The Performers on the Postcards

Kathputli colony is a slum in Delhi, India.

It is home to the largest community of street performers in the world.

It is a magnet for artists from all corners of the country: puppeteers from dusty Rajasthan, musicians from the jungles of Himachal, singers from Bengal, and magicians from a world long forgotten.

Their homes may be drenched in colour, but they are cracking with uncertainty. 

With no formal deeds to their land, they are threatened by a plan to develop their colony into a five star complex. 

Delhi's Development Authority (DDA) sold the land to billion dollar developers Raheja, in a bid to create a 'slum free Delhi'. 

They have built a transit camp on the city's outskirts.

More than half of Kathputli's residents have been forcibly relocated. 

Jagdish was married on a plate as a baby, 55 years ago, in the same house he lives in now. He heads the seventh generation of puppeteers in his family.

Jagdish refuses to move. 

With plastic toys and televisions replacing traditional handicrafts,  it is difficult for these artists to survive in our modern economy. 

Living in Kathputli colony means the performers were accessible to local Delhi-ites in search of entertainers.

But the transit camp built by the authorities lies in the jungle, where no taxi will take you. Relocating would spell the end of their livelihoods as performers, erasing generations of tradition. 

It would also leave the hundreds of children in the camp without access to schooling or healthcare. 

In Kathputli, an NGO run by a Dutch woman provides education and basic healthcare to residents. In the transit camp, there are no such facilities available.

People have not moved voluntarily, Jagdish explained to me. 

They have been intimidated. 

"The police come in the evening, filled with drink, and beat the people very badly... they stuck sticks inside the young girls and beat at their breasts until their clothes ripped."

A culture of corruption has fuelled this process. 

The land is prime real estate, and yet was sold for only 6.11 crore (less than £750k). I am told that the remainder of the land's value was paid off as baksheesh.

The elected community pradhan, chosen to communicate directly with the DDA, has been instrumental in protecting the colony.

He has reportedly continually refused personal bribes in order to safeguard the future of the entire colony, and not just himself.

"They underestimate our community's strength", says Jagdish. 

The oldest woman in the colony shows no signs of packing her bags. 

Most residents have relocated, but many are refusing to leave until they receive written confirmation they will not lose their homes. 

The situation in Kathputli is emblematic of the Indian government's relationship with development. 

A narrow idea of development, one which aims to erase an artistic community and replace it with a commercial district, is perpetuated by how government's across the world measure progress. 

As long as expanding GDP is prioritised over improving the health and wellbeing of populations, we will keep running in the wrong direction. 

"We are ready. If you want to kill me, I want to kill you. 

We used to be afraid of the police, but we are not afraid anymore."

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