“I opted to rent a house in Noida, it was a renowned society. The owner had no issues in accepting me as the tenant but the society secretary and body members didn’t allow me, a Muslim to live in their society.”
A day after India celebrated its 75th Independence Day, a Muslim woman took to Twitter to share screenshots of text messages she received from potential landlords wherein she was denied a rented apartment due to her religious identity. The screenshot had the broker telling Haifa about the fact that while the property was available to rent, the owners are looking for a Hindu family. Following this, several people took to Twitter in a show of solidarity with Haifa and shared their own experiences of rejection that were bestowed upon them due to their identity.
Arjun Mukherjee, a PhD scholar at Rabindra Bharati University, West Bengal talks about the pressure of conforming to societal norms and prejudices by landowners for creating pure, more gentrified neighbourhoods by Hindu communities, therefore leading to the ghettoization of communities that are then forced to thrive on the margins of the society.
“We are presented with a distinct phenomenon pertaining to housing and accommodation. This whole exercise of systematic segregation limits the cultural interaction between communities, as a result, social prejudices are not challenged, and populous stereotypes are reinforced and reproduced through everyday discourse,” says Mukherjee.
Syed Lareb Alvi, a content specialist living in Delhi says, “I opted to rent a house in Noida, it was a renowned society. The owner was having no issues I opted to rent a house in Noida, it was a renowned society. The owner had no issues in accepting me as the tenant but the society secretary and body members didn’t allow me, a Muslim to live in their society.”
“My reaction was not shocking as I have read stories of people being discriminated against for their religious beliefs in NCR. I was rather in a state of humiliation,” says the 28-year-old content specialist. Adding that ghettoization of Muslims is not a new concept, Alvi states that places like Jmia Nagar, Okhla and Mumbra are situated on the outskirts of the city and are, therefore, inaccessible to live in due to the awful living conditions these places have to offer.
Tanvir Aeijaz, an associate professor at Delhi University, said Muslims don’t want to live in ghettos, as quoted by Times of India.
“Who wouldn’t want to live in good areas? But it is because of discrimination that community-specific residential complexes are growing. Ghettoization happens because of discrimination of this kind and not because Muslims want to live in Muslim-only areas,” he said.
In a country that boasts a foundation built on ‘unity in diversity, marginalisation and discrimination of minorities is a waking nightmare which is endangering and isolating, to say the least. While the political discourse is that of representation insofar as positions of power is concerned, the ground reality remains largely the same-discriminatory.
Max, a non-binary trans individual who moved from Gujarat to Bangalore to pursue higher education spoke about the myriad of unwarranted questions they had to answer in order to rent accommodation in the city.
Narrating their experience in the Silicon Valley of India, they said, “One of the first questions we were asked was about our caste identity as the land owners wanted to know if we would cook non-vegetarian food and so on.” They added that the other questions included their marital status as the homeowners did not want ‘bachelors’ living at their house lest they ruin their reputation.
Furthermore, Max states that he had to hide his trans identity in order to get the home they currently occupy.
“The assumption is anyone who is not a Hindu, upper caste, heteronormative are impure for their home,” says Max.
There is Housing apartheid in India, as described by The Hindu, wherein declining someone a place to live is a violation of the Constitutional guarantees of equality (Article 14) and anti-discrimination (Article 15(1)).
The problem, however, is that our fundamental rights are enforceable only against State action, and do not apply to private conduct.
Sudeep Kumar and his family have lived in Delhi for decades. He states that his father had to change his last name to hide their Dalit identity and name in order to avail of rented housing.
He says that as a young child he was unaware of his caste identity, however, it was an abusive homeowner who hurled casteist slurs at him who made him aware of his caste identity.
“My mother told me to tell people that we are ‘Baniyas’ in order to escape the constant vilification and discrimination. When we look for homes, the brokers would show us homes in dilapidated conditions that are rendered unliveable.”
The 24-year-old reflected on his family’s struggle and stated that his father was made to do odd jobs by the landowner when he found out about his caste identity. “If we were late on rent even a day, the conduct of the homeowner was terrifying to say the least. The neighbours too actively participated in otherising us when they found out about our Dalit identity.”
Kumar states that even when we could afford good homes, the brokers would take them to houses with no roofs and broken walls.
“The place my family currently resides in, the neighbours make our lives a living nightmare. They call us casteist slurs and also throw garbage on our balcony. The tenants are barely respected in this country, but being a person from a deprived caste makes life all the more difficult.”
He observes that there is active discrimination against people from Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi communities, however, there has been a shift wherein hate for people of the Muslim faith is used as a common topic for bonding.
“Last time we were flat hunting- my flatmate and I, we were asked every time if we were Muslims. I wonder, for how long must people hide their identities to get access to basic human rights?”, he asks.
Mukherjee says that this housing phenomenon is in distinct contrast to Article 21 of the Constitution which recognises the Right to Adequate Housing as a fundamental right stemming from the Right to Life.
The holy trinity of roti, kapda aur makaan (food, clothing and shelter) are largely interdependent and have been seen as a basic necessity for a person’s life and dignity in the Indian subcontinent.
However, in a country with a hierarchical structure rooted in casteism along with rampant islamophobia and queerphobia, it is key to note that the aforementioned needs of an individual are put at risk.