Same old story

It doesn’t matter if you can afford the house. It doesn’t matter what kind of a person you are. If you’re a Muslim, there are several people who don’t want you living next door.

This was highlighted once again when actor Emraan Hashmi was blocked from buying a flat in an upscale Bandra building allegedly because he is Muslim.

And it’s not just about people refusing to sell houses to Muslims. Many won’t buy Muslim-owned property either.

My family owns land in Panvel and about a decade ago we decided to sell it. We placed an ad in a newspaper and got several inquiries from potential buyers. One of them called my father and showed great interest. But, as soon as he heard we’re Muslims, he slammed down the phone.

This was around the time my father had applied for a credit card from a multinational bank. In time, a rejection with ‘Muslim self-employed’ scrawled across the envelope arrived.

I called up the bank and even went to its office. On learning that I was a journalist, its executives said they outsourced their background checks to other agencies and refused to accept any blame. An executive called and apologised to my father and offered to issue a card immediately. A team from the bank landed up at the office of the newspaper I then worked for and expressed regret.

I always thought that money — if nothing else — would break down barriers. After all, property dealers and credit card companies stood to earn great amounts. But I was stunned that they’d rather let that money go than do business with us.

As for the rejections by potential landlords and flat sellers, I’ve had my share of them too.

In October 2005, my wife, then two-year-old daughter and I shifted back from Pune and were hunting for a home.

We decided to look at houses in Vile Parle and Santa Cruz first because they seemed affordable. We may as well have not tried.

Brokers would hear our names and give us the “frankly speaking, you’d be better off elsewhere” line.

Some brokers took us dutifully to housing societies. Usually, the flat owners would be polite and give us a tour of the house. But many of them, as soon as they heard our names, took the broker aside and whispered something in his ear. The expression on those flat-owners’ faces was enough to tell us the deal wouldn’t go through.

One of them even told my wife flatly: “We won’t give you our house because you are Muslim.”

Most other times, as our broker gave us a knowing look, they’d smile sheepishly and say: “We’d love to strike a deal but, sadly, building residents object to non-vegetarians.” The ‘non-vegetarians not allowed’ line, we were told later, is the one most commonly used to keep Muslims out.

We gave up after a while.