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Yusra Selim | Tribune Pk online | Karachi | July 24, 2022:: “Despite belonging to different faiths, we are one nation”, said the founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah on the day of independence, which remains in the books and minds of people. However, the reality with which we live is far from the words that were said decades ago. One faith still has the edge because it is the majority in the country that has a symbolic minority representation even in the national flag.
Many areas in Karachi have self-specified themselves as closed colonies or have closed their doors to people who do not belong to their faiths.
Rajesh*, 33, married, father of a one-year-old child, has lived in a rented place in Garden East for the last four years. He has saved enough money to buy his own flat; as most of his salary is spent on rent, he thought buying a flat would be a sensible idea in the long run. “I started searching for a decent apartment a few months ago, and what shocked me were the answers from different estate agents when I told them I was a Hindu,” he said sadly, adding that he and his wife picked out a few buildings in Sadar as it was close to both of their offices, and given the high petrol prices, anywhere nearby would be convenient for their daily travel. “Out of the twelve buildings that we shortlisted in Garden East, Sadar, and near PIDC, administrations of nine buildings don’t allow non-Muslims to buy flats, and not even to rent one.” The last building Rajesh lived in had ninety percent Hindu residents.
Being the biggest minority in Pakistan, Rajesh felt not just humiliated but also like a second-class citizen in his own homeland. “Many buildings have put up posters on the entrance that non-Muslims are not allowed to buy or rent. These building administrations behave the same way with Christian, Parsi, Sikh, or any other minority.” The reasons behind posting such notices are a misplaced sense of superiority, and the extremist thinking of confining themselves to their own caste, faith, or race.
Rajesh felt not just humiliated but also like a second-class citizen in his own homeland. “Many buildings have put up posters on the entrance that non-Muslims are not allowed to buy or rent. These building administrations behave the same way with Christian, Parsi, Sikh, or any other minority.” The reasons behind posting such notices are a misplaced sense of superiority, and the extremist thinking of confining themselves to their own caste, faith, or race.
Rajesh, who started searching for a flat with a budget of fifteen million rupees, was unable to buy a flat of his choice because the buildings he liked didn’t allow non-Muslims, while the buildings that didn’t have any issue with faith were not the ones he liked. “Our estate agent gave many other options, but they were all in Clifton, or more towards south of the city, making them too far from our offices, and way out of my budget,” he said. Rajesh later bought a two BHK flat in Garden East, but the area is majority Ismaili. Even then, he faces the issue where most buildings only allow Ismaili faith believers and no other faiths. That is when he realized that the issue was not just with Hindus, but that people of every faith have confined themselves and show no flexibility towards living with harmony.
Rajesh says, “The flat that I have now is not what I wanted, but since I had very few options due to the proximity and budget factors, I have made my peace with what I found. Another factor for not buying in any other buildings was that I wanted my child to play and roam around freely in the building, where he can make friends, and my wife can hang out with the neighbors without worrying too much about the stares and the judgments.”
What Rajesh faced during his search for an apartment is not an alien phenomenon; many communities don’t allow any other community members to share a building with them. A famous building, where a flat costs between Rs 50 million to Rs 70 million, have specified on a notice board at the entrance that only people belonging to the Memon community can live there, and even renting an apartment is not an option.
The story of Saima Asad is not much different when she had to leave a rented place just because her neighbourhood found out that her husband was an Ahmadi. “We lived on rent in a society for around a decade, and everyone was so welcoming. I had friends, we used to have tea parties, my children were also friends with their children, they used to play cricket together, go for cycling. We never told anyone that my husband had converted to the Ahmadiyyah faith. But once a neighbour saw my husband coming out of an Ahmadi mosque, and the news spread like fire. Everyone started talking behind our backs.”
Saima shared that since then women started making excuses to not meet her, and even asked their children to stop playing with her sons. After a few months, a group of four-five men, long-time residents of the housing society, came to their house, called her husband outside, and asked him to leave the neighbourhood and find a house somewhere else. “That day I cried a lot and asked God that if you have made us similar, why do people differentiate between one another? How we were all good and together for a decade, and suddenly, just because my husband practices a different faith, everything changed,” she said, teary-eyed.
Saima and her husband, with their three sons, had to leave the house and move out of the city. The mental stress was not just of leaving her city but changing her son’s school, her husband’s transferring his job, and starting their life from scratch. “Believe me, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds, because moving out takes a lot, and my whole family was disturbed because of all that we went through,” she said. The next two months were terribly difficult for them as she worried about the security of her sons and husband all the time. “News of the sectarian killing of Ahmadis used to tear me apart; what if someone turns out to be an extremist, or someone harms my husband in any way, or what if the news travels to his workplace and he is asked to resign. So, we thought the better option would be to change the city and start from scratch.”
Notices outside buildings where non-Muslims are not allowed are mostly found in Sadar, Garden, and adjoining areas, but the mindset is similar when it comes to societies that are Shia majority and they don’t allow Sunni Muslims to live, or specific Christian colonies where they don’t allow any other faith, or Ismaili, Aga Khani majority societies where they have similar restrictions. “I was fed up with the security issues in the mid-city and was concerned about my aged parents that they had to be alone the whole day, so I started looking up for a gated community in Scheme 33. Those places are comparatively safer and have guards at the entrance, but Shia or Ismaili societies don’t allow Sunnis,” says Faisal Khan. The board of a society decides and makes rules, and even then, people don’t retaliate because they don’t want to get involved in any conflict. The majority of Hindus or Shias also fear triggering any sectarian conflict just for a rented place so they prefer finding a house in other places.
Why do they don’t allow it?
What is the reason behind this discrimination? Why are some apartment buildings and housing societies confined to specific castes and faiths? “The most common thing that we hear is that an administration—made by people living in a building—fears that their children, living in a same building with people of other faiths, will learn things from them. If they are friends with them, children might get inspired and try to imitate their beliefs,” Jawad, an estate agent who works around Sadar and adjoining areas, says. As soon as they find out that the family is Hindu, they clearly explain to them the requirements because they don’t want to waste their time and that of the buyers.
“Most of the Hindu population is settled in the Sadar area, and that is why the concern in this part of the city is big. The situation has truly escalated in the last two decades,” Jawad says. When his father used to deal with customers in 1990s, none of the buildings had such notices or requirements, but today seven out of ten buildings have them, a big step towards extremism.
Jawad’s work, as an estate agent, is to connect a buyer and a seller, and what a building administration demands has nothing to do with him. “People need to understand that faith is not that fragile that it can be amended just by living around a person of another faith. You should be a firm believer that nothing can damage your religion. So many people are ignorant of the fact that by using their majority faith, they are depriving others of the right that the constitution of the country gives them,” he says.
Before the arrival of the internet, things weren’t this extreme a few decades ago; now people are more informed than they might need to be. Muhammad Affan*, a committee member of a building in Garden East, says, “When I was a kid, I didn’t know that some people, across the world, practised discrimination against Muslims, or how things were in India, but now I know from the internet how Muslims are not allowed to do a lot of things in India. Why should we welcome them if they don’t welcome our brothers? Children learn new things from them, and start celebrating all their festivals while moving away from our festivities and teachings of Islam. We are only taking these steps to do our own bit because obviously, we can’t stop children from interacting with everyone or stop them from the stuff they consume on the internet, but at least we can do our bit by restricting them in their childhood from being so close to any other faith.”
*Names have been changed to protect the indentity of the interviewees
Courtesy: The Tribune Magazine Pakistan.
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