31 August 2015
Published 31 August 2015
Maya Pawar is an acrobat who's lived on government land in the Indian capital of Delhi all of her life. Although Kathputli Colony has become a haven for traditional art forms that range from sword swallowing to miniature painting, the land the artists live on doesn't belong to them.
"In our family, we remove fear from a child's mind at a very young age," Pawar, told the makers ofTomorrow We Disappear, a documentary that chronicles the uncertain fate of the people who live in the region.
Although she can bend metal rods with her sternum and walk tightropes whilst balancing earthen jugs on her head, Pawar has lived much of her life in fear.
"Until now we've been living in a place that's not our own," Pawar said. "We know that the land is not ours; it's government land. But our people think they've built sold, finished homes, so it's theirs now. They think that they own it. They don't realize it can be torn down at any moment. It can all crumble."
That longstanding fear came to a head in 2011 when the government announced that it had sold the land to Raheja Developers, one of the largest development companies in India. The 10,000 residents of the area — many of them artists like Pawar — felt tied to the land that many of their forebears settled more than 50 years ago.
"The government things that we're powerless," Puran Bhat, a puppeteer, said. "They think we don't have any idea about how to get things done. That we'll just take whatever they give us."
What the government offered the residents of Kathputli through Raheja Developers were flats — but only after they moved into temporary housing in another part of town. He and many others feared that those were merely false promises to get them to move from the area they had developed to serve their various crafts.
"It's the unseen connective tissue of architecture and culture," Adam Weber, one of the documentary's directors, said in an interview with ThinkProgress. "[Residents believe] you can't change the context of how you're living and your identity and not be affected."
He and co-director Jimmy Goldblum believe that if Kathputli has staved off demolition for so long, it's because of the tradition of art.
"In India, it has notoriety," Goldblum said. "[It's] little bit safer than other slums in New Delhi, so when other slums get knocked down as they very often do, they try to relocate to Kathputhli."