In nation’s capital, housing bias research turns real for Dalit academic

Associate Fellow at Institute of Dalit Studies has had to change several houses, some within 15 days

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Updated: January 23, 2016 7:42 am
dalits, india dalits, dalits in india, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, iids, india news, rohith vemula, rohith vemula suicide Dalit economist Dr Nitin. (Express Photo by Amit Mehra)

A dalit economist who has helmed a number of studies on discriminatory housing patterns in Indian metros is facing a peculiar situation in the national capital. Dr Nitin is unable to focus on his research because he himself has been asked to shift houses whenever he has revealed his caste to his landlords.

So much so, that on one occasion he was asked to vacate the house within 15 days of moving in, said the Associate Fellow at the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS) in South Delhi.

In the latest shift last October, Dr Nitin, who requested that his surname not be published, was asked to move out of a one-bedroom flat in South Delhi with his wife and two-and-a-half-year-old daughter by the landlord who said the house needed “renovation”.

READ | Study shows NCR homeowners turn away Dalits and Muslims

The trigger, says the 40-year-old, was his wife telling the landlord when asked that she was “a Buddhist” and on further inquiry “scheduled caste”.

Hailing from Bhandara in Maharashtra, where he was born and went to school, Dr Nitin completed his PhD from Bengaluru on ‘Food Security and Markets’ before joining IIDS.

Staying at a one-bedroom flat in South Delhi now, Dr Nitin says he’s been “familiar with the pattern” since 2012, when he moved into a flat in Delhi with his wife immediately after marriage.

“The first time, I went with an upper-caste colleague. The landlord said about five times that he wanted ‘good people’. I took that to mean I qualify, as I don’t drink or party; we are quiet people and I am an academic researcher. But the questions my wife faced from the landlady, when we said we were Buddhist, persisted and one day my wife said we were from a scheduled caste. We were asked to leave. My mother insisted we go and ask the landlady again, who told us clearly that her God doesn’t allow her to rent house to a ‘low-caste’ family. She gave us a month to find another place,” he said.

The last instance was “more surprising”, said Dr Nitin. He was more circumspect about his caste, but when asked for a document from the new landlord, revealed he worked at the IIDS. “We want to renovate the flat was the reason given this time,” said Dr Nitin.

While discussing this trend with colleagues, Dr Nitin said he found they always referred to the institute by its acronym and not the full name. “It (the full name) immediately drew a response varying from kya yahi jagah mila kaam karne ko (you got work only here) to ‘reservation se to sub kuchh aasan ho jaata hoga un sabhi ko (they must be having it easy with reservation)’,” said a senior fellow from the institute who is not a Dalit.

When contacted, IIDS director Dr Sanghamitra Sheel Acharya, an accomplished academic and a Dalit married to a Brahmin, said, “Some college students wanted to know why I worked in a Dalit studies institute and I had to counter them by asking ‘why not’. Their reasons for feeling intrigued and resentful were discomfort with the word ‘Dalit’ because prejudices were drilled in at an early age.”