Those who were once considered the cultural ambassadors of our art forms, the sacred keepers of our rich heritage, are now treated like criminals and beggars.

Who are they, and Where are they?

Kathputli Colony, in New Delhi, India, is the world’s largest settlement of street performers, inhabited by over 3,500 families of artists. This in situ slum houses performers from all over the country, with over 60 trades, ranging from puppeteers, magicians, musicians and dancers, to traditional healers, acrobats, stilt walkers, painters, and so on.

Some of these performers are World Record holders, others are artists who have spread the splendid vivaciousness of their art internationally, as representatives of India. The magic and charm of this colony has reverberated all over the world.

Kathputli Colony, the world’s largest settlement of street performers

Image from India TV News

What’s the pressing issue for Kathputli Colony?

Many of the current issues that the buskers of the Kathputli Colony are facing are due to a political and societal conspiracy.

They have been deemed as beggars and criminalized by the government under The Bombay Prevention Of Begging Act, 1959. Moreover, in the attempt of making New Delhi a slum free city the land of this settlement has been sold to private developers who are envisioning a concrete jungle in place of this reservoir of culture. They’ve made provision for matchbox size apartments for the street artists.

The street performers of Kathpitli Colony are also battling with the reality of their art forms being on the verge of extinction, in large part due to the dwindling support and respect they get from the government and society at large. Instead of being treated like the ambassadors of this country’s cultural heritage, their existence is belittled, with no acknowledgement, and no provision of space to showcase their art form.

Do they want matchbox apartments?

No. The artists are not looking for high-rise buildings to live in. They are happy with their present settlement, but want initiatives to better their day-to-day lives, such as sanitation, water and cleanliness of the colony. They fear that their rehabilitation in modern day apartments would curb their freedom to practice their art. Moreover, the essence of spontaneity in their creativity (enhanced by their current communal and participatory interaction) would be taken away.

They are not asking the government for money or jobs. They just want a free space, like Santa Monica or Venice Blvd in LA or Covent Garden in London, where they could freely perform and earn through tips in their hats. This will not only give them a sense of stability but would also re-popularize these old art forms, especially among new generations.

What’s the aim of ‘ Criminals Of Culture ?’

Our aim is to reinstate respect for these artists by making performing arts a more active part of the education system.

Street performance creates a triune impact on society. First, the learning curve and performance of children will rapidly grow, as they will imbibe education through more creative paths. Through a single art form like puppetry they can learn multiple skills, like painting, dress designing, music composition, and so on, besides the art of puppetry itself.

Second, the artists will have a more stable base, and will receive a sustainable mode of living. And third, society will be able to preserve the country’s heritage.

Image from Framed Magazine

Why do we need to engage globally to save them?

Street performing is an important example of creativity and individuality – an inherent part of any urban landscape. They make our streets lively, dynamic and exciting, providing a sense of belonging and trust in the community.

But, as this sense of personal connect is eroding, many forms of performing arts are under threat today all over the world. As cultural practices become standardized, many traditional practices are abandoned. Even in cases where they become more popular, only certain expressions may benefit while others suffer.
If we can’t do anything to save the World’s largest settlement of street performers, then the future of many others is also at risk. Just sparing a thought is no longer enough. They deserve to be fought over for are they really ‘Criminals Of Culture?’

Wait for the next post to see a new set of artists and skills being unfolded in trailers for ‘Criminals of Culture?’.

Director & Producer: Pallavi Jain
Cinematographer: Akhil
Edited By: Kabeer
Sound Engineer: Rahul