On a recent Saturday morning, Rajendra Kumar Bhatt woke up with an acute headache. Outside his house, in the by-lanes of Delhi’s famous Kathputli Colony, kids were running around, playing with their toy guns. Bhatt looked at the commotion but didn’t say a word.

“I have too much to think about,” he said. Bhatt, a 40-year old drummer who has worked for the publicity campaigns of Punjab National Bank, added that the threat of his home being demolished has filled his life with uncertainty.

He was referring to plans announced by the Delhi Development Authority to demolish the homes in Kathputli Colony in West Delhi's Shadipur area and rehouse the residents in free flats. This is part of its Delhi Master Plan of 2021, which seeks to upgrade slums and transform Delhi into a “global metropolis and a world-class city”.

On the face of it, Kathputli is quite like any other Jhuggi Jopri cluster. It is an area of narrow lanes, flanked by houses and clogged drains. But Kathputhli is special. It is home to scores of puppeteers, magicians, dancers, musicians and acrobats. The main lane leads to an enclosed area with a few large rooms where these artists practice.

Until not too long ago, the Bhatts, a close-knit community to which the puppeteers belong, led a nomadic life. These performers, hailing mostly from Rajasthan, would  frequently come to Delhi to perform. In the early 1950s, the area where Kathputli  stands was mainly a jungle. But over the next few decades, the performers set up tents and began clearing the jungle to make it more habitable. As the colony grew, so did Delhi. Soon, not just the performers, but migrants from places like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere began to settle here.

“We left our villages because there was nothing there,” said Kanhaiya Bhatt, who operates a bioscope. “We knew it was only in Delhi that our art would be appreciated.”

But the DDA’s Master Plan in 2007 sought to clear of all its slums, and imagines a shift from “plotted housing to group housing for optimal utilisation of land.” By plotted housing, the DDA means an area on which a a developer mainly builds infrastructural facilities such as roads and proper drainage systems. Settlers then build homes according to their needs and tastes. Group housing, on the other hand, does not offer that choice. Houses are constructed with one or more floors and each floor has one or more dwelling unit.

To clear up the slums, the Master Plan sought to use the approach of ‘in situ rehabilitation’ – a strategy by which the inhabitants would first be shifted into transit camps. Their old homes would be demolished, to be replaced by apartment complexes. On its website for the Kathputli Colony Project, the DDA states that only highrise buildings with 15 to 16 storeys are possible. Each flat would be about 30 square meters and would have one room, one multipurpose room and a bathing area. The DDA also mentions that it has considered sufficient safeguards for the livelihood of the inhabitants and it will provide ample space for the artists to practice.

On 2008, Kathputli Colony was selected by the DDA to be the test-case for its in situ development plan.

The colony's estimated 3,000 residents protested against the plan through street demonstrations and eventually moved court. But on March 20, the Delhi High Court rejected their petition against the relocation plans and gave the DDA a green signal. Since then, thanks in good measure to the impending elections, the area has been witnessing frenzied political activity. The Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Meenakshi Lekhi, for instance, has alleged that the DDA has given undue benefits to its private partner, selling the land to Raheja Developers for a much lower price. The same charge was made by Ashish Khetan, the Aam Admi Party candidate. Both the candidates have called for the plan to be halted.

For the residents of Kathputli Colony, the word home is like a sore wound. “Although my family has been living here for the last 40 years, yet we have never been stable, we still can’t call this house as ours,” Bhatt said. He has performed in countries like the Netherlands and has lived in plush hotels. “I have had great dreams about beautifying this house. You see, as an artist, I recognise what beauty is. When I went to Holland, I wanted to buy a painting for the house. But I didn’t. I could afford it. How can I beautify this house when I don’t even know if it’s mine or not.”

The residents say they want to remain in plotted houses, and don't like apartments. They want to have a say in deciding what kind of  home they will live in. They are afraid that tall buildings would destroy their way of life. Many of the performers fear that the new apartment buildings will not have adequate practice spaces.

“The colony was built with unity,” said Abdul Latif, who hails from the Bihari segment of the colony and is a tailor by profession. “Yes, people have different professions, but in the night we all come together, gather around and talk about how the day was, not just within the family but the whole community."

Since early February, when the DDA officials started to register residents to prepare for the development project, Kathputli residents have been having frequent meetings to discuss their options. One recent evening, Bhatt attended one of them, bleary-eyed. Somebody nudged him to ask which party he would vote for. “Whichever party helps me out of my uncertainty,” he replied.

“I have performed for so many people," he said. "I wonder where that audience is now. Would they not help us?” But he seemed philosophical. “Artist toh akele hote hain, na ghar hain aur na hi koi thikhana," he said. "An artist is always alone. He neither has a home, nor an address."