By Lata Jha:Â
“Sorry, par hum lawyers ya law aspirants ko ghar nahi rent karte”, a friend’s status reeked of disgust and outrage at what was a comment on the country’s blatantly insincere attempts at secularism and inclusivity. She was incensed, and I could totally see her point of view.
In a country that prides itself on its plurality and egalitarianism, being able to get a home in a particular locality is not something I would stop expecting out of sheer disillusionment. I’d be sad and ashamed if it didn’t happen, despite all my cynicism. You’d think we’d have come a long way from the times of Partition when the sight of people from another religion or community brought out the irrational beast in us. But as it turns out, we haven’t really come that long a way. Wrapped beneath the sheath of values like tolerance and brotherhood that we so proudly espouse, in the smallest, simplest of things lay our infamous stereotypes. The fact that even today we can’t socialise with people from another religion, that we think they are not ‘us’, or that people who do certain kinds of jobs would bring a bad name to the entire space they reside in. Why we think so, of course, is not something we have time to analyse or discuss.
A reputed female investigative journalist who once came to college spoke of how her neighbours would talk among themselves in whispers about her late working hours, and the fact that she went to the places she did, and talked to the kind of people she did, and even advised her parents that they move. That she was doing such a brilliant job at exposing scams and making her family so proud wasn’t something they would even begin to consider.
Residence is arguably one of the necessities of life. For everyone like you and me who toils in the city, it is important to know that they can, at the end of the day, come back somewhere they feel safe, accepted and loved.
Forget about you and me, people rolling in money, including celebrities belonging to particular religions, have faced issues in getting homes in certain parts of the city and country. One’s heart breaks when they speak of how they don’t know what to do with the millions they make, when they can’t build a simple (read, swanky) nest for their loved ones.
Secular and tolerant neighbourhoods shouldn’t be the stuff satirical blogs are made of. They shouldn’t be distant dreams like a bureaucracy that isn’t corrupt or radio stations that offer variety in their daily output. It is something we should be able to manage and produce for ourselves and for our children.
In this long journey that democracy, republicanism and the mixed economy have had in our country, we’ve come to a point where almost everything is out in the public domain. We travel together, we eat together, we shop together. There’s no escaping each other. You don’t bother if the lady at the next table in a restaurant is wearing a veil, do you? You don’t step out of the metro if the guy travelling with you is carrying a stethoscope, do you? We don’t care who they are or what they do. Why then do we deny them residence anywhere in the country that is as much theirs as ours?
I won’t preach about the need for tolerance and brotherhood in this era. If your tradition and values do not allow you to fraternise with your neighbours, so be it. Be civil and cordial; don’t deny them the right to live there.
Our ‘unmanifesto’ would certainly entail such discriminating localities and authorities, and such neglect of these issues. You as a minister could be comfortably ensconced in your kothi but people of your own religion could be running from pillar to post for a two bedroom flat.
The ‘unmanifesto’ in the larger picture demands giving up such discriminatory attitudes altogether. But since that happens to be beyond the capabilities of any one government that might come to power, one could at least hope for attempts to construct more inclusive living spaces and firm punishment for those who deny these to others. We are one country. And notwithstanding all our cynicism, we shall always be one.
We are happy to invite youÂ on behalf of ComMutiny – The Youth Collective and Pravah to the following event:
“Democracy Demo: Youth create Un-Manifesto for 2013-13 Elections”
Date: 23rd February, 2013
Venue: Â Vishwa Yuvak Kendra, Circular Road, Teen Murti Marg, (Opp Chanakyapuri Police Station)
This article is a part of the 5th space series on Youth Ki Awaaz. 5th Space is an initiative toÂ facilitate young people to expand beyond the typical 4 spaces of career-edu, family, friends and leisure by exploring the 5th space, a journey from self to society and back. For more information visit the 5th Space Facebook page.