Perhaps four years after Shabana Azmi and three years after Emran Hashmi alleged religious profiling by Mumbai’s landlords and housing societies ‘The Hindu’ wanted to do a status check by deputing its reporters to pose as prospective Muslim tenants to the brokers and landlords in various metros and getting their response. Their findings seem to be confirming Ms. Azmi’s charges.
In August 2008 Ms. Azmi castigated Indian democracy for being unfair to Muslims because she, the wife of Javed Akhtar could not buy a house in Mumbai because she was a Muslim. While DNA India’s report that the Azmi-Akhtar couple owned four flats in Juhu and one in Khandala and that many film personalities rubbished her statement punctured serious holes in Ms. Azmi’s claims that she personally faced humiliation, it still did not dismiss the underlying substance of her allegation viz. Muslims in general were not the preferred tenants or buyers. That she chose to generalize her isolated experience as ‘unfairness of Indian democracy’ while admonishing others for branding her native town Azamgarh the ‘attankgarh’ just because a few people had taken to terrorism, perhaps exhibited her double standards, but did not negate her charge.
A year after Ms. Azmi’s rhetoric on bias against Muslims, it was Emran Hashmi’s turn to allege religious profiling by Mumbai’s housing societies. Though the actor did a quick U-turn and accepted that there was no discrimination, his charges still remained in tact in the minds of the public.
Last month Ms. Arefa Tehsin recounted in the Sunday Magazine of The Hindu the experience of her cousin, who was a pilot with Jet Airways in trying to search for a house in the suburbs of Mumbai. Result? Negative. Finally when he managed to locate a place, convince the rare landlord to let out the apartment and pay advance, the housing society would not let him in. The fact that Arefa’s husband was a Marwari did not cut much ice with another landlord who was averse to the very idea of leasing his flat to a Muslim. Arefa concluded that Udaipur, her hometown was more ‘liberal’ than the ‘cosmopolitan’ Mumbai.
Coming to the latest series of reports published in the July 8th issue of The Hindu, Sowmiya Ashok and Mohammad Ali’s investigation revealed a flourishing ‘housing apartheid’ in Delhi. The authors found to their dismay that in affluent societies of New Delhi it was impossible for Muslims to rent a house. Muslims, according to them had to be content with houses in the ‘fringes of posh colonies’. Rahi Gaikwad asserted that landlords in Mumbai followed a ‘no rent, no sale’ policy when it came to Muslims while Sudipto Mondal lamented that Bangalore was no better- apart from Muslims, Christians are also shunned! Chennai was the only secular metro according to the paper though my personal experience (read here) was quite the opposite when I searched for a house a year back and found that Chennai’s landlords had a marked preference for Brahmins.
Not just The Hindu. Ms. Azmi’s charge caught the fancy of news channels also. CNN IBN’s hidden camera exposed the bias of affluent urban landlords against Muslims in September 2010. Rajdeep Sardesai while discussing the issue with his panel of experts termed this as ‘one of the worst kept secrets’. One of his panelists opined that even other communities were discriminated against.
After going through the torrent of newspaper reports and TV interviews, the questions that rummage the mind are: What are they complaining about? Who are they blaming after all?
All these instances of prejudice, bias and discrimination are noticed in the metros. Are these not the places where the media coverage is the most? After all when the results of Indian Readership Survey for Q1 of 2012 were announced, did the secular newspapers not boast that they were the best, the most read, the most sought after in the metros? Times of India bragged about its leadership position in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. The Hindu was proud its impressive 46.7% growth in Bangalore. Based on Q4, 2011 survey results, Hindustan Times cautioned its readers not to make any mistake and comforted them that HT was ahead of the times in Delhi. Though its Q1 2012 numbers showed a decline over Q4 2011, it still was the leader in Delhi.
Coming to electronic media, is the viewership of news channels not predominantly in the metros? TAM data, based on viewership in 6 metros constitute the most popular indicator of market penetration. Just as newspapers tout their IRS rankings, channels claim leadership based on their convenient reading of TAM ratings.
The above being so, how does the urban public manage to practice such inhuman apartheid in the most media covered market, right under the media’s nose? The Hindu reports indicate widespread -not isolated instances of- bias against Muslims. Do they not indicate that the media articulations have had minimal impact on the viewers? How successful are the channels and newspapers in shaping the thinking of its viewers and readers? After all they are catering to the educated, independent thinking and liberal population who can distinguish between right and wrong. Day in and day out anchors, columnists, journalists and editors denounce fundamentalism and pour out their wisdom on the virtues of secularism. Why then has it not inspired their discerning audience? When every channel boasts of the impact its story had on the viewers, on the bureaucracy, on the government, etc., why do they not measure the impact of their efforts in this regard? Four years of relentless media efforts seem to have failed. Media cannot obviously blame the irresponsible, communal politicians because all these metros, with the exception of Bangalore, are ruled by secular governments.
It appears that the discerning urbanite views the TV debates, reads the columns, but forms his own opinion; he does not trust them for opinions. Is it not a slap on the face of the media that its viewers and readers coldshoulder its views? The dissenting comments, which manage to survive the ‘moderation’, by an overwhelming majority of the readers on many of the stories in the sites of the newspapers and channels are a pointer to the growing disenchantment of the readers with the views of the media.
What has gone wrong? After all they are making the right noises? Why then the viewers do not care? When a reader observes over a long period –
-he doubts the veracity of their opinions and registers his silent protest by rejecting them.
In a nutshell, it is a poor reflection on the credibility of media.