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Refusing to Accommodate Muslims — Preferences or Islamophobia?

“They ask me whether I am a Hindu or Muslim and revert saying Muslims are not preferred. They also suggest that I take the flat in a friend’s name who’s not Muslim.  I mean, What’s in a name?”

Authors: Ayesha Ayath Aslam, Shahzeen Khan

The rising tide of discrimination in the Indian rental market has become highly polarized on religious lines, with Muslims facing increasing challenges in securing housing. This trend has extended beyond remote districts, reaching metropolitan cities across the country.

The experiences of Muslim individuals and families have exposed a systematic pattern of discrimination based on religious identity. As social media amplifies these stories, reactions vary from expressions of concern to disturbing Islamophobic endorsements of discriminatory practices. 

Instances of such discrimination have been recently reported in the coastal belt of Karnataka. Mohammed Azhan, 22, in search of an apartment for his family in the city of Mangalore, fell prey to such prejudices.

“No, We Don’t Provide Rooms to Muslims”

In his conversation with The Observer Post, he said, “I have gone to visit and look around personally, and I’ve looked up and contacted people online too. They would give me all the necessary information, then once they got to know my name, they’d say ‘No we don’t provide rooms.” 

In a similar incident, Raziq Basrur, 21, and his friends were looking for an apartment to stay in. Basrur spoke to the apartment secretary, who told them about the availability of vacant flats. He gave them all the details, regarding the deposits, rent, dealers payment, rooms, etc., and later asked for their name. 

“Learning our name he started saying, ‘No, no we cannot rent it out to you people (Muslims). It’s the rule of the society. So we cannot.’ On asking for the reason, he told us “That’s how the rule is. We just can’t give it to you,” Basrur said.

Brokers or agents would often back out from continuing with the discussion on the matter. “On knowing the name there’d be a question — Are you Muslim? The moment they find out that we are Muslims, they’d just give excuses and disconnect the call immediately. When we call again, they don’t respond,” he said. 

In another case in Bangalore, Zayn (name changed), an engineer had to shift to another PG near his office after he got a job that required 2 hours of daily commute from his previous residence. “Despite enquiring in many places, the owners didn’t give me the PG even though rooms were available,” he told The Observer Post

Moving to the National Capital Region (NCR), a tech influencer named Shahrukh, 29, hailing from Bihar, Patna, faced similar rejections while looking for a rented flat in Noida. 

Brokers, when aware of his Muslim identity, would refuse properties to him with statements like, “We don’t rent out properties to Muslims.” He’d get calls from multiple brokers after registering himself on apps like OLX, and Magic Brick. “On a couple of occasions, brokers flatly refused me upon learning my identity,” Shahrukh said while speaking to The Observer Post

Interestingly, in a particular situation, the broker confidently assured him, stating, “No, sir, there’s absolutely no issue,” as Shahrukh directly questioned the broker about any potential concerns related to community preferences. Unaware of Shahrukh’s Muslim identity, the broker said, “There won’t be any issue in this area, sir, ‘hum Muslims ko flat dete hi nhi hain,” prompting Shahrukh to chuckle at the absurdity of his statement.

When asked about the reluctance to rent houses to Muslims, a surprising response was, “They (Muslims) engage in illegal activities all around, even the educated ones with good jobs. That’s why property owners are not willing to rent their houses to them.”

In another case, a PG owner in  Bangalore said that they have stopped giving rooms to Muslims ever since the 2019 Bangalore riots which had caused “Hindu-Muslim clashes” in the PG, leading to a police case and hospitalization of a Muslim. 

Zayn told The Observer Post that some PGs were ready to give him the stay but demanded an immoderate sum as rent, allegedly “only from him”. Moreover, he was not allowed to bring meat or have any of his friends or colleagues over if he was to stay in the PG.

Likewise, Basrur was told by one of the agents, “We hear so much about you people on the news. So few people are reluctant when it comes to your people (Muslims),” he said. 

Recently, a tweet (now deleted) gained widespread attention, wherein a Muslim man shared his ordeal of failing to find rented accommodation in Maharashtra’s Pune city.

The man, Rizwan, expressed his disappointment, saying: “Seriously gave up on the dream of finding something called home in Pune! Explored all of Pune; most gated societies don’t allow cross-religion lease agreements. People tell me that even if I get one, they will throw me out in a few months.”

Rizwan took to microblogging site X (formerly Twitter) to share his frustration about not being able to find a house in Pune, the cultural capital of the Maratha people, due to a lack of “cross-religion lease agreements,” according to a Clarion report published on Wednesday.

These are just a few of the many Muslims who failed to find a home on rent or lease in various parts of India. Many have taken to social media to share their frustration and disappointment.

“It’s just hard to find a house and these “preferences” are making it even difficult for people”, a twitter user said.

House Owners Believe Muslims “Deserve It”

A few viral posts got reactions from various individuals, expressing surprise and concern. “We need to change the mentality, and rebuild the trust that has been hijacked by certain elements that are in the position of power. A landlord should do due diligence in criminal history, job, etc but denying a tenant on the basis of religion is inhumane and very narrow-minded.” a user, Anirudh Thakur, said.

On the contrary, some social media users endorsed such discriminatory actions believing that the Muslims “deserved it” saying, “No one but Muslims themselves are responsible for this”. One of the users replied saying, “So are Hindus and others. Housing is a problem for all in India. Avoid playing the religion victim card.” 

Another commenter (@Dactar_sahaab) said, “Jaisi harkate hai aajkal ke radicals ki…koi, mohalle me bhi nhi rehne dega (Looking at the actions of today’s radicals, no one would want to let them stay even in their neighborhood)”.

Other replies saw Islamophobic and discriminatory comments.

“You folks are meat eaters including beef. Why should Hindu families rent their homes to anyone whose eating habits can hurt them?” wrote a user.

Discriminatory Housing has also Seeped into Policy

“Housing discrimination in Indian cities takes many forms,” notes a Kashmiri author Basharat Peer, who is working on a book about Indian Muslims. In Gujarat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister for 12 years, activists complain that the state’s Disturbed Areas Act is being used to block the sale of property by Hindus to Muslims. 

Introduced in 1991 to prevent ‘distress-sales’ after incidences of communal violence, the act’s provisions ban people from selling their property to buyers of a different faith in areas designated as disturbed. But the law now covers 40 percent of the state capital Ahmedabad, preventing Muslims from buying even in many seemingly tranquil neighborhoods. 

Faced with such challenges in mainstream housing markets, Muslims often find themselves compelled to reside within their own communities, living in ghettos that often fail to offer a suitable social and educational environment for their children.

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