In September this year, the police detained 11 members of a residential colony in Mumbai’s Vasai suburb for disrupting communal harmony in the society. They had refused to issue a No Objection Certificate to a Muslim man who wanted to buy a flat in the building.
“Muslims gandagi phailate hain (Muslims are dirty),” Vikarahmed Khan, 32, a glass merchant from Vasai, claims to have been told by the members.
The secretary of the building had reportedly written a letter to Kantaben Patel – the person whose flat Khan was supposed to buy – to sell the flat to all but a Muslim “in the interest of the members of the society”, as the building did not want a non-vegetarian family.
- Buyers are denied a house by builders due to their religion, caste, gender, sexual orientation, dietary choices
- Keeping this in mind, the Centre decided to include an anti-discriminatory clause in The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA)
- However, while drafting its rules, Maharashtra State Government omitted this particular clause
- If the state does not take a clear stand, it gives license to fragmentation of the society
- The dilution of the Centre’s law by the state would benefit the builders across the state
Hazards of Omitting the Anti-Discriminatory Law
“Keeping in mind the endemic of such instances across the country, the centre, while drafting rules to facilitate The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA) for the Union Territories in India, included an anti-discriminatory clause. However, while drafting its rules, Maharashtra State Government has omitted this particular clause, among a few other deviations, citing the constitution already guarantees the equal right, which is why a categorical rule is not necessary.”
Even though the anti-discriminatory clause of the Centre is supposed to provide recourse to buyers who are denied a house by builders due to their religion, caste, gender, sexual orientation, dietary choices and so on, experts say it is not specific or strong enough because it does not detail the types of discrimination.
“I think the anti-discriminatory clause is inadequate and could have been stronger,” said Chandrashekhar Prabhu, a respected Mumbai-based town-planner. “But it was at least there. The omission of the clause would further strengthen those who are trying to create divisions in the society.”
Housing Minister Prakash Mehta did not respond to calls. However, Under Secretary Prashant Badgeri, refusing to comment on the particular issue, only said the rules are open to suggestions and objections until 23 December.
The state’s defence is that the omission of the anti-discriminatory clause would have no tangible impact on the ground because everyone is bound by the Constitution and the police would have to act against discrimination, since it is unconstitutional.
Finding a Room of One’s Own
Asim Sarode, a well-known lawyer based in Pune, said that even though the Indian Penal Code would be applicable in such cases to an extent, the fight against discrimination would intensify with this dilution. “What was the harm in keeping the clause?” he asked. “When we have rampant practices of discrimination, we need a rule to underline the constitutional right. The police force, which in any case is not very cooperative, would have had more clarity.”
A recent UN study had noted that Muslims find it most difficult to rent or buy a flat in Delhi-NCR region. In Mumbai, the situation is not very different either. There is an unspoken code of conduct, prevalent across the urban centres in Maharashtra, where high rises and redevelopment projects are picking up. The discrimination is so blatant, Vikarahmed Khan said the denial of a flat in Mumbai no longer comes as a surprise.
Sadly, the ghettoisation of the city through housing has ensured Mumbai – once proudly hailed as a melting pot – has now been reduced to a salad bowl.
Why Can’t the State Take a Clear Stand?
With Gujarati and Marvaris being predominant in Malad area of the suburban Mumbai, cases of non-vegetarians being denied a flat in the locality have been reported in the past.
In South Mumbai, militant vegetarians have driven a few restaurants in the vicinity to go “pure veg”. Areas like Mumbra or Mohammad Ali Road are densely populated with only Muslims. There are unapologetic advertisements of “Gujarati Society” or “Brahmin Society”.
“The state has tried to downplay the hard reality on the ground, which is rampant in places like Mumbai, Pune, Nasik, Nagpur etc,” said Sarode, referring to the exclusion of the anti-discriminatory clause.
“We live in the times of contradictions and hypocrisy. And when the state does not take a clear stand, it gives license to fragmentation of the society. It is detrimental to our democratic values.”
The Supreme Court in 2005 had missed a trick and ruled against the Parsi owner of the bungalow in Zoroastrian Cooperative Housing Society Limited in Mumbai, who wanted to sell the plot to developers.
He approached the courts when he was challenged, since the society bylaws did not allow selling or renting plots to non-Parsis. The apex court cited the Maharashtra and Gujarat Cooperative Societies Acts of 1962, which many societies use to cultivate homogeneity. While preserving and cultivating one’s own culture is important, the act cited by Supreme Court is often misused as a garb to conceal prejudice.
Prabhu said the law is meant to be inclusive, and the rules cannot in letter or spirit be different from the law itself. “The dilution of the Centre’s law by the state would benefit the builders across the state,” he said.
“If a builder announces that in a particular building, nobody will eat non-vegetarian food, then those who want to benefit from it will pay premium. If he shuns a particular community or keeps a building limited for a particular community, it will fetch him premium for his houses. Essentially, the builders benefit from the blatant violation of the Constitution. And the state government is encouraging these tendencies.”
(The writer is special correspondent with LA Times. He can be reached at @parthpunter. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. )