Does religion decide the tenancy?

CHENNAI: It may be referred as Detroit of South Asia and one of the most happening metros in the country. But try getting a house for rent — even as a family, and surprises may bring you to your knees. A large section of home-owners in Chennai do not want to give their homes for rent to people from other communities.

‘Only Vegetarians’ — the phrase that is a common in many of the to-let boards in the city — is often a subtle way of conveying the message that ‘tenants from a particular vegetarian community’ are acceptable. But the tendency is not just confined to any particular community. Even many Christian and Muslim home owners prefer people from the same religion as their tenants.

M Logeshwaran, a software engineer in a private firm in the city, was on a house hunt near T Nagar and Mambalam and says he was denied at least six houses because he was a non-vegetarian. “Should I give up eating non-vegetarian to get a house?” asks Logeshwaran. “Nearly 40% of the people who reside in Chennai have come from other cities, towns and states for a living. In such cases, finding a house suiting our needs is itself a task. But it’s unreasonable to expect to change our food habits just to get a house for rent!”

It doesn’t stop there. Though much has been written and spoken about the discrimination based on religion and caste and the need to abolish such biases, when it comes to getting a house for rent, the issue of social equality takes a back seat. While most house owners are subtle in driving home their point, there are a few who are blatant in their discrimination. ‘Only for Christians’ or ‘for Hindus only’ are common reasons cited by home-owners.

V Karthick, recently moved to the city, had decided to stay with four friends. That is when he knew how difficult it was to get a decent accommodation. “Three of my friends including me belonged to different religions. This fact did not affect us, when we decided to rent a house together. But two places we called up to inquire about a house, they specifically told us it was available only for Christians,” says Karthick.

Chitra Swaminathan, a house owner says, “We are particular about renting our house only to vegetarians. This is only because we want the house to be clean, as we plan to stay in the same house after a few years. And we eat only vegetarian, that is the reason we prefer only veggies.”

Similarly, V Shanthi, another house owner in Velachery, said if the tenants cook non-vegetarian food and they do not dispose the waste properly, “it would be disgusting! To avoid such situations we inform prospective tenants that the house is only for vegetarians,” she says.

However, some home-owners say that if a community accommodates the same kind of people, it’s easier to follow their traditional practices and customs. Dr S Raja Samuel, principal, Madras School of Social Work, says, “India is known for diversity as it welcomes people from different religious backgrounds. So such restrictions are pointless, because you are going to meet the same people outside. There is no ‘only vegetarian theatre’ or ‘vegetarian school’.”

S Sudharasan, associate professor, department of social work, Madras Christian College, says while the society has started accepting inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, an issue with the accommodation is a major concern. “There should be a psychological change among people to bridge the gap,” he says.

‘Landlords Refused Us as Tenants as My Fiancé Was a Muslim’

When you’re about to be married into a joint family, finding a house (for rent) that can accommodate seven people is difficult. I was prepared for questions on our education and economic status, sky-high rent, badly maintained homes and even unreasonable rental agreements that would restrict use of water, electricity, parking etc.

Not in a million years did I expect families to turn me down just because my fiancé happened to be a Muslim. For more than five months we searched for a house, and almost all of them told us: ‘We don’t give homes to Muslims’. The questions were mostly about religion and caste. And the second they knew I was a Brahmin girl marrying a Muslim boy, unsolicited opinions and advice would begin. ‘Why are you marrying a Muslim? Why are you throwing our culture away? Do your parents know about this? Muslim men can have four wives, don’t you know that?’ Yes, I certainly did but men and women cheat — irrespective of culture and religion. But nobody wanted to listen to my argument or even talk to us!

In fact, a few landlords couldn’t believe we had our families’ blessing. People would invite me into their homes but not my fiancé. Some turned us down at the gate itself. If my fiancé had the misfortune to meet any of them, they would bombard him with questions like ‘Why are you ruining a Brahmin girl’s life? That I was shocked is an understatement. Initially, it would make me physically ill to listen to this but my fiancé was unperturbed. He said ‘No point in arguing with them. It is what it is…’

Finally, we rented a house from an elderly Hindu couple. There weren’t any comments or unnecessary questions about our relationship. It was much later I found out that their daughter-in-law was a Christian.

Credits New Indian Express

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