Tied to a pole outside a row of empty rooms, two monkeys tug at the ropes around their necks in an attempt to attack the little children teasing them. In front of another row of empty rooms, a group of men practising on their dhols are interrupted when two kids crash their cycle into the musical instruments. A few metres away, a man barbecues chicken that he will sell later in the afternoon.
Relocated from Kathputli Colony, which had been their home for decades, hundreds of artists and performers are slowly adjusting to a new life at a transit camp perched atop a hillock in central Delhi’s Anand Parbat.
Comprising rows and rows of rooms, constructed on a secluded piece of land and guarded by a posse of policemen, the Kathputli Colony Transit Camp might remind visitors of a World War II prison camp.
When a family first arrives at the camp, one of the members is required to be photographed with a slate bearing his or her survey number and other details. They are then sent to complete other formalities.
Kathputli Colony is the first slum in the city that will undergo in-situ redevelopment by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) with the help of a private developer. In lieu of multi-storey flats that the developer will build for the slum dwellers, it will get to use a part of the land commercially.
While the project takes shape, the residents of Kathputli Colony are being shifted to the transit camp, which has been built by the developer. However, out of the 2,800 cabins, only 900 have been occupied so far.
The attempt to move the 3,000 residents of the slum to the camp started three years ago, but most did not trust the authorities and there was resistance to the plan. In the first attempt by the DDA, only 527 families agreed to shift.
The DDA started another drive to persuade the residents in December last year and has been able to convince another 400 families to shift so far.
The residents have been promised homes in swanky multi-storeyed buildings in place of their unorganised shanties, that are set to be razed once every resident of Kathputli Colony agrees to the plan.
While many are yet to be convinced, it is the promise of better housing and other facilities that is motivating people who have moved to the camp to adjust to a new life. At the very entrance of the camp, a model of the upcoming multi-storey project keeps curiosity and hope alive in the residents.
‘Willing to compromise’
“Our women were forced to take a bath in the open at our Kathputli residence. Our kids played in gutter water. We waded through the drains in the rainy season and in summer, we had no water. Now, we have separate bathrooms and toilets with doors. Our children have space to play and ride bicycles,” says Bittu, while practising on his dhol .
The 10x12 feet cabins have no attached bathrooms or kitchens, but most residents are willing to compromise.
“We have been told it is a matter of a couple of years. We have separate and clean bathrooms for men and women. There is no water problem,” says Maya, a housewife.
Each family that moves in is allotted a room and instructed not to encroach upon the area outside. Those with a small family are happy.
“We are a family of three. I can accommodate two visitors in my room any time,” says Bittu.
Cramped living space
But people with large families are disgruntled.
With seven children in her family, Ruksana Begum, who relocated to the camp three years ago, has been forced to accommodate her family of nine in a tiny room.
“My door doesn’t close when all nine of us are inside the room. Why should my teenage daughter be forced to sleep with the door open? In winter we can’t even sleep outside. In Kathputli Colony, we had two rooms, a terrace and a verandah to ourselves,” says her husband Mohammad Hasmuddin.
The gang rape of a 14-year-old girl in a public toilet in the camp on December 27 is at the back of Begum’s mind when she talks about her young daughters’ safety.
The Anand Parbat police station right next to the camp, 31 CCTV cameras, and policemen patrolling her lane every few minutes do little to comfort her.
The police in the camp say they come across residents ‘cribbing’ about lack of space, but they come up with innovative solutions for them.
“One family demanded they be allotted one more room as the second son got married recently. I told them to segregate the room with curtains so that each son got his privacy,” says the policeman.
Little impact on jobs
Loss of jobs, usually the most feared consequence of relocation of such a large number of people, has so far not been a major cause of concern. “Since most of us perform on demand, we decide the venue, date and rate over the phone. So, we have not lost out on work,” says Sahil, a student whose father plays musical instruments for a living.
Those who earned their living doing small businesses suffered losses initially, but are hopeful of a better future. Mohammad Irshad, a poultry seller, says business has picked up since mid-December when more people shifted to the camp. Tiny shops have mushroomed in the locality — much to the displeasure of the authorities.
But for several women who worked as housemaids, the relocation has cost them heavily. “Finding work in the houses nearby is not easy. I am yet to find work,” says a woman who relocated to the camp only a week ago.
Several e-rickshaws ply from the camp to nearby areas of central Delhi, but the residents feel the pinch of being moved away from their earlier home that was so close to the Metro stations.
Looking to save some money, many residents of the camp choose to walk when they need to visit the nearby markets. But for the elderly and the sick, the walk up the almost mountainous terrain is not easy.
“When we cannot walk up the hill, we are forced to hire an e-rickshaw. Also, it is difficult to find transport at night,” says Sahil.
Many have also been forced to compromise on the education of their children even though there is a school nearby that accepts the new residents. “My nine-year-old son was not keen to leave his old school. But we had no choice. Hopefully, he will have a better life in the new flat that we will be allocated,” says Begum.
Facilities at the camp
An official with the private developer says they are doing everything to negate the losses suffered by some families. “They are getting free 24x7 water and electricity. Their lanes are cleaned by our employees. We have three water treatment plants that provide drinking water,” says the official.
Helping out the residents
The transportation and labour costs for shifting the belongings of the Kathputli Colony residents are borne by the developers, he claims. “We give them ₹500 coupons on arrival and their first meal is on us,” says the official.
The coupons allow them to buy items from a local departmental store as well as evening snacks and other items from certain shops, which have been authorised to accept the coupons.
More families moving in
Of late, with as many as 40 families shifting in a single day, it is a wait for a few hours before the families can move in with their luggage. “We need to get the electricity connection fixed first,” says an official pointing to a newly-arrived family.
Some distance away, another family waits outside a cabin as their “uneven” room is re-plastered.
To ensure peace in the camp, the officials concede that they are going soft on the rules for now. So, despite a fine of ₹50 for littering, there has hardly been an instance in which a resident has been penalised. A similar attitude has been adopted towards encroachment.
As more and more families shift, the spick-and-span lanes are looking more like the ones back in Kathputli Colony. Shacks, shops, beds, clay ovens, goats and household items are all over the streets, reducing the wide lanes into thin paths.
Not feeling at home
While most residents have settled down, a few are still to feel at home.
“We were very close to our neighbours. But with no control over the allotment of rooms, we have been separated. Despite the chaos in Kathputli Colony, we felt at home there,” says Mr. Hasmuddin, who has been at the camp for three years.