Mohammed Asif Iqbal at his College Street residence. The 32-year-old visually impaired IT consultant has been denied rented accommodation in several Salt Lake houses on religious grounds. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Mohammed Asif Iqbal, 32, is a braveheart. The visually impaired youth from College Street has battled the odds to make it as an information technology (IT) consultant with a multinational company in Sector V and be hailed as a role model by former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
But there is one battle that even Asif cannot win — that against the growing prejudice against his community in the so-called cultural capital of the country.
When he went house-hunting in Salt Lake this month, he was denied accommodation just because he was a Muslim. Deeply disturbed by the communal profiling and discrimination he faced, Mohammed Asif Iqbal poured his heart out to Metro...
I decided to go house-hunting in Salt Lake along with my wife Sajida Khatoon as commuting every day all the way from my College Street house to my office in Sector V was proving to be cumbersome and tiring.
I was looking for a 1-BHK (bedroom, hall, kitchen) flat where we would stay during the week and come back to the College Street house for the weekend.
The first flat I went to was in AL Block. The landlord was clearly uncomfortable when I broached the topic of renting his flat after introducing myself. After some dilly-dallying he apologetically told me that it would not be possible for him to rent out his flat to me because “I was a Muslim”.
I was shocked. I have spent a considerable part of my life in the US and my work takes me to various parts of the world, but this was the first time I had come across such communal profiling and discrimination.
I still dismissed the entire incident as an aberration and continued my hunt for an apartment in Salt Lake. But everywhere I went I got more of the same. I visited another six to seven places to be turned away by landlords for only one reason: that I am a Muslim.
At one address, a gentleman who also happens to be the personal assistant of a Muslim politician agreed to rent out his flats to me. Negotiations were on when he suddenly called me up one day and apologised that the other tenants in the housing co-operative had objected to my moving in as I was a Muslim.
Whenever somebody refused to let out the flat to me I produced my testimonials and tried to make them understand that all Muslims are not terrorists but nobody was willing to listen.
At one of the places my wife Sajida was in a naqab (veil) and the landlord panicked. He said he had not realised earlier that we were “Mohammedan”.
In the entire episode of being turned away in house after house, the worst part was when people tried to be sympathetic. Some suggested we look for an apartment in a “Muslim colony” where we would feel “comfortable”.
Others tried to clarify that they had Muslim friends but it was their neighbours who would object to our presence in the building.
I am tired.