Research, conceptualized and written by Ananya Mahir.
Do you wonder how so many stories are still going strong with their so deep in the cultural history? Generation to generation, these stories have passed on, like an unwilted flower standing strong against time’s sun. Stories back then were not just mere series of events but were important sources of information for society’s development. Puppetry was one such medium by which artists narrated tales of kings, queens and their valor, stories about good and evil and stories that could improve the people’s understanding of society’s structure and working. As time passed, stories about gender equality, child marriage, and other social evils became popular. Not only did puppetry became a voice against society’s evils but also a means of employment for several artisans. Its origin in India was in Rajasthan where puppets were first mentioned in folk tales and ballads. Tribes of Rajasthan have been performing this art and it is an eternal part of the Rajasthani culture. It is believed that Bhat community started the art of performing with puppets to recite folklores about 1500 years ago. Rulers patronized the puppeteers and they performed for royal families and received great prestige. All this while Kathputli has survived the test of time with the help of patrons like kings and wealthy families.
Shadipur Depot in Delhi has an area called Kathputli Colony where puppeteers, magicians, acrobats, dancers, musicians and other itinerant performers have settled since last 50 years. With about 3000 families, it is internationally acclaimed for being world’s largest colony of performers. It was in 1950 that puppeteers from Rajasthan started living in makeshift tents in an open field on the outskirts of Delhi. Delhi being the cultural hub of India promised them a better employment and hence assured their and the artform’s future. More and more artists and performers from Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra also moved in and settled in the colony. All of them were performers and artisans and contributed to the cultural potpourri that Delhi is reputed for. The majority of them being puppeteers gave the colony the name it has. But it is not puppetry that the colony has been in recent news. Delhi police has sealed the entire colony for the residents to evict the colony which is supposedly is being rebuilt
In 2009, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) under a public-private partnership with a reputed construction company, signed a 6 crore deal to turn the slums into multi-story building. The company would develop the 14-acre area and get a significant part of the land for commercial use. This led to the demolition of the entire colony by the DDA. The DDA has proposed to shift the residents to a transit camp until the construction is done. The discrepancy in survey results is confusing people as it does not include several families who are eligible for flats, the ones not in the survey are hopeless about the DDA giving them flats later especially when there is no written assurance. On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court allowed the DDA to demolish the slums of residents who had moved out voluntarily. There have been allegations of forced eviction and use of force against residents who refused to move out. Police and DDA bulldozed their homes even before the residents could take their belongings, and work that they have dedicated all their lives to. People do not want to shift to Anand Parbat transit camp as there is lack of proper living space and facilities.
Puppetry enabled the most undereducated section of the society to engage in story-telling and preserve the rooted traditions of India. A good number of performers earn majorly in the wedding season which is now approaching. Demolition of houses not only affects their livelihood but also their business. The need rather greed to earn more profit seems to weigh more than conserving the cultural heritage of our country. We at Nazariya are concerned about the respect they deserve and extend our full support to all the artisans who resided in the Kathputli colony. We encourage people to be more aware and sensitive, we simply can’t turn a blind eye towards something which is of such great importance. Profiteering should clearly not take over preserving art and art forms. The demolition is yet another obstacle in not just the lives of the artisan community but the art of puppetry and performance itself. We hope the art of puppetry which has paved its way to popularity glorifies even more in the future.