Read, Debate: Engage.

India's discrimination against Muslims expands to housing

January 12, 2023
tags:#India, #Islamophobia
by:Aafreen Khan
Religious discrimination has been on the rise in India as the right wing, Hindu-extremist government stokes tension against the country’s Muslim population. This blatant islamophobia has encouraged prejudice against Muslims in many spheres of everyday life, including in housing applications.

When India was celebrating its Independence Day in the summer, Twitter user Haifa wrote, “If everyone is done celebrating the 75th anniversary of independence, here is how I spent my Aug 15th” and posted two screenshots of rejections by brokers. Haifa was searching for houses to rent in Bengaluru, a metropolitan city in India. When the brokers found out that Haifa is a Muslim, they refused to rent her the house, stating that the "owner wants [only a] Hindu family.” 

Housing discrimination is not new in India as religious differences are increasingly polarised in the Hindu-majority country. When Hera Sajid moved to Mumbai from Delhi in 2017, she was not aware that such discrimination existed in the metropolitan cities. When she started looking for houses in Mumbai, she realised that her options were limited due to her faith.   

“When the owner got to know that I was a Muslim, his demeanour changed. The broker turned to me asking if I was a Muslim,” Hera Sajid, a script supervisor, told FairPlanet. Later on, Hera was rejected for the same reason. 

While this discrimination can look like rare incidents limited to a society or a region, it is in fact deeply systematic, according to research on the issue by Mohsin Alam Bhat, a professor from Jindal Global University Sonipat, and Asaf Ali, a researcher at the Centre for Policy Research and India Housing

Their report included more than 200 interviews with house owners, brokers, and tenants, in-depth field research in 15 neighbourhoods and housing communities in Mumbai and Delhi. In the research, they found the discrimination “systematic and writ large.”

Ali explains that in some cases, a tenant has a neutral-sounding name, but when brokers and owners find out that the tenant is a Muslim, their general response is, “Aap Musalman dikhte nahi” -  “You don’t look like a Muslim.”

“In many incidents, they have been asked to vacate the house in the middle of the month without any notice just because they are Muslim,” said Ali. 

Segregated spaces and markets

The everyday rise in discrimination and hate speech against Muslim minorities subsequently affects the mindset of people. “It used to happen before as well but in recent years I've seen a drastic change in owners' behaviour towards Muslim tenets,” a broker from Malviya Nagar, New Delhi, who wished to stay anonymous due to the sensitivity of the topic, told FairPlanet.

In Delhi, areas like Hauz Rani and Jamia Nagar are Muslim-majority areas and are often regarded as "mini-Pakistans." Brokers often suggest Muslim tenants to live in a “Muslim zone” where it will be easier to find housing. This splits Muslims into different clusters, making the country’s segregation saliently evident. 

This kind of discrimination is rampant in cities where millions of people move every year to make a living, forcing many Muslims to live in vulnerable conditions. Sometimes tenets also agree to some unnecessary and absurd demands by the owners just to get the desired accommodations. 

“When you are in need of a house, you don’t give up when these incidents happen. Muslim tenants agree to bizarre rules by owners because they are also not able to find accommodation,” explained Ali.

When some Muslims do succeed in finding a house outside Muslim-concentrated areas, their search is often fraught with struggle, frustration, humiliation and rejection. 

“The fear of safety is always on their mind. Violence can break out anytime and you'll be removed from your houses,” said Asaf Ali. 

“People feel a sense of security when they do find a house where the owners don't have religious prejudice, but if they don’t there is always a sense of fear,” said Nayla Khwaja. 

Many tenants are asked to hide their religious identity if they wish to find a house in their desired area. Back in 2018, Sarah Khan, a researcher from Delhi, was looking for a rental flat in Mumbai. When she mentioned her full name to the broker, the broker replied, “If you wear a hijab, you will have to remove it.” 

Brokers tend to want to avoid the hassle. “We understand [the discrimination] but can’t do anything about it. We do not want to lose out on business, so we try to close the deal,” one anonymous broker from Mumbai told FairPlanet. 

Overlooked caste-based discrimination 

In another study, Urban Rental Housing Market Caste and Religion Matters in Access, researchers found that discrimination is high among Muslims, but it is not limited to just religious identity. “Houseowner prejudices deny housing for both Dalits and Muslims, with greater religious discrimination. The study also found that Dalits and Muslims who manage to get homes on rent have to do so by agreeing to unfair terms and conditions”. 

Maharashtra, a state in India incorporated, an anti discriminatory clause under the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act to curb the discrimination in housing, which should serve as inspiration to other states to implement similar measures. Violators of the law will have to serve a jail sentence of up to three years and pay a hefty fine. However, the regulation does not extend to private rental markets, which, despite the prevalence of private agreements, does not have specific regulations by the government. Nevertheless, many Supreme Court and High Court judgements state that private parties should adhere to public policy and basic fundamental rules.

 “A law should be incorporated because the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, read with Article 15, clearly says that no one should be discriminated against based on religion, caste or colour, etc,” Areeb Uddin Ahmed, an advocate practising in Delhi, told FairPlanet. 

The personal struggle of finding a house has been tremendous for people. When you're denied that right in a way, fundamental rights are also violated. “A house is not just four walls, a house is also a larger aspirational place where you want to build your space,” said Asaf Ali. 

Picture by Reiner Knudsen

Article written by:
Aafreen Khan
Embed from Getty Images
When the brokers got to know that Haifa is a Muslim, they refused to rent her the house, stating, “the owner wants only a Hindu family.”
Embed from Getty Images
Housing discrimination is not new in India, as religious differences are increasingly polarised in the Hindu-majority country.
Embed from Getty Images
Religious discrimination has been on the rise in India as the right wing, Hindu-extremist government stokes tension against the country’s Muslim population.
Call to Action
Help women in India improve their habitats
Support now