Saturday, August 01, 2009

Emraan Hashmi denied house in Mumbai: What government can do to curb communal societies and ghettoes?

Bollyood actor Emraan Hashmi has said that he was denied a flat at Pali Hills in Mumbai because of his religion. He says that he was advised to buy it in his wife's name [she is a Hindu].

I have written several posts on this issue in the past couple of years. Yes, it's a major problem but it becomes a news when a celebrity says it. Shabana Azami said it once and it had generated a big debate.

TV Actor Amir Khan [not the film star] had approached court when he was denied a house by a residential society. And now it's Emraan Hashmi.

Frankly, he has fat pockets and can get a flat at ten other locations. His grievance is genuine but his victimhood may not elicit empathy*. However, it is a different matter that this is now a national problem and the real victims are poor and middle-class families. Not just Muslims, earlier it was the Sikh community that faced this problem [post 1984] and later other groups have also faced it.

Certain groups also try to keep Bengalis, Christians and other [non-vegetarians] out. There are prejudices in our society and there is no limit to that. It's not just minorities, it's everybody--ranging from a North Indian in Maharashtra to a South Indian in North, or the North Eastern girls in Delhi.

The only positive thing, which I can see in this controversy, is that the problem will get highlighted once again. But I don't expect the dumb politicians to do something about it. On NDTV, Rajiv Pratap Rudy was unwilling to listen. Salman Khurshid tried to tread middle path but had no solution. There was Shahid Siddiqui also on the panel but apart from the heated exchanges, nothing emerged of it.

What the government can do?

Personally I feel that the government can do a lot to change the situation. Can't they offer some privileges and concessions to such societies that will keep a few minorities (cultural and religious) as members. Besides, if government just offers 10% discount in registry or reduction in other taxes if the builder manages to have more than 10-20% people belonging to different communities. That's my suggestion. Surely the experts can come up with more and much better ways.

It will stop the ghettoisation. And also lead to integration. There should be colonies where South Indians, Bengalis, Punjabis, Gujaratis live together along side. Unfortunately, there is a tendency that people tend to form their own ghettoes--some do it willingly while others are forced to do it.

For example in most cities there is a trend that a community, say, Kayasthas would go for a colony where all Srivastavas, Saxenas, Nigams, Bhatnagars would live and also have a Chitragupta Mandir. Similarly, many of the Gujaratis, the Jains, the Telugus, the Punjabis also for same.

Muslims are probably the worst victim of this discrimination. But it is a problem that warrants action from the government, as well as the society. Unfortunately the celebrities are happy in their cocoon of comfort and when they get a feel of real life, they get hurt.

And when they speak up, it becomes an issue for a while. But after a couple of days of discussions on TV channels and editorials in newspapers, everybody will once again forget it. We, Indians, are known for the 'chalta hai' attitude.

We don't want a Keralite!

A Malayali family was about to shift into their new house when they received a call. The lady who called up had the guts to ask the family, to find a house somewhere else. The Malayali Hindu family was flabbergasted. How can someone has the audacity.

But the lady on phone went on. 'We are veggies and came to know that you are going to occupy the house in our neighbourhood. So we thought that we should inform you and tell that you might find some other house.'

This happend to my friend. His sister, who was naturally angry, blasted the lady. Incidentally, here the houses were located at a distance, as it was not a multi-storey building where flats are often too close.

Incidentally, the lady who made the phone call was Jain. So here it was a member of majority community ie Hindu Malayalis asked to remain out of a society. It is also an example of biases.

Now. Back to Emraan Hashmi*. Yes, he can afford to buy flats and pay huge rents. So he is probably not a sufferer in that sense. Because the real victim is the one who can't pay higher price and wonders whether he should take his family to footpath when he doesn't get a house on rent due to his religion.

They are the real sufferers. Well, at least eight out of ten persons will refuse to give their house to a Muslim. It has been a personal experience. If they are polite they will say that they can't accommodate a non-vegetarian. Some are direct and say it on your face.

You feel humiliated and rejected. For cine stars, this sort of rejection is rare and this hurts their ego. However, the communal division in cities has worsened in the last two decades and it needs to be tackled seriously.

'Muslim' Imran Hashmi

It may be harsh on Hashmi but someone may ask where was Mr Hashmi, when others were discriminated or persecuted in his own city and backyard. Others may include Muslims in Gujarat carnage. Wasn't he a Muslim then? Why he didn't speak for other 'victims'.

The others would include Christians who were attacked in Orissa or say North Indians getting beaten up in Maharashtra and Dalits facing atrocities elsewhere. True, most of the people speak only when they face a problem, else they don't bother.

The problem lies in the fact that everybody would play victim but nobody would start or at least support a movement of civil rights. [Though this is ridiculous to expect someone to become an activist before raising an issue concerning himself, Celina Jaitley must be lauded for her conviction as she spoke for gays. All of us could well learn from her.]

Also, there is a right-wing line that if you speak of bias, you are playing the 'minority victim card'. That's also unfair. Everybody is entitled to raise their issues, especially when their fundamental rights are curbed.

There are some guys who don't like this issue raised at all by a Muslim. The plea is that, 'If there was a bias, how come he became a star. All these years his films were watched and he made moolah but never complained of it'. The truth is that we are a complex society--liberal and conservative at the same time.

Muslims may be celebrated as heroes but perhaps, may not be fit for being next door neighbours or acceptable as a son-in-law [Horror!]. Again, it's not for Muslims alone. Apart from castes and regions, [dark complexioned or non-English speakers, just to name a few] also face different sort of biases in various strata of society ranging from marriage to job.

The sufferers will continue to suffer and Indian cities will keep getting divided and demarcated among religious lines, unless we all realise, react and raise the issue forcing the government to take a serious note of it.

Hashmi has done well to approach the Minority Commission. People tend to be biased but institutional bias is criminal and against the spirit of constitution. We are a multi-cultural society and this is our greatest strength. Bigoted builders and communal colonisers must not be allowed to tamper with India's social fabric.

Past articles on this blog on this issue:
1. Builders boycott: Pushing Indian Muslims into ghettoes
2. No house for Muslims in Mumbai: Shabana Azami's comments
3. At last, a bank for Juhapura
4. What about ghettoes of caste groups?