Endemic discrimination

May 29, 2015 12:36 am | Updated November 16, 2021 05:02 pm IST

Recent reports about some Muslim families and individuals being denied housing accommodation or not being allowed to buy apartments in Indian cities point to an endemic issue of urban bias. While discrimination and biases of various kinds are common in urban sprawls across the world, there is something systemic about the denial of housing to Muslims in Indian cities. Surveys have pointed to various forms of bias, where residents display an aversion to those belonging to other castes and religions being in their neighbourhood. Neither access to education nor economic betterment has mitigated the problem of social bias. The sad reality in the city of Mumbai in particular has been that more than two decades since the 1992-93 communal riots, discrimination remains entrenched; indeed, it is today open and unchecked. Communities such as Dalits also encounter biases when they seek housing, but Muslims are an “easy target” because their names often point to their identity. Even online websites have seen home-sellers and owners openly denying houses to Muslims and people from certain other communities, before outrage against the practice got some websites to announce non-discriminatory policies on listings.

Legally speaking, this is a difficult issue to tackle. In the case of public housing, there cannot be any discrimination, and any form of bias in renting out or selling houses is illegal. But in the case of the private and cooperative housing market, the issue is more complicated. There are several housing colonies that are exclusive if not exclusionary to particular communities. These restrict residents to a particular community on the basis of their right to freedom of association, which was endorsed by the Supreme Court in Zoroastrian Co-operative Housing Society Limited v. District Registrar Co-operative Societies (2005). Yet, the Supreme Court has over the years developed a fairly comprehensive jurisprudence that regulates relations between “private parties” based on constitutional principles and fundamental rights. This could legally provide a basis for non-discrimination on matters related to housing. Judicial interventions apart, legislative action is required to address such acts of discrimination. The Rajindar Sachar Committee in its recommendations in 2005 sought the setting up of an Equal Opportunity Commission to provide a legal mechanism to address complaints related to discrimination in matters such as housing. Towards the fag end of its tenure the UPA government discussed the setting up of such a Commission, but nothing came of it. It is time to revisit the issue and implement this legislatively.

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