The Hindu (read the original piece here) today published an op-ed about the development at Kathputli Colony. The author raises many important questions in this — development for whom? And by whom?– being a very pertinent one. The piece focusses on how what the people in Kathputli actually need is an upgradation of basic services and not a total change in the way they live their life. I cringe at this assumption that the author knows what they need, and it’s not apartments but upgradation of services. The piece also talks about an Artist’s Village being the ideal solution. In my work at Kathputli, I have heard mention this as well. And yes, it does seem like the ideal solution– not just because of the romantic notion of what the village might be like but also because in some ways the solution is coming from the artists themselves.
However, the piece and most of the things that I have read about Kathputli in the media and elsewhere paint a picture of the colony where there are no others. Official estimates show that 40% of residents actually belong to professions that are not considered artistic or they are not descendants of traditional gypsy clans. Both in the colony and in what is written about Kathputli, these people have very little presence. The present model of resettlement and rehabilitation paints all those living in slums, with the same brush. And essentially the struggle in Kathputli is about individuality of the artists, because their livelihoods and the spaces they inhabit are very tightly intertwined. By moving them to apartments that are generic and in no way respond to their ways of living, the DDA and the Delhi Govt. is essentially asking them to change how they live and what they do.
However, by presenting Kathputli as a colony where only artists live, the same brush is applied to the non-artists or rather their presence is completely negated. To me, Kathputli brings to the fore more than anything, the need to understand each of these slums and communities individually, to understand what keeps them together, where are they coming from, how do they live etc. For like Kathputli is not just another slum, it is also not just an Artists Colony. This requires a major shift in out understanding of who lives in these spaces– not just migrant workers, not just artists, not just criminals– but people. People and not just numbers, people who have families, who have their own ways of living, who like you and me, are trying to work towards a better tomorrow for themselves and their children.