Sohan Qadri, 'Vichon vichon' / UddariArt
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United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha has taken strong exception to “discrimination” against minorities in housing in India's big cities, pointing towards how “private landlords, real estate brokers, and property dealers will often refuse to rent to someone who is Muslim, or impose unfair conditions.”
“Under international human rights law, there is an obligation by all Government authorities to ensure protection from discrimination by private actors, such as for example private landlords and developers”, the top UN official, who was in India between April 11 and 22, visiting Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, underlined.
Pointing out that Muslims represent 14% of India's population, Farha, a lawyer and an anti-poverty activist from Ottawa who took up the UN job in 2014, said, in some parts of India, “Muslims have felt compelled to leave their homes and migrate to places where other Muslims are living, often in slums.”
In India at the invitation of the government, the UN special rapporteur, however, did not refer to the 2002 Gujarat riots in which large number of Muslims were forced to leave their houses and low in make-shift ghettos.
In a preliminary report based on her visit, Farha, who is special rapporteur with the UN's Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, also said that Dalits, particularly manual scavengers, and tribals face similar discrimination. “Scheduled castes and tribes comprise 22% of India’s population but are over-represented amongst the poor”, she said. “Despite affirmative action programs and 'reservations', these groups continue to be stigmatized and discriminated against. Manual scavenging, though outlawed many years ago, continues to be a reality for some with implications for their housing status.”
The special rapporteur noted that “India continues to struggle with the legacy of deeply entrenched and centuries-old social exclusion and discrimination of particular groups of people, such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.” With a special mandate to look into issues of “adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living and on the right to non-discrimination in this regard”, Farha said that the “majority of those who are homeless or are residing in slums with the worst housing conditions are members of these and other vulnerable groups.”
In her recommendations, Farha asked the government to “enact legislation to curb all forms of de facto housing discrimination against any individual or groups, especially religious and ethnic minorities, women, Dalits and migrants, both for rental and house ownership.” She also advised the government to “survey and recognize all existing slums, including those where Muslims or other religious minorities reside, and provide to the best of ability in-situ upgrading and rehabilitation, with secure tenure for all inhabitants.”
Agreeing that India is “a flourishing economy, with estimates of real GDP growth rate at over 7.3 per cent for 2016,” she also said, the country has the largest number of urban poor and landless people in the world”, even as quoting from the 2011 census to say that “approximately 13.75 million households or approximately 65 -70 million people reside in urban slums.” Suggesting that these slums are part of the woes of urbanization, the special rapporteur said, “Still often referred to as 'encroachers', or people illegally occupying lands, homeless people living on the pavements are commonly regarded as 'outsiders' because so many are rural migrants.”
“As such they are often not welcomed by governments. These discriminatory attitudes are not just part of common parlance in policy circles, but have also found their way into legal judgements, making it increasingly difficult for vulnerable groups to win injunctions against forced evictions.” Referring to the plight of the so-called ‘pavement dwellers’, she said, “All homeless people live in extremely poor conditions and exposed to many forms of brutality, violence and health hazards. Mortality rates are 6 or 7 times higher than for non-homeless populations.”