Segregation of households
Segregation of householdsImage-Paul Novosad

Mira Road Violence Sparks Debate on 'Muslim Areas' and Societal Ghettoization

Ghettoization is the process of isolating or confining individuals who are part of minority groups, often driven by social and economic factors.

New Delhi- The 75th Republic Day is unfortunately, not a happy one as multiple regions of the nation are reporting a rise in violent right-wing crimes. Mira Road, a suburb in north Mumbai, has been facing violent attacks. The region is said to have a substantial Muslim population, irking many conservative nationalists. Some, instead of talking about the violence, have claimed there cannot be regions for specific religions. This statement is not only insensitive but overlooks the forced ghettoization of marginalized communities in India.

It has become pertinent that we remember Article 19(1)(e) of the Indian Constitution which grants every Indian citizen the right "to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India." The purpose of this provision is to eliminate internal barriers within the country or its various regions. But not all identities face the same level of comfort in moving and settling.

In July of 2023, Venture capitalist Tehseen Poonawalla shared on social media the account of his architect friend Seetu Kohli's 15-year-old son, who faced rental discrimination in a Navi Mumbai housing society. The minor was denied accommodation because the person representing him in the agreement, identified as a Muslim, was allegedly objected to by the society. This is one of the few situations that has come to light amidst the constant harassment faced by marginalized communities.

Such harassment leads to ‘ghettoization’, which causes the creation of the so-called “muslim areas.” Ghettoization refers to the isolation or confinement of individuals belonging to minority groups, typically arising from social and economic factors. The term originated in Venice, where Jews were subjected to restrictions and isolation. Gautam Bhatia, an Indian speculative fiction writer, and the co-ordinating editor of Strange Horizons. Explained using a social media post on X (formally Twitter). He said, “These ‘areas’ exist because people refuse to rent their properties on the grounds of religion. Further, laws such as the Disturbed Areas Act are designed to place barriers to selling property to people of another religion. Communal violence fraying the urban social fabric also plays a role in it.”

When considering the existence of "Muslim neighborhoods" in India, it is vital to approach the subject with empathy and understand the intricate factors contributing to their formation. These areas, often referred to as "Muslim Areas" or "Muslim ghettos," represent sections within cities where minority groups reside due to social, legal, or economic pressures, encapsulating the numerous challenges faced by marginalized communities.

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One notable factor contributing to the formation of Muslim neighborhoods is the aftermath of extreme violence, especially communal conflicts like the 1992 Mumbai riots, resulting in the forced relocation of Muslims from affluent neighborhoods. The Sachar Report of 2006 emphasizes that Muslim ghettoization intensifies in areas marked by communal tension, making communal violence a primary driver of spatial segregation in Indian cities.

Legal measures aimed at regulating societal dynamics can unintentionally contribute to the creation of Muslim ghettos. For instance, Juhapura, a Muslim ghetto in west Ahmedabad, is segregated under the Disturbed Areas Act of 1991, where a 20-foot-high wall with fencing physically separates Hindu settlements from Muslim slums, revealing unintended consequences of legislation aimed at establishing peace.

Social ostracization, illustrated by historical labels like "Pakistan" or "Chhota Pakistan," coined since the 1950s, exacerbates the challenges faced by Muslim communities. In Delhi, a significant majority of registered societies lack Muslim representation, reflecting social exclusion and obstacles in property acquisition for Muslims in more affluent areas.

The post-independence era has witnessed a collective approach from political entities like Congress and BJP towards communal administration. Distrust towards Muslims, persisting since 1947, has led to the concentration of communities in specific areas, simplifying governance and echoing historical tactics employed by Israel or the Nazis in Jewish ghettos. A police-state style administration, maintaining a monopoly of violence, ensures control over these concentrated pockets.

At the end, the writer summed up by saying, “Nobody wants to self-ghettoise themselves, especially when the result of this is reduced access to urban amenities, as well as being made vulnerable to ‘bulldozer justice.”

A research paper published in 2023 titled, ‘Residential Segregation and Unequal Access to Local Public Services in India: Evidence from 1.5m Neighborhoods' reveal that the degree of residential segregation among Muslims and Scheduled Castes in urban areas of India is comparable to the racial segregation observed in the United States. Additionally, the study found that government-provided public services, such as schools, are less prevalent in neighbourhoods predominantly inhabited by Muslims or Scheduled Caste residents.

Conducted by Sam Asher from London’s Imperial College, Kritarth Jha from Development Data Lab, Paul Novosad from Dartmouth College, Anjali Adukia from the University of Chicago, and Brandon Tank from the International Monetary Fund, the study sheds light on the persistent discrimination faced by Muslims and Scheduled Castes in India. This discrimination often manifests through housing denials, leading to their confinement in specific community-centric areas.

In India, Muslims and members of the Scheduled Caste predominantly reside in areas where their respective communities are in the majority. The study points out that around 26% of Muslims live in neighborhoods with over 80% Muslim residents, and 17% of Scheduled Caste individuals reside in areas with more than 80% Scheduled Caste residents.

The extent of segregation for Scheduled Caste residents is substantial in both urban and rural areas. However, in cities, Muslims face higher levels of segregation compared to their rural counterparts, as highlighted by the study.

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