Posts Tagged ‘Tehelka’

Kathputli Colony’s last stand

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

 

I’ve written several times over the last few years about Delhi’s Kathputli Colony (or as I knew it, Shadipur Depot) – that Dickensian maze of street performers and magicians that somehow floats on the imagination of the city. This time however, it looks like the city will finally swallow the place. According to Tehelka Magazine, residents of the ‘illegal’ slum – some 3500 families that have been there for forty years – may have to move soon to a re-development far to the North. The site at Shadipur where the land was once worthless is now, as the city grows, worth a fortune. It was sold by the the Delhi Development Authority in 2009 to the Mumbai-beased Raheja Builders however, at what Tehelka suggests was seriously undervalued price to make way for a high rise developments. These would, it was promised, include social housing for the performers families. It seems though that even on paper, the proposed number of dwellings for the artists is far short of the actual number needed. Perhaps with some good reason, the artists families don’t believe that the authorities will make good on their promises to allow them back to the area when it is developed. The project is now stuck in limbo as the Delhi Urban Arts Commission has objected to it. The traditional performers are caught. If they move, they lose their homes and their livelihoods. If they stay, they are likely to be evicted and from previous scenarios that may well be violent. They know however that they are simply powerless actors in a city’s development, caught as they are between tradition and a very cruel version of modernity. Since I made a story in Shadipur nearly a dozen years ago, quite a few photographers have worked here and a film was even made of the struggles of the residents. In some senses it was an easy story; a fairy tale in a bleak metropolis. Most people’s recent treatment of it completely ignored the fact that as Delhi grows and divides even more sharply between those that produce it’s wealth and those that exploit it, the story is no longer about a quaint tinsel-town slum. It is about how Delhi will look in the future. It is about what kind of society India wants for its cities and its people.

In 2010 I wrote about the city’s sweeping of street vendors off the pavements before the Commonwealth Games and I mentioned the excellent book, Trickster City, a collection of writings by those at the sharp end of the slum clearances. As I wrote then

The irony is that many countries celebrate their street culture … and make them a tourist attraction: one has only to think of Singapore and Vietnam. Delhi’s depressing desire to imitate a corporate driven monoculture is certain to lead to a lessening of the city’s heritage.

As I’ve said many times here, I have no sentimental attachment to poverty and no Raj-tinted spectacles through which I view Delhi. I both hate and love the city but the scales are now tipped so far against certain sections of its people that I find it difficult sometimes to walk it’s streets and look some people in the eye.

You can see my original set from Shadipur here

I’ve decided to show some less well known images from the set – some that I have rediscovered. I hope you like them.

 

India - New Delhi - Reenu, 15 and her brother practice their contortions. Reenu and her family are trained by her mother, herself a former acrobat. The children, when babies, were stretched and contorted to make their bones pliable for the act. Shadipur Depot, New Delhi, India.The Kathiputli Colony in the Shadipur Depot slum is home to hundreds of (originally Rajasthani) performers. The artistes who live here - from magicians, acrobats, musicians, dancers and puppeteers are often international renowed by always return to the Shadipur slum.

India – New Delhi – Reenu, 15 and her brother practice their contortions. Reenu and her family are trained by her mother, herself a former acrobat. The children, when babies, were stretched and contorted to make their bones pliable for the act. The Kathiputli Colony in the Shadipur Depot slum is home to hundreds of (originally Rajasthani) performers. The artistes who live here – from magicians, acrobats, musicians, dancers and puppeteers are often international renowed but always return to the Shadipur slum.

 

India - New Delhi - A performers son in a gold shirt, Shadipur Depot,

India – New Delhi – A performers son in a gold shirt, Shadipur Depot,

 

Indian - New Delhi - A man and his performing monkeys. The Kathiputli Colony in the Shadipur Depot

Indian – New Delhi – A man and his performing monkeys. The Kathiputli Colony in Shadipur Depot

 

India - New Delhi - Chand Pasha, a magician produces a bird from his sleeve

India – New Delhi – Chand Pasha, a magician produces a bird from his sleeve

 

India - New Delhi - A boy on his way to perform his magic act at a wedding waits for a lift by the side of the road

India – New Delhi – A boy on his way to perform his magic act at a wedding waits for a lift by the side of the road, Shadipur Depot

 

 

 

Delhi at 100

Monday, December 12th, 2011

There’s a rather charming slideshow on the BBC here on the changing face of Delhi by one of its elderly residents. A shame that the city authorities haven’t made more of this to be honest. Delhi remains an enigmatic and petulant youth amongst other capitals: certainly for me infuriating and engaging at the same time.

 

Of course, as Kanika Singh, Convener of Delhi Heritage Walks told Tehelka magazine, not everyone shares that view, “Only last year, we evicted all street hawkers while preparing for the Commonwealth Games—and now we are celebrating their contributed (sic.) to our ‘heritage’. I don’t feel like celebrating this occasion. Whose Delhi are we celebrating?”.

The point is surely that cities only belong to their inhabitants when they feel they have some stake in them. I agree that most of Delhi is too busy trying to earn a crust to survive to be bothered about the anniversary but surely (and, if you’ve read this blog before you will know that I am the very last person to romanticise or excuse the Raj) the city is the sum of it’s parts: Hindu, Muslim and the British all have legacies that has made Delhi what it is and decrying any of those for some neo-nationalist point is surely counter-productive. Delhi is what it is and pretending that the city – or indeed much of India for that matter, doesn’t have some English blood is as pointless and saying it isn’t a melting pot of past empires. Selective cultural memory is a very dangerous thing for all societies (remember Ayodya?) and only by melding the various strains in a city (certainly one as large and anarchic as Delhi) can you hope to create a genuinely inclusive society…

Anyway, lecture over. Here’s one I made earlier…

India - Gurgaon - Bricklayers constructing a house in the shadow of an exclusive new development

 

Vedanta – India’s shame

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

I read today with disappointment and resignation that Vedanta Industries have won their fight on appeal to establish a bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills in India.

I wrote a piece for the Indian magazine Tehelka about this story in 2007 and it can be seen here.

Vedanta Resources, a UK-registered ftse -100 company has fought a long campaign to establish the mine and despite judicial review it seems now that nothing can stop it.

The story typifies the very real problem of India’s industrial development. The Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa are sacred to the Dongria Kondhs, a protected tribal group of ‘original’ Aboriginal peoples. Allegedly, the British geologist who “discovered” these rich deposits nearly a century ago dubbed them “Khondalite” in tribute to the people who guided him there. It seems that this simple act of hospitality will mean the end of another of India’s pre-Aryan traditional cultures. The holy mountain will be raped for its ore and the people who haven’t already fled the company’s previously illegal building programme will be scattered. Those who stay will doubtless be housed in the stalag-like accommodation blocks I saw laying empty and crumbling in Lanjigarh. They will have to sell their land at government determined prices and then work as contract labourers. What has happened to countless other ‘primitive’ and powerless peoples all over India will happen to them. Displaced from their traditional homelands, sacred to their animist beliefs, women and girls often end up working as daily wagers, domestic helps or prostitutes. The women will also have to cope with alcoholism and domestic violence.

The author and social activist Arundhati Roy has described India’s unfettered race to Market Capitalism as nothing less than India ‘eating its own people’ and in this macabre metaphor one can see the reflections of the Enclosures and urbanisation of the rural communities of England in the nineteenth century.

Engels in his ‘Conditions of the Working Classes’ wrote about the squalor and appalling inhumanity of the Northern mill towns but these could be anywhere in the newly ‘industrialised zones’ of rural India.

I am no romantic when it come to India. I don’t share a Raj view of the colonial apologists (despite inevitably by dint of being British having reaped the indirect rewards of the subjugation of that country). I don’t yearn for quaint, underdeveloped communities full of poverty and colour. I want to see India progress. But I know the stink of international corporate power when I smell it.

India had no colonies from which to steal resources so it’s stealing them from its own weak and vulnerable. The profits of this mine will not be spread evenly to benefit the Indian economy – it will be hoarded in the off-shore bank accounts of those corrupt politicians and corporate executives who already think that India is theirs by right.

A new Middle Class India has been brought up to believe that a successful society means a consumerist society. Greed and nationalism go hand in hand: it is not the poor of India calling for war with their brothers and sisters in Pakistan.

Traditionally, Indians have protested injustice in a dignified Ghandian way with hunger strikes and marches. While the Western media and much of India has been marvelling at ‘Shining India’ it has failed to notice that a good deal of India is now under Maoist rebel control. In Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand the Indian state is fighting a battle it might not win.

A woman carries a pot of water from a stream in front of the Vedanta plant, Lanjigarh, Orissa

A tribal woman carries a pot of water from a stream in front of the Vedanta plant, Lanjigarh, Orissa

The Vansadhara river. The river is one of two that flows from Niramgiri mountain. The effect of the Vedanta plant will be to dry up streams that feed the river depriving the Dongria Kondh of fresh water

The Vansadhara river. The river is one of two that flows from Niramgiri mountain. The effect of the Vedanta plant will be to dry up streams that feed the river depriving the Dongria Kondh of fresh water

Widow Kadu Dei and her child, Harni Majhi, 2. Dei's husband was an anti- Vedanta Alumina activist who it is alleged, was killed in a hit and run accident by a car used by Vedanta employees. Dei is now forced to rely on the charity of her neighbours to survive. Kansari village, Orissa

Widow Kadu Dei and her child, Harni Majhi, 2..Dei's husband was an anti Vedanta Alumina activist who it is alleged, was killed in a hit and run accident by a car used by Vedanta employees. Dei is now forced to rely on the charity of her neighbours to survive. Kansari village, Orissa