The script still revolves around Caste and creed

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Well-networked Youngsters don’t see the divide until they look for housing. Photo : AFP
Well-networked Youngsters don’t see the divide until they look for housing. Photo : AFP

The major metropolises of the South — Bengaluru and Chennai — boast of the fact that people from across the globe call these cities home. They are choc-a-bloc with professionals from across the country who boost the local economy and add to the youthful quotient. But the landlords continue to be conservative, preferring to keep them at arm’s length.

For the young IT crowd, the workplace is an environment where religious, social and linguistic backgrounds seldom count. They come with the dream that these global cities will be great launchpads for their careers and let them live in a cosmopolitan ethos.

However, once they decide to move out of companyprovided accommodation or the shared paying guest (PG) space, and the task of house hunting begins, a stark truth emerges. For a migrant, flats and houses are available not just on their ability to pay rent but whether they practise the right religion and speak the right language.

Here, since the IT boom that began in the 1990s, bringing with it the advent of large-scale migration, undeclared and invisible divisions have been accepted as a norm. Salim Farooqui (name changed on request) a software professional with a global IT firm, learnt a new code when he went house-hunting in Bengaluru ahead of his marriage.

Real estate agents told him about the unwritten law in the Jayanagar area of Bengaluru. He found that his search had to be restricted to certain enclaves. Salim was surprised that this was true even in the IT capital of the country.

Brushing aside brokers, Salim scanned housing websites. After a few conversations, he realised that owners were turning him away because of his name, though no one said so directly. An ex-Naval officer who wanted to rent out a portion of his house was an exception — he did not care to hide his bias. “He bluntly refused me because of my religious identity,” says Salim.

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The growing divide is not just a one-way street, the reverse is also true. Ayub, a real estate agent in BTM Layout, details the unwritten tenancy rules. “It’s not just that we Muslims find it difficult to rent a house. Even Christians, Hindus and students from North-East face the same problem. It gets worse when the owners are co-occupants or stay nearby.” Agents like Ayub play the game by the unfair rules and advise their clients accordingly.

Once the reality check is done, the house hunt is likely to end in a neighbourhood dominated by members of a particular community.

This social divide is not just an individual’s personal problem. It prevents a city from from being well integrated and worries the city’s administrators. The formation of such ghettos on linguistic or religious lines is a worrying sign because they can easily become targets of mischief-makers.

Gopal Hosur, a former top cop of the city says, “While ghettoisation is driven purely by a false sense of security, it actually ends up making people more vulnerable. We have seen it in the past, whenever tensions brewed following the Cauvery dispute or the Babri verdict. Such areas faced more tension.”

Abul Kalam Azad, a computer science student of IIT Madras, remembers experiencing discrimination when searching for a room in 2013. After his father introduced himself, the landlord who till that time was very cordial, mumbled something about needing identity proof. He says that was a watershed moment in his life. “It was never more clear to me that I was a Muslim in this country,” he adds.

Not only religion — what matters in Chennai when you are out looking for accommodation is food habits. “When I say I am a nonvegetarian,” explains Surya Kumar, a businessman, “the owners continue to probe my personal details till they can figure out my caste. When the house owner realises I belong to a Scheduled Caste, he does not hesitate to refuse me the accommodation.”

The above may be random examples but they make one thing clear. In spite of various social movements, industrialisation and globalisation, cosmopolitan culture has by and large evaded south India’s major metros. Urbanisation, which should have blurred the social divide, has only strengthened the identity consciousness of people who continue to shun the ‘other’.

With inputs from Nisha Ponthathil

vijay.grover@tehelka.com

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