'I Know I am Muslim as Others Don't Let Me Forget': When House Hunting in Metros Turns into Nightmare

News18.com

Moving into a new house can be daunting. From picking a safe neighborhood with a good school, to finding the right colour for the walls, to making sure the toilets don't leak and power cuts are not regular-- it's a hectic business. However, things can get even worse for some people.

When 30-year-old Ali Rizvi from Uttar Pradesh moved to Bengaluru with his wife and two children, he had one 'problem' while trying to rent a house. His religion.

A former journalist, Ali now worked for Amazon, but all of his professional abilities didn't matter because all that mattered was the fact that he is Muslim.

Ali recalls a particular case that made him really angry. "The representative of one of the owners finalised everything with me, and I said could come the next week and pay advance to the owner. When I reach a week later, the owner just heard my name and said there has been some confusion and that the house has already been rented out", Ali said.

He added that this was not the first and only time he had had to face this kind of a discrimination Ali, who has also completed his higher education in Bengaluru, said that he and his roommates had been turned away. While some flat owners refused on grounds of the tenants being 'non-vegetarian', others straight out refused to accept a 'Mohammaden'.

Recently, Ali took to Facebook to share screenshots of rejection messages he had received from brokers and flat owners.

Ali said such instances raised an important point about society - despite urbanisation and apparent 'progress', communal discrimination was a fairly common thing, especially when it came to housing.

"The discrimination is invisible to most people. One would believe that working in a global company and looking/sounding "modern" would make one immune from such prejudices, but clearly that's not the case," Ali told News 18. He added that this kind of discrimination could be one of the reasons why people start to identify with a religion/community over time.

"I never identified as a Muslim a few years ago. I do now because others don't let me forget," Ali said.

He eventually found a suitable house overlooking a pool. On his Facebook post, he writes that his landlord is a middle-aged Muslim man whose previous non-Muslim tenants had just vacated the flat.

But Ali isn't the only one.

Finding accommodation has been becoming difficult for young Muslim men and women in metropolitan cities in India. When Said Sadiq Khan (name changed),  first came to Delhi to study, he had to spend the first 5 months in a friend's house because he could not find anything.

"I am from Srinagar so it was really hard for me to get a place in Delhi. I wanted to live in South Delhi close to the place where I was working. But most of the areas I hit such as Hauz Khaz, Green Park, South-Ex had this unspoken rule, - no bachelors and no Muslims. I was both", Khan said. He has found himself a studio apartment in Jamia Nagar now. He said it was far from his office but at least he was sure of not being evicted suddenly.

For some, getting a flat is almost like a trial of faith. In cities like Mumbai which have a high rate of migrant inflow, the problem is very pronounced. A 2017 Reuters report claimed that prohibition of Muslims and single women was ghettoizing housing in the city. Community-based housing co-operatives started by assertive members create rulebooks for housing and tenancy that often follow no protocol and can be as communal and un-inclusive as the last member of the community or group. Journalist Sahiba Nusrat Khan who moved to Mumbai in 2018 with a new job was homeless for almost three weeks after moving from Delhi.

"I had set the whole thing up from Delhi, all I had to do was turn up at the flat and sign the papers. I loved the flat and it was all set until the landlady saw my name. She flatly refused to sublet the flat to a Muslim, citing it was part of society rules. This happened in Khar, one of the posher sections of Mumbai," Sahiba related.

Not just housing societies, even other avenues such as Nestaway failed Sahiba. She managed to get a flat but soon had to quit because the other girls subletting the place with her were all 'vegetarian' and demanded she get a separate fridge and supplies for her food. After repeated rejections, Sahiba who was desperate to get a flat asked one of the brokers who was turning her down what the reason was. Was it just because she was Muslim?

Since the deadly 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, the atmosphere toward Muslims has undergone a drastic change, even as the bloody memories of the 1992-93 communal riots still haunt many a memory. According to Sahiba, who in her desperation to find a flat finally called out one of the brokers on his double standards, he said, "What can I say! You only tell me, why are all the terrorists Muslims?"

For Sahiba, the 'facade of cosmopolitan Bombay' fell apart right then. "I think I will always hate this city for what it put me through," Sahiba added.