An Outsider’s Vexed View of Kathputli Colony and the Events Unfolding There

I walk through the narrow lanes peeping inside the small houses in Kathputli Colony Delhi. Left and right I turn feeling bewildered at the Dafflies hanging outside some houses and music being played from different places. Cholies of different colours swish past me. I swish my way through the narrow gallies, a blue leaf among fresh green ones. Glances of warmth I see, “Namaste Aap meeting ke liye aaye ho?” Says an elderly man. I nod. He calls a young boy who introduces himself as Ganga . Then I am directed towards the meeting in Moharram park. Ganga tells me that his family has been living in the colony for over 40 years now. “I am from Rajasthan”, he says with a child like gleam in his eyes. ‘My parents live here and I am an artist’.

Art and Artists, a relationship that has bound our civilization together. As I walk through the narrow gallies I am once again reminded of P Sainath’s words, “Media, journalism, art and literature did not come out of corporate investment, they came out of communities and societies and we have to return it back to the people”. A nation as diverse as ours is bound not by money or the annual budget. Not by the feeling of pride among the middle class while seeing Indian names in Forbes top 100 billionares list but by the Music, Rivers, Mountains and Art. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Gujarat to Arunachal, how much do we actually know about each other? Growing up in Sikkim which became part of India only in 1975 all that ever made us feel ‘Indian’ was the stories of desert in Rajasthan, the paradise that is Kashmir and the coconut trees in Kerala. This vision. This tingling sweet music is what has made millions of us ; old and young, fair and dark, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, feel Indian.

A young girl no older than me takes me around the colony in the evening. Bearing the chilling delhi winter families sit huddled around fire. There are about 13 communities living in kathputli colony. Hindus and Muslims live in harmony. During the meeting in Moharram park women from different communities sit together shouting slogans of Mahila Ekta and Samaj Ekta. “Aap ke community ke log bhi hai yaha”, says an elderly woman sitting beside me. “Nepali log bahut hai idhar aur bahut aache hai”. Two years living in the posh areas of delhi, never had I ever felt like a part of a community. Warm and slender. Words when spoken cause happiness and joy. Thus started my love for a place that I have known only for two weeks.

Kathputli – the art of puppetry, a long forgotten art among the middle class and the upper class. Forgotten? Or one shall say the authorities have mastered this art by showing pictures and displaying projects on smart cities whilst snatching away the houses of 3,500 families living in the colony. Yet again the poor are being shown visions of apartments after two years. These stories are not new. Of lands being snatched from the poor. Most families in the colony have houses smaller than the lawns of the minister’s bungalows in Lutyens Delhi.  Where shall they go? To the heavily guarded Transit camps which has no toilets or drinking water facilities? Where shall we protest? In Jantar Mantar which has become a joke in democratic India? Or shall we stand like the adivasis in Madhya Pradesh who refused move away even when the government flooded their lands with the dam’s water. On which lands shall we stand? The land which has in it the blood of billions of poor who have died of starvation, caste oppression, violence or the land in which lies the magnificent Taj.  A love out of many. A woman out of many. A million mazdoors who toiled day and night only to have their hands chopped off In the end.

Women leading protests in Kathputli Colony

Isn’t the government chopping off the hands of the Artists of the colony? Of the singer’s, Artists and craft makers? How will these artists earn their living in the shallow Transit camps? An 80 year old woman told me that she was born in the colony in 1942. “We had houses made of bamboos back then”, she said “Brick by Brick we put it all together. I will not leave this place. This is where my parents died and this is where I’ll die”.

As the night dawns I leave for home with a pristine will of standing with the the people of the colony. While walking from the metro station I see a man sweeping the pavement on which he spends every night sleeping while another cooks dinner in a small fire. Human attachment to places and living begins has always fascinated me. We get attached to books, places, living beings not knowing the consequences of it. Have the residents of Kathputli colony done anything wrong by getting attached to the land where they have lived for generations? Who is the government to snatch away a part of their lives? Who can/should decide as to how much and why? Whatever happens to kathputli colony in the coming days  shall decide what will happen to all of us or to our country in general. After them they will come for you and me. The corporate media will not sympathise with us for they are kathputli too. Till then feel the pain of those standing in front of the DDA bulldozers everyday fighting for what is rightfully theirs. To the mothers who I see crying everyday while leaving their homes for the transit camps, your tears will remain a dearth in the long history of our country’s exploitation and loot. We need to take back what is ours- our lands, our music, our art. A 27 storey house with over 400 employees in South Bombay, Is that what we want our coming generation to look at awe with? Maybe not.

– Shradha T K Lama


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