NEW DELHI: For the people of Kathputli Colony, home to India's largest conglomerate of puppeteers, singers, magicians and musicians- the morning of October 30 was just another day.

Bicycles noisily navigating the narrow lanes, the vegetable seller hoarsely calling out his wares, the smell of cooking emanating from the brick houses with the smoke filling the alleys through a patch in the tarpaulin roofs, the younger residents of the colony laughing in a game of hide and seek- the sights and sounds of a slum waking up to life.

By evening everything had changed. The neighborhood was swarming with bulldozers, policemen, and officials of the Delhi Development (DDA). Bearing official orders, they had come to evict the residents of this colony and raze their homes to the ground, to clear the land for a redevelopment project.

This project had been announced in 2009 as private-public partnership between DDA and Raheja Developers. After a protracted struggle against this project, that lasted several years, it was finally time for the residents of Kathputli Colony to relent. The bulldozers would have it no other way.

Home after home fell, the pile of bricks rising. Dust filled the air. The residents hurriedly packed a lifetime of belonging in trunks and bundles, in a bid to save whatever they could in the face of such loss. Some stood in front of their homes, facing the bulldozers, as a final protest. The police lost no time in using tear gas, removing people by force and silencing dissent quite easily.

Puppeteers, musicians and magicians- the custodians of India's heritage- stood helpless, unprotected against the onslaught. India's art lay among the rubble- the head of a colorful Rajasthani puppet, a half broken drum. Alongside, amidst the rubble lie the dreams and hopes of India's poor- a small refrigerator bought after a year of saving- now smashed, frayed jeans, a child's pencil box.

The future remains uncertain for the uprooted residents of Kathputli Colony. Some families are eligible for resettlement and will be allotted flats for the EWS (Economically Weaker Sections) category in the redeveloped Kathputli colony, but only upon payment of Rs. 132000 within two years of their eviction.

Such an amount is far in excess of what many residents can afford, given the monetary loss they have suffered recently and the seasonal nature of their employment. Uncertainty also looms large for the families who form part of the list of about 771 people not considered eligible for alternate allotment, on the DDA website.

The erstwhile residents of Kathputli Colony have been shifted to transit camps in Anand Parbat and Narela. Densely populated, the camp comprises tents in which entire families with all that they have ever owned, are being forced to stay. Some families have not got tents officially allotted to them and are staying with relatives at this transit camp. For lack of space, some have resorted to even sleeping outside the tents, in the November cold.

Vinay Bhaat, a puppeteer from Kathputli colony and an artist of Kayakalp Trust, informs us that he and his family had to wait on the road with their belongings for nearly half a day after the demolition, before transport could be organised to take them to Anand Parbat. Raju Bhaat, another puppeteer of the same troupe laments the loss of his home. He expresses worry for his children and his old parents. The camp is swarming with people, he says, 2800 tents for 4000 people.

Families of 8 to 9 people are surviving in an 8 feet by 8 feet space. Sanitation facilities are heavily compromised given the quantum of people staying at the camp. "We often have to wait in long lines to go to the bathroom. Sometimes, there are 40 people ahead of us in line. We cannot afford to take baths, as the water is limited. When the women folk go to fill water in their vessels, they are able to fill at most two out of five vessels".

Such unsanitary and unplanned rehabilitation speaks of a complete indifference towards the plight of the dislodged. Giving a five day notice to evict an entire colony speaks of the way we look upon an entire section of our society- unworthy of informing, unfit to receive prior notice and easily forced into compliance by the powerful. Using brute force to evict a colony and later terming it as a 'mild force using tear gas' speaks of yet another instance when the vulnerable were muffled. Deeming such a transit camp fit for living for families- small children and old people especially- speaks of how low a standard of living we as a society set, for India’s poor.

The redevelopment of Kathputli colony comes at the cost of the development of its people. Raju Bhaat smiles wryly as he says "Earlier we were ruled by the British. Now, we are ruled by whoever who has money. Everything has to be according to the rich man. We? We do not matter."

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