Discrimination against Muslims in renting out homes is not just due to the larger communal polarisation but also triggered by the fear factor over what has come to be dubbed as “Islamic terror.”
While it is only a miniscule section of the minority community that has taken to divisive activities, the wrong picture painted about Muslims by the media and security agencies has intimidated people from accepting members of the minority community as their tenants.
Homeowners to whom the Express spoke to contended that such pressures to deny homes to Muslim families stems not from personal bias against the community, but from lingering social issues.
“It stems from different things. There is a perception among the public, fuelled in part by media reports that our homes could become spawning grounds for activities of subversion,” a house owner said, requesting anonymity.
“Even the police victimise the Muslim community. No homeowner wants to have that looming over his head that if any untoward incident occurs, the owner of the house could be investigated by the police for the activities of the tenants,” he added.
Agreeing, Jamat-e-Islami public relations secretary, Abdul Hakkim, said the blanket stereotyping of the community is the major reason why financially backward Muslims tend to cluster in specific areas in Coimbatore.
“Most Muslims tend to be small-to-medium businessmen. The number of those in government service is negligible and there tends to be a sense of mistrust of the community, resulting in various forms of social boycott, with refusing homes being just one facet,” he added.
In contrast, in less opulent neighbourhoods like Podanur and Ukkadam (where Muslims are concentrated) it is relatively easier to get homes on rent.
A R Basheer Ahamed, president, Coimbatore District United Jamaat, an umbrella organisation of 125 mosques, said, “It is true that discrimination exists for every minority, and the denial of homes to Muslims is camouflaged in numerous ways. Like some home owners put up boards saying that they would not entertain non-vegetarians tenants.”
According to him, the only avenue to battle persistent stereotyping and discrimination is to have constructive talks with other communities and also Hindutva outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Munnani.
Renowned sociologist Sudha Sitharaman, who was part of a fact finding committee deputed to Kashmir in the late nineties, pointed out that the discrimination, though localised and pronounced in certain pockets in Tamil Nadu, is part of the fallout from both national and international issues.
Sudha said that Afghanistan’s opium wars, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and the selective and false perception of history of Mughal rule in India, have had effects on how Muslims are perceived to be anti-national by society at large.
“When I was in Kashmir, the security forces did not even carry out any checks as they believed that I was a Hindu. But Kashmiris face severe repressive measures and forced checks every day. Such issues do influence how people perceive a community,” she argued.
“The Sachar Committee report of 2006 shows just how deep the problem is for Muslims who want to rent homes. If things are to get better, we need to find ways of fighting this mindset that all Muslims are conservative, aggressive and anti-India,” she added.