| No room for unwanted neighbours
By Vaishnavi C Sekhar/TNN
Mumbai: In the cosmopolitan chaos of the modern city, the original
tribe still rules the roost. Last week, the supreme court upheld the
right of a housing cooperative society to restrict membership on the
basis of community and profession. However, the court also clarified
that it must operate within the rules of the state. Since Maharashtra’s
cooperative act stipulates open membership, the apex court judgment
is unlikely to have any immediate impact on Mumbai unless the state
government chooses to amend the law.
The judgment has, however, brought to the fore the conflict between
the very human desire to choose one’s neighbours—and especially to
live with one’s own tribe—and the right of an individual to reside
anywhere he pleases. Indeed, reactions from city residents have exposed
the paradox of modern Mumbai—even as economic opportunity and satellite
TV homogenises urban identity, making class markers ostensibly more
important than caste, the bonds of community refuse to die.
Historically, Mumbai was built up through enclaves like Parsi Colony
and Hindu Colony in Dadar, community welfare projects that helped
migrants find their place in the city. In recent years, community
feeling is asserting itself in new and, some say, dangerous ways.
Citing the ghettoisation that followed the 1993 riots, many like activist
for communal harmony Feroze Mithiborwalla fear that the judgment will
set a “dangerous precedent’’ for legalising social biases. Muslims
already find it exceptionally difficult to get housing finance and
to buy flats in predominantly Hindu localities, while in recent years,
builders in suburbs like Mulund and Ghatkopar have found it lucrative
to build temples along with swimming pools and unofficially market
their projects to vegetarians.
‘No need to give legal basis to communal bias’
By Vaishnavi C Sekhar/TNN
Mumbai: Thirty-three-yearold Quaid Doongerwala, an architect married
to a Maharashtrian Brahmin, says he is routinely turned down when
house-hunting. “Initially, it isn’t a problem perhaps because I don’t
fit in with people’s idea of a Muslim, but once they hear my name,
the deal is over,’’ he says, adding, “Some landlords tell me ashamedly,
some matter-of-factly, and some pityingly.’’
It is in this context of discrimination that many Mumbaikars have
expressed dismay at the recent apex court judgment upholding the right
of housing societies to restrict membership on the basis of community.
“Communal bias might be a social reality but there is no need to give
it a legal basis,’’ says peace activist Feroze Mithiborwala. After
the 1993 riots, Muslims fled mixed localities for their own, a phenomenon
repeated in the Gujarat riots of 2002.
Others like property expert Vinod Sampat hold that such a restriction
would violate a citizen’s f u n d a m e n t a l right to move freely
in India. “The verdict is an extension of the constitutional freedom
to belong to a particular religious denomination or political ideology.
The CPI, for instance, would perhaps never take Nusli Wadia as its
member,’’ says senior lawyer J P Cama, adding, “If I can exclude others
from my own place of worship, why can’t I do so with my residence?’’
(In contrast, charity institutions like the Bohra-run Saifi hospital
have lost legal battles to restrict services to their own community.)
For legal minds, the real question is about inter-racial marriages.
“What happens when a Parsi man marries a non-Parsi or vice versa?
Would the wife inherit the house in an all-Parsi housing society?
Can the society throw her out?’’ asks Bombay Bar Association head
Rafiq Dada. Former registrar of cooperatives of Mumbai R Vagh feels
that in such cases, the inheritance laws would likely prevail over
the society bye-laws.
A few years ago, the Zoroastrian Radih Society, promoters of the Parsi
enclave of Behrambaug in Jogeshwari, lost a case in the Bombay high
court against resident Pervin Jogina, who inducted her non-Parsi daughter-in-law
into her flat. “It is not about insularity,’’ insists Behrambaug priest
Marzban Hathiram. “When we distribute ourselves thinly in cultureless,
concrete structures, there is no life in that. Intermingling leads
to dilution of cultures.’’
Given the fact that different parts of the city evolved with distinct
community identities—Maharashtrians in Girgaum, Gujaratis in Kalbadevi,
South Indians in Matunga—one might say that Mumbai’s reputation for
cosmopolitanism rests on the presence of multiple ethnic groups rather
than their ability to live amicably next door. But some old-time residents
say that there is a distinction—once, the borders between community
spaces were blurred, today they have hardened.
The old societies were created by communities coming together and
acquiring land, or by a community trust donating money for it. “So,
there is some justification for restrictions, unlike today’s co-operatives
where it’s purely a property transaction,’’ says Mahesh Kalyanpur,
resident of Saraswat colony Talmakiwadi, Tardeo, adding that it was
because of such community housing that IT czar Nandan Nilekani could
live in Mumbai as a student.
“It’s natural that people would want to flock together with their
own kind. Even in New York you have localities dominated by different
migrant groups. But when it becomes a norm, it has a different connotation,’’
says pyshcologist Sandeep Pendse, adding that while “a multicultural
society cannot be legislated into existence, one must oppose rules
which create obstacles to its creation.’’
Sociologists see two contradictory forces operating in the city—first,
increasing social divisions which “are setting back the project of
national integration’’, and second, homogenisation brought about by
economic and social liberalisation.
Which will win? The answer perhaps lies in the story of the Salsette
Catholic Housing Cooperative Society in Bandra. Set up in 1918 to
help house the Christian community, the society stipulated that members
could not sell to non-Catholics. At that time, there were only bungalows
but these were eventually brought down for buildings to house the
Each building formed its own society, and after some years, flat owners
began to migrate to other countries, selling their flats, sometimes
to outsiders. “If you sell it to a particular community, you might
not get the market price since your choice of buyers is restricted
and our community is largely from the salaried class,’’ explains Ernest
Fernandes, a Bandra resident who feels that such change is not only
inevitable but healthy. “A diversity of residents will help improve
understanding among the different communities.’’
(With inputs from Swati Deshpande and Nauzer Bharucha)