The enchanting ‘Kathputli Colony’, located about two minutes away from the Shadipur metro station in Delhi, superficially looks just like any other urban slum - a mess of open drains and labyrinth-like narrow lanes circumventing shoddily constructed houses of concrete and corrugated steel but in reality, it is so much more. It is home to the descendents of traveling gypsy performers from all around the country, inextricably linked to their livelihoods. Kathputli Colony is also called by other names: Kalakaron ki Basti, Madari colony and Bazeegar colony.
Since the colony occupies valuable land in the capital, the government wants to acquire and develop it. Delhi Development Authority has joined with a private firm, Raheja Developers, to build apartment blocks, some to be bought at a sharply reduced rate by the residents and others offered at market price to the wealthy. It wants the residents to move to a transit camp while the work is done. Quite obviously, the residents are anxious and fearful at the same time. While the debate over land rights continues, the artists struggle to make ends meet.
“This place is important to keeping the traditions alive,” says Bhagwan Das ji, a 75-year-old singer who moved here from Rajasthan 60 years ago, giving hope to the several generations of puppeteers that strive here. The colony has become a living testament to the various hardships artists have to endure in this country.