Mumbai’s residents must confront the prejudice that often leads brokers and builders to turn Muslims away, say academics and activists.
Instead, we flinch from openly discussing the issue, said Sharit Bhowmick, a sociologist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. When he was looking for a flat, his real estate agent routinely told him, “This is a very good building; there are no Muslim families here.”
We should not leave such comments hanging, but find out why such attitudes exist, he said.
Brushing the phenomenon under the carpet only serves to strengthen it, said Madhavi Kapoor, a Pune-based educationist. This summer when she was about to sell her flat to a Muslim family, a few neighbours in her Sindhi-dominated building tried hard to talk her out of it. “Would you like to see goats being cut on our lawn,” they asked her. “Fortunately I threatened to move court and approach the press,” said Kapoor. “Since the law was on our side, and with the issue coming into the limelight, the residents backed off.” The Muslim family bought her flat and moved in.
That was a victory, but she wished she had quizzed her neighbours about what they feared.
In Mumbai, the discrimination deepened after the 1992-93 riots. Landlords, including mine, wanted Muslims tenants to remove their nameplates.
The problem with talking about attitudes is that not everyone even acknowledges that discrimination exists.
Recently, actress and parliamentarian Shabana Azmi claimed that a builder had refused to sell her property because she was a Muslim. In response, a group of film artistes called a press conference to counter a perception that Muslims faced discrimination.
“It does not exist,” said Ashoke Pandit, a director. “I have never come across anyone who has faced this, and my circle in the city covers thousands of people. But even if it does exist, people should respect that as a group trying to maintain its culture. They should be sporting and look for housing somewhere else. Tomorrow, if I want a flat in Millat Nagar (a Muslim-dominated locality in suburban Mumbai), can I get it?”