In the last couple of weeks I have been hearing stories from my friends who happen to be Muslims about the amount of difficulty they have faced when trying to find a house in suburban Bombay. One of them, lets call him Q, is a recent migrant to the city, who has joined as a photographer in a large national publication, he has been told quite clearly that "Muslim party ko ghar nahi dega." Q, who is from Delhi is a bit zapped at just how difficult it is, "Its like they want to force you into little regional ghettos." The concept of a urbane, upper-middle class Muslim is beyond the concept of reality for many closed minded idiots in this city - after all the city did spawn the Shiv Sena.
The problem is that this crisis is particularly bad in the suburbs, something my friend A told me. According to him, not only do they often not give homes to Muslims, even if you were Muslim but happened to be from the wrong sect, finding a house is impossible. A, who is a fairly rich guy, was actually looking to buy a house, in fact, he even said that his parents were prepared to buy and his wife a house, cash down (this is Bombay, after all!) - but when they saw this really nice apartment in an upmarket Bandra Reclamation Society the property agent (who was none the wiser) supposedly told A's mother that the area did not allow 'Pets or Muslims' - I doubt that the agent could have possibly been that tactless - but it is not impossible.
I really don't know how bad this problem is in other cities, but after calling up some friends in Delhi, I was told that the problem exists even in the capital - but it is not so 'in your face'. Up north, Punjabi's from both communities made a concerted effort to rid the planet of Punjabi's almost 60 years ago by killing each other. In Bengal too, bhadralok mentality took a backseat as the division of Bengal first done in 1911 had its tragic endgame begin in 1947 (Of course, closure was only achieved in 1971). However, the Western parts of India were relatively peaceful then, but have tended to flare up disasterously ever since. The worst riots in the recent past (other than in Bihar) have been in supposedly urbane areas in Western India - Bombay (post-Ayodhya, Bomb Blasts etc) and Gujarat (post Godhra) and of course, there were the Congress-party backed disaster in Delhi in 1984.
While, I would tend to agree that Delhi is also a communal time-bomb, the government has done well to ensure that potential flash-points are kept in check. Just look at the old city, one second you are in a virtually 100% Muslim area (complete with rabid imam and all), you cross the road and find yourself in Hindu Heartland (complete with Praveen Togadia wannabes). However, the greatest achievement of successive governments has been to prevent the relatively newer environs of South Delhi get classified as 'Hindu' or 'Muslim' areas. The problem with Bombay I find is that this bent of communalism is practiced in high-class building Societies in Bandra and Andheri - A even told me an interesting story of how they refused a prominent Muslim Bollywood type a house because of his religion.
Strange isn't it, the best bowler in the country is a Muslim, some of the entertainment industry's most feted names are Muslim, but when it comes accepting Muslims as a part of general society, the majority tries to act like the Whites do with African Americans in Yankeeland. Of course, then some governments (inevitably Congress governments) try to screw things up even further by proming religion based reservations. If we are to become an 'inclusive' society, why on earth do we practice the politics of 'exclusion'?
On another note.
I would classify myself as having a Centre-Right disposition. I detest the current administration at the centre, and generally find myself agreeing with Swami Aiyar's views yesterday (wherein he attacks his brother's shortsighted energy policies) that India tying up with generally unreliable countries which have no regard for property rights (and he gives the example of what happened to India in Iran after the nuclear-obsessed types came to power) is not the smartest thing to do. Given that the pinkest paper's correspondents have played the Oil Ministry's
unpaid cheerleaders (ugh!), I'm surprised that the Times carried the article - but this was Swami Aiyar - who has consistently been one of this administrations strangest economic critics, fraternal ties notwithstanding (and for this I immensely respect him).
Of course, the stupid commies are now seeing the light on Iran (but only after documents linking AQ Khan to Iran were printed), the problem is that the commies main organ, The Hindu, (the irony has befuddled me for years) hasn't seen the light yet. There are FDI issues that need to be resolved, but Karat who obviously looks upon North Korea and Cuba as shining examples of economic development has other ideas. Someone should really take Karat into villages and show him the aspiration levels of Indians. Yes, I agree there is a real risk that unless we do not ensure more egalatarian development that the disconnect between rich and poor India might become even more pronounced than it is today - and we must learn lessons from China's slightly botched schemes to promote egalitarianism here. But, the lack of labour reform will not promote egalitariamism, rather the unshackling of labour reforms will create thousands of jobs - they may not be the best paying jobs in the world, but at least they will be jobs.