A house for Mr Hashmi
A housing complex in Mumbai has blocked a move by Indian actor Emraan Hashmi to acquire an apartment in the city’s upscale Pali Hill area because he is Muslim, the actor has alleged.
The case has brought back the debate about prejudices Muslims face, and how our secular republic reconciles itself with equal rights guaranteed by the constitution to minorities.Discrimination against minorities is often subtle, difficult to address legally and harder to prove.
More and more young, educated Muslims, single and couples, are leaving their native comfort zones for bigger cities for employment. They may not be denied jobs – discrimination is never that blatant — but are safely deprived of decent housing on the grounds that their way of life is “incompatible” with the Hindu society. There is a need to first correct our sociological assessment and reclaim our plural identities. Indian values are not Hindu values alone.
Discrimination against minorities is often denied but can easily be uncovered. The ‘altering eye, alters all’. Try this. Assume that you are a Muslim young man, married with a child. Call on a few brokers in Delhi’s Rohini locality for example. Here’s what to expect: brokers will either mince words, or jack up the rent seven times to scare you off or, if you are lucky, bluntly tell you the unpalatable truth.
Muslims seldom articulate such discrimination at the drop of a hat. Hashmi is a celebrity and the media gladly heard him out. However, thousands of ordinary Muslims not just frequently put up with such discrimination but also grin and bear it.
Bias of this sort is not bound by the law, which may limit blatant forms of discrimination, like denial of a job. It is an invisible arrow; not open bigotry and therefore twice as dangerous.
Hashmi is now unlikely to get the flat. His landlord, according to newspaper reports, has told him that he did not wish to sell the flat because his Canada-based son might need it.
I have no reason to doubt Hashmi’s claims. Pulling out of deals to sell or rent houses to Muslims at the eleventh hour on grounds of the client’s religion is a reality. The property owner usually proffers this notoriously familiar excuse: his son based abroad is heading back home and moving in. It is difficult to deny a deserving Muslim admission in college or jobs but it’s easy to deny him a house on rent or a place up for sale.
Some time ago, much before Hashmi came up with his case, I was seated across the table with India’s minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid. I wondered if he was aware of Muslims facing discrimination in housing. “Yes and I stay in a Muslim locality where they don’t deliver pizzas,” he said. Khurshid feels Muslims have to reason with Hindus and find a creative solution, which though may not be easy. He is right.
We as Indian Muslims are struggling to remain who we are. I am sorry to see the slow death of Hindu liberalism. Much as we fail to see it, Hindu right-wing nationalism has spurred a hostile reawakening of the Hindu faith, much like radical Islam.
The mixed legacy of our villages is still largely intact. It is in our cities where differences have sharpened. The reality is that Muslims in urban India are facing a post-assimilation problem. They are blamed for failing to integrate and mainstream themselves; and are thought to be not loyal enough.
However, racial integration is not our problem at all. We come largely from the same stock, having converted roughly between 700 and 900 years ago. Integration is done and long over.
We are not European Muslims coping with a hostile continental culture. Our sub-continental identities are inseparable from our Muslim identity. Our Indian values are no less evolved than any other community. Unlike European Muslims, we are not immigrants from another land. So, why should we be denied houses?
Educated Muslims often take up houses in ghettos for reasons of compulsion than choice. This affects their quality of life.
It is surprising that problems of born-again European Muslims are cropping up in India, where Hindus and Muslims have always experienced shared destinies.
Our constitution precludes any scope for institutional discrimination. We have never had anything like France’s laïcité.
I always believed that continental European Muslims should be envious of their Indian counterparts. But some Western irritants are creeping into our lives. Indian Muslims are now caught between a Left which wants right-wing Hindu nationalism pushed out of public life — but doesn’t mind Islam — and the Right that wants Islam pushed out of public life, while reinforcing Hindutva.
The French concept of laïcité that began as a complete separation of the Church and State has evolved to another extreme today. In July last year, France rejected citizenship rights to a Moroccan-origin woman who wears a burqa, citing her “radical” practice of Islam and her complete “submission” to her husband. Click here.
Hindutva, as opposed to Hinduism, could well turn out to be India’s laïcité. We don’t need laïcité here. Our goalposts of a secular, sovereign democratic republic had been well thought out by our founding fathers. Click here to read the Preamble.
We must be granted everything as individuals and as Muslims as long as we remain Indians. It is not desirable to legislate every aspect of an individual’s life. However, widespread cases of housing discrimination sometimes make me wonder if it is about time we regulated housing so that minorities get their share.
For instance, a new housing complex could have flats reserved for minorities, which should first be offered to them at market prices. Make no mistake. We are not talking of discounted housing or subsidies here. All we are saying is, give us a house. You will find Muslim buyers who will give you a better deal.