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Housing Apartheid - Light at the end of the Red Line?

Sunday, 10 November 2013 - 6:56pm IST Updated: Monday, 11 November 2013 - 2:12pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna webdesk

The 'Jacintha Real Estates case' shows that discrimination against Muslims (and Sikhs, Christians, non-vegetarians, single women, journalists, lawyers, live-in couples, stated homosexuals, and policemen) is a reality to confront and defeat

Shehzad Poonawalla, an activist-cum-lawyer co-located in Mumbai and Delhi, has employed the internet admirably to flag a shameful discriminatory practice in India’s housing market.

Resultant support on the social media, mostly twitter, has helped Poonawalla make mince meat of the impugned internet post by Jacintha Real Estates, a broker trying to sell a property in the Dadar locality, with “no muslims” cited as one of the amenities!

More power to young Shehzad and the time and energy he’s spent on questioning such shameful discrimination.

And full marks to the mainstream media for lending its weight to the campaign, giving the deeper malaise ‘play’ that it deserved.

That said, if truth be told, are Jacintha Real Estates the only ones indulging in India’s version of redlining?

Isn’t discrimination against Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, non-vegetarians, single women, journalists, lawyers, live-in couples, stated homosexuals, and policemen part of the DNA in our property market?

Correct me. If you’re in any one of these categories has renting a house been a straight affair?
Random perusal of every prominent web intermediary reconfirms that “apartheid” is the ugly underbelly of our nation’s realty market with Muslims at the top of those being targeted – partly because of their numbers, and, perhaps, the ghettos that exclusion, illiteracy and poverty have cross bred.

At the same time, the Supreme Court has upheld the “discrimination” practiced by a housing society of Zoroastrians http://indiankanoon.org/docfragment/713373/?formInput=parsi. Outside of India, listings “No Muslims,” “Muslims preferred,” and “Muslims only”! aren’t unheard of in job listings, say, in the Middle East.

It is comforting therefore that Poonawalla directed his plea Thursday to the National Commission for Minorities.

The NCM, chaired by Wajahat Habibullah, has a reputation of listening to complex arguments with sensitivity and for holding its horses till the larger context has been understood.

In the instant case, the internet intermediary, www.99acres.com, has volunteered to go beyond a technical defence. At Pg 11, in these rules, 99acres’s liability is limited to acting within 36 hours once a complaint is received.

Instead, the intermediary’s homepage has denounced discriminatory postings and offered additional robustness to the complaints process.

This challenges other intermediaries carrying similar posts, though one must point to an excellent blog that flags the inherent limits and contradictions in the rule book: “The IT Rules (are) prone to abuse, and (there’s) the possibility of their use to stifle criticism and free speech. Something might be distasteful, discriminatory and offensive, but not necessarily illegal.”

It would be comforting therefore if two immediate actions can emanate via NCM:

*  A harmonization of IT Rules, Shehzad’s petition, and 99acres.com’s proactive response, so that a draft advertising code can be circulated in conjunction with advertising bodies. Once finalized, intermediaries can adopt it and breath in peace.

*  Inclusion of all intermediaries in the matrimonial and job space in such a dialogue. Also, some high-quality social groups and international biggies like Facebook. Their servers are not located in India. So, a posting like Jacintha Real Estates doesn’t raise similar question marks on Mark Zuckerberg!

While all this is done, let charity begin at home. Let each landlord or housing society practicing discrimination see the impact this is having on the noble foundations of the idea of India.
For each one of us on the social media, is enough to troll one Jacinda Real Estates?
For every such brokerage posting, “no Muslims” as one of the amenities, isn’t one of us the client?

The columnist is a Harvard Business School alum and CEO & Co-Founder, India Strategy Group, Hammurabi & Solomon Consulting.

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