The Shame of A Name

This has never happened to me before. But then, there is always a first time for everything in life.

My name is Zainab Bawa.

“Are you Punjabi?”

“Are you Parsi?”

“What are you?” Arjun bhai, the hawker outside VT station had once asked me. “Muslim,” I had replied. And then, very bashfully, he said to me, “Just asking. Could not make out. You speak such good Marathi. And then, after all, we are all of the humanity kind – you cut my finger, the blood that oozes out will be the same as yours.”

I used to feel quite amused. Each time I walked into a government office, I would see puzzled faces and expressions, the officers trying to place me in terms of my religion. This was the Bombay I had experienced, particularly between 2002 and 2006. Each time I was asked about my religion, I would feel amused rather than nervous. And then, I used to be told what a wonderful name I have – no one can make out who I am in terms of my religious identity.

Cut to Bangalore – February 2009

“You are looking for a place to rent? Try calling this couple. They are very sweet and they have a few units to rent out in Jayanagar. You might like their place,” A’s acquaintance told me.

So I called, a couple of days later.

“My name is Zainab. I heard that you are renting out your place,” I said.

The man on the other line said, “I am travelling right now. Can you call my wife and speak with her.”

I called his wife.

“My name is Zainab. My husband and I are looking for a place to rent and we heard that you are renting out your flats in Jayanagar. We are interested.”

The wife on the other end of the line asks, “Where are you from?”

“We live in L T (which happens to be one of the affluent Muslim and Christian neighbourhoods in the city). Our workplaces are moving towards South Bangalore and therefore, we want to move to Jayanagar.”

The wife says: “Sorry, but our current Madhava Brahmin tenants are very particular. We can’t have non-vegetarian tenants.”

“But we are usually vegetarians. Only when friends come home, once a month, we cook non-veg. Is that still a problem?”

“Sorry, but I better be honest. Okay, thank you,” she said and hung up.

I was fuming, holding the phone in my hand. I knew at once that she had discriminated against me on the basis of my name (and obviously my religion). But I wanted to verify. A friend whose cousin was looking for an apartment to rent at the same time had asked me for this lady’s number. I gave it to him and told him to tell me whether she would raise the veg/non-veg question after he uttered his (Hindu) name. And sure enough,

“I called her. Told her my name and said that my cousin was interested in renting her place. I even helped her when she was struggling for a word in Kannada during our phone conversation. She said she would personally come and show us the place.  Turned out that my cousin and she had some native village connections. Towards the end of our visit, she told my cousin and me that a lady named Zainab had called this morning. ‘But I find it better to rent the place to known people'”, my friend narrated.

Sure enough, it was discrimination and I did confront the house-owner next morning by sending her a text message, telling her how she had discriminated against me only on the basis of my name (and my religion). In the next fortnight, finding a rental place became a nightmare in South Bangalore. Real estate agents would openly ask if we were veg/non-veg and accordingly show us places. In one instance, a broker even questioned without asking my name,

“Are you a Muslim family?”

” I am Muslim and my husband is Hindu. What does that make us?”

“Sorry madam. The owners don’t want Muslim family.”

In another instance, a broker asked me,

“Madam, are you okay with a Muslim landlord?”

After the first incident of discrimination, I became afraid to utter my name during the later house hunts, lest the owners say something about religion which would make me very angry. And it was not just about me being Muslim. Jayanagar is notorious towards Christian sounding names too. Gradually, I discovered that Jayanagar was a planned area. When the first land sub-divisions took place, the Brahmins and Jains had monetary capital to purchase land and carry out building activity. The monopoly of Brahmin and Jain landlords coupled with increasing conservatism over time, has made Jayanagar an unfriendly rental market.

In the second last house hunt, the owner of the building openly asked my husband and me,

“Are your Brahmins? We prefer to give the place out to Brahmins.”

My husband read this as a veg/non-veg issue. He said,

“I am a Telugu Brahmin.”

“Ah good,” said the owner.

“I understand that you may have an issue with us cooking non-veg. But we have foreigners coming over and living at our place time and again. We can’t impose vegetarianism on them. I am veg, my wife eats non-veg sometimes though.”

“Ok, let her eat,” said the owner.

My aim in writing this post is not to rant about my experiences. However, many questions have arisen in my mind through the course of this house hunt. I have gone back and forth between my experiences in Bombay and have wondered why I did not feel discrminated against when I was asked about my name and religion in Bombay. Why did the sense of exclusion and discrimination did not strike then? I have never been fastidious about my Muslim identity. In fact, it occupies a very late place in my sense of who I am. My family has conducted pujas as part of our trading traditions. Our own Muslim practices stem from Gujarat, making us more of Gujaratis than Muslims. However, the curent trend appears to be an increasing emphasis on the base religious identity, irrespective of how distorted that religious identity may be owing to local influences and cultures.

It has also struck me how people shut off from others on the basis of hearing a name, and that too often on the phone. If our levels of mental closure have reached a stage where a name uttered on the phone is enough to dismiss the person entirely, then what hope do we have for ourselves and for our society?

Does property ownership reinforce conservative and narrow beliefs? If yes, then does occupancy of urban space unsettle conservatism arising from both property ownership and fundamental traditional/religious beliefs? I have been wondering about this last question, particularly in the context of neighbourhoods such as Shanthinagar, Shivajinagar and Viveknagar in Bangalore. These are occupied areas, with slum and squatter settlements as well as vibrant with street vending activities. A particular form of Mother Mary worship has emerged in these areas. These areas have several shrines of the Infant Jesus, who is worshipped by Muslims, Hindus and Christians alike. The worship and faith in Infant Jesus extends beyond the narrow conceptions of religion – these practices bear a local history that has evolved via migration, trade circuits, monetary networks and other inexplicable factors. The history of the Infant Jesus worship has not been documented much in Bangalore. But it represents a beam of hope because it indicates that religion moves beyond the boundaries of the book and the institution – that traditions can be locally invented and can be inclusive.

There is no conclusion to this post. And I hope there is never one, because space will evolve as much as practices will. Meanwhile, I continue to live with my name …

73 thoughts on “The Shame of A Name”

  1. This is a major problem across the country now. For the last 15 years I have been troubled by this attitude in almost every city.

    I consider myself fortunate that there are some people who give you the place to live when you pay higher rent but those who can’t afford have no place to go.

    Some Jain families even dissaude others in the society to give house on rent to Muslims, to keep the place ‘clean’.

    In Surat, 300 builders and real-estate brokers had decided not to buy or sell property to Muslims. This is all leading us to divided cities and lack of family interaction will hurt the nation.

    Unfortunately this is not considered an issue at all at the national level.


  2. One of the brokers in Jayanagar area also told me that if I agreed to pay a higher rent, I would be able to find a place without the discrimination hassles. The problem is indeed compounded by the fact that many people cannot afford to pay a high rent and they get nearly thrown out of the rental markets.


  3. On one hand the author emphasizes upon the fact that religion should not be an issue and describes the (now common) travails of the Muslim professionals across Indian cities not getting houses on rent at the localities they fancy. On the other she introduces us to fact that ‘worship of a ‘infant jesus’ among all communities is gaining ground and several shrines are coming up for him. This is contradictory-like encouraging another form of relegious worship , to add to the thousands of deities, shrines, temples, mosques, churches etc that already crowd Indian spaces and where more and more crowds are thronging now a days leading to newer beliefs and superstitions emerging .


  4. Like in other civilised countries, is it possible to enact a law — or is there already one — that makes it illegal or creates a disincentive to discriminate on the basis of cultural factors while renting out property?

    Giving a house on rent is a business, and there’s definitely something illegal about overt discrimination in doing business. I wonder what’s the legal recourse…


  5. Re Subhash: One of the things that I have understood in my life is that for many people, religion is a very important anchor that helps them sail through tough times in their lives. It is not my intention to rule out religion altogether. The issue that I have been concerned with it emphasizing on Muslimness or Hinduness or Christianness as if there is only one form of Muslimness or Hinduness or Christianness. Whereas, in reality, what we practice as religion is strongly influenced by local cultures and regional histories. The belief in Infant Jesus cannot be classed as religion or cult. The deity itself is a local construct and the beauty of the entire Infant Jesus faith tradition is that people of all creeds – Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike – come together to see the Infant Jesus as a healer deity. Moreover, the Infant Jesus practice is dominant in areas like Shanthinagar, Viveknagar, Eejipura and Austin Town which have a significant migrant population, residing in slums. Since slums threaten the institution of property, is it likely that occupancy of urban land coupled with migration as well as trading practices can displace these very fundamental notions of religion? It’s a question for me right now.


  6. Re Mahesh: I guess there is a Supreme Court ruling about discrimination on the grounds of eating preferences. I am not certain about it. But I wonder whether the law alone can help to change the situation. When I discussed this issue of discrimination in the rental market on another public list, people felt that owners of property have the right, by virtue of possessing the property, to give the place to whomsoever they like. I am not sure how a law can altogether change the situation.


  7. Fear from unknown.

    It is a tricky issue.

    We do discriminate based on region, religion, food habits, community

    Ideally it should not be the case but we suffer from stereotypes.

    I spent 4-5 months in Pune in 2007 and it was difficult for me to find a place because they of my being a single – they would ask the question.

    it was nice to laugh at it all but I understand that it must be difficult for a Muslim in situations like these.

    Hopefully things will improve over time

    i must say that stereotypes could be driven by a minority of people but if majority and moderates do not raise their voices against people who are driving the stereotypes of their community then the whole community get stigmatized



  8. While it is true that owners have a right to choose who they will rent their houses to, it is also not right to discriminate against people who may have a lifestyle different from theirs. I feel that we are a hypocritical society which does not condemn meat eating or extra-marital sex or drinking for men as long as it is done outside the “home”, which is seen as a sort of “sacred” space, the abode of the women who of course do not ‘do’ these things, ever ;)! Thus we have the irony of higher-caste people from traditional vegetarian homes tucking into beef in the West, and rationalising that only cows from Bharat are ‘holy’, and not those in the West!

    And about the widespread pluralistic manifestation of religious faith one sees in Bangalore and other cities in the South, I think it could perhaps be a sign of the times. It is very perceptive of her to have noticed it. I read it as a counter or reaction to the hardliners from dominant castes who are are making inroads into the mindspace of some of the youth of the subaltern classes though preaching and practicing an aggressive “muscular” religio-political identity. Thus the focus is on love, tenderness, relatedness, child-and-mother identity which is a universal human experience. Thus I see it as a very robust and unequivocal response of the common masses to Hindutva.


  9. This is an important issue in understanding the social geography of urban India- especially the emerging urban form- which is predominantly becoming exclusivist homogenous neighborhoods. it had been too… when one study the old cities… clear divisions- but ofcourse public spaces were the boundaries- porous though to some extent…
    I am not sure if this is not the situation in the case of slums- as Zainab hopes..we might need to look closely…the argument sounds similar the pirateship culture that Marcus and Rediker makes in his transatlantic labour study.

    But I am not sure if this has to do with ownership logic-I guess its more to do with proximity logic than ownership; our communal psyche and its more viscereal than ideological- especially the non-veg etc.. Ownership may be a tool used in achieving it though!

    Zainab is right- Supreme court ruling permitted owners/tenant association to exclude – in the case of a housing society in Ahemadbad- by vacating a highcourt stay against ‘hindus only’ policy of a res association.

    I guess We need more serious debates about understanding multiculturalism in our urban form- than that which is happening in the west today. its so much applicable in our context…

    inclusive Cosmopolitanism is a luxury-isnt it? but thats a liberal city- do we support liberal city at all in indian scholarship on the urban? haven’t we spent a lot of energy in defending different communities against modernization and other forms of ingress in indian urban scholarship? As Bauman said- freedom and security may seldom go together….


  10. What is the ROI on the loan from a bank ?Is it true that muslims pay half around 4% ROI on a loan and hindus pay 8%?
    how come no muslims are protesting , that they shoud pay equally high ROI as hindus are made to pay?


  11. Congratulations, Ipsita. Your gullibility towards Hindu right-wing propaganda may have set some kind of interplanetary record. Why dont you walk to the bank nearest to your home or work-place and check out this kind of thing before making a colossal fool of yourself in public?


  12. @ Ipsita – It will help to know which banks offer such differing rates of interest on the basis of religion. I am unaware of any and have neither come across any during my look out for home loans. I second Nivedita, though not in such harsh language, that it would be better that you substantiate your statements especially when you make them on a public forum.

    Also, your comment only adds to what I have been trying to say – that we seem to emphasize on very base identities of religion, instead of recognizing that what we practice as ‘religion’ is very locally influenced.


  13. Who is this perfect ass called Ipsita? Is she sleep-talking? Is she having nightmares about something? And Nivedita, she is not gullible towards Hindu right-wing propaganda, she is a product of that – fearful and suspicious, in sleep as in wakefulness. Gosh!


  14. I couldn’t agree more with Nivedita and yabasta, about the misinformed basis of such prejudices, if prejudice ever needed a sound reasoning that is…

    However Zainab’s insistence that people should view how there are local variations in practising a religion, although true, is also bordering on irratating naiveness of a clearly very elite Indian Muslim who had managed to stay away from what is now an everyday bias for many of us, long enough. Clearly those whom you contacted don’t care Zainab, how you and your family have practicesd Islam or how important a part of your identity it is for you personally. You have a Muslim name, and that is all that matters in their perception of the community, irrespective of whether you are liberal or not. The problem is NOT if people should recognise that all religions are “locally influenced.” It lies more deeply, in the creation of an ideology that harbours negative bias and ill sentiments on a Universal basis, irrespective of pluralism.

    As pointed in the very lovely article by Sohail Hashmi, even the so called “local” perception of Muslims as dirty, meat eating savages troubling our clean shaven hero, has further steeped prejudices because people will view an object only in the way they want their senses to interpret as…


  15. It’s a good thing Zainab’s name isn’t Shabana Azmi, otherwise the entire right-wing would’ve descended upon her calling her anti-national & what not…!


  16. Zainab – It was a nightmare searching for an apartment in Bombay. I finally had to find a Muslim landlord who had an upscale apartment to rent (now Muslim-landlords-with-upscale-apartments-to-rent are not easy to find). So please don’t single out Bangalore :-)

    We made an offer to a web designer from Srinagar. The boy did not move to Bombay because it’s difficult (impossible?) for a “Muslim bachelor from Kashmir” to find a place in a middle class housing society.

    Although I never encountered religion-based discrimination earlier in school (All Saints), college (IIT Bombay), or at work (ITC, Opera Solutions), I wasn’t completely shocked. Nothing new here. Welcome to the real world :-)


  17. Re Aman: I have also been called anti-national for speaking about the atrocities committed by the Indian army and government in Kashmir.

    Re Zishaan: My father’s factory was burnt down during the riots in Bombay in January 1993. Even then, we never felt exclusion. It is now that the total dismissal on the basis of name comes as a shocker. As I have mentioned in the post, I wonder why I was never shocked at people asking me what my religion is when I was in Bombay and why is it now that I feel such anger at being dismissed totally for not being Brahmin, for being non-vegetarian. I need to think somewhat deeper.

    Re Asad: The problem of religious discrimination in house rental market is pervasive. Earlier, I only heard about it and never reacted. Now that it is happening to me, I realize how people feel when they are discriminated on the basis of religion, ethnicity, etc. But can I only keep lamenting about the problem? For me, hope comes from the fact that there are still faith based practices which can displace very fundamental understandings of religion, just as much as squatting threatens the institution of property. It is these which need to be emphasized simultaneously, rather than either totally lamenting or trying to dismiss religion altogether – both positions are counter productive.


  18. I too liked a house in a Mumbai suburb last December. The agent, a hindu, upon finding out that I am Muslim said ” Phir aap ko doosra dikhati hon ye nahi milega”.

    My friends started arguing with her…..

    I went thru shock, anger, helplessness and all other emotions and finally settled on humor.

    ” But I am not just Muslim….I am NRI Muslim!!” That did not work either….

    We came back without buying it. That house was a dream…something that will always haunt me for its beauty and location…

    Khair…..Allah Kareem..


  19. I tried posting this once before but it didnt work for some reason. Zainab, Nivedita – Ipsita is not entirely wrong. There are plenty of interest rate subsidy schemes at state and central level. Its a standard policy tool to increase access to credit.

    Some of them are described in the National Minorities Finance Commission. You can also search for the Differential Interest Rate Scheme.

    Of course these are not aimed only at Muslims – they are for anyone below a certain income + minorities (among which are Muslims, Christians etc).

    Anyway, thats the source of her comment although I agree the sentiment is biased. The 4% number I think comes from a 1972 policy that was renewed in 2007.


  20. Re: Anant – Thanks for the clarification.

    In the light of quite a few of the comments received, I also want to clarify here that discrimination in the rental housing market is not only directed against Muslims. Single women, Christians, foreigners and even Biharis are equally viewed with suspicion and discriminated against on the grounds of morality, food preferences and stereotypes.


  21. Anant, it’s interesting that you should step in to defend a position that you agree is “biased”. And that you should do so in what I can only describe (politely) as a dissembling manner.
    Readers can check out the links for themselves – differential interest rates are for “selected low-income groups” (you have gratuitously and misleadingly added “+ minorities”). The little off- hand “plus minorities” is not only false, but in the context of this discussion (blatant discrimination against Muslims), motivated. This is precisely the way in which the Nazi propaganda machine worked – little crucial falsehoods tucked into general facts.
    The National Minorities Development and Finance Commission, finding that “Minorities have not been able to obtain their share of credit from Nationalised Banks as per their requirement” (why do you think that is? Any link to minorities not being able to find housing as per their requirement?), offers
    Margin Money assistance” to beneficiaries availing bank finance:
    “Generally Public Sector Banks finance upto 60% of the project cost and seek 40% from the beneficiaries. Under Margin Money Loan Scheme, NMDFC provides loan to the eligible beneficiaries to meet the requirement of margin asked by the bankers. For this purpose, loan upto 25% of the project cost subject to a maximum of 1.25 lacs per unit is available. The SCA and the beneficiary are expected to contribute the remaining amount. Rate of Interest charged from the beneficiaries is 3% p.a. on reducing balance. ”
    That is, the NMDFC assists minorities to meet part of the 40% margin banks expect loan beneficiaries to provide themselves. The NMDFC then offers this loan at 3% interest. Not banks.
    This, remember, is a loan of part of the money required to avail of a bank-loan. This tiny component is then charged at 3 % by the NMDFC. The bank will charge whatever rates it charges other Indian citizens of that level of income.
    Anant, if you would put in a similar effort to learn the intricacies of finance for its own sake and not just to buttress Hindutva propaganda, you would find many similar schemes for low-income Indian citizens, especially those who fall out of the net of normal banking procedures, assisting them to get loans to avail of bank loans. Of course overall there is not enough of any of this, but that is a different question, and somehow I dont think Ipsita’s concern, (or yours?) is about poverty as such. If it were, you would wonder about the overwhelming number of people of scheduled castes and religious minorities in the Below Poverty Level section of the population. Any scheme aimed at such sections will necessarily touch a large number of minorities. If they were so “pampered”, why are they overwhlemingly in need of assistance?
    But the real issue here is not ‘facts’, no? The “source of her comment” (and of your earnest desire to understand it) will remain fresh and untainted by any number of facts. From Ipsita’s other comments on this site, it is clear that she believes that her elite privileges are due to her through some intrinsic merit of her own, not through accident of birth and sustained pampering of elites by the Indian system. From this last comment it appears that in addition, she believes that her “Hindu” identity entitles her even further to whatever goodies the system delivers. The fact that her response to account after account of blatant and chilling anti-Muslim prejudice is to shrilly throw in a red herring about bank loan interest rates, says a lot about her understanding of what it means to be an Indian citizen. She is entitled to her views – and we to ours on her.
    But you, Anant – what is at stake for you in rendering Ipsita’s elitist and Hindutvavadi perspective in apparently neutral terms in order to legitimize it?
    Please dont bother to answer – my question is rhetorical.


  22. Zainab, so that’s what secularism is – equal prejudice towards all non-normative/subordinate identities. It’s not only Muslims who are discriminated against but all sorts of other undesirables? Whew. Makes me feel much better about Indian democracy :)


  23. Nivedita

    Since you have apparently condemned me to being fascist, communal and an inveterate liar there seems hardly any point my replying at all.

    As a matter of fact the first time I commented I did in fact include various paragraphs about where I am coming from. Unfortunately that didnt go through and I decided (obviously incorrectly) that it was somewhat redundant to firmly reiterate ideological credentials with every post.

    Since you have successfully proved the truth of Godwin’s law it would seem this discussion is pretty much at an end. I do take exception to your accusations of deliberate `dissembling’ though. Since we’re trading links, this is a useful document:

    Annex 2 Paragraph 2.4.1(v) refers to ‘notified minorities’ and their status. As I’m sure you know notified minorities are eligible for many programs that otherwise have eligibility criteria explicitly laid out on the basis of income etc. Another example is in an eligibility list for a variety of state specific policies (including but not restricted to credit) in Tamil Nadu:

    For what its worth – I’m perfectly aware that minority communities are systematically worse off socially and economically and consequently using a community affiliation can be a efficient proxy. I am also entirely supportive of these programs and I agree with you they are undersupplied.

    I commented because I think it can be helpful to tell people like Ipsita – who is probably not the irrational unthinking creature of hate you are painting her as – what the starting points of the hindutva propoganda are and where the truth ends and falsehood begins. Forget Ipsita, most of the people for whom these policies are framed have no knowledge of them. But perhaps I was wrong. Maybe it is far more constructive to just begin calling people names. So much easier to call someone an interplanetary idiot, or someone you don’t know in the least a nazi sympathizer.


  24. I lost my cool. Sorry, Anant. My tone was uncalled for, but my concerns remain, and I stand by the substance of my argument.


  25. Nivedita

    That’s ok. :)

    I still don’t think the substance of your argument (at least re my own motivations) hold, but thats something we can agree to disagree on.

    If you really want to know, I probably did (on analyzing this following your response) have an ulterior motive…but it was the far more infantile desire to be contrary because a number of comments picked on Ipsita in a manner I thought unnecessarily harsh. Which I admit is not a great reason to decide to nitpick. In my defense though, it was at best a subconscious one and certainly not an expression of any greater ideological leanings.

    That said, I still think its better to get to the source of these urban communal legends than ignore them. Which you can disagree with but still…


  26. Re Nivedita: I am at a moment in my life where I have to think about what secularism is and what it means to me. I therefore refrain from using the term in the first place. For example, just because my “Muslim” (read Gujarati) family members conduct Laxmi pujas as part of their trading traditions and practices, does that make them secular? I don’t know!

    My aim in clarifying that single women, foreigners, Biharis, and other migrant groups are also discriminated in the rental housing market was to point out that at least in Bangalore and to some extent in Bombay (from whatever I have known and heard), discrimination in the rental housing market is not merely based on the lines of religion, but also on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and migrant status (and therefore perceived illegalities and stereotypes). I was afraid that my post was giving out the message that the discrimination is exclusive or largely related to Muslims, which is not entirely true. Also, in my post, I did not think in terms of the fact that I was not only Muslim, but also Muslim woman and whether it would have been doubly difficult for me to find a rental accommodation had my “Telugu” “Brahmin” husband not accompanied me during the house hunts. Even when he came along, house owners would directly ask, “Are you Brahmin or not?”

    Taking from here then, I feel that I also need to raise some questions about property and property ownership. How are these biases and stereotypes reinforced through the institution of property?

    I also have to confess here that I am myself struggling with my religious identity which for a long time was not even my primary identity. But it has suddenly taken a front seat owing to these experiences and is also invoked (deliberately and unintentionally) in my own struggles (perceived and real) with my Telugu Brahmin in-laws. So I am in a turbulent boat myself at this point in time and my current defenses, positions and thoughts stem from here.


  27. I found the exchange on acess to credit which was brought into the argument by Ipsita, interesting. But what made Ipsita bring this in in the first place? because Zainab’s issue was not at all about access to credit but the discrimination she and some “Others” face in access to middleclass urban housing. Not that Nivedita’s and Anant’s responses were irrelevant. Many of the schemes for minorities are meant not for the social category that Zainab probably belongs to but to the poorer sections. This broad-brush treatment of the Other in our social relations does not apply to government schemes as far as I know. And I just wanted to mention that if we are talking of religious minorities, the Christians too are one such, though one may not think it given that the tems seems to apply almost exclusively to Muslims these days.


  28. Cynthia: I was going to say exactly the same thing: that Ipsita’s point is, first and foremost, off-topic. Red herrings are a typical Hindutva strategy: it is as if she’s trying to say the discriminatory exchange rate justifies the discrimination that Zainab faced. That she is deliberately ignoring the basis of such positive discrimination is a secondary issue. I think Ipsita’s comment here should not have been published.


  29. Zainab,

    Your post actually gives everyone an idea: whenever you are discriminated against in househunting with the non-veg excuse, ask a Desi-ghee pure Brahmin Hindu Male friend to check out the same place. If he is NOT asked about what he will cook in the kitchen, it confirms the bias was against a community rather than just the food that community is know to consume.

    We can call this the Zainab Bawa Test :)

    Landlords who are found to be Positive in the ZBT, that is, who were lying about non-veg just to deny the house to Christian/Muslim, should then have the pleasure of seeing their name pasted on the internet.

    On another note, it’s interesting that you ask, “How are these biases and stereotypes reinforced through the institution of property?” Interesting because your own post answers that question. What else can be said by way of answering it?


  30. bangalore is notorious for this kind of rental problems. not only religion, often caste becomes a factor in deciding tenants. also, there is the negative attitude to people who eat more than vegetables. but, one day, such barriers are bound to break.


  31. Zainab,

    I am not Just lamenting about the situation of Muslims in urban India. My point simply is that any person, whom Nivedita rightly terms as ‘undesirable” for the larger section of the population, cannot use any arguments to counter the communal space simply by asserting how “local’ their practices are… If the discourse used for discrimination is on a larger, absolute and universal basis, I personally don’t see harping on how a religion is practised in my household is going toi make any difference.

    Of course, this is not to suggest that all we can do is cry over our fates. Setting examples of good conduct and empathy for all in our personal lives in the wider public forum as well as the so called private domain will go a long way.


  32. Perhaps one way in which this will problem could be mitigated would be if there is a significant rental market that is run by large commercial interests – real estate developers and housing complexes and the like.

    I don’t know how easy it is to legislate against individuals even when they are discriminatory because it seems so hard to pin down and prove this (witness veg/non-veg proxies for a religion related question). Alternatively perhaps you could have a system where renting is impossible without an estate agent intermediary. If that were done, and if you had a few such intermediaries in each market, with large numbers of houses – you could then statistically find evidence of discrimination and consequently punish the intermediary.

    In turn the landlord would lose rights to lay down more than very basic criteria such as rent, or family size or something – and would have to rent out to whoever is found by the agency.


  33. Zainab, thank you for sharing what must have been a very unpleasant experience and being so generous with those of us who choose to comment on it. Tarunabh, thanks for that great write up on legal options.

    Analytically and strategically, it might be useful to abandon the secular/communal categories and turn

    Even more than housing, I find it troubling that private associations and companies can refuse to hire, fire, deny promotions and postings on almost any ground including gender, race, caste, religion, place of origin or sexual orientation, making the promises of Art. 14 to Indian citizens a little redundant. The Article 14 requirement if extended to the private sector is ostensibly value neutral i.e. can be equally used by Hindus trying to rent an apartment from a Parsee, a Christian fired from a Muslim firm or a woman being fired on becoming pregnant. And since our constitution allows for special measures for women, children and backward classes we can cover the possibilities of say men demanding a place in an all women’s college.

    I am not usually a proponent of importing American solutions to India, but several of their non discrimination and privacy related provisions have great salience in the Indian context. During campus job interviews several female classmates were asked about marital status and “marriage plans”, which in the informal information networks was seen as a key factor in hiring. For instance, someone who is likely to get married soon might be less committed to working for her firm. Several interviewing multinationals had parent companies and international policies which forbade asking such questions, but clearly this was not meant to be followed in the local context. I am not sure what a “privacy” based response means in India, but it is a pathway worth exploring.


  34. Rohit,

    I think your solution works vis-a-vis hiring employees but not renting out property. Much as I find it disappointing, fact is that if I have property to rent out nobody has any business to tell me who I can’t rent it out to. I don’t think a law that says house owners can’t ask potential tenants about their culinary habits is not feasible, and it is also perhaps not desirable considering that it imposes restrictions on my freedom to decide who I want staying in my house.

    As Zainab herself says, house owners discriminate not just against “Muslims” but many others. In CR Park in Delhi, half the colony is not available for me to rent because I am not a Bengali. House owners also have particular kind of tenants in mind; working boy(s) or girl(s); students; family; no family; bank employees only; foreigners; company lease only; no late night parties; no live-ins, etcetra.

    I think we can’t do much except despair. Honestly.


  35. but of course we can, shivam. most civilised democracies in the world prohibit discrimination in housing, think of the most capitalist pro-market individual-choice economies, and they have had such prohibitions for years. why do we find it so unpalatable? i agree that citing UK, US, South Africa, Canada, EU etc is not sufficient to prove that a policy is sound. But it is useful to make us think why most other democracies find it easy to do, while we don’t?

    i have been writing on housing discrimination for a while (most of my published work on the issue is linked in this post ), and responses like yours are typical. makes me wonder if we are even more libertarian a country than the US–surely, the objection is not a liberal objection but a libertarian one. Most liberal theorists today support such prohibitions.

    Perhaps it may help to think that not all choice is being taken away from the landlord. you can still choose not to rent to people if you find them obnoxious as individuals. but certain grounds are impermissible considerations (including religion, food preference, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, caste, race, linguistic identity etc) — these are illegitimate considerations, and a landlord should not be allowed to refuse tenancy on these grounds (whether relied upon explicitly or indirectly). such prohibition will make no difference to any non-bigoted landlord’s life. why is it then so undesirable??


  36. Tarunabh, I don’t think the Indian response can be characterised as libertarian. I don’t think they have a problem with state interference in private life, it has more to do with different networks of information (we know a lot more about our neighbours), we live at closer quarters (like CR Park) the landlord lives in the same building as the tenant, and are as bigoted as people in any other country. My first discovery about home after living outside the country was the realization that names conveyed so much about a person in India. Even first names, where you can make judgments about a Bholey Ram or a Aaaryan. It’s hard to say anything about a Jo Brown.

    That said, jurisdictions like the US have shown, you can use zoning laws and property agreements to create fairly homogenous locales.


  37. there might be truth in what you say rohit, but it does not explain why de-personalised corporate housing societies in metros also insist on discriminating. when we are dealing with housing, you will always be somebody’s neighbour, either the landlord’s or other tenants. this is true in parts of the US as much as in India. of course, in making the comparison, i did not mean to imply that we are an especially bigoted nation—just that we find it especially difficult to allow law to deal with bigotry (as distinct from mere social-economic upliftment of the ‘victim’ in ways which do not necessarily require us to challenge our bigotry).

    there is indeed something very interesting in the acceptance of diversity in workplace but not in residential areas—most people i have known while growing up (in a very segregated homogenous community) will instinctively make this distinction. for my (mostly bigoted) male neighbours who don’t mind Muslim workers in their factories and offices but do mind Muslim neighbours, there is a gendered ‘dadima factor’ at work — ‘we don’t mind/can live with it, but dadima’s notions of purity should not be subjected to such violence.’ i do think that housing particularly rubs us the wrong way because of deep-seated notions of the ‘private’. it is interesting that even the Menon committee report on Equal Opportunity Commission Bill leaves the question of housing open, to be decided another day, while focussing on education and employment—those quasi-public spheres which still allow us to return to the safety of our bigoted homes.


  38. Speaking of public-private, I found reflections on this thread occupying centrestage in a heated argument on my dining table last night:)

    I found myself grappling with this ”how do we deal with the ‘private’ in a multicultural society” kind of question. I came up with a hardly-baked idea that the landlord-tenant positionings on two ends of a contractual relationship can be used to disaggregate the personality of a landlord into the ‘private’ guy who is entitled to administer the strength of his religious,racial, other communitarian belief systems with the four walls of his house, and the ”secular, citizen” avtar of the same person who consciously chooses to dig into and make use of in the contractual playing field when he access the state’s legal framework to enter into the rent agreement. The moment he does that his otherwise murky public-private self becomes aware that he must now play by the rules of the state, which enjoys the parental protection of the constitutional/legal framework of a secular democracy that espouses all these ‘anti-discrimination’ terms of citizens. This, to my mind, is the curious effect of democratic legal apparatuses, which in their mouthing of ‘egalitarian’ words, create the terms of a ‘secular’ game which one must play if one wants its benefits, without actually having to be ‘secular’ deep down in one’s heart.


  39. but surely this is not just about the secular self of the landlord. it is not even about equality. in a relatively non-prejudiced society with few bigoted landlords who refuse tenancy to people from a particular group, there will perhaps not be a need for antidiscrimination laws. but when such discrimination is systemic, forcing people to refuse certain life choices they otherwise would have accessed – like the web-designer from srinagar mentioned in a post above who had to give up a job in bombay because he couldn’t find an apartment.

    in fact, the issue is not even secularism here. nor religion. it is bigotry. and systemic and widespread bigorty at that, which comes to control the autonomy of those it targets. if this is not a clear case for legal intervention, i don’t know what is.


  40. Zainab,

    This is really a complex terrain and it is really easy to jump from one tautology to another. In Singapore where 80 per cent citizen population lives in state developed HDB flats; the government agency pre-selects who gets to own/rent/live in whose neighborhood!

    It is not that people do not question it or reproduce it every now and then, but the market and the state are tightly intemeshed such that a particular state vision of multi cultural society and a lived reality of segregation are both safely reproduced on a daily basis. and few seem to go beyond occasional grumbling.

    before your arguments get connected to property rights and public and private spheres and so on, it will help if we can find out a little more whether there are places in bangalore where housing markets are free of exclusionary practices in one form or the other, or practice a different/less apparent form of exclusion. what is different about such places? do residents in squatter colonies ask no questions about the identity of the new squatter neighbor?

    At this point, what you are describing could happen in slightly different forms just about anywhere in the world. is there something different about the way it plays out in jayanagar that tells us something about bangalore ?


  41. No one has pointed to the role of our idiotic rent control laws in making a bad situation worse. Since the laws are designed to make evicting a tenant difficult, most landlords are cautious. The problem is that while this protects tenants, it makes the life of a prospective tenant miserable.

    As a prospective tenant , even one who is Hindu, you have to often – as my sister found out – answer very personal questions: What does your father do? Mother? How many brothers and sisters do you have? What do they do? And so on and so forth. You can fume at this but it is the landlord’s way of evaluating the “riskiness” of the prospective tenant. [In Delhi, I was told that a Punjabi would not rent his house to another Punjabi but would rather prefer “Madrasis” because they were seen as “soft” and thus less likely to create trouble. ]

    The point is not that there is no discrimination. There’s very little doubt about that. The question is how much. Given that the end result is the cumulative effect of discrimination and the stupid laws, isolating the effect of discrimination is not easy.

    Incidentally, India must be the only country to feature rental advertisements saying that “Indians need not apply.” Not in some many words, of course, but what do you make of a rental ad which says “Only Diplomats or Multinational corporations.”

    None of this is any consolation to people affected people like Zainab, I know.


  42. There is nothing new here. It has been so for ages, people would rarely rent their houses to people outside their castes. As our society matures, we will see this discrimination reducing. It is certainly not an increasing trend. I can safely state from my experiences- were you to hunt for houses as a muslim/Christian/Non-Veg/Veg/Brahmin/…/…, you’d always find it difficulty to rent from landlords who are “different” from you.

    The real problem is of mutual intolerance and mistrust between religions. We can only generalize your story, if you did the same experiment with the religions interchanged- experiences of a Hindu seeking accommodation in a conservative muslim area. I would be surprised to see experiences that are any different from yours.


  43. You make a statement about how our attitudes are getting worse when you say: “…If our levels of mental closure have reached a stage where a name uttered on the phone is enough to dismiss the person entirely, then what hope do we have for ourselves and for our society?…”

    I would like to point out that if you were to make a claim about “…our levels… reaching…”, you should present at least a few arguments about how 10 or 20 years ago our attitudes were better. You can say whether we are getting better or worse, if and only if you have evidence of our attitudes in the past. The whole article is about your experience, and you generalize it in time and space to make the unsubstantiated claim that the whole society is becoming worse!

    I disagree with you, only because, in my experience, our attitudes are becoming better. We are more tolerant than we ever were. We are not headed towards a fascist nation as some of the comments say, rather we are on course to a great future where no one is denied opportunities based on his or her birth.

    Like many of the people commenting here, you are also caught in the classic trap of generalizing based on anecdotal evidence. There is a logical fallacy when you use anecdotal evidence. You talk about your stories and extrapolate your experiences to describe the reality that exists in the society as a whole. Intentionally or not, there is a tendency to suppress and ignore other anecdotes which may contradict your interpretation.

    In my experience, the people of Jayanagar are tolerant and warm, can I say based on this, that the whole of Bangalore is tolerant and warm, and that India has never been so good? Why is it that it sounds weird if you generalize happy anecdotes, while it seems perfectly logical to generalize based on tragic, sad ones? That said, I also oppose your glorification of the Infant Jesus phenomenon. A truly mature society is one in which people are rational, and Infant Jesus worship is certainly not rational. Variants of such irrational adherence to religious symbols is the source of the intolerance intolerance that resulted in your anguish.


  44. Mahesh, sadly the reason why we have several predominantly Muslim areas is because they aren’t able to rent elsewhere. I’d be interesting in trying to know how many Hindus even rent in predominantly Muslim areas? I don’t just mean in terms of prejudice, but simple market economics remember reading an article about how the rent for the same middle class apartment in a Muslim managed housing complex was higher than a non Muslim complex because there were fewer options for Muslims to live in, driving up the prices.

    I am always a little troubled by equivalence, or statements like we are all communal or there are bigots in every community. Of course they are, and of course they need to be challenged, but it does not imply that one erases the other


    Brilliant point, especially given that our contract law regime allows for contracts to be voided on the grounds of public policy


  45. Rohit, I do not completely agree with your argument about the reason for the creation of Muslim areas. In most cities, the Muslim neighborhoods have existed for decades, as have the Brahmin, Christian, Jain or Random_Caste neighborhoods. Historically, they existed to preserve the identity and protect the interests of these groups. Identity is the key issue. In the absence of a strong economy, people were defined by their caste and religious affiliations. This is not a Nazi style forcible ghettoization that we are talking about, it is a division that has existed for decades, if not for centuries. Old Delhi was always predominantly Muslim, Jayanagar in Bangalore was always predominantly Brahmin, the Cantonment area of Bangalore was always associated with Christians and Muslims. Going by your argument, all this happened due to the reluctance of people to rent out to Muslims. That cannot be true, when you consider the fact that fifty years or hundred years back, ownership of property wasn’t a great privilege as it is now. Land was cheap and urban Bangalore wasn’t as populated, so most people had the full freedom to settle where they wanted. It is just that they chose to cluster according to their identities.

    Now as the economy opens up and we get richer, I believe that in the coming decades, we will witness a redrawing of the neighborhood boundaries, with people increasingly being defined mainly by their financial status and professional affiliations. In a decade or two, Brahmin and Muslim neighborhoods will become irrelevant, they will be replaced by rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods.

    Such a phenomenon is already happening the new localities that are coming up in Bangalore, Noida and Gurgaon. Also, most of the people the Ms. Bawa encountered were of an earlier generation, whose attitudes were shaped by a society where religious and caste identities were very important. The current generation, as typified by the people commenting here, and the author herself, do not consider religion or caste to define their identity. Our identities are increasingly based on more logical affiliations such as profession, financial status, etc.


  46. Think of the US, where you don’t have African American/Hispanic/Indian/White neighborhoods, rather you just have “rich/middle class” neighborhoods, mostly in the suburbs, and “poor” neighborhoods, often located in the downtown areas, to provide a simple example. That is perhaps what India is also heading towards.


  47. Sterotyping happens for a reason especially when the majority of Muslims are notorious for their strong adherance to medeival belief systems. Sadly, a few progressives in the community bear the brunt. I had a cousin sister who had to convert to Islam to get married to her lover. Her travails would go into pages if we start writing about the practices and prejudices of the Muslim community.
    So some vegetarians are offended to have non vegetarian tenants. Last I heard from the moral zeitgeist, Vegetarianism is a higher ethical value system than killing for food. But the JNU wallahas and Indian leftists have made villans out of them. This is an old ploy. Rememmber the amount of research scholarship the marxist historians have invested in beef eating in Rig veda.
    In the US, leftists and BHLs are against the meat industry and pro vegetarian. Strange are the ways of the dialectical materialists. Looking for scapegoats and social engineering by stereotyping a section of Middle class people as Bourgeise and themselves and their illiberal supporters as the proletariat is an old con game of Commies.


  48. Seeing a pattern in anecdotal experiences (individual/group) allows the framing of questions. In answering a series of specific questions (data gathering) the anecdotal converts to factual evidence. The observed pattern becomes a generalization (at least in science). Then corrective measures can be sought based on facts. But for all of this to happen articulation of the anecdote is vital, right?

    Time and space was on my mind too, while reading the post and comments. The old cantonment areas were a mixed pot (in schools and neighborhoods). Muslims along with others owned and rented out large properties in those parts and the tenants could be Anglo Indians, Indian Christians, Brahmins, and non Brahmin Hindus. A layout such as RT Nagar lying adjacent to Rahamatnagar has different tensions. The more recent ones will reflect other dimensions. Many layouts are formed from government employees associations -P&T colony so on… whether this has any implications in ownership and renting patterns would be an interesting study by itself. The relationship of the software and real estate boom is also clear and the patterns emerging from this relationship would throw up significant indicators of how this city treats its tenants.


  49. the contractual point may be worth exploring. the main legal hurdle would be that most housing discrimination discussed here is pre-contractual. one of the comments (by talha) on law and other things also suggests a contractual solution:

    ‘2. Rather than denial of access to housing it can well be a negotiated term of contract stipulating damages for consumption of beef in that premise (akin to fine on smoking in some areas to draw a loose analogy).’


  50. @ Mahesh

    “Think of the US, where you don’t have African American/Hispanic/Indian/White neighborhoods, rather you just have “rich/middle class” neighborhoods, mostly in the suburbs, and “poor” neighborhoods, often located in the downtown areas, to provide a simple example. That is perhaps what India is also heading towards. ”

    Indeed this is perhaps where some Indians might want to head. But before they reach their destinations, we may as well get a little more realistic about racial/ethnic segregation in American residential patterns. Indeed, in the 19th century and early 20th century, spatial concentrations of ethnic groups were uncommon. But since then, American cities and suburbs have largely been about neighborhoods marked by racial/ethnic identities. A lot of these are recorded as waves of mobilities described in graphic expressions like white flight, black flight, block busting, gentrification etc.

    There are strong correspondences between income/consumption based categories like rich, middle class and poor and race and ethnic categories such as african american, hispanic and so on. For the statistically minded, the US census bureau has a number of useful publications and data sets many freely available on the web. If we are really headed in the direction of that el dorado, we may as well get some of the lingo right away. Here is a wiki entry on ‘redlining’.
    And at the end of the entry, there is a nice list of more useful terms under the title “See also”.


  51. I think Anant M raises a good point regarding the correspondence in the United States between low income neighbourhoods and racial segregation. Indeed in the few neighbourhoods I’ve lived in, in that country, the correspondence can be so stark that to an outside observer there would be hardly any way to distinguish. Even though anti-discrimination legislation is much better developed in that country.

    To my mind this also speaks to the difficulty in solving a discrimination problem of this kind through legislative means (or at least legislation alone). While theoretically it is true that there is a distinction between the landlord discriminating on grounds of community and religion and the landlord discriminating on some more reasonable grounds (judgement of ability to pay for example), in practice it seems extraordinarily hard to separate the two.

    If discrimination by one individual renting one house is not an easily proven fact, then perhaps it may be useful to consider institutional design as a primary tool to attack this problem.

    Could not a more corporate housing market work better? A well functioning real estate market removes the ‘personal’ equation between renter and rentee. The profit function of a corporate entity involves precisely the objective risk management we wish to achieve. Minus the communal bias. Its true that this is a theoretical corporate but at least theoretically incentives align in this case. This is not the case for a private landlord whose biases make his desired outcomes misaligned with what one would want.

    Furthermore, while it is certainly the case that estate markets still discriminate (plenty of evidence in the United States), it is possible to identify such discrimination – to statistically prove this – precisely because there is a large sample involved. It is also possible to track trends in a scientific manner and consequently enforce a law. Finally it is fair, even from a libertarian perspective, to legislate corporate behavior such that their ability to maximize profits is all that is protected (which in turn means discrimination is out, because that would imply a reduction in profit by eliminating good tenants).

    This is a long winded attempt to say: Legislation is fine, but its also the simplest thing to ask for and I fear can be an expression of anger without being a real solution. For this particular problem, it is hard to see a legal solution if the law is impossible to enforce and contradicts the aims of many of those it seeks to regulate.


  52. As an addendum there is this paper I came across recently inspired by reading this post.

    Why do real estate brokers continue to discriminate? Evidence from the 2000 Housing Discrimination Study

    Journal of Urban Economics
    Volume 59, Issue 3, May 2006, Pages 394-419

    As the title indicates this is proof that merely an institutional change is not enough (just as a legislative solution is not enough). But what is interesting in the paper is the ability to distinguish the extent of discrimination in different groups, and identify the fact that it has dropped since 1989 but remains significant. What I was suggesting is that it is only when we can make statements backed by data, that tease out discrimination corrected for any differences in income etc, that we might be able to apply penalties and *enforce* laws (in this case on estate agencies/brokers)


  53. Re Anant M: Jayanagar is one of the planned areas in Bangalore. When the first land subdivisions took place, it was mainly the Brahmins and the Jains who had the money to purchase the plots. What is curious about Jayanagar is that a substantial Jain and Marwari population lives there. There is a very large and significant Jain mandir in the area as well. I am not sure of how the Jains and Marwaris have come to reside in Jayanagar.

    When I was beginning to get hassled about getting a place, I was advised to check areas like BTM Layout where a substantial student population resides. Here apparently, questions of eating preferences, religion and caste are not asked, though I am not entirely sure because I did not end up up looking for a place here.

    Richmond Town, which was the previous area I was living in, is perhaps a place where caste, religion, nationality and eating preference questions are not asked. Here, landlords are mainly concerned with tenants paying their rents on time. I remember that my previous landlord did not even object to the fact that the two of us who rented his place then were in a live-in relationship and were not married. Richmond Town is an old, affluent, Muslim-Christian-migrant north Indian dominated neighbourhood. Many house owners are builders/developers themselves and/or traders running prosperous businesses. This brings a question to my mind whether trading practices enable one to move beyond purist notions of religion? I don’t want to make a sweeping generalization but coming from a trader family myself, I find that my parents’ generation and grandparents’ generation open their account books on Diwali, carry out pujas invoking goddess Lakshmi, etc. So is there something particular about the way traders think as against people who are in services?

    Shanthinagar is one part of Richmond Town which is an occupied settlement and many house-owners give the top floors of their residences on lease or rent. In this area, a number of Nepali and North Eastern students live. Here too, questions of identity are not asked.

    A good number of people had advised me not to move to South Bangalore (which is where Jayanagar) is because it is known for its reputation of being xenophobic. I am not sure how this trajectory has come about.

    On another note, I am very sceptical of the idea that economic prosperity opens up our mindsets and makes us more tolerant. My hunch is that we have become more particular about the identity of the other person in today’s times. Just the other day, a visitor from South East Asia told me how he was having a perfectly normal conversation with a fellow Indian on the flight. Towards the end, the co-passenger popped the question: “So what is your surname?” He replied: “Kumar”. The co-passenger said, “So, you are from Uttar Pradesh huh?”


  54. Zainab,

    It was not very well articulated because somehow prosperity got conflated with deepening of the market. When housing becomes more commodified and investments in housing become more and complex, you will see professionally managed or marketed rental/mortgage housing. Your identity as a hindu or a Muslim will become less salient. What would really matter would be your credit history. At some level, this is both a faith in the ability of the market to erase difference and a faith in the promise of modernity via the market. This is the flip side of the faith in the state’s ability to modernize and erase difference or at least coordinate difference at the altar of national citizenship.

    That brings me to something that has been bothering me about the directions this debate has taken. We seem to be constantly looking to state regulation or market competition or a combination of the two as antidote to discrimination. Why ? What happened to all those things like social movements, civil society, public sphere and so on? Why has it become so difficult for us to look beyond the state and the market for change ?

    Ultimately, the kind of situation that you described has to do with deeply held values, fears, affects etc., that do not easily respond to rational arguments. I could be wrong about this, but I suspect that a lot of religious imagination would have gone into the design and construction of the houses in Jayanagar. Apart from the fact that jains, marwaris and brahmins share a set of compatible dietary restrictions, there would be a lot of symbolism associated with lay outs and organization of the house. a lot of it will have to do with the way women relate to houses in jayanagar. Incidentally, where did the brahmins get their initial money to buy plots in jayanagar ? from life insurance and provident fund loans and encashing of some agrarian property ?

    all this is not to deny that there is a heightened suspicion of the ‘stranger’ and that the suspicion attaches more easily to some names than to others. But in jayanagar that fear operates at a much more corporeal level than anywhere else. Frankly, the communal lense is totally inadequate to make sense of that interaction between you and the landlady. Why would the man suggest that you speak to his wife ? What sorts of gender and caste relations have produced jayanagar and how has jayanagar then shaped those identities over time ?

    You have a dozen PhD thesis waiting to be written there. :)

    But what does bother me at the end of the day is this: we have a challenge here that has to do with how two people must relate to each other when there is a prospect of living in close proximity. And we are wishing for a faceless agency -be it the state or the market – to step up to that challenge. It is, how shall I say it? Well, it is wishful thinking!


  55. Re Geogma: I have been equally disturbed with the fact that the discussions have been pointing towards increasing state regulation and/or deepening the markets in order to resolve discrimination in the housing rental and also purchase markets. I agree with you that the prejudices are fairly deep seated and neither law nor economic logics can displace these too easily. Neither do I see civil society as a liberator in this situation. What interests me is that there are practices which displace both ritualistic and purist notions of religion as well as absolutist notions of property. These include faith based practices, occupancies, multiple tenancy systems, etc which intellectually and experientially change our social relations and meanings of the world. I might be sounding very idealistic or non-pragmatic, but I see change as coming from these radical practices in which the state, market and civil society are variously embedded.


  56. Zainab said:

    On another note, I am very sceptical of the idea that economic prosperity opens up our mindsets and makes us more tolerant.

    Absolutely right. Add to that, the belief that in some quarters that “Education” will open our mindsets and make us more tolerant (to use your words). Any perusal of internet forums (like, for example) will make that clear. Education makes a difference, I think, but its effects are far more ambiguous than we like to think. Somehow, we discount the possibility that education might just reinforce existing prejudices rather than remove them.

    Geogma asks:

    Why has it become so difficult for us to look beyond the state and the market for change?

    Again, this is absolutely right. Perhaps one reason is that civil society is weak. Another reason is that the traditional methods of dealing with such issues no longer have appeal to many of us who are part of the elite. Zainab perceptively comments What interests me is that there are practices which displace both ritualistic and purist notions of religion as well as absolutist notions of property… Indeed, there are. Many of us who are part of the elite are dimly aware of them. We are aware dimly that the dargah at Ajmer is visited by people of all religions. Or that the shrine at Velankanni (Tamil Nadu) is visited by many non-Christians.

    The question then is why don’t these traditional methods alluded to by Zainab appeal more to us. Ashis Nandy addresses this repeatedly in his work. In an article published in The Little Magazine he comments Any talk of nonmodern or traditional forms of knowledge in public life arouses the fear that such knowledge might lead to large-scale displacement or uprooting in the world of knowledge, that the familiar world of knowledge might shrink, if not collapse and, in the new world that might come into being, there will be less space for the likes of us. What Sigmund Freud says about the inescapable human fantasy of immortality — our inability to visualise a world without us — applies in this instance, too. Many of us are haunted by the question: ‘What will be my place in a non-secular or nonmodern world?’ We cannot conceive of good society without our ideas and ourselves at its helm.

    Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. It’s worth thinking about, though. Nandy’s article is available online at


  57. @ Zainab

    [i got tired of the last two letters of my name :)]

    trade versus services ? mmmaybe. but i dont know how you can investigate/establish that.

    to my mind there are two other axes along which this can be explored further without losing out on what you are suggesting. First, richmond town has vestiges of a particular kind of pre linguistic reorganization cosmopolitan culture. Jayanagar is a product of the linguistic state Karnataka – it was born at a time when a new regional elite, at once inward looking and aspiring to a new place under the sun began to assert itself. second, its trajectory has some parallels with that of SR nagar in Hyderabad although SR Nagar, VR nagar and Ameerpet areas together took a strange direction because of their interconnectedness with each other and a number of other places in the region and in the US.


    I have never really been able to wrap my head around this argument by Nandy and its numerous close cousins (see Zainab’s list – faith based practices, occupancies, multiple tenancies etc., and there are many more).

    Yes. It seems to describe something. It seems to say that these things cause anxieties among those who have a strong belief among modernists. It seems to map out some not so obvious affinities between formations such as hindutva adherents and marxists; new civil society advocates and marxists and so on. It seems to say that spaces of multiplicities etc., are shrinking and they must be conserved. It seems to finally say that those are the spaces where hope lies.

    I understand and empathize and appreciate some of the insights. But ultimately I have no idea what they mean by saying that is where hope lies. Hope for what ? first of all it is not at all clear to me, whether these are all pointing to something that is existing out there – let us say the dargah, the slum, the flower market and so on or are they pointing to a way of analyzing or interpreting. If the latter is the case, i.e. such things always coexist with their seeming opposites, they are the constitutive outside etc., etc. the violence lies mainly in the episteme. i.e. in rendering them invisible.

    If that be the case, then should we not start by looking to see what are the multiple instabilities that abound under Jayanagar’s apparent puritanism? We can do that if the claim is that it is by making such instabilities visible, we are unsettling and opening up jayanagar. in some sense we will be repairing the epistemic violence (which of course leads to other varieties of violence including some times physical). I can understand that but in my admittedly limited reading on this subject, I have not come across any writing or political project that seriously attempts something like that.

    if the former be the case, that is these multiplicities/porosities instabilities etc., are actually empirically existing stuff and they are limited to some particular places, then the big challenge is how can we transplant/extend/rewire those practices such that other places can also become like that. I cannot recollect coming across any such work either. Ultimately it seems like beyond a point, this perspective really does not show us a new path.

    in some sense, Ashis nandy’s own claim that he is offering a diagnosis is an honest one. But a diagnosis can lead to severe depression if nobody can come up with a timely prescription to follow it up with and in due course, the diagnosis actually becomes irrelevant because the sickness would have taken new directions.


  58. In response to Mahesh, just to comment that the U.S. does have communities and neighbourhoods that have an ethnic identify. This, I think, is just a natural characteristic that like people (animals, plants :-) often gather – maybe it is a bit inevitable.
    There are pockets that include professionally (students, doctors, etc.) or lifestyle-based people (singles, rich, people on welfare) living in proximity that they form a community intentionally or not. For example, in New York we have what is said to be artists living mostly in the West Village or certain parts of Brooklyn. We also have Indian, Bangladeshi, Jewish, Russian neighbourhoods.


  59. I find the title and the issues are all mixed up and just brings up a lot of emotions. If I go as Zainab did to a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood, don’t you think people will ask me similar questions? Should I be surprised?

    The problem of renting and finding a house is not related to the name and shame. There is no shame here, just a practical problem.

    If I am a landlord, I should have some rights to whom I allow to rent it to – maybe I won’t find someone who would like to live in my apartment because of my conditions. One landlord will say no dogs or cats, one will say cats okay, one will say only vegetarian tenants okay and another only non-vegetarian, one will say no students, another will say no groups of non-working people.

    In India, as in the US, one one comes across all sorts of conditions. A landlord often does not wish to rent out to a widow with children even if she may be able to pay the rent. A Punjabi landlord may be more willing to rent out his house to a South Indian (because he believes they are amenable). There are instances where one can say it is unjust.

    If you are a vegetarian, for example, , the smell of cooking fish or meat may offend you or maybe against the whole principle of killing for food. These are personal and sometimes religious preferences. We have to respect our differences.

    Similarly, you may not like to be near someone who smokes a lot (even in your own family). When you rent a hotel room, you may ask for a non-smoking room. Imagine if hotels did not have non-smoking rooms. We had to do stay a night in a smoking room once and we had to literally wash the suitcases and bags to get rid of the smell.

    A couple in Brooklyn, NY recently filed a complaint that they were being unsuccessful in renting a place. They were expecting a child, and many of the apartment building owners indirectly were saying it was okay only for people without children. Dogs and cats preferred :-) to babies and children.

    People often gravitate towards likeminded communities sometimes based on religion, other times based on ethnicity (Indian muslims, hindus, christians living in cities), language, etc. Depends on what makes each of us feel safe, comfortable. Everyone who plans to live in New York (every ethnicity or race) usually does some research to find out the “safe” neighbourhood before they settle. I think it is the practical thing to do in every city, state or country. The safety and desirability of a living space in the US is related to many factors (including race, ethnicity, culture, income, house tax, schools, crime rate, etc.)

    We are often guilty of believing in and sharing stereotyped positions.


  60. An anti-discrimination law will be the catalyst needed to change social attitudes (as it has in the US, for instance). Landlords may ‘discriminate’ on the basis of actual behaviour such as noise, cleanliness etc. but cannot be allowed to consider religion, caste, gender identity.

    Enforcement of such a law is not as hard as it is made out. Occasional applications of what someone called the ‘Zainab test’ above will result in punitive actions that will send a message to landlords at large. In case of a complaint by a would-be tenant such as Zainab who alleges discrimination, the landlord’s past record may be examined to bolster or discredit the charge.

    There are far less tangible crimes on the books (‘creating public disorder’ for instance) and the authorities have no trouble invoking them when necessary – and sometimes when not necessary. A little attitude adjustment in this area will certainly serve our national interest.


  61. just one caveat to ajit’s point, with which i otherwise agree. the response to discrimination should not be ‘punitive’, if by that we mean a criminal remedy. criminalising statutes like the civil rights act 1955 and the dowry prohibition act have failed to achieve their objectives largely because being criminal, they are seen as oppressive even by the enforcement and judicial establishment. that they are fighting against deep-rooted social evils makes they particularly apt to failure. the enforcement mechanism must be victim or NGO-driven, and must be limited to securing civil damages from the landlord, as is the case in almost all democratic jurisdictions which have an antidiscrimination law. we don’t need to make it criminal to discriminate, just make it more expensive.


  62. If the landlord A chooses B as tenant then C may allege that (s)he has been discriminated on some ground. If a landlord prefers a Hindu over a muslim as tenant (s)he is exercising a choice. If (s)he chooses a christian as tenant instead of choosing a muslim/hindu that also can be labelled as discrimination. I may not be able to pay Rs 10,000 as monthly rent and Rs 1 lakh as advance and hence the landlord may prefer another person who can afford to pay so much.account of my economic status. Will Ajit or Tarunabh suggest that I can claim civil damages for this type of discrimination. If (s)he chooses a rich muslim/christian/parsi instead of choosing a poor Hindu will that amont to discrimination against Hindus as a community.

    It is difficult to define what amounts to a discriminatory behavior, more difficult to prove that. The right to choose is a fundamental right and that involves discrimination. Discrimination can be on account of many factors.

    Earlier it was difficult in Madras for bachelors and spinsters to get houses/flats for rent.But in the last
    10 years or so the situation has changed. Today one finds two or three bachelors or employed and
    unmarried women sharing an aprtment. Hostels and mansions/lodges were the options then. This
    change occured due to the boom in IT/ITES sector and mushrooming of educational institutions
    around Madras. The houseowners sensed that they could charge higher rents and that made all
    the difference in their attitudes. Paying guest option was also made available by many who did not have a flat to rent out but had a room or two to rent out.
    If at all anything today the complaint is the rents have gone up so much thanks to the boom in IT/ITES sector that many localities have become unaffordable to families that were living earlier in the same localities. Clearly this is a discrimination based on the capacity to pay. Should these also be covered by the suggestions made in this forum.


  63. dear ravi

    1. not all differentiation is discrimination. which of those are have been subject of much scholarly debate over the last two decades. the approach tends to be to suggest some especial moral harm (like harms to dignity or autonomy) in certain types of discriminations (based on religion etc), which alone should be prohibited. discrimination on the basis of marital status is more akin to religion and caste, and should be prohibited. the landlord continues to have choice in all other matters which do not invite such moral judgment. of course, which moral justification for discrimination one chooses is also important. autonomy (or at least certain versions of autonomy) is most compatible with liberalism.

    2. more generally, the negative liberty-positive liberty debate might be interesting in this context. isaiah berlin’s conception of negative liberty is what you seem to have in mind, i.e. individual choice and absense of state interference. this is closer to the libertarian position. joseph raz’s positive liberty as personal autonomy, which requires positive state action to enhance everyone’s positive liberty (i.e. their ability to lead autonomous lives), is a conflicting vision, which supports the prohibition of certain types of discrimination. to sustain your position, you will have to argue that negative liberty is preferable to positive liberty. the debate is far from settled, and continues to occupy political philosophers today. all i am saying is that neither position is an obvious one normatively (although in practice, positive liberty wins easily, since the practice of most liberal states follows this latter conception – this is not to say that practice in itself can win a theoretical argument. of course, practice may be wrong).

    3. the evidentiary issue is an important one. but you really must make an informed point after looking at the jurisprudence developed precisely on this issue by courts in several jurisdictions over the last few decades. it will tell you that the issue of evidence is difficult, and continues to be so, but is not insurmountable; and in any case, not any more difficult than most of the other areas of law.

    4. the issue of poverty is a crucial one. unlike other sorts of permissible differentiations, at least on some moral theories (like autonomy), it has more in common with race, caste and religion. its non-inclusion is a major embarrassment to discrimination law theorists, and tentative responses are being framed in terms of positive action on state to ensure socio-economic rights. in other words, the state has the right to ensure basic shelter, and for those who cannot pay for this bare minimum, the state shall pay. thus, an owner of such types of houses cannot turn away the homeless on the ground that they are poor, provided that the state is paying the rents. this is a close approximation of what already exists in some western european countries.


  64. Ravi, discrimination (or its absence) is not usually inferred from a single incident. Unless the ‘discriminator’ is imprudent enough to provide direct verifiable evidence – say, in the form of racist speech or writing relating to a specific case – it is more common to look for sustained patterns of behaviour over a period of time. This can be hard to establish in practice. It is thus not a guarantor of equal treatment but seeks instead to increase the ‘cost of discrimination’ to the point that people reconsider doing it.

    Not all forms of discrimination are sought to be prevented – only those based on factors such as religion, caste etc. Unless the proposed law spells it out, a landlord may be allowed to “discriminate”, say, on the basis of marital status or age or height or musical taste.

    Refusing service because someone is unable to pay (due say to poverty) is not generally considered discrimination. Landlords are not charitable organizations (any more than the rest of us) and the law needs to recognize this.

    It is true that an individual Hindu/Muslim may be denied service because another Muslim/Hindu presents a better business opportunity, but in the long run such incidents should balance out. Continued correlation between religion (or caste etc.) and such extraneous factors is cause for suspicion of discrimination.




    FADE IN.

    Bright noon. AZAAN loud and clear.

    Little girls in shalwaar suits and heads covered with scarves quietly play ‘antakshari’ on the lawns. Burkha clad women flit in and out of the colony carrying groceries and veggies.

    A PATHAN watchman salutes every woman entering and exiting.

    The Pathan’s expression radically changes from relaxed to tense. He gets up and takes a defensive posture. Before him stands MR. TELGU BRAHMIN at the gates of Millat Nagar CHS.

    MR. TB wears a T- shirt with a ‘om’ written on it. A orange tilak on his forehead.

    what is it?

    Err…this is Millat Nagar Co-op.
    Hsg. Society?

    The Pathan agressively points his ‘danda’ towards a board written in Urdu. He taps each word, right to left, deliberately reading slowly.

    Millat…Nagar…Co- Operative…Society…Oswhiwara.

    Oh ok. I am here to meet the


    MR TB
    I spoke to him on the phone. He has
    called me.

    All the men have gone for namaz.
    Wait there.

    He gestures to a wodden bench outside the colony.

    Mr. TB sits there quietly. Passerby’s, give him suspicious looks.



    Huge framed pictures of the Kabah.

    A small TV set beams DR. ZAKIR NAIK ( telling his listeners about how a Kashi pundit had converted to Islam after he (Dr.Naik) convinced him about the complete Supremacy of Islam over all other religions in a ‘scientific’
    debate, point to point. His followers’ exult.

    RASHID QURESHI (80, toothless, bearded, namaz marks on his forehead) sits in front of MR.TB.

    You said on the phone…you called
    on behalf of Ms.Zainab?

    MR TB
    That is correct Qureshisahab.

    She is looking for a house in our

    MR TB
    We are. yes. We are.


    Four bearded youths in skull caps wearing apthani suits stand behind Rashid, gazing at Mr.TB.
    MR TB
    Yes Zainab and me. She is my wife.
    I am her husband.

    And what did you say your name was?

    CUT TO


    The little girls with headscarves stop their play when they hear cries of pain. The stop their play and huddle together in fear.

    The Pathan watchman gently speaks to the children.

    hey precious ones. Go home. Time
    for lunch. Go go.



    Mr.TB’s chair is empty. He is on the floor.

    A black eye. A shivering right hand. Bleeding from the mouth. Two teeth missing.

    The youth stand around.

    Rashid sits on his haunches, his face inches away from MR.TB.

    Son of a pig…how in God’s name
    can a non-Muslim ever be the
    husband of a Muslim girl?

    We are legally married sir. In court.

    Shove the courts up your arse
    bastard. God does not recognize
    this marriage. It’s haraam. Have
    you any idea what is the punishment
    for such a blasphemous act?

    I love her. I’ll convert.


    Rashid gets up. The youth help MR.TB to his feet. He is made to sit on the chair. A glass of water is given to him. As he sips, the water in the glass turns a pale crimson.

    Accept the light of Islam. Have a
    proper nikaah with the lady in
    question and then come here. We
    just might give you a flat to stay

    You are very kind. I have a small
    request. Can I say it?

    We are not demons. Ofcourse…go on.

    See…I have a sister. She
    Converted to Christianity when she
    married a Christian man. They visit
    us once a month or so. Can they
    visit us?

    Ofcourse they can. As long as they
    do not offend our way of life.

    No no they won’t. She will wear a
    scarf around her head and not
    expose her legs, they will not hold
    hands or kiss in public and we will
    be very discreet when we barbecue a
    roast piglet during Christmas. We
    will do it in the balcony. Not in
    the lawns. Is that fine? haan?

    Rashid gets up.
    The youth close in. Mr.TB looks petrified.


    On the black screen we hear the BUFF SOUNDS of metal coming in contact with bone and flesh. Like in a butcher’s shop.



  66. There is a devil (printers’ of course) in the name of the above commenter. There should be an ‘s’ between the o and the l. I am surprised that the moderators let it pass without comment or adequate warning to readers.


  67. As the author of the post, I asked the administrators to put up the comment sent in by our friend “twistolime”. Sometimes, people like “twistolime” prefer to paint the morbid, meat eating picture of Muslims without really thinking through the various issues involved with discrimination in rental housing markets. If that pleases him, so be it. But only for once. While I respect freedom of expression, I would not hesitate to curb it when it gets into such morbid, crude and inciting descriptions as our friend has put up here.

    Having said that, here is a closing comment to the thread of discussions that have been taking place around this post:

    As usual, this post is being read as a Hindu-Muslim issue by those who want to see it this way. My intention was not to establish who is better than the other. In any case, it is very contentious to decide what/who is Hindu and/or Muslim and for that matter Christian or Parsi or Sikh, etc. The problem by rabble rousing such as finding a home in Millat Nagar or any other Muslim colony for that matter is that we assume certain base identities – beef eating, meat eating, vegetarian, mischief mongering – which is not always true for everyone. I eat organic vegetables and avoid meat for health purposes. That makes me more vegetarian than the average herbivore. But the moment I utter my name as Zainab, then it is assumed that I am a meat eating cannibal. There is no probing into the fact of who I am, what preferences I hold in life. This kind of closed mentality is what is scary.

    We can go on trying to prove superiority of religion and then allude to Pakistan/Bangladesh in the process when the fact remains that Punjabi and Bengali Muslims are very different and those residing in big cities are different from those living in districts and hold different mindsets. Those who talk about Bangladesh and Pakistan should also visit the countries before making rabid and random remarks. In Bangladesh for instance, Pakistanis are despised because of Bangladesh’s turbulent historical past involving Pakistan. I have seen this for myself while living in Dhaka.

    The issue of discrimination in the housing market is not merely limited to religion. It extends to gender, nationality, whether you are single or married, caste and many other preferences. I experienced discrimination on the basis of religion and also on the basis of caste. On hearing that my husband was a Telugu Brahmin, it was immediately said, “That is good”, suggesting that he is a purer breed. The issue also is that you can eat non-vegetarian food outside, but can’t cook in the home. This is not merely an olfactory issue, but something fundamentally connected with retaining purity and sanctity of property and with very conservative notions of property ownership. If we are willing to discuss some of these broader issues instead of getting in rabble rousing, then comments are welcome and productive. The idea of a debate or a discussion is not to convince you to my point of view or to win over on your side. It is open our minds to different points of view. Not agreeing with me does not make you my enemy. Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be the prevailing attitude.

    This comment is a close to the thread of discussions taking place on this post. All rabble rousing comments will be deleted by the admin henceforth because trying to prove superiority of Hinduism over Islam or vice-versa is not the goal of this post nor of the collective who writes on this blog.


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