In light of the recent communal riots in Delhi when a few Muslim neighbourhoods were targeted by mobs, it has again become pertinent for policymakers and urban planners to look at urban residential segregation as one of the major factors that precipitates such communal violence in India.
Neighbourhood diversity, for Indian urban planners, mostly meant reserving a few low-income group plots/apartments in new housing projects. The dominant strands in Indian urbanism have not studied caste or religion as a significant factor influencing the politics of space making.
Why neighbourhood diversity is important
Any segregation, as research on race in US cities shows, is detrimental to economic growth, societal equity and economic mobility, and leads to alienation of communities.
A study by Harvard economist Raj Chetty and others has shown that the neighbourhood where one grows up has a major impact on their lifetime earnings and success later in life. The research found that less residential segregation results in upward social and economic mobility. Residential segregation aggravates existing socio-economic inequality. Children growing up in highly segregated and poor neighbourhoods are more susceptible to failure and are emotionally vulnerable.
There is enough empirical evidence to suggest that neighbourhoods with more diversity have lower crime rates, when compared to homogeneous neighbourhoods.
Segregation also results in ghettoisation of minority and poor groups, and this aspect of stratification spills over to next generations. In times of communal violence, it becomes easy to target individuals of a particular group or community — as it happened in Delhi recently.
The Los Angeles riots of 1992, for example, were also a result of highly segregated residential neighbourhoods with “unequal social and political endowments and economic niches”, as shown by a study conducted by the Rand Corporation.
Various studies have shown that people living in heterogeneous neighbourhoods are less discriminatory towards people belonging to other races and ethnic groups. If you live in segregated neighbourhoods, it is easy to demonise the ‘other’ — which often happens to Muslims in India.
Residential segregation in Delhi
Previous research, by one of us, along with Deepak Malghan and Andaleeb Rahman showed that many Indian cities are segregated along caste lines. Our research found that at least 30 per cent of Delhi’s neighbourhoods (Census enumeration blocks) did not have any Dalits.
Since the Census of India doesn’t make enumeration block-level data of religions public, it becomes difficult to study residential segregation along religious lines.
Researchers like Raphael Susewind have tried to overcome this lack of data by using polling booth-level data to study residential segregation of Muslims in Indian cities.
In his research study titled ‘Muslims in Indian cities: Degrees of segregation and the elusive ghetto’, Susewind uses a probabilistic algorithm to deduce the religion of the person in the voter list. The findings show that Delhi and Ahmedabad are the most segregated cities for Muslims while Jaipur, Kozhikode and Lucknow are the least segregated.
Lucknow and Jaipur have not experienced communal riots in the past many decades. As scholar Ashutosh Varshney notes, Lucknow’s only major communal riot took place in 1924, and there were no communal riots during India’s partition in 1947, or even during heightened tensions after the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. According to him, the economic integration of Muslims and Hindus in the city is the major reason for the absence of communal riots.
Whether economic integration leads to diverse neighbourhoods or diverse neighbourhoods result in economic integration of communities requires further research.
Another study by Kashif-ul-Huda and Kamrun Nehar looked at the membership records of all housing societies (around 2,000 societies) registered in New Delhi in 2012. They identified Muslim names from the membership records and calculated the percentage of Muslims in each housing society.
Almost 70 per cent of housing societies (1,345 out of 2,000) did not have Muslim members at all. Around 96 per cent of societies had less than ten per cent of Muslims. If one looks at the number of Muslim housing society members, then 58.8 per cent of them are associated with societies that have more than 90 per cent Muslims as members.
This means that 31 societies account for 59 per cent of Muslims in housing societies. This data pertains only to registered societies, and the situation is starker in unregistered housing colonies and settlements. While this might not be very surprising to many of us, the extent of segregation this data demonstrates is quite stark.
Discrimination against Muslims by real estate agents
There may be many reasons for segregation of Muslims in Indian cities. One major aspect is the discrimination they face in urban real estate markets. A study by Sukhadeo Thorat and others on the rental housing market in five metropolitan areas of the National Capital Region of Delhi recorded the discrimination that Dalits and Muslims face while renting a house.
Almost 60 per cent of the Muslim home seekers received negative responses from landlords compared to 40 per cent for Dalit home seekers and only 3 per cent for upper-caste Hindus.
In 2013, news website TwoCircles.net found out about discriminatory ads posted on real estate website 99acres.com. A search on their website revealed 88 past and active ads with the term “only Muslims” in them. However, search for “no Muslims” resulted in 774 hits. There were 1,470 ads when one searched for “only Hindu” on the same website. The website led a campaign that forced 99acres to commit to removing the discriminatory ads and putting filters for future ads.
Riots and residential segregation
Another major reason for segregation of Muslims in Indian cities is communal riots. Successive communal riots have alienated Muslims and they have been forced to move into Muslim majority neighbourhoods seeking safety.
In early 20th century Europe, Jews lived in ghettos for safety reasons. These ghettoes became easy targets during the Nazi occupation of Europe. In Ahmedabad, successive communal riots have forced Muslims to move into the old city and live in ghettos.
Communal riots drive residential segregation, and residential segregation helps in inciting violence against minority groups. Now, the images of Muslims moving out of riot-hit areas of Delhi to safer neighbourhoods are fresh in our minds.
The road ahead
Many countries have strict laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, familial status, disability and sex while renting or buying a home.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Federal Fair Housing Act Amendments Act of 1988 in the US were major steps taken by the government to reduce segregation in US cities based on race.
The time is ripe in India for such laws to be enacted to outlaw any discrimination in real estate markets based on caste and religion to break the vicious cycle of residential segregation and communal riots.
Naveen is a Fellow at Harvard University. Kashif is an independent researcher based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Views are personal.