Sanghati Abhijan (SA), a voluntary group in India’s Kolkata state recently initiated an “Open-a-Door” campaign to resolve the woes of several Muslim rent seekers turned away by Hindu landlords, The Hindureported.
Numerous Muslims reported that they were denied shelter by the letting parties solely for being Muslim.
After a long search, Dr Aftab Alam and his three friends finally found a place to rent in South Kolkata, but shortly after moving in a neighbor informed their landlord that they were all Muslims.
Consequently, they were told to pack their bags and leave as, “Four Muslim men staying in a predominantly Hindu neighbourhood” was considered ‘problematic’.
Dr Alam recounted the story of their eviction, saying “It was disheartening. I rented the flat to the rest after strenuous night shifts. Suddenly, the peace was disrupted…[we had] huge expectations from Kolkata.”
Alam took his grievance to social media where it came to the notice of SA group who directly approached him. SA’s volunteers resolved the acrimonious situation by engaging peacefully with the neighbours, the landlord and the tenants themselves.
“We thank them for their support at a critical time,” says Dr Alam as the Open-a-door campaign saved him from the hassle of relocating, but Alam and his friends were not the only ones facing this alienation.
An undergraduate student, Tanvi Sultana allegedly bore the brunt of “communal remarks” while looking for a flat in South Kolkata. She said that she was warned not to bring beef to her residence. However, with reconciliatory efforts made by SA volunteers, Sultana continued to reside in the same apartment. “I thank them and wish for the initiative to grow,” she said.
The group developed a database that provides a list of houses, apartments and guest houses along with information about their location and contact details. A social media group called ‘People’s Unity’ to facilitate rent seekers who can meet and get to know owners in person. These interactions set the foundation of improved tenant-landowner relations.
“We only enlist property owners who are keen on letting out accommodation without discriminating against a particular faith or on the basis of marital status,” said Dwaipayan Banerjee, one of SA’s co-founders.
However, Banerjee admits that the ratio of prospective tenants versus property owners is far outnumbered.
SA volunteers sounded optimistic saying that they are driven towards breaking, “the culture of silence” which could “curb rising Islamophobia”.
Another student, Anindya Ray Ahmed was told by brokers, “Muslims are dirty and potential terrorists.” Ray was rejected by 16 landlords and one landlady called him after accepting the deposit saying that her husband had “a problem with Muslims”, so he could not stay. She later returned his money by lowering a bag from her balcony as did not want to “stand near a Muslim”.
While the SA encourages direct interaction the platform has seen many virtual standoffs between the two communities. The Facebook page witnessed 150 such disagreements and yet they continue to eradicate these attitudes.
The Express Tribune