Ghettoisation of Muslims in a city boasting a long 700-year-old history of ‘their’ rule? Quite ironic but it does exist, mainly owing to periodic bouts of communal riots and a media-created image of the city as ‘terrorist hub’, though not as virulent a form as seen in Mumbai and Delhi.
The best example is Muslims returning from Gulf countries enriched by petrodollars. They prefer to buy property in the Old City and build new houses there rather than venture into newer outlying areas. It is Moghulpura, Yakutpura, Azampura, Shahgunj, Hussaini Alam and so on in the Old City and not swank emerging IT destinations like Madhapur and Gachibowli.
Apparently, staying in Muslim-dominated localities infuses them with a sense of security. But that also means putting up with relatively poor infrastructure typified by narrow roads, poor sanitary conditions, few good schools and no credit cards. They seem to subscribe to the saying ‘jaan bachi lakho pai’ (Saving your life is as good as earning lakhs), something that is not guaranteed in mixed and predominantly Hindu localities.
Even when they are forced to migrate from the Old City, triggered by communal riots like the worst ever in 1991 that claimed over 200 lives and the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition a year later, the police harassment of Muslim youth that invariably follows such riots, they would again prefer to settle down in newer clusters where Muslims are in the majority, such as Toli Chowki, once a suburb having easy access to upmarket Jubilee Hills.
“This shift from Old City is indeed motivated by religious strife, the midnight knocks of the doors of Muslim houses by police and branding of Muslim youth as potential terrorists. New generation Muslims aspiring to go to the US would not like to carry the baggage of Old City and attendant stereotypes and they shift,” said Sajjad Shahid, core committee member of INTACH, Hyderabad. But why Toli Chowki and not Kakatiya Nagar? “It could be part of a Hyderabadi trait or cultural disposition of Muslims to stay near a mosque.”
Obviously the majority of middle class Muslims hardly have a choice and are compelled to stay in the neighbourhood of mosques. The pattern reinforces findings of studies that such enforced ghettoisation breeds insular thinking, ignites suspicion, makes people feel vulnerable and dependent on fundamentalist forces. It also explains why they choose specific political parties.
One such Muslim party steadily increased its strength from one to seven MLAs and an MP, decimating secular political parties. “The reverse is also true. If a Muslim wants to be represented in the Assembly, he can hope to do so only from Muslim dominated areas. Not just housing, discrimination is discernible in governance, access to education and banking,” said Mazher Hussain, social activist.
But this should not create an impression that Muslims shun mixed colonies and apartment complexes altogether or that all Hindus gang up to deny entry to them. There are several examples of Muslims comfortably staying in Hindu majority colonies and apartments. Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung was among the first to move and build a ‘Rock House’ in posh Banjara Hills where Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once stayed.
“Hyderabad is different and so are the Muslims here. They have a unique identity and a long history of engagement with Hindus, symbolising ‘Ganga Jamni tehzeeb’ and both communities by and large are not prone to pursuing an agenda of exclusion,” asserts Mr. Shahid.
Bashiruddin Babukhan, former Minister and prominent builder agrees. “Muslims might have their preferences and concerns but I have not come across individuals facing problems in finding houses or apartments like Emran Hashmi. If at all, these are the exceptions, not the rule.” As Minister, he is credited with introducing ten per cent quota for minorities in the government housing schemes.
Yet there are apartments where some fastidious Hindu residents would not allow Muslims to stay “especially for their cultural practices like sacrificing sheep on Bakrid.” It’s not just Muslims but lower caste Hindus too who face this problem when they encounter “vegetarian only” boards, a euphemism to bar those from “other castes” in places like Himayatnagar, Nallakunta and Chikkadpally in the new city. Fortunately such instances are very few in Hyderabad.
“Barring those located near mosques, no Muslim developer would build apartments for Muslims only, as it would be a losing proposition. A builder looks for a consumer who fetches him good returns and not his religion,” said Mr. Bashiruddin whose Babukhan Estate, is a landmark in the city and has 90 per cent non-Muslim occupants.