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Minority Malaise

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The story of traditional Muslims facing housing problems is an old one. But now, even educated and well-travelled Muslims are finding the door shut in their face. When will this polarization end?

By Sabiha Farhat


When you wipe your eyes see it clearly, There’s no need for you to fear me, If you take your time and hear me, Maybe you can learn to cheer me, — Ghetto Gospel, a 2005 pop hit

Tabassum, a 28-year-old vibrant, independent woman, has just bought herself a fully automatic Volkswagen, her dream car, without a loan. Ask her how she managed to shell out such a big amount and she looks serious. She says she did so by continuing to stay in a small, congested DDA colony even when she could afford a better home.
She recounts the travails of looking for a bigger, rented home. Her family consists of a younger brother and a retired mother. As her brother was also earning, they decided to move to a bigger, better-located house from the 2-BHK house they owned in an old DDA colony in West Delhi.

They searched for six months for a 3-BHK house in an upmarket society with the help of property dealers but nothing materialized. Finally, one landlord agreed to rent them the house as his wife was the brother’s ex-principal. They came to an agreement, but when they went to pay the advance, the landlord and his wife seated them and went to great lengths to appreciate “us Muslims”. “But she refused to accept the advance.

The landlord explained that they had consulted their children abroad and they were not in favor of renting out the house to ‘Muslims’”, says Tabassum.

She finally stopped the search as “the rejection was too strong, too much and too humiliating”. They continue to live in the congested DDA colony.

Such stories show the increasing ghettoization in Indian society.

HOUSING ISSUES

A study done by TwoCircles.net, a non-profit voice for marginalized sections, looked at membership records of all housing societies registered in New Delhi from December 2012 to October 2013 to find the percentage of Muslims in them. There were 1,345 housing societies which had no Muslims, while 544 housing societies had less than 10 percent members as Muslims (See graphic). As for Muslim dominated societies, there were 31 of them, where Muslims owned 90-100 percent of the houses. So essentially, there were 1,889 (1,345+544) Hindu-dominated societies versus 31 Muslim-dominated ones, showing clearly that society was polarized. “This is a disturbing trend for the future of plural India,” says Kashif-ul-Huda, the foun-der member of TwoCircles.net.

While poor and economically deprived Muslims were always at the lower end of the social ladder and victimized, what is shocking today is that even upwardly mobile, well-educated Muslims like Tabassum are facing the brunt of this blatant communalism.

Aiman, 30, the chief technology officer of a Bangalore start-up—with degrees from Delhi College of Engineering and University of Chicago—learnt it the hard way. In 2012, when he got married, he wanted to live near his parents in Dwarka, Delhi. Soon he realized that his degrees, job and global lifestyle could not help him find a house. He was never directly denied a house. But after many refusals, the only landlord who agreed to rent him a house was a Muslim.

PLATFORM FOR MUSLIMS

The unnerving fact that Muslims were turn-ed away from renting houses despite their buying capacity pushed Junaid and Hassan Ali, two engineers from Aligarh Muslim Uni-versity and IIT Bombay respectively, to create a housing portal.

Called Aligproperties.com, it is an atte-mpt to help the Muslim community move out of the ghettos. The website, launched on January 1, 2014, already has over a lakh visitors. Junaid says: “There are Muslims with money struggling to find a good location with modern facilities, such as sports arenas, gymnasiums, pools, parking space, greenery and sanitation. They don’t want to live in areas like Okhla, Batla House or Daryaganj. We offer them a platform to search for places outside of ‘Muslim areas’.”

Anees Saab is 75 years and lives with his wife in up-scale Gurgaon. He says that every time he puts up an advertisement to rent out his second floor, a large number of Muslims call him. Most have migrated to Gurgaon for jobs. He says: “Millennium city is, in reality, an orthodox society. It may deliver on the promise of better jobs, but it certainly disappoints as a truly cosmopolitan city.”

Then, there is Sehba whose story goes back to 1999, when she tried to shift her retired parents from Aligarh to Gurgaon. She could not even get to meet the owners as her surname was “Imam”. Fortunately for her, her husband, Murli Gopal, took upon himself the task of meeting the owners. “Delhiites like to give their houses to South Indians,” she says with a laugh. So, Murli convinced one of the landlords to at least meet his in-laws. When they all met, the landlords admitted that their perception was wrong. “In fact, they complimented us on being so different,” says Sehba. Of course, the irony of how the “faithful” from one community was willing to accept “non-conformist” Muslims was not lost on her. “While instances of such segregation are only now being reported, the trend started in the 90s. This was one of the reasons why Murli and I bought our own house within five years of marriage. It was a humiliating experience.”

CONTINOUS STIGMA

Ghettos, by definition, are places where stigmatized minorities live together, often in poor housing conditions. Though those living outside it are able to skip the poor housing conditions, the stigma follows them everywhere. And with political dispensations saffronising society, the rift is wide. Sameena, a student, says: “When I was looking for a maid, one of them started questioning me about my eating habits. She actually asked me if I ate beef? And this was 2-3 years ago, much before the beef ban controversy. I got so angry that I asked her if she was a Brahmin? But I realized that she was a mere tool in the hands of those doing this polarization.” Anju, a lawyer, corroborates: “I called up a maid bureau in Gurgaon and was told that there were two maids available, a young girl and a middle-aged lady. When I told him that I preferred a middle-aged woman, the owner immediately told me that she was a Muslim and that I should let him know if I had any objections to that. It was obvious that he had clients with religious preferences.”

It is these narrow-minded practises that will pull India down and make it a laughing stock among world powers.

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