Deep Democracy

in Kathputli Colony

Delhi/London, 2017

This research took the form of a paper for ‘Cities by Design’ Course that I undertook at LSE. I studied the case of the in-situ redevelopment of Kathputli Colony in Delhi as a test-bed for ‘Deep Democracy’: a concept introduced by anthropologist Arjun Appadurai.  Spread over about 5.22 hectares, the Kathputli (puppet) Colony is considered an illegal slum- a squatter settlement on land belonging to the Delhi Development Authority. Since its setting up in the 1970s, while it’s residents (most of whom are award-winning vernacular street performers- magicians, animal handlers, puppeteers, etc.) have been traveling for performances all over the world as ‘custodians of Indian culture’, their colony has faced eviction threats several times. Since 2009, it has been the site of Delhi’s first ambitious in-situ redevelopment project. In October 2017, the state demolished most homes in the colony in order to replace them with multi-story apartment blocks, to be built in partnership with a developer.


“We don’t even know what to call ourselves. What are we? Are we artists? Or are we poor people? We have no idea.”- Magician Puran Bhatt(Tomorrow We Disappear, 2014)


In his paper set in Mumbai, Appadurai described an alliance of actors in Mumbai that was able to create conditions for deep democracy- where impoverished city dwellers could collectively make stronger claims to their place in the city. Despite the similarities between the two settings, the community was unable to organize and gather agency.  For the paper, I used Appadurai’s framework to examine the relevance of his three theoretical propositions and study the conditions in Kathputli Colony that debilitated the deepening of democracy. The conditions that I studied were material enablement, homogeneity, leadership structure, and morale. For my analysis, I constructed timelines using secondary resources and personal interviews. If you would like to read the 5000-word paper, you can write to me.

© 2018 by rohan patankar