If you are a Muslim wanting to buy or rent a house or flat in a city in India then it is very likely that your choice will be limited to only Muslim ghettos. Segregated living is becoming a reality in most major cities of India including the capital, New Delhi, Mumbai and even the more tolerant Calcutta.
The idea that Muslims can live wherever they wish to like their Hindu compatriots, is becoming a myth that is only talked about by politicians when they wish to show off India’s secular, democratic credentials. The reality is totally different.
As expected the path to this new way of living was paved by the state of Gujarat in western India, the home of the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Decades of violence between Hindus and Muslims, egged on by the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has meant that in cities like Ahmedabad and Baroda people only live in ghettos belonging to their own community. Fear for one’s life and property is so palpable that it is led to the creation of Juhapura on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, which is the largest Muslim ghetto in India.
For decades Muslims in Gujarat have been described by the BJP as “Pakistanis”, meaning that they were traitors and their loyalty to their homeland questionable. Modi, during his numerous election speeches as Chief Minister of Gujarat, would equate India with being Hindu. Anyone who was not Hindu could not be an Indian and thereby Muslims were automatically considered to be “Pakis”. But these insults were hurled in a disguised manner. Now it has become official parlance.
Gujarat police in a recent case wrote the address of two Muslim picked up in a brawl as “Vatva Pakistan” in their official paperwork. Vatva is another Muslim ghetto in Ahmedabad. Similarly, some Muslims living in a ghetto in Thane on the outskirts of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital and considered to be its most cosmopolitan city, have received electricity bills with their address listed as ‘Chota Pakistan’ which means ‘Little Pakistan’.
The latent Islamophobia that was prevalent in Indian society and which simmered mostly under the surface has come out into open and is worn almost like a badge of honour ever since Modi became Prime Minister. Islamophobes have found a perfect role model in Modi and with the BJP in power they are secure in the knowledge that there will be no reprisals if they indulge in anti-Muslim talk or actions. Bigotedness, which was confined to the privacy of people’s homes, is now openly used in public. One only has to look at the comments that people post on articles that have anything to do with the position of Muslims in India.
Previously gated housing colonies or blocks of flats in cities would turn away prospective Muslim buyers or tenants by telling them they could not cook meat in their homes. As Muslims are inherently meat-eaters they would not move in and find alternative accommodation. Now the discrimination is much more organised. Estate agents are told by vendors and landlords not to bring Muslims as prospective tenants or buyers into Hindu areas. If a Muslim wishes to buy a house in an upmarket locality where the residents are Hindus, he is first told by the estate agent there is ‘nothing for sale’. If the buyer is determined and points out the advertisement showing flats for sale, then he is directed elsewhere, ‘why don’t you look in so and so area’ pointing out a Muslim ghetto instead. If the buyer is undeterred then he is told “these are not for you”, the line because you are Muslim is implicit. Advertisements for renting property in Hindu areas simply ask for “vegetarian” tenants, clearly implying that Muslims need not apply.
In Gujarat, Muslims cannot get jobs in Hindu-owned businesses, and good private schools turn away Muslims with authorities telling parents that they cannot protect their children in case there is sectarian violence so it is better they send their children to community schools in their own localities. Many Muslims who wish to find work in Hindu homes as domestic staff, change their identity taking on Hindu names so that they are able to gain employment. Muslims are not allowed to buy businesses or shops in Hindu areas and Hindus are discouraged from going to Muslim areas claiming they are unsafe and havens of crime.
Prior to Indian independence, British rulers demarcated certain areas for themselves and others for Indians. In the white only areas signs were put up saying “Dogs and Indians not allowed”. If things continue then it won’t be very long before signs saying “Dogs and Muslims not allowed” will become the order of the day, at least in Gujarat to start with, and as part of the ‘Gujarat Model’ promised by Prime Minister Modi during his election speeches, the rest of the country can follow suit.