Frequent fires leave Anand Parbat puppeteers with little hope

Charred hopes: A man looks for his belongings after Tuesday’s fire at the transit camp in Anand Parbat.

Charred hopes: A man looks for his belongings after Tuesday’s fire at the transit camp in Anand Parbat. | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

A once vibrant community of puppeteers and folk artistes from Kathputli Colony, which now resides at a transit camp in Anand Parbat, was dealt another blow on Tuesday after a fire razed 24 shanties and damaged 20 others.

Already struggling to earn a living, the residents are now displaced and their belongings have turned into ashes.

The fire impacted several households, including two folk artistes — an elderly woman and her son, who lived with his wife.

“The musicians lost a ravanahatha [a musical instrument], costumes and various albums that were archived. The family of three fled from the spot, but their jhuggi was burnt down,” said Vijay Maitri, an artiste and an activist who has been working with the community.

Arjun Bhatt, another musician, said he lost his dhol, puppets, costumes, documents and some cash in the fire. Mr. Bhatt, who lives with his children, sustained no injuries.

Uncertainty looms large

The artistes have been living in the transit camp for about eight years now as they wait to move into their new homes. The slum was selected for redevelopment as part of city’s first in-situ redevelopment project by the Delhi Development Authority.

For Vinod, a 40-year-old puppeteer, and other folk artistes residing in the camp, it has been a struggle to find work even during the wedding season.

Mr. Vinod said several residents of the camp, who earlier were snake charmers, jugglers, acrobats, folk dancers or puppeteers, now have a new role to play in the post-COVID world. As many have been robbed of their old jobs, they are now resorting to daily wage work for financial support.

“The pandemic destroyed everything that we had, some of us are only left with hope,” Mr. Vinod added.

As the community struggles with uncertainty, the area has been under police surveillance to clamp down on residents from organising protests over the pending housing project they were promised.

Mr. Maitri said the camp’s residents manage to find work and survive despite rising living costs but are always fearful of losing their livelihood due to fire accidents that occur frequently. “The situation at the transit camp in Anand Parbat looks a lot like a detention camp and the trauma lives within us. Residents had to use ditch water to douse the fire as clean water was inaccessible,” added Mr. Maitri.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2022 9:38:12 pm |