India’s IT powerhouse is mired in social prejudice

NOT YET MODERN TIMES: Globally connected Bangalore has a cosmopolitan image, but minorities and Dalits find that deceptive when they try to rent a house. Photo: K Murali Kumar

NOT YET MODERN TIMES: Globally connected Bangalore has a cosmopolitan image, but minorities and Dalits find that deceptive when they try to rent a house. Photo: K Murali Kumar   | Photo Credit: K Murali Kumar

In the last 30 years, his firm has helped thousands of people find properties of their choice. He is one of the biggest names in the highly competitive real estate industry of Bangalore. Fardeen Ahmed (name changed) is equally well known as a philanthropist who has associated himself with several progressive and secular causes. But then, in the summer of 2009, he was rudely reminded that his standing counts for little in a city where landlords hide their prejudice behind a mask of modernity.

Ahmed was renovating his ancestral bungalow in Shivajinagar and wanted to move temporarily to a rented house. He wanted a house in a ‘respectable’ locality that suited his class. But to ‘respectable’ house owners, Ahmed and his family were just meat-eating Muslims. With an army of his own employees and all the financial resources at his command, it took Ahmed several months to find a house on rent that satisfied his sense of status. He is still recovering from his sense of ‘hurt.’

Dalit feminist Ruth Manorama was reminded of her identity less than a year after she was honoured with the Alternative Nobel Prize or Right Livelihood Award. In 2007, Ruth wanted to shift her office from Jayanagar 4th Block to a more spacious building a few metres away.

“It was a large house owned by a seemingly nice, English-speaking, elderly Brahmin couple," she says. But they refused to give her the house on rent. "After the award, I had been featured all over the newspapers and it was well known that I am Dalit and Christian,” she says.

The couple, retired scientists with a son working overseas, explained that they could not rent the house to a non-vegetarian. “I wanted the house for an office. It is not like I wanted to turn it into a Biriyani hotel,” she says, still smarting from the insult.

Dalit poet and Chairman of the Kannada Book Authority Siddalingaiah had a similar experience in upper-caste and class dominated South Bangalore.

“Because of my name, most house owners thought I was a [so-called upper caste] Lingayat. But my dark skin gave them doubts. They felt no shame in asking about my caste and I felt none in telling them that I am Dalit,” he says. The negotiations would quickly end after the house owners discovered his caste.

“For many house owners, we are dog-eaters, prostitutes or drug addicts,” says an office-bearer of the Naga Students’ Union who did not wish to be quoted.

During the ‘Justice for Richard Loitam’ campaign in April, hundreds of students from the North-East took to the streets alleging that Richard was the victim of a hate crime. Several agitators had told The Hindu that they are treated as foreigners in Bangalore. Most complained they could not find a house on rent.

Bangalore’s real-estate industry has several prominent Muslim names. All of them denied the existence of an apartheid-like system when The Hindu spoke to them. None wished to be quoted on the controversial subject.

Seven Raj, the proprietor of the well known Sevenraj Estate Agency, says, “These things are very much there. But as far as possible, I don’t do business with communal-minded people.”

“I don’t have a religion and I don’t ask my clients theirs,” he says.

According to him, the most guarded areas in the city are also those endowed with the best infrastructure. House owners in Jayanagar, Basavangudi, Malleshwaram, Sadashivnagar, Indiranagar, Rajajinagar, Upper Palace Orchards, Koramangala and J.P. Nagar hold some of the worst prejudices, says Seven Raj.

“In these localities, neighbours gang up against an owner who dares to rent his house out to somebody from a lower caste or a minority community,” says M. Paari, a former Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike Corporator.

Paari feels that much of the blame for segregation should go to agencies such as the Bangalore Development Authority. “A caste-wise survey of some of the residential layouts formed by the BDA will show that all the prime plots have gone to upper-caste applicants. Dalits and Muslims get allotments only in EWS (Economically Weaker Section) colonies,” he says.

Paari’s claims of segregation are borne out by a study conducted by the NGO Jana Sahayog in 2004-05 titled ‘Anthropological Study of Slums in Bangalore.’ Isaac Arul Selva says, “Eighty-five per cent of Kannada-speaking slum residents were from the so-called untouchable communities. Sixty-five per cent of non-Kannada speaking residents were from communities considered untouchable.”

The property and real estate sections of free advertisement-only newspapers offer the best insight. Most advertisements titled ‘for vegetarians only’ were from areas such as Jayanagar, Basavangudi and Malleshwaram.

The true meaning of ‘vegetarian only’ emerged when this reporter contacted some of these owners. “This is a Brahmin layout. We do not want any SC/STs,” said a woman before slamming the phone. “No Kashmiri Muslims. Other Muslims are ok,” said one owner from HRBR Layout. Another owner from HSR Layout said, “We don’t mind Muslims but we want only clean Muslims.”

Lawyer Byatha N. Jagdeesha says, “Vegetarian only is just the code to say Brahmins only. If they put out what they actually mean, they can be booked under the Indian Penal Code and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.”

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2020 8:46:14 PM |

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