In-Situ – The Kathputli Colony

“The problems of the magicians’ ghetto were the problems of the Communist movement in India; within the confines of the colony could be found, in miniature, the many divisions and dissensions which racked the Party in the country. ….. Fire-eaters and sword-swallowers applauded the guerrilla tactics of the Naxalite movement; while mesmerists and walkers-on-hot-coals espoused Namboodiripad’s manifesto and deplored the Naxalites’ violence.” Thus fictionalized Salman Rushdie in his classic ‘Midnights Children’ in 1980 and took the local Delhi slum to international limelight – The Kathputli Colony!

Projected completely as a magical place, more so when one approaches the settlement, it seems like across some international border with a ‘No Man’s Land’ in the middle. Metro took up a strip of land between the main road and the settlement and locked it up with high walls. In all probability it reflects the notion of shame towards the physicality of the non-formal. . “Middle-class India looks upon us as a nuisance, at odds with the image of India as a rising world power,” says Ishamuddin Khan, a street magician whose rope illusion was once ranked among the 50 greatest magic tricks in the world (ref).

No-Man's-Land and the Kathputli Colony beyond.

No-Man’s-Land and the Kathputli Colony beyond.

Early 1970s is when few street performers settled at current site of Kathputli colony and they began performing in different parts of Delhi. It was post emergency in late 70s when Bhule Bisre Kalakar Co-operative and Asian Heritage Foundation started their intervention and found work for the residents via Sangeet Natak Academy. The real boost was in 1980 and 1985 when the artists from Kathputli Colony took part in Festival of India in UK and USA respectively; and started the career of the “artist”, from international recognition to national awards, all this emanating from the dilapidated slum of Delhi.



1970 (s) Settlement started
Post 1977 Bhule Bhisre Kalakar Cooperative + Asian Heritage Foundation, collaborating with Sangeet Natak Academy.
1980 Festival of India, UK (Artists from Kathputli Colony took part)
1985 Festival of India, USA (Artists from Kathputli Colony took part)
1990 First relocation plan at Vasant Kunj (scraped)
1996 Relocation Plan at Mehrauli (scraped)
2002 Then Minister of Urban Development & Poverty Alleviation Bandaru Dattatreya stated in an answer in the Parliament that 1487 Janta Flats in Sector 16, Pocket B, Dwarka were reserved for residents of Kathputli Colony. (None of the Kathputli residents ever got it though 😉 )
2007 DDA decided to try in-situ slum rehabilitation project
2009 PPP with Raheja Developers. Raheja plan 190m High Skyscraper on site with luxury apartments and a helipad! (Raheja Phoenix)
2010 DUAC condemns DDA for the ridiculous design by Raheja and states that residents of Kathputli Colony are intangible heritage of Delhi and thus suggests courtyard low rise plan with open spaces. (Which of course DDA never did)
2011 Transit Camp site selected at Anand Parbat
2014 New commission at DUAC  approves the plan with minor changes
2014 Election heat and both BJP & AAP, point out multi Crore land scam. [Approximately 1000 Crore land was sold to Rahejas at 6 Crore] (Now the helipad seems logical)


One of the major shifts that Delhi has seen is the shift from re-location to in-situ rehabilitation of slums, while the premises of both remain the same. Two of the main concerns that lead to this shift are occupation & social network and it should be clearly understood that these factors are not just about geographical proximity. Thus the moment one classifies occupation and social-network as a function of geographical proximity, there ceases to exist any difference between in-situ redevelopment or re-settlement of a slum. A slum can be “up-graded” at the same location and can still hinder occupation and break social networks.

In general a settlement is more than the just a collection of houses, now that has become one of the main reasons why almost every effort by DDA or DUSIB has failed miserably. Specifically in the case of Kathputli Colony where the settlement is culturally charged requires a much sensitive and innovative approach. It is not that DDA is not been informed/helped/directed about such approaches towards Kathputli Colony. As Prof. K T Ravindran puts it “During a discussion in 2010 at the Delhi Urban Art Commission, the DDA was reminded of the Kathputli community’s contribution to the intangible heritage of Delhi. The suggestion was to group these communities around courtyards and open spaces in ground and first floors so that the familiar links and conviviality of the community could be protected in the new housing scheme.” Well to put it in a phrase, one needs to Design and not just copy existing models with improvising.

Rendering of the proposal at Kathputli Colony

Rendering of the proposal at Kathputli Colony


It is quite interesting that residents of Kathputli colony are against redevelopment and have refused to move to the transit camp. As usual the pictures of transit camp look really fancy, and any non-technical person will fall for it. These transit camps are for the residents to live in for more than 3 years and such porta-cabins can’t sustain more than couple of months.

Picture of the Transit Camp by DDA

Picture of the Transit Camp by DDA

Transit Camp as viewed by the residents

Transit Camp as viewed by the residents

After visiting the settlement, I fail to understand why DDA is going with the failed PPP model for slums. Also especially when RAY (Rajiv Awas Yojana) is in place and Kathputli Colony with majorly G or G+1 houses is one the easiest settlements for RAY-kind of interventions compared to the more dense settlement elsewhere in Delhi.

Metro wall and the Settlement

Metro wall and the Settlement

Kathputli Colony is immensely interesting internally too. As many lower income neighbourhoods, this too defies the middle class morality baggage and thus becomes a magical place which doesn’t conform to the general notions of imposed morality. For those of us who work in slums will understand this more. There is a considerably big enough community of transvestites, one of the many magical factors of the diverse Kathputli Colony. Communities are formed with clusters based on region and religion, thus some are cleaner than others.

The general notion of shame towards non-formal settlements like Kathputli Colony, which essentially is a colonial legacy, is undermining the immense potential that this settlement has. Kathputli Colony is part of the cultural landscape of Delhi and can be promoted and accentuated so. Even economically speaking a well planned settlement will be more viable considering the way Delhi aspires to brand itself will be much more “profitable” than the proposed helipad equipped tower. Thus comes in the need for architects to aestheticize slums! Contrary to the allegations by “poverty champions”, aestheticization will be the first step towards innovatively tacking the poverty issues in slums and accentuation positive qualities of the non-formal settlements like Kathputli Colony.

A local vendor performing to sell his Datun

A local vendor performing to sell his Datun






5 thoughts on “In-Situ – The Kathputli Colony

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  2. In my little mind all I can think is that when has any govt ever done something good for the people. It’s always for those chosen few on the top for whom things take place..If for them slums need to be five start facilities then so it shall be..If not then I doubt it will happen.

    Politicians look at it as vote banks..

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