The Indian Constitution guarantees that an Indian can live wherever he/she wants within the country’s territory. It’s right there under Article 19 (1) (a) – “all citizens shall have the right to reside in any part of the territory of India.” But if you’ve decided to move to a new city, you’re going to have a completely different experience.
In many of India’s metropolitan cities, religious and caste communities have over decades formed housing cooperatives. If you’re unaware of these geo-communal divisions, your chances of finding a new house in a preferred area at a good price are very slim. So, you’ll probably end up living in areas where most migrants or people from your (minority) community live. These are better known as ghettos. Living in a ghetto would have major drawbacks like high crime rates, safety concerns and negative impacts on a person’s health.
Landowners justify such discrimination as a private decision to choose tenants they are comfortable and share a common culture with. After all, the right to reside where you want can extend to the right to decide whom you want to live around.
So how do you get over this discrimination? Well, you can’t. But here are some rules to keep in mind if you’re house hunting in India. At least that way you might not have to hear a lot of, “You can’t sit with us”.
Rule #1: Look brown. Not black or white or yellow.
Moved to India from Nigeria?
The attacks on the Nigerian youth in India come as no surprise. Indians can be very phobic to anyone who doesn’t look like them. Caucasians would be labeled ‘too modern’ for orthodox landowners. People of African or Arab heritage would be unwelcome too. Because this is based on the way one looks, it is probably one of the immediate forms of prejudice one could face while house hunting in urban India. A ‘brown’ Indian can be lucky to get a house almost anywhere, but a foreigner faces a difficulty.
Rule #2: Be a Hindu. If you’re not, move along.
If you’re a Hindu, you’ll probably have an array of places to choose from in an Indian city. But if you’re a Muslim, be ready to face some very extreme and very upfront discrimination. Housing societies avoid accepting Muslims because they consider them ‘outsiders’. In Mumbai, this can be traced back to the bloody riots of 1992-1993 (post the Babri Masjid demolition). In 2015, a single, Muslim woman, Misbah Qadri (Single, Muslim, and a woman? Triple threat!) in Mumbai was evicted out of her newly rented apartment because of her religion. There are also a few communities that prefer preserving their minority culture in their particular locality and so you wouldn’t be allowed to move there either. In 2005, a Supreme Court ruling allowed a Zoroastrian Housing Cooperative Society to prohibit the selling of property to non-Parsis.
Rule #3: You need to belong to an upper caste to pass the housing bar.
If you’re a Dalit…
Upper caste people and those belonging to higher income strata rarely receive any bad luck while looking for a house. But if you’re a Dalit or belong to the scheduled caste, be ready to struggle. Dalits have always been looked down upon and considered to be untouchable. Of course, no housing society would want a Dalit living among them, right?
Rule #4: In India, Vegetarianism wins. No. Matter. What.
Like your steak medium rare?
Muslims and other non-vegetarians are usually a no-no on a landlord’s list. The Bakri-Eid celebrating Muslims, Maharashtrian fish-eaters, North Indian Butter-Chicken lovers are all looked down upon. But if you’re a vegetarian, or a Jain more so, rest assured you will be approved immediately.
Rule #5: When Dolly Aunty said, “Beta, you should settle down”, you should’ve listened.
If you’re a ready to mingle…
A single group of girls or boys come at the end of a landlord’s selection list. They are considered to be loud and messy, they probably drink and smoke in the house, and are therefore not preferred by family dominant housing societies. Unmarried couples face the biggest problem in India because it is considered a ‘taboo’ for a man and a woman to live together if they’re not married.
Rule #6: Animals don’t belong inside the house (unless it’s a cow, of course)
Have a pooch?
It’s no surprise why pet owners are frustrated due to the prohibition of pets in buildings, malls, restaurants, etc. Many housing societies have set (unreasonable) rules that forbid pets. However, according to Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), societies, by law, cannot impose rules to ban pets. But with no regulation of this law, many building committees have laid down their own rules.
Obviously, none of these are long-term solutions. For how long can the people who don’t meet these criteria struggle for this very basic need.
So here’s a list of possible remedies to the house hunting problem in India.
1. The Smart City Scheme of the Modi government promises to unveil plans for 500 smart cities. The scheme plans lay down a broad model of non-discriminatory access to housing to anybody irrespective of their protected characteristics. Hence, the Smart City scheme can be used to prevent ghettoization by making house hunting easy and affordable to people.
2. The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic minorities urged the government to launch Prime Minister’s New 15-point Program for Minorities in 2006. The program was launched because of the widespread inequality and poverty, especially among Muslims and Dalits. This could be used to protect minorities from intolerant landlords.
3. When it comes to a comprehensive anti-discriminatory law, India lacks one. The provisions under Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 provides a limited criminal remedy to Dalits who are denied housing. The prohibition on discrimination under Article 15 of the Constitution applies to state and private persons both, however, some government clarity is required. Maybe formulate a free housing law or introduce reservations in housing?
Apart from a few Facebook groups like Indians against discrimination and startups like NestAway who strive to reduce housing discrimination by providing restriction free housing space, there are no real steps taken to improve this issue.
What do you think is the best way to address this problem? Tell us in the comments below.