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Messy UrbanismUnderstanding the "Other" Cities of Asia$

Manish Chalana

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9789888208333

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888208333.001.0001

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Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

(p.155) Chapter 9 Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony
Messy Urbanism

Manish Chalana

Susmita Rishi

Hong Kong University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Most Indian cities have large pockets of informal settlements that urban planners, policy makers and the middle classes see as disorderly and in need of formalization. This formalization-focused perspective, on the one hand, undervalues the existing, unique patterns of urban development that have evolved in previous centuries and which continue to serve the residents who live and work there. On the other hand, this perspective instills great faith in modernist housing alternatives that have had limited success worldwide. This chapter focuses on Kathputli Colony—a settlement of traditional artists, street performers and other working classes—in Delhi that has been slated for demolition and redevelopment since 2007. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the form of oral interviews, participant and field observation and field reconnaissance, the work presents four vignettes of homes and clusters to demonstrate the uniqueness of these self- and incrementally-built spaces, particularly the connection between spatial ordering and sociocultural and economic practices of the residents. The authors argue that Kathputli Colony’s apparent “disorder” has in fact multiple layers of ordering and the planned modernist resettlement alternative would be highly disruptive to the traditional ways of living and livelihoods of the residents.

Keywords:   Urban informality, Slum, Kathputti Colony, Delhi


Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

Figure 9.0 Map and aerial photographs of Delhi and the study site.

Illustrations by Weijia Wang.

One of the biggest challenges for urban planning in the coming decades will be planning for unprecedented rates of urbanization in the cities of the Global South. There is an urgent need to ensure that this planning does not exacerbate the existing urban problems around health, congestion, and housing that these cities currently face. Meeting these needs will require a paradigm shift from the established notions of spatial ordering using land uses and zoning embedded in “high modernism” (Scott 1998) tenets to a more integrated approach that addresses the informal and the planned city as one. Most Indian cities have large pockets of informal settlements (we use the term “informal settlements” instead of the more pejorative term “slums”), which by conservative estimates are home to one in every four urban residents (MHUPA and NBO 2013). Urban planners, policy makers, and the middle classes see these informal settlements as disorderly and in need of formalization. This formalization-focused perspective, on the one hand, undervalues the existing, unique patterns of urban development that have evolved in previous centuries and that continue to serve the residents who live and work there. On the other hand, this perspective instills great faith in modernist housing alternatives that have had limited success worldwide.

In this work we focus on Delhi, one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in India, which also has the highest per capita income in the country. Its urbanscapes have been shaped by multiple centuries of colonization including serving as the capital city of British India from 1911 to 1947. The British colonial planning apparatus furthered its vision of modernity and development through the creation of New Delhi as a modernist City Beautiful and by way of several improvement projects in the “native” city of Old Delhi. These urban interventions attempted to project a new spatial order on a seemingly chaotic built environment that facilitated social control over the native population. In the postcolonial decades (1947 and onward), the institutions responsible for urban planning in Delhi have continued in much the same way and have furthered the establishment of a modernist order over “disorderly” or “messy” places without paying much attention to their use and value to the community that lives there.

(p.156) In Delhi, we focus on Kathputli Colony—a settlement of traditional artists, street performers, and other working classes. Kathputli Colony is one of Delhi’s numerous informal settlements and has been slated for demolition and redevelopment since 2007 (Banda, Vaidya, and Adler 2013). In this work we argue that the view taken by the state’s planning apparatus and the city’s middle class toward such neighborhoods and populations—as disorderly and a “nuisance” (Ghertner 2011c)—is inaccurate and skewed. This view focuses largely on the problems that the settlements face or pose to the city, while ignoring their value to the community. This view may be understood as the state’s way of legitimizing its heavy-handed approaches to resettlement that rely on demolition and displacement. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the form of oral interviews, participant and field observation, and field reconnaissance, we present four vignettes of homes and clusters to demonstrate the uniqueness of these self- and incrementally built spaces, particularly the connection between spatial ordering and the sociocultural and economic practices of the residents. We argue that the planned modernist resettlement alternative for Kathputli Colony would be inefficient in accommodating the multiple and gendered uses and traditional practices seen in the lived-worked spaces of these homes and clusters. The adaptation to the proposed new built environment would be highly disruptive to the traditional ways of living and livelihoods of the residents. Ultimately, we argue that Kathputli Colony’s apparent disorder has in fact multiple layers of ordering, of which we have barely started to scratch the surface through this work. Prevailing perspectives alone should not determine its future.

Delhi: Urban and Policy Context

Today, Delhi Metropolitan Area is by some accounts the second-largest metropolitan area in the world after Tokyo and home to 21 million people. Rooted in the country’s economic liberalization from the 1990s, fueled by global capitalism and promoted by the administration and its entrenched Western and developmentalist ideals, Delhi envisions and projects itself as a “Global” and “World-Class” City (DDA 2007). While the city has the highest per capita income of any Indian city—almost 2.5 times higher than the national average—its urban landscapes are marked by huge spatial disparities and social inequalities, with one in four residents living in the informal settlements and three in five employed in the informal economy (Kudva 2009). With an acute shortage of housing, the informal sector often provides an important launching pad for rural migrants who benefit from the informal economy, affordable housing, and extended kinship networks that such neighborhoods offer. However, the majority of such places are determined “unfit for habitation” by governmental bodies, due largely to congestion, dilapidated housing conditions, and substandard or nonexistent urban infrastructure and services (Ramanathan 2005).

(p.157) We have discussed elsewhere (Chalana and Rishi 2015) that this understanding of urban informality as disorderly and problematic and in need of a complete spatial overhaul is relatively recent and has been shaped by modernist British colonial-era urban practices. The current programs and policies that address informality in Delhi can trace their roots to the Delhi Improvement Trust (DIT)—a colonial-era agency—which produced and entrenched norms and notions that continue to inform planning practices and policy even today. Forwarding the agenda of modernization, the DIT relied on modern urban planning tools of zoning, land use, and spatial segregation to produce a functioning city. Through several improvement projects, the agency promoted clearance or reorganization of the “native” quarters in an attempt to improve the living conditions of the city’s huddled masses. For example, the Ajmeri Gate Slum Clearance Scheme involved widespread clearance and reorganization of some of the poorest and densest areas in the walled city of Old Delhi. Although it is considered the “most ambitious of all of DIT’s projects” (Hosagrahar 2005), it is also representative of the broad, sweeping approach of these improvement projects, entrenched in a view of the poor as a separate, unworthy social class, a homogeneous population living in decrepit areas in deplorable conditions.

The postcolonial planning practices in Delhi have furthered this view of “othering” the poor, through the work of various state agencies and federal partnerships. In 1960, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) replaced DIT as the main planning agency responsible for land acquisition, development, and disposal in the city. Its mandate was based in part on the Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, which was enacted in 1956 to empower the governments of the various union territories (of which Delhi was one) to deal with the growing problem of slums (Kundu 2004; DoUD 2006; Milbert 2008). In the same year a locally administered slum removal program—the Jhuggi-Jhopri [Slums] Removal Scheme (JJRS)—was created for identification and relocation of squatters (Jervis-Read 2010; Misra and Gupta 1981). Under the eviction-demolition-peripheral relocation model outlined by the scheme, the majority of resettlement colonies are located on the periphery of the city, where access to services (including transportation) and livelihoods is minimal.

Even though it has been controversial, difficult to implement, often requiring a full mobilization of the state apparatus, and has yielded what can best be described as mixed results, this eviction-demolition-peripheral relocation model has continued to dominate slum resettlement practice for decades. The state’s heavy-handedness in forcibly removing residents reached an apex from 1975 to 1977, a period known as the Emergency and marked by a broad suspension of civil liberties and coercive and forcible removal of 15 percent of the city’s residents to resettlement colonies at the periphery (Ali 1990). The minority Muslim population of the city was disproportionately impacted by these efforts, as evidenced by the case of Turkman Gate, where a large majority Muslim settlement in Old Delhi was cleared to make way for a (p.158) modernist tower. This fifty-story structure would have contained wholesale markets from the walled city, resettlement apartments, and other uses (Mohan 1992). If built, it would have been the tallest building in the city even today.

More recently, with rapid urbanization and globalization, there has been a well-documented increase in the intensity and frequency of demolition and displacement of the populations of informal settlements, often under the guise of improvement and preservation of environmental resources (Ali, HUDC, and CSD 1995; Ghertner 2011a; Ghertner 2011b; Dhar 2001). Some 218 evictions have occurred in Delhi since 1990, impacting around 100,000 households (Bhan 2009; Dupont 2011). The experience of displacement is a “double-edged moment” for the poor: while it is a moment of violence and eviction, it is also a moment of possibility where the process of resettlement offers the hope of legality and tenure security (Bhan and Shivanand 2013). We would add, however, that this moment of possibility is usually fleeting, for the resettlement process is based on a system of eligibility and exclusion, with typically less than a third of the households qualifying for resettlement. The excluded populations find themselves on the streets or settle in new or already existing informal settlements or resettlement colonies. The case of Bawana J J Resettlement Colony on the northwest periphery of the city is demonstrative of this trend. Here, new makeshift hutments are seen in and around the resettlement colony, inhabited by those who were deemed ineligible for resettlement. This peculiar temporality of slums can be understood as the phenomenon of “moving slums” (Kalyan 2013), where the only change is in the location of the settlement with little or no improvement in the condition of its residents. In most cases the conditions actually worsen because of their far-flung location, which considerably increases commute time and transportation costs.

In reaction to this and other critiques of the resettlement process and its impact on the settlement dwellers, a new policy paradigm was introduced under the National Housing and Habitat Policy (NHHP) of 1998 (MHUPA 2013a). The policy stressed the need to minimize forcible eviction or relocation to the periphery and encouraged in situ upgrading with tenure security for residents (Jain 2009) using a public-private partnership (PPP) model. As part of the neoliberal urban reforms, the government has scaled back its responsibility from a “provider” to that of an “enabler” with respect to achieving housing and habitat goals (Dupont and Saharan 2013). The in situ redevelopment model was further promoted by the central government’s Rajiv Awas Yojna (RAY) program from 2007, which aims to create a “slum-free India” (MHUPA 2013b). While progressive compared to the eviction-demolition-peripheral relocation model, the in situ model is far from being a panacea for slums, as the case of Kathputli Colony demonstrates. This approach, too, is selective and exclusionary, requiring residents to evidence uninterrupted residency up to an arbitrary cut-off date. This typically results in a majority of residents having to look for other places to live, as many settled after the cut-off date, and others are unable to obtain the (p.159) necessary paperwork or have the required documents stolen or lost to fires. India’s famous red tape and corruption both make it a major challenge to obtain either original or duplicate papers.

Under the PPP rehabilitation model, even those households that are able to qualify for resettlement have to disrupt their lives and livelihoods by moving to transit camps while their apartments are being constructed, which can take up to several years. The rehabilitation housing occupies only a fraction of the area of the original site so the developer can use the bulk of the site for profitable uses. Once in the new housing, the residents have to reorganize their lives to fit into rigid floor plans of small apartments in high-rise blocks that can barely accommodate their large families, let alone allow for the integration of livelihood. In addition, the modernist high-rise development disrupts familial groupings and kinship networks that were integrated in the existing built environment through its system of spatial arrangements of semi-public, public, and communal spaces. Finally, even if the apartment is initially provided free of cost or at a subsidized rate, the cost of utilities is often prohibitively expensive for the new residents.

Kathputli Colony

Kathputli Colony currently occupies about 5.22 hectares of valuable real estate in central Delhi, near Shadipur Depot, and is well connected to the rest of the city by the Delhi Metro system (Dupont et al. 2014). The colony is named after the string puppet (called Kathputli) theater performed by its earliest residents belonging to the Nutt or Bhaat community. In 1960, this community of nomadic puppeteers settled on the site of present-day Kathputli Colony, close to the site of their temporary camp and along their traditional migratory route out of Rajasthan (Sandal 1985). In the next two decades, with the efforts of artist and activist Rajiv Sethi, other nomadic artists, street performers, and craftspeople from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Haryana also began taking up residence in Kathputli Colony. Simultaneously, non-artist migrants from different parts of India but primarily from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Maharashtra began settling around the settlement (Dupont et al. 2014, 40). The built form at that time was predominantly temporary construction using military surplus or discarded tents set on an earthen plinth. During the Emergency (1975–77) the residents were evicted from the site and relocated to Sultanpuri on the outskirts of the city (Dupont 2013). However, because of the lack of livelihood opportunities and limited accessibility to the city from there, the majority of the residents returned to the same site and set up temporary dwellings again, which eventually started to take more permanent form. In 1976, with encouragement from Rajiv Sethi, the artists created the Bhule Bisre Kalakar Samiti (lost-and-forgotten artists’ cooperative) to promote their craft and gain recognition (Sandal 1985). Gradually they set roots on (p.160) this site, establishing permanent structures and creating reliable sources of livelihood. Today, Kathputli Colony is estimated to be home to some 15,000 people (Dupont et al. 2014, 40), but this is likely an undercount as the estimates are based on a 2008 survey that did not include renters and boarders, who are a sizable group.

The future of the Kathputli Colony is in flux. As an “illegal” colony, the residents have no claim to land they have been living on for several decades, as it belongs to the DDA. Despite tenuous land claims and repeated disruptions, the neighborhood has remained in place and continued to expand. In 2009, DDA unveiled plans to redevelop Kathputli Colony using the in situ rehabilitation PPP model. The redeveloped site will include luxurious uses and the tallest building in Delhi, as well as the rehabilitated apartment blocks for those residents of Kathputli Colony who qualify for resettlement (Kalyan 2013). After much delay in locating a site for a transit camp, the DDA was able to acquire a rocky outcrop of land in Anand Parbat (Banda, Vaidya, and Adler 2013). Here, part of an existing slum was demolished for the builder to construct prefabricated one-room dwellings for the residents of Kathputli Colony for the duration of the construction on the site (Figure 9.1). While the transit camp is complete, the relocation has been slow, with only a fraction of households having moved there by 2015. More recently tensions are escalating as a majority of the (p.161)

Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

Figure 9.1 Transit camp at Anand Parbat showing prefab dwelling units.

Photograph by Manish Chalana.

residents are refusing to move to the transit camp, while the developer is pressuring the DDA to make the site available for development. This has led to increasing police harassment of residents under the guise of maintaining law and order (Jain 2014).

In the decades since the Emergency, the colony has taken a more permanent urban form of incremental and self-built homes, shops, and shop-homes using a variety of materials, techniques, and styles. Today, it is a dense agglomeration of low-rise (one- to four-story) permanent structures interspersed with small convenience stores, religious sites, and public gathering spaces, around a dense network of narrow and winding streets. The dwellings are largely constructed from a mix of discarded construction waste including bricks, metal channels, stone, and other recycled materials. There are also some hutments built with mud, plastic, or jute sheets and timber planks. These belong to the poorest of the colony’s residents and are located at the edge, near the railroad tracks to the west.

The main street in the colony is the bazaar, which is also the only drivable street, bisecting the neighborhood into two nearly equal sections of artists and non-artists. This street is lined by shop-homes, which are two-storied structures with the lower level for shops, restaurants, and business establishments and the upper level for housing (Figure 9.2). While most shops sell items of daily use, some also sell products made by the artists including puppets and musical instruments. Shops are largely owned by residents of the colony with hired help from the neighborhood. Most shops are constructed on high plinths, to prevent water seepage during the monsoon months. The plinths create a raised platform that shopkeepers use for displaying their wares and to interact with each other and those passing by.

The most distinct pattern of spatial organization in the colony is along the lines of occupation, primarily between the artists and the non-artists who have settled on the opposite sides of the bazaar (Figure 9.3). Several socially and spatially distinct cluster groupings appear within the two sections based on origin, religious affiliation, caste, (p.162)

Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

Figure 9.2 Section through the main Bazaar Street showing shop-houses.

Sketch by Amit Ittyerah.

Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

Figure 9.3 Neighborhood map showing clustering pattern of community groups.

Illustration by Susmita Rishi.

and occupation (Dupont et al. 2014, 40–41). Although the clusters are distinct, they are not spatially discrete, as the settlement has grown organically over the past five decades. Broadly, the artists’ section is more low rise and less dense compared to the non-artists’ section (Figure 9.4). As the artists settled earlier than the non-artists, they were able to claim larger pieces of land and retain aspects of the traditional vernacular courtyard dwellings. Most homes have access to a private or shared courtyard, also used for making and storing life-size puppets, traditional drums, toys, and the like. As such, the morphology of their dwellings and spaces is representative of and intrinsically tied to the residents’ ways of living and livelihood. There are several two-room (p.163)

Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

Figure 9.4 Low-rise built form in the artists’ section of the colony.

Photograph by Manish Chalana.

dwellings with indoor plumbing in the artists’ section that display a higher standard of living compared to the non-artists’ section. The non-artists’ section is more densely packed, with predominantly one-room dwellings stacked on top of each other up to four floors that can be accessed by ladders or narrow stairs. There are few courtyards and even fewer public open spaces in this section with only a few households have indoor plumbing. This section is more congested, with several makeshift structures (Figure 9.5).

Overall, the entire colony has few open spaces, but residents make do by creating informal gathering spaces outside shops scattered in the neighborhood. There are a number of religious sites that serve their various constituents. The mosque compound in the artists’ section provides the largest public open space, used mostly by the men in the colony. A second smaller mosque serves the non-artist part of the colony. There are two small Hindu temples in the colony, but with little open space. Outside the bazaar, the colony is mostly residential, with some household manufacturing and retail activities. Many households maintain livestock that roam around in the neighborhood and a handful still have domesticated wild animals and birds such as monkeys, eagles, and snakes. (p.164)

Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

Figure 9.5 View of the Bihari/Marathi non-artists’ section of the colony.

Photograph by Manish Chalana.

With the exception of the main bazaar street, most streets and lanes are unpaved and in varying state of disrepair. The residents have paved different sections themselves using cement, stones, and bricks (Dupont 2013, 15). There is a large garbage collection area to the south near Pandav Nagar where garbage from the neighboring areas and the colony is dumped, but it is not collected regularly, creating unsanitary conditions. The colony has open drains that run along the streets. Municipal workers occasionally clean these drains out but dump the sludge on the side of the streets, which adds to the problems of hygiene and sanitation. With the privatization of the power supply in Delhi, households in the settlement have legal electricity connections with individual meters. However, some continue to use illegal connections to avoid paying for the costly utility. Almost all households have access to electricity and many have fans, televisions, and refrigerators. There are a number of different ways in which residents access water in the colony. A number of households located near the two tube wells have access to piped water in their homes for up to four hours a day (Mehta 2011, 169). Other residents (mostly women) fill large buckets at the tube wells and carry them home, where water is stored in big plastic containers to be used (p.165) throughout the day. Still others use private vendors to supply them with water for cooking and drinking.

Vignettes of Spaces and Livelihood

We now discuss in greater detail four different vignettes of homes and clusters from the artists’ section of the colony. We selected these vignettes to demonstrate the intrinsic relationship between the morphology of the spaces in the colony and the lives, livelihoods, and kinship networks of its residents, and thus the challenges they may face with the relocation into high-rise apartment blocks.

Aman’s House

Aman’s dwelling is accessed through a very narrow street that connects two small squares; one is marked with a shrine and the other has a tube well. The dwellings on both sides of this street are unique as each has a private courtyard. We selected this dwelling to demonstrate the value of private courtyards as outdoor rooms in a very compact space and how residents can cash in on their houses during times of crisis in the absence of many safety nets.

Aman is the young twenty-two-year-old patriarch of the family and the oldest of five siblings. His widowed mother and aunt are part of the household. Aman’s home was originally much larger, with a rectangular courtyard that opened onto the street. Although Aman’s father had trained him as a vocalist and a drum, or dhol, player, but because he was too young at the time of his father’s passing Aman was unable to pursue this craft to generate a livelihood. To make it through the tough years that followed, the family divided their dwelling unit and the courtyard into two houses by constructing a wall along the center. They sold one of the units to raise money and continued living in the other.

The house that the family lives in is a compact two-room structure (Figure 9.6), but the courtyard and the terrace expand the lived and workspaces considerably. The room facing the courtyard serves as the main gathering space for the men who practice their music there. A low, wide shelf along the wall is used for storing musical instruments. At night some members of the family sleep on the floor of this room while others sleep in the second room. In the summer months, family members sleep in the courtyard and on the terrace. The second room, which was added five years ago, juts into the courtyard at an angle. This creates a rectangular niche space between the two rooms, which is used as an outdoor cooking area with a chullah (wood stove) and storage space for firewood. The front end of the courtyard has a bathing area also used for storing potable water. (p.166)

Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

Figure 9.6 Plan of Aman’s dwelling unit showing the courtyard and rooms.

Illustration by Amit Ittyerah.

As with most other artists’ communities in the settlement, the women of the family engage in the traditional feminine gender roles, taking on the full domestic responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and childcare. They do not leave the house except to undertake these duties, such as to get water from the tube well. The men are the head of the household, providing for it financially and making all the important family decisions. In Aman’s house the private courtyard offers privacy to the women, as it is separated from the street by a five-foot-high wall. The women spend much of their day in the courtyard taking care of household chores, while Aman and his fellow musicians congregate in the back room to practice their performances. The back room is primarily a masculine space with the women accessing it only when it is not in use and to retrieve housewares stored there.

Aman is eligible for a one-room apartment in the rehabilitation project but remains unsure how his seven-person household would be accommodated in a space that is not extendable, without access to terrace or courtyard. The traditional gender roles that the family adheres to (manifested in the gendered use of spaces) would not be readily accommodated in the tight layout of the apartment. Further, he is concerned (p.167) that neighbors in the apartment building would have less tolerance for loud music, but he needs to practice regularly with his group to generate a livelihood.

Sanjay’s Cluster

Sanjay’s residence is a part of a cluster of homes organized around an open space defined by the intersection of two streets. We selected this cluster to demonstrate the value of having extended family as neighbors. In addition, the arrangement of homes around courtyards have distinct climatic, functional, and social benefits in facilitating the traditional ways of living in the Indian context. While the details of other clusters may vary, most families in the artists’ section of Kathputli Colony use a similar spatial organization around courtyards of varying sizes. Sanjay’s cluster is one of the largest in the neighborhood, containing more than fourteen dwelling units arranged around a series of four irregularly shaped but interconnected courtyards. The built form is largely low rise, mostly one story, but can go up to three stories in certain sections of the cluster.

Sanjay’s extended family moved to Kathputli Colony some forty to forty-five years ago. They belong to the Kalandar clan—a community of street performers and animal trainers from Rajasthan. The Kalandars kept this tradition alive from their base in Kathputli Colony until the 1980s, when domesticating wild animals became illegal in India, forcing them to seek alternative means of livelihood. Several began to switch to magic tricks and other street performances not involving animals, which they practice even today. The changing forms of leisure and recreation in urban India in the past four decades, as well as the archaic Bombay Prevention of Beggary Act of 1959, have meant that traditional street performers such as Sanjay and his family have lost the street as their performance space (Sandal 1985; Goel 2010) and are having to rely increasingly on invitations to private gatherings to put on a show.

Sanjay is the patriarch of the family and the oldest of nine siblings; all of them and their mother live in adjoining clusters that are also organized around courtyards. Their aging mother is visually impaired but continues to live by herself with help from the women of the extended family, who take turns assisting her. Sanjay and three of his four adult children live in adjoining dwelling units, all accessible from the main courtyard. The six units on the upper floors are for rental purposes. His sister with her family of six children lives nearest to him in an adjoining dwelling. She works as a recycler who sorts garbage manually to fish out recyclables (glass, plastic, etc.) to sell, which she stacks outside her house in the smallest of the three interconnected courtyards. Despite rivalries, competition, and lack of privacy, having extended family as neighbors has distinct benefits for many, but particularly for women who share responsibilities of childcare and cooking among other forms of social support.

(p.168) Sanjay began his career as a traditional animal trainer but is now a practicing magician, a trade that he has passed on to his two sons. Along with practicing magic, Sanjay and his family supplement their income through a corner store, an eating stall, and rental properties. The corner store run by his son marks the entrance to the cluster, with space around it used as a gathering area for the men. The dwelling unit closest to the shop serves as a feminine space for the women and children of the extended family. Outside this unit, Sanjay’s daughter sets up a small stall to sell kebabs and biryani (a traditional rice pilaf). Around the corner from this unit and opening into the main courtyard is the only women’s bathing room in the cluster, which also serves as the indoor cooking area during the winter and rainy seasons.

The courtyard has a tree for shade and a communal chullah used by the women of the extended family to prepare bread or rotis. During the day, women use the courtyard to perform their daily household chores of cooking, laundry, and baby sitting or just hanging out. In the evening the entire family uses the courtyard for nightly meals among other activities including entertaining visitors. The courtyard also functions as an outdoor room for sleeping during the summer nights. The family is concerned about having to reorganize their lives in high-rise apartments without access to any semi-private open spaces of the courtyards that are integral to their ways of living. In addition, the extended family was deemed eligible for a total of five resettlement units (compared to their current fourteen), which is a considerable loss in equity and resources invested in the building and maintenance of the rental units. The extended family has requested that they be allocated apartments in the same building, but they have not received any assurance in that regard. They fear that if they end up on different floors or buildings in the resettlement project, they may find it difficult to maintain their valuable kinship networks.

Sridevi’s Home and Restaurant

Sridevi’s house is an odd-shaped structure that follows two streets intersecting at an acute angle. Her properties demonstrate the value of mixed-use development as well as the benefits of incremental construction in generating livelihood and improving the standard of living for women particularly, since they are often not able to rely on wage employment away from home because of familial responsibilities.

Sridevi’s family moved to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s and lived in Pandav Nagar, adjacent to Kathputli Colony for about five years in a rental apartment. Given the proximity and affordability of properties in Kathputli Colony, the family purchased a shack of tarp and tin sheets in 1995 at a reasonable price and moved there. Their property was well located close to the bazaar and opened onto an oblong, acute-angled courtyard shared with two other dwelling units adjoining the property. As the family set roots in the new neighborhood and as funds became available, they (p.169) built a permanent dwelling and incrementally expanded it both horizontally and vertically. Their first purchase was the adjoining shack that they replaced with a permanent one-room dwelling unit to rent. Eventually they exchanged one shack elsewhere in the neighborhood for the second adjacent shack, which allowed them complete ownership of the courtyard. In time, another adjacent plot was purchased and rented out for a restaurant strategically located at the intersection of the two streets. Over time, Sridevi invested in the restaurant and now partly owns it. The rents from the additional properties, as well as income from the restaurant, allowed the expansion of their home to include rooms on the floors above the ground level.

The courtyard on the ground floor is now covered to accommodate the kitchen, wash area, and parking space for a motorcycle. Two rooms along one edge bound this space, while the other edge is the shared wall of the restaurant. One of the rooms serves as the main gathering space for the family during the day, while the other is used for storage. Five of her six children live on the first floor. Accessed from the street by a narrow iron ladder by the main entrance, this floor extends over the restaurant and has three rooms, a toilet, and an open terrace with a septic tank, storage shed, and an open kitchen area. Like most homes in Kathputli Colony, all the rooms in Sridevi’s house are multifunctional with a bed and a loft storage space. During the day, Sridevi uses the room on the ground level as a sewing studio to supplement the household income. She often works on her sewing projects on the terrace while entertaining friends; her daughters and daughter-in-law help her out on time-sensitive projects. The family relies on the additional income from rental properties and sewing to make a decent living.

It is worth noting that Sridevi’s family is eligible for two apartments under the rehabilitation project; one for herself and the other for her married son. Whether or not she would be compensated for her restaurant in some form remains unclear. She is not sure how she would be able to manage her life in the apartment without rental income or how (and to what extent) she would be able to continue her sewing business. Clearly income from multiple sources is required to make ends meet.

Danny’s House and Workshop

Danny is part of the community of traditional puppeteers from Rajasthan. He moved to Delhi about forty years ago seeking better economic opportunities and settled in Kathputli Colony because of extended family connections to the settlement. While Danny’s house is not especially unique, it demonstrates how small spaces can accommodate livelihood, which is especially beneficial for aging residents such as Danny, who is now in his seventies but continues to make a living without having to leave his home. (p.170)

Making Sense of the Order in the Disorder in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony

Figure 9.7 Plan and section showing Danny’s dwelling unit and workshop space.

Illustration by Amit Ittyerah.

(p.171) Danny settled on a large parcel of land in Kathputli Colony and subdivided it into plots for each of his six siblings, who are now his neighbors. His home comprises two interconnected rooms, with the outer room opening onto a street-facing rectangular courtyard (Figure 9.7). His two married sons live with their families in these rooms. The rooms are bare, without any furniture; the family sleeps on foldout bedding on the floor. This arrangement makes the entire space available for other uses during much of the day. The outer room essentially functions as a living room but also contains storage shelves. This room also serves as a makeshift kitchen when the courtyard chullah is not available during the rainy season.

After Danny settled in Kathputli Colony, he switched to making toys as it brought better economic returns from the urban markets. He has been making toys for more than four decades, generating a decent livelihood. Danny and his wife make toys from a raised platform in the courtyard, which has storage space below it. The raw materials as well as finished products are stored in this space. The platform functions as a workshop and shop during the day and is visible from the street, facilitating chance encounters with visitors and making it easy for buyers to find them. The platform becomes a sleeping chamber at night for the couple once the drapes are drawn. His sons bring the toys to the markets in the city, including Dilli Haat—a hub of traditional crafts and cultural activities.

Danny’s family is eligible for two resettlement apartments. He thinks he can adjust to making toys in the apartment but would lose all benefits of an open workshop visible and accessible to visitors. But mostly he is concerned about the isolation that apartment living would bring. Having lived in low rise, courtyard-style dwellings, clustered around extended kinship networks for most of his life, living in high-rise apartments is unfamiliar to Danny, who remains unprepared for such a transition at his age. With limited mobility and no direct sales from his workshop he would need to rely on his sons to sell all his wares, which would make him less independent.


Cities of the Global South today are reimagining themselves as world-class cities. This image of the global city is based on Western ideals of urban order that rely on large-scale urban transformations based in high modernist tenets to improve the general human condition (Scott 1998). Just as the megacity with its ubiquitous slum is a metonym for third worldism and the Global South (Roy 2011), the world-class city has become the metonym for the sanitized spaces of malls and multiplexes, gated communities, and high-rise luxury condominium complexes. The drive to clean up the cities is tied to a class-based politics that is inextricably linked with an attempt to purge the city of the poor to make space for the middle-class and the rich (Fernandes 2004). Such attempts at “spatial purification” rely on the erasure of (p.172) informal settlements of the poor, particularly those that are located on prime city land, as they interfere with the new image of the world-class city (Fernandes 2004; Ghertner 2011c).

The proposed in situ rehabilitation project at Kathputli Colony focuses almost entirely on shelter, paying little attention to how the lived spaces could also serve as spaces of economic activities for the households. As we have discussed in this chapter, the livelihoods and ways of living of Kathputli Colony residents are inextricably linked to the morphology of the spaces they have created and inhabit. In addition to disregarding livelihood as part of lived spaces, the rehabilitation project also undervalues existing kinship and community networks and their overall benefits to the community.

The vignettes elucidate the multipurpose character of the spaces in the homes of residents. The rooms and open spaces perform a variety of functions simultaneously and at different times of the day and night. While the actual dwelling inhabited by each family is rather small, the multipurpose character of spaces means that the available space to use is considerably greater than the footprint of the dwelling. The flexibility of use of spaces is especially beneficial to women as they can supplement household income without forgoing familial responsibilities and at the same time gain some independence, not an entirely easy task in traditionally patriarchal societies.

However, the entire rehabilitation paradigm is premised on an aesthetic improvement of the built environment and spaces of the poor, instead of peoples’ capacities or livelihoods, which further exacerbates socioeconomic inequalities that already exist. Reconfiguring the disorderly, messy spaces of the poor into regimented, geometrically ordered spaces has been tried over and over again as a means to improving the living conditions of the urban poor—from the City Beautiful era through the mid-twentieth-century urban renewal and now with the spatial restructuring of the cities of the Global South. Throughout this time, the lives of the urban poor have not improved substantially, but rather simply relocating the poor has further exacerbated the prevalent urban problems. It is thus imperative that we learn from these past urban experiences and make a sincere attempt at understanding the multiple layers of ordering in urban informality to avoid sweeping, expensive, ineffective, and disruptive interventions.


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