Kathputli puppeteers, India’s pride and joy, are in dire straits

They can no longer pull strings to put food on their plates

THE Kathputli puppeteers of India are the largest street artist community in the world. They have entertained people for decades and represented India in numerous festivals abroad. They have even performed before India’s prime ministers and presidents. But now they are in a precarious state, leading a hand-to-mouth existence.

As the spread of COVID-19 continues, these artists have been forced to take up menial work to put food on the plate. Since their source of livelihood is typically centred around social gatherings and street crowds, this community of puppeteers, dancers, musicians and magicians of around 3,000 families are fighting for survival.

Evicted and unemployed
Earlier, Kathputhli artistes in Delhi, like others elsewhere, worked every day and met their household expenses with their daily earnings. In the last several months, their work has come to a standstill and they have been struggling to make ends meet.

Among the many is Puran Bhatt, a 66-year-old master puppeteer and a globally renowned Kathputli artist. He has travelled the world putting up puppet shows for audiences in various countries. He is a Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar awardee – India’s highest award for practising artists. But today this famous puppeteer is struggling to access ration.

The woes of the artists began when more than 2,000 families, who have lived in Delhi’s Kathputli Colony for over 50 years, were forcibly evicted as part of a slum redevelopment project three years ago. Since then they have been living in a transit camp, cramped into temporary housing with poor water supply and sanitation, in the capital’s Anand Parbat.

Sadly, the flag bearers of our country’s rich art and culture stare at a bleak future having first lost their home and livelihood. Many are not even able to receive subsidised foodgrain provided by the government as their ration cards and other identity cards carry the old address which does not exist.

You can help the artists
Usually, the wedding period and the festive season of Dussehra and Diwali are a busy time for the Kathputli artists but this year they have barely had work, adding to their woes. There seems no respite in sight as the pandemic rages on and it is up to us to support them. This call for help is to save the artists and their art that has survived generations.

Our partner NGO Humans For Humanity have been helping 500-700 families in the community by providing rations for the last six months. Cooked meals are also being offered to those who do not even have gas cylinders to cook as they live in plastic cubicles they call home. Many families living here are in urgent need of food as well as medical supplies. Together we can at least ensure they don’t have to go to sleep hungry.

Your empathy and generosity can give them hope and restore their dignity. Please open your hearts and support our artists and their families. You can donate here.

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