Features Friday, October 10, 2014 - 05:30
Priyanka Dass Saharia | The News Minute | September 26, 2014 | 08:47 pm IST On a travel catalogue, KATHPUTLI Colony would look like the perfect “snake-charmer’s” den of the Orient; a riot of colours with copious doses of drama and regional music. The marionettes are the symbolic capital of the country’s tradition; oval faces, arched eyebrows and long trailing skirts makes for aesthetics with its embodied suggestive elements combined with its live counterpart makes for quite an artist’s ingenuity. Then there is the Kathputli Colony, tucked away in a corner of the Shaadipur Depot, home to about 3000 families since India earned its freedom; quite the irony of the game that this colony, today, blanketed by the garb of an “in-situ” development site has to earn their freedom now. Prakash and Ajit (names changed) owe their business to the years of spatial comfort that the colony provided, “How can government do this to us? When TV started in India, along with Bismillah ji’s performance our ancestors charmed all with their puppeteering tactics. Having earned accolades for India and its culture in America, Russia, Japan and Europe, we should be protected. Jawarhar lal Ji had done his bit and now things have changed.” Indicating at a stone slab, with inscriptions commemorating the day the colony was “legally” handed over to a “legitimate” party, they express their frustrations, “These politicians have sold out land to Raheja for so much money. We have asked the court to give us some time; we would have paid them all Raheja gave them even if we had to sell out kids. Kathputli is more than a home, it’s our identity.” They admit to making flawed decisions in desperations, “We have been double crossed. Our leaders had promised us land before the elections and now they say that Raheja would do us help. Modi ji tries his best and is doing his bit but I question on how can we, as a community of musicians stay around modern people. In the evenings their children would sit for tuitions while ours would practise their drums and when they get disturbed, that would become a reason to kick us out. Our drums weigh more than 400 kilograms, how can we carry them all upstairs. Even a lift wouldn’t help.” They end up in silent cackles contemplating on the incredulity of the proposition. Has Kathputli been relegated to a certain temporal frame of being “un-modern”? Are these people a misfit in the idea of how a global city should be? Do they fall out of the “urbanisable” limit? Do they spoil the grand scheme of Delhi’s plan to nodally position itself as a world-class city in the technocratic global urban politics? Prakash further elaborates, “I had seen a movie where Amitabh ji is there and there is a party where the message is “Dogs and Indians out”, it explains our case. We have become outdated. The parties have DJs now. Discos have their own business. Weddings have event planners. We are needed nowhere. People have forgotten us and now want to get rid of us. We are noise now.” ( A Rajasthani puppet show; Image Source: Wikimedia ) The “exotica” associated with the community and space still lives and sells, Ajit states, “A German woman comes and tells me to click a picture with her. She tells me to raise my shirt to show my belly too. I did it but it was embarrassing. But she was excited to take something back home and told me that she was like my daughter.” Prakash further clears the air, “Development is a construct here which is used to make money behind our backs by using our identity as a tool. The international organisations give us a lot of aid and trusts, but most of us are illiterate so the various NGOs, cultural trust foundations and politicians make money in our names.” There have been several tactics by several motivated parties to tire the people and drive them out, “They don’t give us electricity and water. In August, the police came post midnight and in resolving an inter-community feud got heated up and opened tear gas and beat several people. One of the police officers was hurt because they were hit with stones as a sort of collateral damage and they, in turn thought we hit them on purpose. They beat our men and jailed some boys too. When we went to file a complaint we were overlooked. Two boys suffered bullet wounds and hospitals refused to give aid as well because the police was involved.” In the socio-spatial refashioning of the city’s geography, what is the fate of this community? “The government gave us a choice to go to Dwarka, but what would be doing there? It’s so far and we’d never get business there. Our work needs an environment, an audience, a sense of comfort and familiarity and we have that here. Kathputli has been our home since more than 60 years now. It’s just that we never had proper documents and so we couldn’t avail of a legal patta. Baljeet Nagar in front of us was a forest area when we’d come, and now it’s a fully fledged colony for they have the legal position to live. The flyover here and these markets nearby, it were all rocks and trees and now it’s all bricks and stones. I wish we had fought for a legal patta too. We asked for Lado Sarai and such areas but were denied. This land was of the Jat community nearby and we had made a pact that we’d give them a share and they agreed. Now the government intervenes and plays a different game. Why didn’t they tell us before? Where would we go now?” Is it a sanitation drive for the hygiene of the area and its inhabitants, as the government partially claims or is it a sanitization of “Kathputli” as a way of living, an idea, a form through an urban exclusionary discourse? It’s no secret that New Delhi has always been the perfect mould to fit the vision of the seamless world-classiness, after all it bore the significant traces of an imperial power, quite proudly at that; the city centre withstanding sufficient proof. It all brings us to unearth a bigger question; what is “urban development”? It does make fodder for thought when one rolls the eye with scepticism at students aspiring to work for “development”. What is the nature of this “development”, whose “development” and who decides this “development”? Profits and prestige have driven this idea since a decade now and will a cloak of “in-situ” development, a “modularisation” of economic plans and strategies (as claimed by men at work), really trace a new route to the same ends, for the ends would never change and a new re-conceptualisation needs a new way of thinking about what one values and that is a far cry in this statist planning regime. Let’s look at it a tad differently. A case of “excesses” amounting to hyerpmodernisation, hence a wear and tear, the city spaces inflate and fail to be contained within a limit resulting in spillage; the quintessential case of the “mega-city”. A politically motivated nexus of the established and the aspirants build a construct to proliferate the idea of the “world-class” city, the underpinnings of exclusivity anchors it in everyone’s desires. The normative order follows of “how” a city should be and thus the engineering of the vision takes place in full swing. Hybrid concepts like the “bourgeoisie environmentalism” jumps on the band wagon and lent their help. The idea of “legitimatisation” and “citizenship rights” gets shaky in the face of a powerful ideological apparatus which picks up the steam of the “world-class” city vision. “Legal aid” becomes the luxury of the “privileged” and the “lesser mortals” are hand-picked for execution. Undoubtedly parts of Delhi are left to decay and as a result the “slums” get created but as economics and real estate prices rule the land, other areas hit the jackpot. And then the violation of equality, justice and rights of the people become the minor “collateral damage” in achieving the grand urban vision. Priyanka Dass Saharia, is a Masters (final) year student at Delhi School of Economics. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.