Blog: Imagine My Plight – Single Muslim and Non Vegetarian
“Maybe he’s making a bomb inside the locked room,” my landlord said to my neighbor. It happened in a very cosmopolitan area of Pune just five years ago. My working hours in a multinational company were from noon to 9 p.m. Thus, my front door remained closed most of the time because I would go to work late after the departure of my neighbors and return at night when the other residents were sleeping. My neighbor was pretty happy with my working hours and she told my landlord that this guy was “a very harmful person”. At that time, my landlord had known me for six months. She replied that he had to be very careful with “these people”, who knows what they can do behind closed doors. I found out she said that because the neighbor, landlord and agent were friends and I heard that from the agent.
As I moved from my city of Andhra Pradesh to three different states – Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Delhi – this endemic discrimination when trying to rent a house has been my norm. In Chennai, after liking a one-bedroom apartment, I was conversing with my uncle standing next to me in Urdu, when the landlord suddenly asked me about the community I belonged to. When I told her that I was a Muslim, she immediately replied: “In our culture, we cannot allow meat eaters to have a place in our house”.
This is part of my learning: if you are single, it is a problem; if you’re a single non-vegetarian, that’s an even bigger issue. And at the top of the heap of problems is being a single Muslim and not a vegetarian.
But now all these things don’t bother me. I basically assume this: that most of the time people think I’m a terrorist or, maybe, a suicide bomber. These stories of discrimination in rental housing only come to light when it happens to Muslim celebrities; otherwise, it is a reality that the community faces every day. Ansar Shaikh, an IAS officer, said in 2016 that he had to change his name while preparing for the Union Civil Service Commission in Pune.
In another case, in Pune, I identified an area for the broker where the rent was within my budget and the apartment was not too far from my office. He warned me that a Muslim merchant had recently been expelled from this locality, and “it is better not to go there”. In the end, I had two choices: seek out a Muslim ghetto that would be safer for me, or pay higher rent and stay further away from the office in a more tolerant area.
At one point I was renting an apartment with a friend who was Sikh. The neighbor in my absence was telling my roommate, who was also my colleague, that you better stay away from this Muslim, these people are very dangerous. This old lady also spoke to me very kindly whenever I met her. Maybe she was just afraid I’d blow up her building if she wasn’t nice. Everywhere I went, there was a sword of suspicion hanging over my head. I saw heads turn and facial expressions change once I told them my name and they understood what community I belong to.
I had gone to Delhi to prepare for public service, and I wanted to be an IPS officer wearing that uniform and those stars on my shoulders, singing my country’s national anthem with immense pride. Again, I had to start looking for a place to stay for all of this to happen. My friend and I started this trip again. Everything was finalized; when signing the rental agreement, the agent looked at my ID, saw my name and said this can’t happen. He took these papers from me, slid them to my young friend and asked him to sign. He was afraid that the owner did not want a Muslim to stay in his house. Agents have also become very smart these days. In one locality, they have a very good idea of which owner will rent their house to a Muslim, and who will not.
I remember this incident from Chennai – to Anna Nagar the broker who was also a rickshaw driver said “Yeah don’t even try this place, this owner won’t rent it to you. Only the eggs Cooking is allowed in there, but its smell must not penetrate downstairs into his house”. It is a very delicate situation; every time I cook an egg, I have to calculate how far the possible draft can go.
So wherever I look for a house, I face a dilemma. What should I reveal first? That I am single, non-vegetarian single or non-vegetarian Muslim single?
I start by telling the agent that I’m single and then I try my luck in all sorts of places. But apply this triple filter to any locality, and the search results are actually pretty bad. You are left with only the worst of the lot. I am educated and I have known many privileges; if this is my experience, what about the less fortunate? Denying rental housing to people because of their religion or food choices is deplorable to say the least.
My country is a land of unity in diversity – or does this only apply if we stay in different gated communities, streets, gated localities based on religion and caste? You tell me.
(Waseem Ahmad is studying MPP at Kautilya School of Public Policy. He has two years of experience in the IT industry.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.