it is deeply affecting the day to day activities of the residents. They accepted the original proposal for a better future, while accepting temporary inconvenience for a couple of years.

So, why are we talking about them today?
This is because people like those at the Kathputli Colony are exactly the reason why we have planned the conference on Livelihood Models for Skilled Street, Circus & Folk Artists this week. These traditional artists have certain skills and talents that remain untapped. They earn very little while an equivalent talent in some other field or in some other society may be far better off. So, the issue is not with their abilities but with the way society perceives them. We intend to change the way the problem is looked at. If you are in Delhi at 7th and 8th April, do pay us a visit at the India International Centre.


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