Thursday, March 06, 2008

Delhi Diary – No City for a Muslim

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Jamia Nagar - Delhi's Muslim Ghetto

Personal account of discrimination against Muslims

[By Saif; picture by Mayank Austen Soofi is not the author's photograph]

Finding an abode in Delhi is not easy, especially if you are a Muslim like me.

A journalist in a blue-chip media company, I had been longing to get a calm, serene and clean place somewhere close to my office in south Delhi. I zeroed in on Sukhdev Vihar and rounded up property wallas there. Most of them left me in lurch after they got to know my (Muslim) name. People in Sukhdev Vihar, I was told, were not too eager to rent their houses to Muslims.

Finally one kind agent agreed to help but she warned me of difficulties ahead. To be honest, I was prepared for challenges. But I was not prepared for such intense scrutiny about my faith and background.

The very first apartment that the dealer Ms. Manju showed was great. While the gentle Sikh landlord kept staring at me, Ms. Manju did a good job of marketing me. I was described as a good natured and educated (unlike Muslims!) professional working with a reputed media organization. I too played to the gallery and did not even bother to bargain the quoted rent.

The gentleman assured us that he would give it a thought.

The next day Ms. Manju called up to say ‘sorry’. She suggested that “why don’t I look for a house in some Muslim locality?”

In my search for a good house in a desired locality, my faith was becoming a problem.

But I again bravely set out on the Mission House Hunt. Again it started from the start: I liked the flat, agreed on the exorbitant rent; and then the landlady asked my name and lo, she went into deep shock. The woman made me feel as if I had invaded the privacy of her house. As if I was some alien under the guise of a normal human being.

These were her exact words: “actually, you know, we are all vegetarians and you people have different eating habits. It won’t be possible for us.”

Humiliated, I returned to my present flat, where the landlady, who always calls me beta, treated me to chai and bread-omlette. That was relief. All the bitterness of the day evaporated with the tea sweetened by her motherly love. This landlady, however, is not a Muslim. What’s more, she is a vegetarian. Yet she has never made me feel as if I’m different. Clearly, it is because of people like her that made me go on in this city.

Meanwhile, my search continues.


a n k | t said...

And we call us as secular country.... shame on us!!!!!
sometime ago I encountered a question;" Does religion constitute nationality?".
I guess its right.....

Anonymous said...

I used to get very angry at one point of time.

Now, however, I think that it is best if one grows up within one's own community. Especially the community gains a lot with an achiever among them. Achievers being so rare in Muslims.

Anonymous said...

To the comment above (made by anonymous) "Achievers being rare in Muslims", well, I suggest you take a little history ride in time, to discover the social, economical, educational, philosophy, academia, political, arts and science contributions made by Muslims. I would require few pages to guide you through the various muslim achievers, thus, I suggest you do your homework first, before attempting to stigmatise Muslims as 'rare' achievers.

It is the same comment made by the 'anonymous' commentor above, that penetrates orthodoxy in communities, resulting in division of human spirit and social behaviour. Let's take a look at the grass root issues first, and then in unison try to extract the rot by bringing awareness and acceptance of a human being. Orthodoxy is quite BORING ! Please do not fall prey to cheap journalism propagated by media about Muslims....And by saying, "it is best if one grows up within one's own commmunity", is such a putrid sense. I guess with that type of assertion, one shall keep breeding shallow attitude towards other communities, and enhance the sad song of "mine vs yours" and butchering in the name of religion, for perverse gratification.

Anonymous said...

Absurd! What planet does Anonymous live in? This is the information age I thought?! Or am I also alluded?

I'm a middle class Hindu woman from India and now living in USA, and it was my Muslim neighbours willingness to open their heart to my family. This backward attitude only can be found in small minds not willing to share.
I agree with Shaheen Sultan for her views and I also feel same. When you have one rotten apple in a basket full of good, it is the rotten apple that needs to be tossed off. Inthe case here, sorry anonymous, you gotta go!

Anonymous said...

Also I forgot to mention, Mayank Austen Soofi, I really like your blog and please don't disappear like the other blogs.

Miss Europhile said...

Elusive maya says:

The author has the right to feel alienated on a personal level, but making sweeping generalisations abt all muslims and all hindus will only serve the purpose of reinforcing existing seperatist qualms!

Remember, communalism is a game played by a handful and refraining from falling into the pitfalls of streotypical representations will ensure it stays just that!

Raza Rumi said...

Saif Ali is a very good writer. In a concise post, he has highlighted this unfortunate reality. Neither bemoaning the death of secularism nor brushing such incidents under the carpet will lead to anything.
These facts have to be confronted by Muslims and Hindus and find solutions lest the communalists take advantage of the social cleavages.
Since I am not very familiar with this scene would someone explain what is the fear with Muslims: is eating habits, fear of hooliganism, casteism or what? Surely oit has to be a little more complex than 'dietary' habits!

In the meantime, we wish Saif all luck with his search...

And, hope that the mainstream media should also write about these unpleasant realities of an otherwise beautiful country.

Unknown said...

I can relate with what the author has expressed...Coming from Kashmir made it even worse... But I guess it made me more tolerant as well.. Being in Delhi, The National Capital has made me old.. I am 24 and i feel 40...I was refused accomodation in Greakter Kailash Part 1..due to obvious reasons..I shaved my head, put on a jazzy sunglasses and got a place three houses down the lane...They thought that i was an Aussie...They still call me "Sir" and salute me..Its been 4 years...Though the hair has grown , teh memory remains and after a while one just gives up...Muslims will be looked down upon and discriminated against and we cant change that.. There is only solution : MASS EDUCATION... Our biggest asset as a country is our people, and to shrug the tag of a developing country we have to irradicate discrimination ...Its high time... Long live the spirit of oneness and independence..I have lost hope but i hope others dont...that will epitomize the death of a will

Rational Man Who isn't as rational as he thinks. said...

It's sad.
What gets me more worried,is when we accept vague comments and learn to live through 'em.
Religion Vacuum.

killer is i said...

Well .. I guess that should be rare
I hate racist people like that ..
I hope that mentality of people change soon ..
waise good luck for search :-)

Unknown said...

This attitude is so unnerving, is this because of the rise of Islamic extremism or mere bigotry is to be seen. Either way, this can push any individual to desperation. A dangerous trend indeed.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see such sensible sensitivity among the people who've left these comments, and it is a bit unfortunate that things in Delhi are so to start with. However, the attitude of the 'Hindu vegetarians' alone is not to blame. One really doesn't ever know who's going to be doing what for which terrorist outfit in this city these days, and it's always the homeowner who gets into trouble with the police and the courts. It happened to a neighbour of mine. One has to go by the trend of the day,and live by the laws of probability.
The pretending to be Aussie approach is nice though, if it works. :)

Anonymous said...

if i wear my relgion on my sleeve, or my sexuality, I'm sure people will be pissed. Imagine a safron claded man trying to get a flat in some moslem colony, I am sure eye brows will be raised. Same with a bearded muslim brother wearing a skull cap going to a Brahmin family house. But again the fault is between all religious fundamentalists, if Muslims takes a step forwards so will Hindus. Lets work towards bringing down the walls that divide not building new ones.

Zac said...

Small question, why are the Sikhs or the Christians not subjected to this kind of behavior?

"there is a fashion for according sympathy to those who declare themselves mentally anguished. It would be nice if they were met with less understanding and appreciably more derision."

Here is a little known fact for all of you pseudo Secularists.

1.99% of all countries with a muslim majority are Islamic states with little or no rights for followers of other faiths.

2. In India, all muslims are judged by a different law in personal, marriage and inheritance matters.

The educated Muslim has not done enough to dispel the belief that muslims are considered dangerous. They will rant on about how unfairly they are treated for being a muslim, but they will never look at or talk about the plight of "dhimmis" in muslim dominated areas.

Lets take the example of the Sikh community, every Sikh was labeled a terrorist in the emergency era, yet today they are a well respected part of our society.

The same has not been true for the muslim community, their extremists are too powerful and the liberal muslims are either too scared to criticize their own or fatwas are issued against them.

I dare any hindu to go rent a house in Kashmir.

ambarien said...

Well...I am a Muslim. And I have been living in Sukhdev Vihar for the past four years!

Anonymous said...

Well, I totally condemn this kind of profiling. But as Indians we must realize that some emotional words arent going to change much.

What we need is a comprehensive system of background checks for any potential tenant. This requires proper co-ordination between landlords, the police and the employers and other potential references for the potential tenant.

Let me give you an example about what happened with me in the US. When I went to rent an apartment, the landlord asked me to produce my documents (passport, license) and employment verification (from the University). They immediately supply this information to the police. This way the police can clear them of any wrongdoing in case I did something shady.

Since, you are in the media you should raise this issue in a constructive manner.

Anonymous said...


I am a delhi born and bred Indian. of Muslim-Hindu 'descent'- not that I care 'coz no one has proven the existence of a separate god etc.

coming from a liberal left leaning family of writers and activists, I never knew why one day we left our cosmopolitan colony in nizamuddin and GK and moved a laa dee daah "Muslim' colony near Sukhdev Vihar- made during the 70's and early 80s with the support of Mrs Gandhi and Muslim intellectuals.
'coz no one will rent their hoeses to Muslims in this city'.
This was in 1985. Waaay before 9/11 and Babri demolition ( which happened 9 yrs before 'islamic fundamentalism' officially made its entry on the world stage).
So let us not talk falsely now
becoz the hour is getting late..
as mr zimmermann says (aka bob dylan).
I dont know the solution to the probs of the Indian Muslims..there is ghettoization and as my experience of coming from an interfaith 'highly educated' family proves, god knows what Muslims go thru in small towns and villages..I also hope the community comes out of its shell and retains its fomer academic brilliance instead of being mariginsalised in its own land.BTW: I was thrown out of my PG accomodation in London when the SIkh landlord found out my dad had a Muslim name!! Haha- racism in London. I had to pack my bags and leave, with my Mom who was visiting from India and who I had 'paid' extra rent for.