Josh Bergeron went to Kathputli Colony expecting to find a ghost town -- instead he saw crowds of people massed together like brightly colored birds.
Kathputli residents perform a puja, or religious ceremony, despite a government mandate to evacuate. Photo by Josh Bergeron.
The warren of grimy streets in the heart of Delhi, India, is said to be the largest artists' colony in the world, housing families of street performers for decades. Bergeron, a photographer, figured he was unlikely to find the colony at its prime when he visited this October. The site (which sits on potentially valuable central land) has been earmarked by the Delhi Development Authority for bulldozing to make way for a high rise. Its 3,000 plus families were to have vacated as early as this past February.
A young boy mimics a monkey. Street art is the family business in Kathputli, and children learn all forms from their parents -- from magic tricks to acrobatics. Photo by Josh Bergeron.
Government officials insist the plan is a clean swap: the new building will eventually house the displaced families, and until then, Kathputli residents are to live in a temporary facility. But critics within and outside the colony doubt the government's willingness to see such an outcome through, especially given the prime location of the colony. The risk of stamping out a vibrant folk culture to hike up property values has drawn an outcry locally and globally (see: "Tomorrow We Disappear," a recent documentary on the history of the colony).
According to Bergeron, Kathputli-ites have found the simplest form of protest: they're refusing to leave. Upon arriving, he was surprised to see the colony buzzing with activity despite all the reports of bulldozers rumbling toward its entrance.
"I kept asking, 'Why aren't you moving?'" he told HuffPost.
Respondents cited inadequate contracts, according to Bergeron. Though "they signed two-year contracts to go to Anand Parbat" -- the temporary housing facility -- the promise of entry into the high-rise afterwards has only been verbal, he says.
Even if they are let back in, many longtime residents have aired fears to reporters that the high rise flats will be too cramped for their needs, as they often live in families of more than a dozen members, and make their livelihood off puppets that are more than 10 feet high and require ample storage space. Anand Parbat, meanwhile, has been criticized in local media as shoddy, and prone to wind damage.
Curious, Bergeron dropped into Anand Parbat as well. He found only three people living in what looks like "an abandoned Motel 6," he says. "It was kind of weird looking -- really sterile and clean. All these single story rooms, just empty."
Still, even Kathputli loyalists don't expect to hold their ground forever. They assume they'll eventually be driven out, according to Bergeron, who summed up the reasoning he heard with three points: "Delhi is so corrupt; we're not in power; our fate is eventually going to be sealed."