"The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living." - Rohith Vemula
Shifting is painful, especially when you have to leave the city you loved the most, and you have to shift to a city you once promised not to go. I spent half a decade pursuing law in Delhi. This city was beautiful. It had everything. It taught me whatever I know today. But then the time came when I had to move to Jaipur, a city which I had not liked even before moving to Delhi. Yet, I decided to go with the flow and started my professional career as a researcher in the Rajasthan High Court.
Shifting means not just shifting your body and belongings. You have to shift yourself mentally. And it was the toughest thing. But nothing broke until I had to face the landlords in Jaipur. For five years in Delhi, I had been staying in hostel. So, to go for house-hunt or face a landlord was very new to me.
The Situation in 2012
The reason I had promised not to come to Jaipur was that, back in 2012, when I had stayed in Jaipur for a brief while, nobody had been ready to accept me as a tenant. The only argument people cited was very simple. I am a Muslim. I have an immediate identity.
At that time, a landlady allowed me to stay in her PG, not knowing that I am a Muslim. However, when she got to know of my identity, she opted for police verification the very next day. She categorically told me that she fell for my innocent face and that I do not look like a Muslim (I still can't figure out whether it was a compliment or insult). After staying two months in her PG, I moved to some other accommodation which was referred by one of my friends. This time again, the landlady did not enquire much and allowed me to stay in the room.
Years Later Nothing Has Changed
That brief period of time just passed and here in 2018, I was again in the same position. But this time, I was reluctant to tell the landlords my name. I did not want them to stay in the dark however, there is a problem with my name. My first name can be a bit ambiguous for the people here in Rajasthan, as it does not clearly tell the religion I belong to. So, they ask me my full name which shows my immediate identity. And the reply from the other side becomes obvious. No accommodation to a Muslim.
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But why my experience is different from every other story you read every now and then is because I tried going in depth into the reasons why it is difficult for a Muslim to get an accommodation at a location of his/her choice. When the landlords tried saying no to me, I asked them what is the problem behind such decisions. Mostly, the first argument is that they do not want to have tenants who eat non-veg. But this was just another excuse. To rebut it, I told them that I am totally vegetarian and do not even know how to cook anything. So, I won't be cooking, I just need a place to stay. I will have food outside.
Sometimes, when the landlords do not find any other reason to reject a tenant, as a last resort, they would quote a much higher rent than the prevalent rate, forcing the prospective tenant to look for other options.
Also, it was really confusing for me to figure whether the landlord was looking for a tenant or son-in-law. I called one such landlord, who after knowing my identity, told me that he is a Kayastha and he is looking for a Jain family. He was really happy when I had told him that I am employed in a government body but his entire happiness vanished after getting to know my name.
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One landlord was quite honest in telling me the reasons (though I do not agree with him) behind not renting his space out to Muslims. He told me that he has seen Muslims living in filthy areas like Ramganj (Muslim ghetto in Jaipur) and they always use filthy language while talking to people. Also, riots and street fighting are in their blood. But when he met me in person, he was surprised. He told me the same thing that, I do not look like a Muslim. I was really disappointed. All my efforts for looking like a Muslim were in vain.
Another prevalent reason is Islamophobia. People think Muslim tenants may become a big problem because there are high chances that they belong to some terrorist organisation. They might indulge in violence. I remember one incident when a bomb blast had happened in 2013 in Hyderabad. I saw an update on Facebook and ran to my landlady to turn on the TV saying that there is a bomb blast in Hyderabad. After sometime, other tenants and people from the landlady's house joined us. All of a sudden, they asked me how I had got the news so quickly. They were trying to find out if I had any relation with the bomb blast. It was really painful to know what people actually think about me despite everything.
The next story is even more interesting. I met a lawyer in Jaipur during house hunting and we became good friends. So, we started looking for accommodation with the intention of sharing it. This time, I called a broker agency who asked me the details about both of us. Now with my friend being a Jat and a lawyer, and me being a Muslim and not a practicing lawyer (a government employee), appeared as a deadly combination to the landlords who could not accept such tenants at any cost.
Everybody here in Jaipur wants a tenant who is working, leaves in the morning and returns in the evening, educated, civilised, decent looking. I might fulfill some of the qualities but the moment my name is heard, the entire perception gets changed. Another time, I met a landlady who claimed to be working in an NGO and have a long experience in the education sector. She was all ready to rent the house. However, a 10-minute landlady-tenant interrogation later, she finally asked us our names. And the entire liberal cover she had been putting on just collapsed. I could see it on her face. It was shouting – ‘No Muslim Tenant’.
‘Muslims Forced to Stay in Filthy Ghettos’
People tell me that it is a question of personal choice of the landlords to rent out the place to whomsoever they want. I would rather call it communalism, racism and atrocities on Muslims. Muslims across the country are blamed for living in ghettos and in filthy areas. They are accused of not mixing up with other cultures. That they like to live separately. But the real issue is that they are being forced to stay in such ghettos. Even if they make any attempt to come out of those filthy ghettos, they are not welcome. All that the society is doing is making sure that they are reduced to their immediate identities.
As an end note, I would just like to reiterate that our society has been raised to be biased towards everything. Be it caste, class, religion, profession, gender, colour, etc., we have inherited pre-conceived notions about everything. I hope that this letter would serve as a piece of evidence for the coming generations regarding how racist their elders were. Meanwhile, my effort to get an accommodation, as well as my thrust to understand the society are still going on.
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Idrish Mohammed is working as a legal researcher in the Jaipur Bench of Rajasthan High Court. The views are personal