“India is a mother***** country!” shouted a middle-aged man with a gloomy face. He seemed tired, weather-beaten and emotionally beaten.
Circumstances are such that his house and his entire colony had just been bulldozed off by the Delhi Development Authority for its in-situ development scheme. Under this scheme, re-settlement will be done on the land occupied by jhuggi-jhopri clusters with private partnership. Kathputli Colony was the first in the list. It was not some usual colony in Delhi but it was home to world acclaimed artists, puppeteers, magicians, herbs sellers and many more.
Legitimacy or morality of what Jagdish, a 50 years old puppeteer, said in anger and disappointment, is still questionable and so is this whole issue of demolition and supposed re-settlement of Kathputli Colony. But what he said was extremely impactful to the current scenario of hopelessness which lies ahead of him and other five thousand people of Kathputli Colony. He was sitting on an iron chair which itself was in a very bad condition and visibly showed its clear hesitation to hold Jagdish and was one of the few rescued items from the debris spread behind him. This scene sort of justified the grave reality of this issue.
“See what you did to us. We made this country pride across the world. We brought world’s attention towards our distinct and diverse culture. But we have become homeless now. These smashed houses are all we received in return.” said Jagdish with wet eyes and a difficult throat. He then suddenly zipped off his bag and taking out a beautiful puppet dressed in pink lehenga, said looking into my eyes, “I can live without food and water. I can still manage without shelter. But I cannot manage without my puppets. They are my culture. I can never leave my culture as I know the importance of it.”
The future and lives of all these artists and their families now stand in a limbo. Whether or not they will be resettled as was promised by the authorities. “My grandchildren keep asking me again and again when we will get a new house. I have a family of twenty-two members. All of us haven’t eaten since three days. Children haven’t gone to school since eight days. We have to borrow money to sustain every day.” said Bimlawati, a 55-year-old woman whose husband worked on Bioscope.
The site of Kathputli Colony is now reduced to heaps of smashed houses, remaining pieces of walls and ceilings. Sadness loomed over the site. With winters and deadly smog around the corner, ordeals of these people who haven’t yet been allotted house at a transit camp in Anand Parvat set up by Raheja builders. Bimlawati said, “I went there today too. They said no house will be allotted until 30 November. Our houses have already been broken. Where do I take my family to?”
“Over the years, sincere efforts have been made by DDA and the time has come to fulfill a long cherished dream of this JJ (jhuggi-jhopri) slum dwellers.” Says the about section of the kathputlicolonydda.com website. The current situation of these slum dwellers is extremely grave. The story of Kathputli colony highlights some major issues of demolition in the name of development and rehabilitation and system’s efficiency or inefficiency to execute either of them.
It also highlights the role of media and expectations these people have from media. This issue leaves us with a loud air of questions. On being asked about his ordeals Jagdish said in a disappointed tone, “What can you do for us? Nothing. Nothing at all. You just come, take some photos; write some notes and then ‘Chalo’. That’s it.”
Author’s Note: This question by Jagdish left me very disturbed. I have never been taught to answer such a difficult question. His question brought my entire journalistic experience and knowledge to a blank zero. For a moment I actually felt powerless and couldn’t justify my presence there. Was it just for an interesting story?