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A Muslim buying or renting house; a story of social prejudices in India’s modern metropolises: A Special report in The Hindu

In Mumbai, a ‘no rent, no sale’ policy

By Rahi Gaekwad

July 8, 2012

What’s in a name? Ask a Muslim buying or renting property in the city that never sleeps. Mumbai, which prides itself on its cosmopolitan character, is divided on religion, food habits and language.

When radio jockey Yunus Khan wanted a house in Gorai in suburban Mumbai, he was told it was a “Sena type” area — a reference to the saffron political party Shiv Sena.

“Agents told us it was not possible to get a flat in Gorai,” Mr. Khan told The Hindu. “They said Muslims are not preferred. I am married to a Hindu woman. So they suggested purchasing a flat in my wife’s name. But living anonymously is not possible. Letters and bank statements will be in my name.”

Mr. Khan’s brother faced the same problem, while looking for rental accommodation in suburban Kandivali’s Charkop area.

What’s in a name? Ask a Muslim buying or renting property in the city that never sleeps. Mumbai, which prides itself on its cosmopolitan character, is divided on religion, food habits and language.

A “few locations of south Mumbai like Walkeshwar, Malabar Hill, Peddar Road, Breach Candy; western suburbs like Vile Parle, Bandra, Borivali, Kandivli and eastern suburbs like Ghatkopar, Sion and Mulund are out of bounds for Muslims,”  says Mehul Ved from Ace Realtors, member of South Metrocity Association of Realtors.

“Walkeshwar is totally out for Muslims, except perhaps a few buildings,” said Sanjay Mundra, a south Mumbai realtor in premium housing. “People are refusing to rent or sell houses to Muslims all over the city,” remarked another agent. “I have had dealings in Juhu, Bandra, Peddar Road and Colaba. Around 95 per cent of owners flatly refuse Muslims. They give excuses: a flat is not empty or relatives are coming.”

In Walkeshwar particularly, the unwritten code of barring not just Muslims, but non-vegetarians is rigid. The vegetarian-non-vegetarian divide is “a big issue,” say property agents. “You can’t rent a shop or start a pizza outlet for non-vegetarian fare. On a couple of occasions, the neighbouring shops put up a board urging customers to boycott the shop. It’s difficult to survive,” Mr. Mundra said. Speaking of Muslims as “that community,” he said, “They dress in a certain way. If there are three or four burqua-clad women in a lift, it gets uncomfortable. I am not against any community, but certain communities are rough. They are not concerned about etiquette or hygiene. The [discomfort] is psychological. They can have three or four wives and a lot of children. It can get very crowded and noisy.” Mixed marriages too raise the hackles. Housing societies object to Muslims staying in the homes of their non-Muslim spouses. There is a perception that the Muslim upper crust is “less radical.”

However, unable to draw a line, these societies refuse all Muslims. In 2009, Hindi film actor Emraan Hashmi protested the alleged refusal of a housing colony in Mumbai’s plush Pali Hill locality to give him a flat.

He complained to the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission. “Many societies,” said Mr. Ved, “have a by-law that [mandates] a seller or lessor to check with the society before planning to sell or lease to a potential Muslim buyer.

Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, Professor of Islamic Studies at Mumbai’s premier St. Xavier's College, wanted to buy a house in 2005-06 in Pali Hill, Bandra. “Not one, but many agents told me Pali Hill is restricted. I was shocked. My children are very secular. I found that many localities are out of bounds for Muslims,” she said. Terror attacks have compounded biases, leading to their being further demonised. The 1992-93 communal riots, which saw large-scale movement of Muslims to ghettos, were a watershed. The entire area of Mumbra in Thane district was formed after these riots. Mumbra, Govandi, Bandra (East), Nagpada, Bhendi Bazaar, Zhaveri Bazaar and Mahim, to some degree, are well-known as Muslim pockets. Although such discrimination is rampant, no Muslim wants to come forward to file an official complaint, said Naseem Siddiqui, the Commission’s former chairman. He even endorsed segregation to avoid disputes. “I have myself told Muslims to find places in Muslim localities.”

Gujarati and Marwari home owners are known to exclude Muslims on the basis of food habits.

The Hindu called an agent in the Gujarati-dominated area of Santa Cruz. When told that a Muslim tenant was looking for a place, he said, “Then I will have to find out. I will check if the society owner is comfortable. Otherwise, [the tenant] would have to go to a Muslim area.”


With Delhi landlords, hard to escape the stereotype

By Rana Siddiqui Zaman

July 8, 2012

House-hunting for a Muslim in Delhi can be a long and excruciating exercise….

 I shudder even now when I think of the incident of my husband, a media relations executive, being called a terrorist.

Five years ago, in Dwarka’s Sabka Ghar Apartments here in the Capital, we were not able to get our favourite news channels on cable TV. My husband had been calling the cablewallah without much success. One day he tersely asked him what was preventing him from giving us the channels? The cablewallah shouted back, “Chup be, terrorist! Bada aaya mujh par chillane wala (Shut up terrorist, dare you shout at me!).

Shocked and hurt, my husband and I went to the Dwarka police station and met the Station House Officer. He called the cablewallah and asked him why he had used the label of terrorist. Was it our Muslim names? The remorseless response was, “Sir, muh se nikal gaya (it was a slip of the tongue)”. 

The SHO made the man sit in the police station for almost the entire night and pacified us with the assurance that such “elements” were everywhere. We left the place somewhat placated. 

But could we blame only the cablewallah? Our house hunting experience in Delhi and Noida confirmed that the educated class did not think any differently. 

In early 2007, Yusuf and I went house-hunting in Delhi and Noida. We looked at almost a hundred houses in all four Delhi zones -- South, West, East and North. We thought we were lucky to find a house in Greater Kailash-II, the posh South Delhi area with rich, educated inhabitants. It belonged to a former Mr. India. We paid a token amount and decided to shift some luggage. We went to receive the keys to the house, and to our shock found that the landlord had changed his mind. He wouldn’t even let us in. Instead he returned our money stating blandly, “We have sold the house.”

How can a house be sold in just three days, we asked, and wondered why he hadn’t informed us. He had no answers. I asked him bluntly, “You don’t want us because we are Muslims, right?” He refused to answer my question. It was insulting, and we protested. In response, he asserted, “My son is a former Mr. India with a lot of connections.” So instead, we had to be careful. 

South Delhi areas with dense Muslim populations are Okhla, Abul Fazal Enclave, Zakir Nagar and Batla House. They are typical ghettos. In East Delhi, areas like Laxmi Nagar and Darya Ganj in Central Delhi where Muslim population is thick, getting a good dwelling was extremely difficult because people, fed up with insecurity and exclusion elsewhere, finally come here. The houses are awfully expensive as a result. The landlords know Muslims prefer these areas, especially post-Babri demolition and Gujarat violence and rents have risen. And we, being educated Muslims, avoided living in ghettos.

 The search in Delhi yielded no results. So we headed for the National Capital Region. In Noida, people were openly prejudiced. Most of them seemed to think Muslims cook bombs in their kitchens. Others who didn’t want to be labelled “non-secular”, hid their intentions behind “we don’t want non-vegetarians” or “late night entry at home”.

 We had almost finalised a house in Noida Sector 10 through a property dealer. It belonged to an old couple. We were ready with a month’s security and advance rent as the dealer advised. At the premises, we found another party talking to the landlord, negotiating a lower rent. The aged owners didn’t seem convinced, but also didn’t seem to know we were Muslims. The moment we revealed our religion, the old man’s wife rushed inside, and called her husband in. Ten minutes later they came back with some cash, apparently taken from the other party. The owner apologised saying, “I am sorry…my wife had fixed it up with the other family and I didn’t know about it. You were late by just half an hour. We have otherwise no problems in keeping Muslims.” We could see he was lying. The property dealer too apologised. “Sir, please don’t mind, Noida has reservations about Muslims.”

 Finally we got a house in Noida – in Nithari village. It belonged to a retired Army officer. He warmly welcomed us and said (quite unnecessarily), “We treat Muslims as our brothers and sisters.” But we refused it as the house was bang opposite the house where the killings of children had happened, and the house, on the top floor, overlooked the drain into which the bodies were thrown.

Out of the blue, our non-Muslim friend, a former General Secretary of the Press Club of India, a freelancer with a Pakistani newspaper and with known sympathies towards Muslims, handed over the keys to his Dwarka house. He said Aligarh Muslim University, where he (and we) studied, taught him to love “Mian bhais”. His unclean house was empty for four years, with no power and offered hard water. We didn’t want to go so far, but we had no choice. 

Living under the scanner made us uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the hard water made us think of moving.

There are two Muslim-populated posh societies in East Delhi. Abul Fazal Apartment in Vasundhara Enclave and Punjabi Saudagar in Mayur Vihar. They are given only to “educated, liberal and secular Muslims”. That’s why we were readily offered a house in Abul Fazal.

We shifted from Dwarka. Living among the community has its pros and cons. Like it or not, you get into a sophisticated ghetto. When people know that you live in Abul ‘Phajal’ Apartment, their jaws drop. Some just can’t avoid muttering “ohhh Mussalman!” Abul Fazal Apartment is branded as a “Mini Pakistan”.

Cut to last year’s World Cup cricket matches.

Abul Fazal Apartment with 99 per cent Muslims put up a huge plasma screen to watch the World Cup semi-finals against Pakistan and the finals. Drummers were brought in, women and children painted Tricolours on faces.

At every Indian six or boundary, the drummer beat his drum, kids and big boys danced the bhangra and women would shout ‘wooow!’. To a Pakistani six, the residents would shout, “Out, out!” 

Residents of nearby Anekant and City housing gathered at our place, surprised and also happy at Muslims making merry at Indian cricketers’ triumph.

After India won the World Cup, laddoos and soft drinks were distributed at the society’s expense.


Feeling secure at home is the bottom-line

By K. Venkateshwalrlu

July 8, 2012

Ghettoisation of Muslims in a city boasting a long 700-year-old history of ‘their’ rule? Quite ironic but it does exist, mainly owing to periodic bouts of communal riots and a media-created image of the city as ‘terrorist hub’, though not as virulent a form as seen in Mumbai and Delhi.

The best example is Muslims returning from Gulf countries enriched by petrodollars. They prefer to buy property in the Old City and build new houses there rather than venture into newer outlying areas. It is Moghulpura, Yakutpura, Azampura, Shahgunj, Hussaini Alam and so on in the Old City and not swank emerging IT destinations like Madhapur and Gachibowli.

Apparently, staying in Muslim-dominated localities infuses them with a sense of security. But that also means putting up with relatively poor infrastructure typified by narrow roads, poor sanitary conditions, few good schools and no credit cards. They seem to subscribe to the saying ‘jaan bachi lakho pai’ (Saving your life is as good as earning lakhs), something that is not guaranteed in mixed and predominantly Hindu localities.

Even when they are forced to migrate from the Old City, triggered by communal riots like the worst ever in 1991 that claimed over 200 lives and the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition a year later, the police harassment of Muslim youth that invariably follows such riots, they would again prefer to settle down in newer clusters where Muslims are in the majority, such as Toli Chowki, once a suburb having easy access to upmarket Jubilee Hills.

“This shift from Old City is indeed motivated by religious strife, the midnight knocks of the doors of Muslim houses by police and branding of Muslim youth as potential terrorists. New generation Muslims aspiring to go to the US would not like to carry the baggage of Old City and attendant stereotypes and they shift,” said Sajjad Shahid, core committee member of INTACH, Hyderabad. But why Toli Chowki and not Kakatiya Nagar? “It could be part of a Hyderabadi trait or cultural disposition of Muslims to stay near a mosque.”

Obviously the majority of middle class Muslims hardly have a choice and are compelled to stay in the neighbourhood of mosques. The pattern reinforces findings of studies that such enforced ghettoisation breeds insular thinking, ignites suspicion, makes people feel vulnerable and dependent on fundamentalist forces. It also explains why they choose specific political parties.

One such Muslim party steadily increased its strength from one to seven MLAs and an MP, decimating secular political parties. “The reverse is also true. If a Muslim wants to be represented in the Assembly, he can hope to do so only from Muslim dominated areas. Not just housing, discrimination is discernible in governance, access to education and banking,” said Mazher Hussain, social activist.

But this should not create an impression that Muslims shun mixed colonies and apartment complexes altogether or that all Hindus gang up to deny entry to them. There are several examples of Muslims comfortably staying in Hindu majority colonies and apartments. Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung was among the first to move and build a ‘Rock House’ in posh Banjara Hills where Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once stayed.

“Hyderabad is different and so are the Muslims here. They have a unique identity and a long history of engagement with Hindus, symbolising ‘Ganga Jamni tehzeeb’ and both communities by and large are not prone to pursuing an agenda of exclusion,” asserts Mr. Shahid.

Bashiruddin Babukhan, former Minister and prominent builder agrees. “Muslims might have their preferences and concerns but I have not come across individuals facing problems in finding houses or apartments like Emran Hashmi. If at all, these are the exceptions, not the rule.” As Minister, he is credited with introducing ten per cent quota for minorities in the government housing schemes.

Yet there are apartments where some fastidious Hindu residents would not allow Muslims to stay “especially for their cultural practices like sacrificing sheep on Bakrid.” It’s not just Muslims but lower caste Hindus too who face this problem when they encounter “vegetarian only” boards, a euphemism to bar those from “other castes” in places like Himayatnagar, Nallakunta and Chikkadpally in the new city. Fortunately such instances are very few in Hyderabad.

“Barring those located near mosques, no Muslim developer would build apartments for Muslims only, as it would be a losing proposition. A builder looks for a consumer who fetches him good returns and not his religion,” said Mr. Bashiruddin whose Babukhan Estate, is a landmark in the city and has 90 per cent non-Muslim occupants.


Housing apartheid flourishes in Delhi

By Sowmiya Ashok & Mohammad Ali

July 8, 2012

Finding a home to rent in India's national capital is an arduous task for anyone - but, an investigation by The Hindu has found, almost impossible for citizens who happen to be Muslim. Homeowners and property dealers contacted by reporters often firmed up deals, only to be disqualified as soon as they revealed their religion.

Housing apartheid was at its worst in New Delhi’s most affluent and educated neighbourhoods: New Friends Colony, Vasant Kunj, Jangpura and Rohini. By contrast, in areas such as Mukherjee Nagar, Karol Bagh, Janakpuri and Ashok Vihar the responses were mixed.

In one case, a property agent representing a homeowner in New Friends Colony flatly told The Hindu's reporters, “The landlords want only Indians, not Muslims.”

Told that the applicant was an Indian, the reporter was told not to push matters further. “Another Muslim,” said Radha of Gulshan properties in New Friends Colony, “wanted to take the flat on rent but he was also refused by the owners. Even though it suits your budget and needs, there is no point in showing you the flat. The flat has been vacant for a long time but they will not give it to a Muslim.”

Deepak Sharma of Balaji Properties in Rohini Sector-8, contacted by The Hindu's reporters, who posed as a young Muslim married couple, said that residents of mainly-Hindu Rohini “avoid renting their flats to Muslims here. I am sorry but you will not be able to get a house in this locality.” Ironically enough, Mr. Sharma’s office proudly displayed a photograph bearing icons of all religions, in perfect harmony.

For single women, things are even worse. When a reporter posed as a single mother looking for a house in West Delhi’s Janakpuri, an agent of Sharma properties was initially sympathetic. “You don’t have a husband?” said a property dealer, adding in a conciliatory tone “Ok, come tomorrow and I will find you a house.”

This changed as soon as she revealed that she is a Muslim who eats non-vegetarian food. “It could get a little difficult then,” he said, “I will call you back after speaking to the owner.”

By contrast, there were considerable options for a female student looking for accommodation in Delhi’s North Campus with brokers even looking out for the safety of their clients. “There is an option for a one-bedroom apartment but it won’t suit a girl since the entry is from the back of the house,” property dealer Varun Kumar said. Men looking for accommodation in the area say that single girls are preferred as tenants since they can be reined in with threats of complaints to their parents.

Property dealers seemed to operate an informal network of religious segregation, often pointing The Hindu's reporters to supposedly Muslim-appropriate neighbourhoods. More often that not, they were told to look for houses in the fringes of posh colonies. Property dealers in Rohini suggested Rithala, one in Jangpura proposed Bhogal, famous for its Kashmiri population and Afghanistani refugees, a broker in New Friends Colony suggested Sukhdeo Vihar and Jasola both of which are close to another Muslim ‘ghetto’ Jamia Nagar, and one in Vasant Kunj suggested Munirka and Kishangadh.

Neighbourhoods like these appear to be emerging as enclaves for the growing Muslim middle class in Delhi, which despite its education and economic achievements is denied access to neighbourhoods preferred by Hindus from similar backgrounds.

On the travails of finding a house, Prof. Rizwan Qaisar, an academician at Jamia Millia Islamia, said while looking for a house in Saket and Munirka DDA Flats he came across instances where his name mattered a lot. “Every thing was fine till I revealed my name. After facing ‘no’ from several property dealers, I had to finally shift to Noor Nagar in Jamia Nagar.” “Several social groups face discrimination in housing but for Muslims the edge is sharper,” Mr. Qaisar said.

Senior lawyer Ashok Agarwal said a solution to the problem does not lie in the legal sphere. “First of all, practically it is very difficult to prove the existence of this malaise,” he said, adding, “the government cannot regulate private housing.”

Elsewhere in the region, countries have taken concerted action to end similar housing apartheid. Singapore, for example, introduced a system of mandatory quotas in public housing to better integrate its once-polarised ethnic-Malay, Chinese and Indian communities.

Interestingly, one property dealer said, Dalits sometimes faced similar problems — but managed to avoid them since their names often did not immediately disclose their caste. “Dalits face some problems when the owner is typically a practicing upper caste Hindu or Jain,” the dealer said. Not every neighbourhood is exclusionary — perhaps a sign of hope that change is possible in the city. There are those who are honest about not caring where in the world one comes from.


India’s IT powerhouse is mired in social prejudice

By Sudipto Mondal

July 8, 2012

The property and real estate sections of free advertisement-only newspapers offer the best insight. Most advertisements titled ‘for vegetarians only’ were from areas such as Jayanagar, Basavangudi and Malleshwaram. 

In the last 30 years, his firm has helped thousands of people find properties of their choice. He is one of the biggest names in the highly competitive real estate industry of Bangalore. Fardeen Ahmed (name changed) is equally well known as a philanthropist who has associated himself with several progressive and secular causes. But then, in the summer of 2009, he was rudely reminded that his standing counts for little in a city where landlords hide their prejudice behind a mask of modernity. 

Ahmed was renovating his ancestral bungalow in Shivajinagar and wanted to move temporarily to a rented house. He wanted a house in a ‘respectable’ locality that suited his class. But to ‘respectable’ house owners, Ahmed and his family were just meat-eating Muslims. With an army of his own employees and all the financial resources at his command, it took Ahmed several months to find a house on rent that satisfied his sense of status. He is still recovering from his sense of ‘hurt.’ 

Dalit feminist Ruth Manorama was reminded of her identity less than a year after she was honoured with the Alternative Nobel Prize or Right Livelihood Award. In 2007, Ruth wanted to shift her office from Jayanagar 4th Block to a more spacious building a few metres away. 

“It was a large house owned by a seemingly nice, English-speaking, elderly Brahmin couple," she says. But they refused to give her the house on rent. "After the award, I had been featured all over the newspapers and it was well known that I am Dalit and Christian,” she says.

The couple, retired scientists with a son working overseas, explained that they could not rent the house to a non-vegetarian. “I wanted the house for an office. It is not like I wanted to turn it into a Biriyani hotel,” she says, still smarting from the insult. 

Dalit poet and Chairman of the Kannada Book Authority Siddalingaiah had a similar experience in upper-caste and class dominated South Bangalore. 

“Because of my name, most house owners thought I was a [so-called upper caste] Lingayat. But my dark skin gave them doubts. They felt no shame in asking about my caste and I felt none in telling them that I am Dalit,” he says. The negotiations would quickly end after the house owners discovered his caste.

“For many house owners, we are dog-eaters, prostitutes or drug addicts,” says an office-bearer of the Naga Students’ Union who did not wish to be quoted. 

During the ‘Justice for Richard Loitam’ campaign in April, hundreds of students from the North-East took to the streets alleging that Richard was the victim of a hate crime. Several agitators had told The Hindu that they are treated as foreigners in Bangalore. Most complained they could not find a house on rent.

Bangalore’s real-estate industry has several prominent Muslim names. All of them denied the existence of an apartheid-like system when The Hindu spoke to them. None wished to be quoted on the controversial subject.

Seven Raj, the proprietor of the well known Sevenraj Estate Agency, says, “These things are very much there. But as far as possible, I don’t do business with communal-minded people.”

“I don’t have a religion and I don’t ask my clients theirs,” he says. 

According to him, the most guarded areas in the city are also those endowed with the best infrastructure. House owners in Jayanagar, Basavangudi, Malleshwaram, Sadashivnagar, Indiranagar, Rajajinagar, Upper Palace Orchards, Koramangala and J.P. Nagar hold some of the worst prejudices, says Seven Raj. 

“In these localities, neighbours gang up against an owner who dares to rent his house out to somebody from a lower caste or a minority community,” says M. Paari, a former Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike Corporator. 

Paari feels that much of the blame for segregation should go to agencies such as the Bangalore Development Authority. “A caste-wise survey of some of the residential layouts formed by the BDA will show that all the prime plots have gone to upper-caste applicants. Dalits and Muslims get allotments only in EWS (Economically Weaker Section) colonies,” he says. 

Paari’s claims of segregation are borne out by a study conducted by the NGO Jana Sahayog in 2004-05 titled ‘Anthropological Study of Slums in Bangalore.’ Isaac Arul Selva says, “Eighty-five per cent of Kannada-speaking slum residents were from the so-called untouchable communities. Sixty-five per cent of non-Kannada speaking residents were from communities considered untouchable.”

The property and real estate sections of free advertisement-only newspapers offer the best insight. Most advertisements titled ‘for vegetarians only’ were from areas such as Jayanagar, Basavangudi and Malleshwaram. 

The true meaning of ‘vegetarian only’ emerged when this reporter contacted some of these owners. “This is a Brahmin layout. We do not want any SC/STs,” said a woman before slamming the phone. “No Kashmiri Muslims. Other Muslims are ok,” said one owner from HRBR Layout. Another owner from HSR Layout said, “We don’t mind Muslims but we want only clean Muslims.” 

Lawyer Byatha N. Jagdeesha says, “Vegetarian only is just the code to say Brahmins only. If they put out what they actually mean, they can be booked under the Indian Penal Code and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.”


Chennai claims stronger secular credentials

Chennai Bureau

July 8, 2012

People from around the country looking for rental housing find the fast-growing city more welcoming, but non-vegetarians have fewer choices

This is a city of tenants - more than half of the population lives in rented houses. And every year, about 15,000 new migrants arrive and look for places to live. The city has been broadly accommodative. Religion has not been a major barrier, but rent does matter. However, food preferences could make or break a deal. A prospective tenant often faces the question, ‘what are you, veg or non-veg?’ In the land of curd rice, vegetarians have it easy.

A correspondent from this paper, posing as a prospective Muslim tenant, called a few house owners. In areas like Rajiv Gandhi Salai (OMR), Thiruvanmiyur and Adyar, where the rent for a typical two-bedroom apartment is above Rs. 10,000 a month, religion did not matter. The owners were prepared to rent it out to anyone who was ready to pay. But in areas such as Ambattur or Arumbakkam, which fetch relatively low rents, a few owners were a little reluctant. In their opinion, ‘Muslims consumed non-vegetarian food everyday’ and they did not, therefore, want to let out the house to them.

Such cases are few and far between, said R.V. Loganathan, a real estate agent who operates in Central and North Chennai. Muthukadu Rajesh, an experienced house broker in South Chennai, also has similar observations.

“I have been a broker for more than a decade and I have seen at the most four or five cases where Muslims and Christians were denied houses. But this is primarily because they are non-vegetarians.”

Faiza Moumin, a media professional, who has lived in three apartments in Chennai before she moved to Kerala, found it difficult to get a house five years ago. But her recent experience was better. “Earlier I have been refused apartments because I was a non-vegetarian, and it is not uncommon. Being a single woman added to the problem. But things have changed now,” she recalled.

Like Faiza, Fazul Ahmed who owns a mobile phone showroom, found it difficult to rent a house because many apartments were predominantly inhabited by “vegetarians”.

Reluctance to let out houses to non-vegetarians has affected non-Muslims too.

Sneha (name changed) and her family, who live in a semi-independent house in upmarket Raja Annamalaipuram, had to give up cooking non-vegetarian food to retain her rented house. “It took us over three months to find this place. The house owner insisted that we should not cook non-vegetarian food. We did not want to let go of this house. Hence, we gave up cooking non-vegetarian food. Now, we either eat out or bring food home when the owner who lives downstairs is not in town,” she said.

In recent years, Chennai has been playing host to many people from North-Eastern states who work in beauty parlours, restaurants and so on. Their experiences have been reassuring. G. Pratima and six of her friends, who come from a small town on the West Bengal-Bhutan border, did not face any difficulty in finding a house in Nanganallur. With some help from their employers, they have settled in this neighbourhood. “Idli, sambar, chappatis and rasam are our staple food. We can speak Tamil too. At times we cook chicken and so far there has not been any issue,” Monica said. “Neighbours and the landlord are friendly, and we too prefer to keep to ourselves,” she added.

Zubair Ahmed, an auto driver, added a note of caution. “All is not well with Chennai. A few of us have had bitter experiences,” he said.

“In the last thirty years, I have rented many houses owned by Hindus. But that was after a long search. Some house owners told me that I am a non-vegetarian, would not keep the house clean, and avoided me as a tenant. I vividly remember an incident when a house owner in Kodambakkam said that in the past, Muslim terrorists used to live in the neighbourhood. Hence he feared renting out his house to a Muslim even now. His prejudice was humiliating.”

A.Srivathsan, Asha Sridhar and Sunitha Sekar contributed to this report.