Finding a home to rent in India's national capital is an arduous task for anyone - but, an investigation by The Hindu has found, almost impossible for citizens who happen to be Muslim. Homeowners and property dealers contacted by reporters often firmed up deals, only to be disqualified as soon as they revealed their religion.
Housing apartheid was at its worst in New Delhi’s most affluent and educated neighbourhoods: New Friends Colony, Vasant Kunj, Jangpura and Rohini. By contrast, in areas such as Mukherjee Nagar, Karol Bagh, Janakpuri and Ashok Vihar the responses were mixed.
In one case, a property agent representing a homeowner in New Friends Colony flatly told The Hindu's reporters, “The landlords want only Indians, not Muslims.”
Told that the applicant was an Indian, the reporter was told not to push matters further. “Another Muslim,” said Radha of Gulshan properties in New Friends Colony, “wanted to take the flat on rent but he was also refused by the owners. Even though it suits your budget and needs, there is no point in showing you the flat. The flat has been vacant for a long time but they will not give it to a Muslim.”
Deepak Sharma of Balaji Properties in Rohini Sector-8, contacted by The Hindu's reporters, who posed as a young Muslim married couple, said that residents of mainly-Hindu Rohini “avoid renting their flats to Muslims here. I am sorry but you will not be able to get a house in this locality.” Ironically enough, Mr. Sharma’s office proudly displayed a photograph bearing icons of all religions, in perfect harmony.
For single women, things are even worse. When a reporter posed as a single mother looking for a house in West Delhi’s Janakpuri, an agent of Sharma properties was initially sympathetic. “You don’t have a husband?” said a property dealer, adding in a conciliatory tone “Ok, come tomorrow and I will find you a house.”
This changed as soon as she revealed that she is a Muslim who eats non-vegetarian food. “It could get a little difficult then,” he said, “I will call you back after speaking to the owner.”
By contrast, there were considerable options for a female student looking for accommodation in Delhi’s North Campus with brokers even looking out for the safety of their clients. “There is an option for a one-bedroom apartment but it won’t suit a girl since the entry is from the back of the house,” property dealer Varun Kumar said. Men looking for accommodation in the area say that single girls are preferred as tenants since they can be reined in with threats of complaints to their parents.
Property dealers seemed to operate an informal network of religious segregation, often pointing The Hindu's reporters to supposedly Muslim-appropriate neighbourhoods. More often that not, they were told to look for houses in the fringes of posh colonies. Property dealers in Rohini suggested Rithala, one in Jangpura proposed Bhogal, famous for its Kashmiri population and Afghanistani refugees, a broker in New Friends Colony suggested Sukhdeo Vihar and Jasola both of which are close to another Muslim ‘ghetto’ Jamia Nagar, and one in Vasant Kunj suggested Munirka and Kishangadh.
Neighbourhoods like these appear to be emerging as enclaves for the growing Muslim middle class in Delhi, which despite its education and economic achievements is denied access to neighbourhoods preferred by Hindus from similar backgrounds.
On the travails of finding a house, Prof. Rizwan Qaisar, an academician at Jamia Millia Islamia, said while looking for a house in Saket and Munirka DDA Flats he came across instances where his name mattered a lot. “Every thing was fine till I revealed my name. After facing ‘no’ from several property dealers, I had to finally shift to Noor Nagar in Jamia Nagar.” “Several social groups face discrimination in housing but for Muslims the edge is sharper,” Mr. Qaisar said.
Senior lawyer Ashok Agarwal said a solution to the problem does not lie in the legal sphere. “First of all, practically it is very difficult to prove the existence of this malaise,” he said, adding, “the government cannot regulate private housing.”
Elsewhere in the region, countries have taken concerted action to end similar housing apartheid. Singapore, for example, introduced a system of mandatory quotas in public housing to better integrate its once-polarised ethnic-Malay, Chinese and Indian communities.
Interestingly, one property dealer said, Dalits sometimes faced similar problems — but managed to avoid them since their names often did not immediately disclose their caste. “Dalits face some problems when the owner is typically a practicing upper caste Hindu or Jain,” the dealer said. Not every neighbourhood is exclusionary — perhaps a sign of hope that change is possible in the city. There are those who are honest about not caring where in the world one comes from.