November 3, 2020
As chawls got replaced with high-rise structures and exclusive housing societies, the barriers started building. Those managing housing societies surreptitiously told agents and others involved in selling flats to not entertain people of a certain religion or caste.
There is a spurt of intolerant tendencies in many of the city’s suburbs where well-entrenched lobbies are barring Muslims and other minorities from leasing or buying housing units
Ashok Kumar | Clarion India
MUMBAI – As India’s financial and commercial capital, with citizens from across the country living in one geographically small city, Mumbai was always seen as home for people from all communities, religions and classes.
Most people living in chawls (the erstwhile unique system of pre-apartment-era homes) would share balconies, toilets and other common features with neighbours. And most people did not even worry as to which caste, community or religion the neighbour belonged – they were all part of the same society. Of course, many often struggled to build their lives, ensure education for their children and hope for a better future.
But as chawls got replaced with high-rise structures and exclusive housing societies, the barriers started building. Those eating non-vegetarian food were frowned upon in many housing complexes, and soon a person’s religion and social background also mattered a lot. Those managing housing societies surreptitiously told agents and others involved in selling flats to not entertain people of a certain religion or caste. They were all in whispers, and not many dared to spell out the name of the religion or caste.
Sadly, things have changed for the worse. While in the past agents were briefed about not renting out an apartment to a Muslim family or someone from another minority community, these were ‘informal’ instructions and the intermediaries did not mention it to potential home-seekers. They were just turned away and told that the flat had been rented out or sold just a day earlier.
The last two decades have seen an abrupt change and people looking out for flats in many Mumbai localities are asked about their religious and caste backgrounds upfront. As Rana Ayyub, a leading journalist and columnist tweeted recently: “I have been house hunting in Bandra the last three months. My name ‘Rana’ does not come across as a muslim name for many owners. It is only when they read that my surname is ‘Shaikh,’ I get a call from my broker on behalf of the owner with the most obnoxious excuse.”
She had earlier tweeted: “Muslims and Pets not allowed. This is one of the most posh addresses in Mumbai, Bandra. This is 20th century India. Remind me we are not a communal nation, tell me this is not apartheid ?”
Sadique Basha of the Haq Hai Movement in Mira-Bhayandar, one of Mumbai’s extended suburbs, told Clarion India on Tuesday that 1992 was the turning point after the Babri Masjid was demolished. “I bought my flat in this area before the situation got out of control. Today, these areas are highly polarised,” he says. “My brother wanted a flat in my locality, but he was denied because of his religion.”
Basha recalls the days he spent as a child in Vasai, where people of all communities and religions lived harmoniously and there were no bars on newcomers. But things have deteriorated sharply in recent years.
Abraham Mathai, the former vice-chairman of the State Minorities Commission in Maharashtra, told this correspondent that nearly a decade ago he had (as the vice-chairman of the commission) urged the state government to ensure that every project of Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) 15 per cent allocation of homes for minorities. “We had suggested that even private builders be given more incentives if they guaranteed 15 per cent allocation of flats in their projects for minorities,” says Mathai.
The refusal of housing societies to allow Muslims and other minorities from living in their complexes affects not just ordinary folk but even well-known celebrities. For instance, there were reports in the past about how renowned actors including Shabana Azmi and Emraan Hashmi had been turned away from apartments of their choice because of their religion. “Hashmi was refused a flat in Bandra because of his religion,” points out Mathai.
Wahid Shaikh, a lawyer and activist refers to the difficulties that confronted Shabana when she was in search of accommodation in Mumbai many years ago. In places like Ghatkopar, a north-eastern suburb, the flat owners are totally opposed to ‘outsiders’ (those outside their community and caste) from getting a flat in their complex, he says. “They don’t want people eating non-vegetarian food in their housing society, but its alright if they consume alcohol,” says Shaikh.
Political leaders have also seen a gradual decline in tolerance for Muslims and other minorities in Hindu-dominated colonies. “Right-wing parties are polarising the people and creating bitterness,” Arif Naseef Khan, vice-president, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee, told Clarion India. “This was just not the case earlier when we had ‘Ganga-Jumna tehzeeb’ (Hindu-Muslim harmony) in Mumbai. People of all communities were living together.”
Congress leader and former MP Husain Dalwai says that after the 1992 riots, things worsened and Muslims were refused homes in many localities. This resulted in their having to live in specific locations in the suburbs including Jogeshwari, Versova, Mira-Bhayandar and Mumbra. “Fortunately, in many slums in Mumbai, people of all religions live harmoniously, participating in all the festivals.”
Hopefully, the coming years should see an easing of this kind of artificial division among people of different religions, believes Godfrey Pimenta, a lawyer and activist. “Builders are finding it difficult to sell homes these days, and they do not look at a buyer’s religion while marketing the apartments,” he points out. “Market dynamics will ultimately prevail and people from all communities will stay in these housing complexes.”
But for ordinary Muslims who cannot afford the high-priced apartments in these new projects, things are unlikely to change in the near future in Mumbai and the extended suburbs.