A certain man, seemingly from Hyderabad (but unlikely to be too fond of Biryani), wanted his radio taxi to be driven by a man of a particular religion. But then Hyderabad is still learning the ways of urban cosmopolitanism. No one says stuff like that in the multi-cultural National Capital Region (NCR), where everyone is welcome (and welcoming) and bigotry is only an aberration, right?
You’d do well to not say that to Pearl Khan who was refused a rental apartment last week in the heart of India’s Millennium City, Gurgaon, because, well, she is Muslim.
Renting an apartment in the NCR (and most big cities) invariably involves an intermediary (who calls himself/herself an “agent” and is often very expensive). In this case, too, Khan, a Public Relations professional, had found what she thought was a comfortable two-bedroom apartment for her mother and herself in Regency Park, a plush society in DLF Phase 4 in Gurgaon, through an agent. Curiously, though, after a successful first round of negotiation, the broker said the landowner wasn’t interested in renting out the place to Khan. It turned out, our landowner, an upper-caste Hindu and a resident of Pune, wanted only Hindu tenants. Fair enough. His house, his choice, after all.
Here, Khan tried talking it out. If you’re judging her and think she should have instead Whatsapped him pictures of rare steak, you have no idea what an ordeal house hunting in the NCR is. But our landlord was a man of his words. No Muslims in my house, he maintained.
Now, the above is Khan’s version. At the time of pursuing this story, the Columbia School of Journalism established that the much-talked about Rolling Stones story about a fraternity house rape, written in great detail, was in fact wrong. It was an epic journalistic debacle – the primary cause of which was the failure to get the other side. But then failure to get the other side is not always the result of a reporter’s laziness, particularly in sensitive stories where there is (at least ostensibly) an aggrieved party whom you do not want to push. Asking for contacts and clarifying slight inconsistencies (inconsequential in the larger story) often feels like forcing the person to relive a bad experience.
Khan told me that she had only spoken to the landlord through a conference call arranged by the agent and that she did not have the person’s number. She, however, did share with me the agent’s contact details. When I called up the agent, posing as a Muslim man, in need of a two-bedroom accommodation, he was more than enthusiastic to show me around. However, when I told him I was keen on a particular apartment in Regency Park a friend had recommended, his enthusiasm withered. But the corroboration exercise turned out to be much simpler than I had anticipated. The agent, without even being nudged, told me the story of a Pearl Khan, who was refused this particular apartment because the landlord did not want Muslim tenants. When I insisted that he at least set up an interview with the landowner, he said he’d try. The next day he called back saying that the landowner had refused. “Mohamenden ko ghar nahi denge woh [He won’t rent his house to a Muslim],” he said. The agent, however, did say there were other better options and he would show me around. He didn’t seem to care what my religion was – something telling in itself since we so often tend to associate bigotry to socio-economic background.
Typical case of one isolated incident and the Aadarsh Liberals crying victim? According to this first-of-a-kind study that TwoCircles.net, a not-for-profit publication, has shared with Newslaundry, housing apartheid against Muslims is more norm than deviation in the capital. The recent study, which looks at membership records of all 1960 registered societies in Delhi, throws up some startling revelations. Out of 1960 registered societies, 1345 have no Muslim members at all. Which means that an astounding 68 per cent of the housing societies in Delhi have no Muslim membership.
When you break down the numbers, this translates to an average of a little over three per cent Muslim members in registered housing societies. To put things in perspective, Muslims form 12.9 per cent of Delhi’s population while average Muslim membership in the city’s registered housing societies is less than four per cent.
So, where do the Muslims live in Delhi? According to an investigative report, in The Hindu, property dealers often direct Muslims to the fringes of posh colonies. Okhla, Abul Fazal Enclave, Zakir Nagar, Batla House and Darya Ganj, are areas with high Muslim population. Also, they are typical ghettos. The study confirms that: 58.8 per cent of Muslim housing society members are associated with societies that have more than 90 per cent Muslims as members. Which means that the 31 societies that have 90-100 per cent Muslim members account for 59 per cent of Muslims in housing societies.
In a reactionary – and self-defeating – development, Muslim-only registered societies have sprung up in the past few years. Devoid of the squalor and suffocation of areas like Daryaganj, this colony in Greater Noida for instance offers “dream homes for elite Muslim brotherhood” – a pimped up ghetto, if you may.
As Kashif-Ul-Huda, Editor-in-Chief of TwoCircles.net, sums up the study: “…Hindus and Muslims are getting ghettoised in their communities. It is a disturbing trend for the future of plural India.”
The veneer of Delhi’s cosmopolitanism is falling off – and it’s happening in such a surreptitious fashion that we can all claim ignorance. At our own peril, of course.