Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Infrastructure growth but...

In a response to my last posting, vbalki pointed out that we Indians are no better than Americans when it comes to social prejudice. It wasn't hard to find a story that nicely illustrates his point. The article Developed Ahmedabad denies Muslim professor a homecoming that appeared early last year in the Ahmedabad Times, recounts how Prof. Javed Malik, originally from Baroda, found it hard to return to his native Gujarat because he is a Muslim. Having worked at IIT Kanpur for the last 11 years, he was tempted by a faculty position at the recently established IIT Gandhinagar but was turned away from every upmarket housing society solely because of his religion. In what has become a very familiar story, things would go fine until his religion was revealed and then the deal would suddenly fall through. The only open option was to reside in a Muslim ghetto 25 km away from IIT, something he rightly did not wish to do. Prof. Malik commented to the press that Ahmedabad has "excellent infrastructure growth but no mental growth".

The story is over a year old, so I thought I would do some fact-checking. What I found, just now, is that the website of IIT Kanpur still shows a Prof. Javed Malik, Civil Engineering. The website of IIT Gandhinagar not only has no mention of him, but has not a single Muslim name among its faculty. I think we can safely assume that Prof. Malik went back to Kanpur, and after his experience Muslim scientists decided they would not try to look for housing in the town named after Mahatma Gandhi. Though Prof. Malik's story appeared in the press long ago, I couldn't find any online evidence that any politician or ministry or minorities commission or court intervened. So it's still business as usual out there.

Though this story is often used for Modi-bashing, for once I don't think it's his fault (and nor is it Sonia/Rahul's fault, though so many believe them to be the root of all evil in our country!). The remarkable thing is that such blatant and ignorant discrimination is practised not by uneducated villagers, but by the upwardly mobile residents of elegant housing complexes. Even in the stylish new developments in Pune there are signs warning against "renting out to bachelors and foreigners". This is a general statement of prejudice but also comfortably covers the many Iranian students in the city. The same is true in certain areas of Malabar Hill in Bombay, where buildings are declared "vegetarian" in a bid to keep out the obvious communities. And let's not forget the time the actress Pooja Bedi Ibrahim (as she was then) was asked to drop the "Ibrahim" when applying for a credit card. "You see madam, our bank doesn't give credit cards to Muslims" she was told. It wasn't the BJP or the Congress that took this decision. It was a middle-class bank official. In other words it was you, me and our uncles and aunts.

One thing that amuses me is that the same communities which refuse to rent their flats out to bachelors and foreigners in India have sons and daughters in the USA. How would they feel if Americans refused to rent housing to them for the same reason? Here one sees the Indian trait of hypocrisy at its most exemplary: it's fine when I do it to others, but not when the same thing is done to me.


NuMu said...

It is grim and I've seen it first hand.
The only thing to do is to fight it tooth-and-nail, every time one encounters it... and enlist anyone/everyone in the fight.

Every inch gained is worth it.

karthik durvasula said...

I support almost all that you have said in this post.

However, I don't support passing on cultural stereotypes. This is what leads to feelings on racism in the first place. So, your usage of "one sees the Indian trait of hypocrisy", while might seem mild stems from exactly the same sort of thought process that leads to racist/cultural stereotypes that stops people from doing what is fair/right.

To put it as simply as possible, there is no specific indian hegemony on hypocricy. I am sure you can find it in every part of the world.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Karthik: You do have a point. However I wouldn't agree that my comment stems from "exactly the same sort of thought process" that leads to racism. Rather it is an outcome of my disappointment in a community of which I fully consider myself to be a part.