Why Segregated Housing Is Thriving in India

Soutik Biswas, BBC News, December 10, 2014

Rizwan Kadri runs an architecture firm with three partners, all Hindus, in India’s western city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat state.

Son of a revenue official, he grew up in mixed neighbourhoods. In 2002, massive anti-Muslim riots sparked by the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, left more than 1,000 people dead in Gujarat.

A few months before the riots, Mr Kadri moved out with his wife and son from a mixed neighbourhood where he had lived for 24 years to a Muslim apartment building in Juhapura, one of India’s largest Muslim ghettos, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

A year later, his ageing parents joined them. “The move was prompted by concerns over safety more than anything else,” says Mr Kadri.

Ahmedabad, the main city of Gujarat, which was ruled by the new PM Narendra Modi for more than a decade, is among the many Indian cities where segregated housing is alive and well.

A range of old reasons like caste and cultural differences–and some relatively new ones such as migration and religious tensions–have led to a proliferation of what urban sociologist Loic Wacquant, referring to ghettos in French and American cities, has described as “neighbourhoods of exile”.

Juhapura, an obscure village-turned-ghetto of some 400,000 Muslims, is one such neighbourhood of exile.

The heart of this dystopian sprawl is clogged with narrow lanes, tumbledown tenements, overflowing sewers and rubbish mountains. Public transport stays away from the neighbourhood. The wider streets are lined by a rash of new high-rise gated Muslim properties costing up to 6 million rupees (£62,000). A forthcoming gated 14-storey property with some 800 apartments promises a mall, club, separate gyms for men and women, prayer rooms and mosque.

Ghettos are also a great leveller: the stench of rubbish wafts from the grubby low-slung tenements to Mr Kadri’s apartment just a mile away, the air is polluted, and the streets are bumpy and pockmarked.

Segregation has inevitably led to curious business opportunities. Sensing that mixed neighbourhoods were fast disappearing and even well-to-do-Muslims were finding it a problem to buy property, Ahmedabad-based entrepreneur Mohammed Ali Husain began a property fair connecting Muslim builders with buyers.

More than 40,000 potential buyers have turned up for the two fairs he’s held so far, checking out and buying housing offered by 25 Muslim builders.

“Earlier communities lived in segregated neighbourhoods for cultural reasons,” say Mr Husain. “Now the reason is the fear of the other.”

Deep divisions

In a deeply divided and hierarchical society like India, segregated living–and housing–has existed for centuries.

Mumbai has community-based “vegetarian only” housing societies. Delhi and Calcutta have Muslim ghettos, crowded, run-down and neglected. A planned apartment coming up in Delhi promises “dream homes for elite Muslim brotherhood”.

Ahmedabad has been always divided on caste, community and religious lines. But, as analysts say, the ghettoisation was relative in the sense that Muslim-dominated areas co-existed with Hindu-dominated ones.

“These mixed neighbourhoods disappeared after Muslims became the main victims in communal riots which have gone on a par with their growing socio-economic marginalisation,” write Christophe Jaffrelot and Charlotte Thomas in their study of ghettoisation in Ahmedabad.

The divisions of the past appeared to be more cultural in nature; the divisions of today appear to be rooted in fear, distrust and anomie.

Mr Kadri says he was picking up an order at a burger chain drive-thru a few years ago when he overheard the manager asking one of his delivery boys to not to deliver to Juhapura because, “people will chop you into pieces if you go there”.

Rising urbanisation was expected to blur religious and social boundaries, but that hasn’t happened fully.

So despite the fact that more than a third of India’s Muslims live in cities and towns–making them the most urbanised community of a significant size–poverty and discrimination continues to easily push them into ghettos.

Even Dalits–formerly known as untouchables–who escape the stifling caste-based discrimination of their villages to live and work in the cities find that they still end up living in ghettos.

Kamlesh Revabhai Chauhan is a Dalit builder in Ahmedabad who helps his community members find cheap homes.

He says he has built some 150 tenements and apartments in the last two decades, costing anything between 300,000 and 2 million rupees.

These days, he is building 90 more properties–tiny, self-contained apartments–in Sarkhej on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

“Dalits are not given housing or shelter by other communities, so they buy homes from me in Dalit areas. They sell their land in the villages and buy homes here,” he says.

His homes have been bought by policemen, clerks, factory workers, and traders.

Unkempt tenements

Azadnagar Fathewadi is one such Dalit ghetto.

The better-off residents live in bigger, brightly painted homes, while the poorer ones live in poky, unkempt tenements on a different street.

Naresh Parmar, who lives in a two-bedroom 140 sq yard house with air-conditioning and running water, rents out his two road rollers for a living.

Ten years ago, he bought this house from Mr Chauhan for five million rupees. There is a swing and a rope-bed on the verandah.

“This is like my village. I like the environment. When it becomes crowded like the city, I will pack up and go back to the village,” he says.

There is almost what many say is a consensual silence on segregated living.

Last month, Mumbai’s municipality passed a resolution saying it should stall a residential project if the builder plans to sell it on “grounds of caste, religion or food preferences”. It is not clear whether this can be enforced.

In the end, segregated housing–now increasingly driven by religious discrimination–is a blight on India’s progress.

“This marks the end of intimacy and formal integration of communities that every modern, civilised society needs,” says political psychologist Ashis Nandy.

Mr Kadri, 45, offers his example to show how such segregation is harming India. “I am what I am because I grew up in a cosmopolitan environment in mixed neighbourhoods,” he says.

“Unfortunately my 12-year-son does not have the same privilege as he’s growing up in a ghetto. This is a big tragedy. We are moving backwards.”

Topics: , ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • JackKrak

    I don’t need too many fingers to count the things we can learn from India but this is one of them – in a ridiculously ‘multicultural’ society, you stick with your own and support your own. Every other group is looking out for themselves and you’re a fool not to do the same.

    • Reynardine

      Leftists love the vegetarianism, tolerance, and spiritual practices of the Hindus. They don’t like how the Hindus had to maintain those.

      • newscomments70

        Liberals have selective memory. They like Darwinism as well, but only the convenient parts.

        • Charles Martel

          They think evolution stopped at the neck

  • MekongDelta69

    Was this article about India or Britain?

    Never mind – they’re (sadly) becoming the same…

    • Jon Doe


  • Roninf9

    Segregation is normal and natural. It takes the point of a bayonet to make it otherwise.

    • Reynardine

      The Indian Caste system – with enforcement of separate living, eating, marriage, and religious practices – is the only way to guarantee the survival of any ethnicity in an ethnically mixed country. Many Indian peoples, recorded even as far back by the Ancient Greeks, have been fundamentally unchanged and have preserved ancient heritages that would have been otherwise demolished by those seeking to “breed up” or assimilate them.

      • Roninf9

        The Indo-Aryans gave it the old college try but even that system was worn down over the centuries. There may be some preserved groups but India is swamped. It’s literally an open air toilet. The Japanese are the premier example of a people preserving themselves. They kept outsiders out and still do for the most part but they have the advantage of being on an island.

        • Reynardine

          Think baby steps. First segregate, then separate.

  • MBlanc46

    The joys of diversity. Coming soon to a country near yours. And, by the way, when he says Mumbai, he means Bombay.

  • libertarian1234

    I can’t help but think that these over populated nations are living on the precipice of total disaster due to the fact that food and water are becoming scarce resources and the interruption of either via man made means or natural causes will cause an historical calamity that could well be of gigantic proportions. Something that will snowball into a danger for all of humanity.

    And it is a threat that could occur almost any time, because provisions have NEVER been made to offset or mitigate such a possibility.

    The talk is of growth not of conservation, and the elites are pushing the world forward with reckless abandon in their never ending quest for more money and power.

    • Deiter Botha

      What are you talking about? This article has nothing to do with your pagan earth worship jibber jabber.

      • Screamin_Ruffed_Grouse

        Huh? How did you get dirt worship out of that?

        • Deiter Botha

          I guess it was the mention of conservation as well as the suggestion of over population. This type of thinking tends to be of the Gaia crowd. Sorry for the delayed response but I’m working a lot of overtime so I can afford to get away from diversity.

          • Screamin_Ruffed_Grouse

            I get that, I suppose. But the points L1234 made sounded quite practical to me. India’s population is enormous and extremely densely concentrated. Two conditions that make resource shortages both more likely and more devastating. I don’t know about worldwide snowballing, but it’s not inconceivable, and if anyone is making provisions for such events (globally or locally) I’m unaware of it.

            As for escaping diversity, I totally get it. Good luck.

      • Charles Martel

        It would be a good idea to have a months worth of food just so you could avoid die verse city riots like with Saint Liquor Store Robber

    • benvad

      The Greenpeace rant blog is elsewhere.

  • Bobbala

    I wish there was such thing as a white racist ghetto but we can’t keep the oppressed negros out.

    • UncleSham

      Your typical trailer park is basically a White ghetto in many parts of the country. Although its not really the same as a Black ghetto because the government doesn’t pay for you to live there.

      • newscomments70

        Where I live, trailer parks are a way working and middle class can live next to the ocean. Also, many trailer parks are places for working class to vacation…such as next to a lake. I’ve known people who lived in trailer parks that were hard working and tax-paying. The term “trailer trash” disgusts me. It is an arrogant and racist term. There are trailer parks for meth addicts on welfare, and they are mostly multi racial.

        • UncleSham

          The trailer parks by me all seem much Whiter than the apartment complexes, except for one which is mostly Mexican. I don’t see many Black people living in trailer parks. This is true for the nicer ones as well as the ones filled with drug addicts. Trailer parks are increasingly becoming the only way for working class Whites to avoid living next door to Blacks. Renting a house is actually cheaper in many cases near where I live, but a trailer for a similar price can put you a few miles farther away from the city and into a White school district.

          • newscomments70

            My experience with trailer parks are in the Northeast, California, and Fort Lauderdale area. Actually there are some amazing trailer parks for middle income retirees and over 55. I often see double wide manufactured homes in these places. It’s a cheaper way of living in peace and quiet, away from urban thugs. I have never seen a stereotype trailer park with Bubba and Earl. I imagine they exist though.

      • Bill Moore

        Hello Uncle Sham,

        I live in a trailer park. I own several houses that I rent out, and I do the maintenance on my place and on the the rentals.

        I moved here to be close to my mother when she was getting old, so I could take care of her. And when she went into a nursing home, I stayed. I gave her trailer to a relative.

        I actually enjoy living here. Trailers are all on one floor, and everything is conveniently placed. Repairs are usually easier than on a house. The neighbors are all nice folks.

        What could be better than that?

        Bill Moore

        • UncleSham

          That sounds like a pretty good situation, Bill. There is nothing better than living in a community with people you can trust and get along with. Hopefully some day in the future that can become more common again.

    • benvad

      So true.

  • Given the way Muslims have behaved in Britain – and everywhere else – I don’t blame Indian Hindus and Sikhs one bit for not wanting to live near them.

  • rightrightright

    “These mixed neighbourhoods disappeared after Muslims became the main victims in communal riots which have gone on a par with their growing socio-economic marginalisation,”

    Moslems attack Hindus who bash them back, hard. The Kuffar isn’t supposed to do that so the Moslems see themselves as victims.

    When Moslems can’t prop themselves up on loot from the Kuffar and state handouts from the Kuffar, the result is ‘growing socio-economic marginalisation’. Islam standing on its own two legs doesn’t amount to much.

  • newscomments70

    For some strange reason, black criminals are worshipped, and it is against the law to segregate them in any way.

  • Charles Martel

    Their untouchable people actually work

  • dukem1

    India needs more diversity! Don’t they know what a strength it is?