Landlords ki dadagiri

Most of us have had a relationship with a landlord (or landlady. Here I use the term ‘landlord’ for both) at some point in our lives (unless you’re super privileged and have lived in your own house forever) – and I am yet to meet a person who did not have a single issue with his/her lanlord. Renting a house in India isn’t easy, not to say that it’s easy in other countries, but here it’s not just the legal paperwork that’s exhausting, it’s the tyrannical and dictatorial attitude of landlords towards their tenants that’s even more exhausting. As a tenant, your life doesn’t become easy the moment you sign that lease; the misery continues for as long as you live in someone else’s house.

Although I have had and heard many horrible experiences, I’m only going to focus on the ones that enraged me the most. Technically, once the lease is signed, the house belongs to the tenant for the time period mentioned. The landlord cannot enjoy the freedoms that he/she used to in regard to the house, i.e, cannot dictate the tenant’s schedule, who they meet, what they eat, who comes to the house or ask to keep a spare key to the house. Let me reiterate – this is illegal. Infact, even to visit the premises the landlord needs to give a 24-hour notice to the tenant, and make a visit only if it is convenient for both. However, in reality, this does not happen. Recently, a close relative of mine shared her horrific experience with her ex-landlord with me. Initially when they (she and her friends) rented the apartment, the landlord and his family seemed nice, but life became hell for them when they started living there. They kept an eye on everything they did, and poked their noses whenever they could. “Too many friends are visiting”, “Too many get-togethers”, “Too many boys”, “Too many beer bottles” etc. This bickering and interference became a daily routine. Note that a landlord cannot impose social or moral restrictions on the tenant. They can only raise concerns if permissible noise levels are being crossed, or if severe damage is being done to the property. That too, has to be communicated in a respectful manner. Trying to moral police a tenant simply because he/she has rented out one’s premises is not just illegal, it’s plain wrong.

The landlord also charged them more on the electricity bill than he should have. If the government electricity bill states Rs. x/unit of electricity, he charged them Rs. x+3/unit of electricity. Which, once again, is illegal and also a form of bullying. The point that is being made here is – ‘it’s my house, so I will do what I want, when I want and how I want’. Eventually, they decided to vacate the house, but on the day they were supposed to vacate, he locked them inside the house until they cleared all the dues. All this amounts to harassment, and ideally they should have filed a police complaint against him. But due to our conditioning and social pressures, we generally avoid getting involved with the police.

In another instance, a girl was refused to be given a house on rent simply because she is muslim. Rejecting someone on the basis of their religion sounds unfair, disrespectful and shameful, but then there are also people who reject prospective tenants on the basis of the food they eat. Some landlords don’t want tenants who eat non-vegetarian food. Some don’t want single men/women. Some have a problem with drinking and smoking. Some have a problem with the company people work at. Some have a problem with caste. Some don’t want friends of the opposite sex to visit. Some don’t want pets. Some have a problem with skin color. Some have a problem with living.

What irks me the most is the amount of entitlement that exists within every landlord. Most of this behavior is illegal, and if not illegal then just plain wrong and disrespectful. But unfortunately we live in a country where owning a property makes you a king (or a queen) and automatically grants you powers you ought not to have. If laws were implemented properly, and tenant rights were taken seriously, then a lot of us wouldn’t have to compromise on a daily basis with our self-respect and way of life. Unfortunately, even the cops side with the landlords in most cases. It is always the tenant who is harassed and bullied.

I am not trying to dismiss the fact that even tenants misbehave and sometimes cause destruction, but the problems I listed above are not a result of bad experiences, they’re a product of a shitty mindset propagated through generations. Patriarchy, misogyny, racism, classism, casteism, ageism, colorism – they all exist in our society and are deeply rooted. So naturally, these social evils come out even in transactional relationships like the ones between a landlord and tenant.

You would think that it’s 2020 and we might have made some progress. But in reality, we’re decaying as a society everyday.

The socio-economic polarization of Delhi

Delhi can be defined as many things, but heterogeneous is not one of them. It is a city whose rapidly rising mall culture contrasts heavily with it’s stark realities at the ground level. A major garbage dump can easily exist outside the long stretch of big wig structures like Select city walk and Max Hospital. A 5 star hotel can co-exist with a slum area. A pedestrian could wait for an auto to stop while ten BMWs zoom past him.

In a nutshell, Delhi is a city that essentially has two faces – The one that is rich, glamorous and swanky and the one that is poor, inadequate and unorganized. These two faces define the way things are run in this city. They dictate the terms that will eventually be levied on everyone. Unfortunately the ones who suffer the most in this tussle between the extremely rich and the extremely poor are the middle class people. They slog away for years in 9-6 jobs, pay their bills and taxes, pay for their children’s education, invest in policies, take loans and dream of living a comfortable and stress free life one day. That ‘one day’ however, never really arrives owing to the fact that the middle class is one sector that no one gives a shit about.

The extremely rich people are the ones dwelling in places like Sainik Farms, Paschim Vihar, Panchsheel, Vasant Kunj, GK so on and so forth. They have enough money to rent Honey Singh for an hour to sing at their daughter’s wedding, enough money to arrange a luncheon with a high ranking government official, enough money to buy their children seats in coveted institutions and enough money to drain down the pipe and still be left with enough to feed the entire city of Ramnagar. They have strong connections with all the right people. They can exert influence in places where a common man can only dream of getting past the peon. Say a tender floated by MCD or PWD, open to all on paper, offers an opportunity to relatively smaller units as well. But in reality, someone sitting in a chair worth 1 lac just needs to send a bottle of whisky, a complimentary mobile phone and a few sugar coated promises to nab the tender and shove everyone else out of the way even before someone can think of bidding. The reason why the line ‘Tu jaanta nahi mera baap kaun hai’ is so famously abused in Delhi is because it actually is true. The only way one can get out of tight spots is if he/she has the right connections. A rich dude from a rich family can break traffic laws, drive under influence and eve tease openly without the fear of bearing any consequences. Why? Because ‘consequences’ are not for someone whose dad has coffee with the Commissioner ever week.

On the flip side are the poor people who constitute the daily wage workers, domestic help, autorickshaw wallahs etc. Their one and only funda is – ‘Strength in numbers’. They are united by their status and their ambition to get as many free benefits as possible. They use their unity to exert influence in workplaces to get their way, and their status as a sympathy card to get out of situations. Say you dismiss a worker in an Industrial area like Okhla without further pay, the next thing you know, about 50 other workers are standing right outside your office demanding why this happened and threatening you with everything from labour court notices to local gunda connections. Their threats may be real or empty, but strong enough to get the job done. A local lady who works as a cook only needs to tear her dupatta and cry rape before an official case is registered against you. All for what? A few extra bucks.

Their unity is also a great vote bank for local MLAs who rely on them for local help. They do petty jobs for them in return for solidarity and support. This is why you could be running a smart IT business and still fall prey to their tricks.

What’s being sandwiched in all this is the middle class, who simply cannot see beyond their monthly stressors like roti, kapda, makaan. They’re the ones who get ripped off by autowallahs and sidelined by Audi owners. They’re the ones who can stroll around in Select Citywalk and yet manage to buy nothing. They’re the ones who are qualified enough to get a good seat in a good institution but get squashed either by reservation or by the wealthy son of a wealthy father. There is no politician who finds the middle class issues strong enough to create a mudda, no godfather who is willing to stand up for the never ending struggle of the 9-6 worker, no NGO that is invested in supporting the paper thin lives of the middle class man, rearing to fall apart at the slightest touch.

In conclusion? If you want to lead a good life in Delhi, you must either be very rich or very poor. If you’re one of the middle class, then you’re pretty much doomed to lead a life of misery throughout.

Caste and Religion Politics: Is the power of voting any power at all?

We all know the famous tag line that is often associated with Indian politics – “You don’t cast your vote, you vote for your caste”. India is a culturally rich country. We have an array of religions, languages and cultures. Not to mention that the caste system has existed for centuries. Yet the vision of our leaders at the time of Independence was secularism. Our diversity should be our strength, not our weakness. But over the course of time politics became more about winning and less about public service, and our diversity became a tool for the politicians to pit us against each other.

Religion

Indian politics was easily about three things – Religion, caste and regionalism. Each National party had different candidates that appealed to all three vote banks. During the Congress led government (since 2004), the then marginalized and ghettoized Muslims were a major vote bank for them. When Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister, he appointed the Sachaar committee to collect data about the state of the average Muslim in India, who was shockingly underrepresented in the BJP led government. During the tenure of Congress, more Muslim MPs were elected and brought to the forefront. Thus Congress established a strong relationship with the Muslims. This, however, was not a new development as the Congress has been accused of harbouring a soft corner for the Muslims ever since the times of Nehru, followed by Indira Gandhi.

The BJP, on the other hand, has always been very vocal about its Hindutva ideologies. It’s many affiliations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (with it’s militant wing – The Bajrang Dal) are a testament to the fact. It’s history regarding it’s involvement in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and then the Gujarat riots in 2002 is still very unclear and murky. Both the acts have still not been punished in the court of law. Under BJP’s tenure, Hindu majoritarianism took precedence over other minority groups. The Christians in Orissa were heavily attacked by the Bajrang Dal in 2008. When they retaliated, the Bajrang Dal reacted with even more violence, forcing people to flee from their villages. It was declared that only the refugees who converted to Hinduism would be allowed back in their villages.

Caste

In the 1990’s, the very infamous Mandal commission was established that declared a 27% reservation for all OBCs in the public sector. The upper caste retaliated with strikes and movements, because of which the OBCs were forced to come together in solidarity to protect their common interests. They began voting together and for their own caste, which was marked by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rise to power in UP and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. Both these politicians took their politics to the home of a Dalit.

In the beginning of the 2000s, however, the OBC solidarity went down mainly due to the fact that both National Parties, namely – BJP and Congress, conjoined hands with OBC candidates and provided them with representation in relevant areas. In Madhya Pradhesh, all BJP Chief Ministers have been OBCs since 2003. Despite the disintegration of the OBC unity, Bahujan Samaj Party is still on a steady rise.

These facts converge to form one fact – in India, parties don’t manage to get a majority or even enough seats to exert any influence in the Parliament without Identity politics. Since it’s Independence in 1947, Indian politics has always relegated itself to caste or religion politics rather than focusing on real issues like poverty, illiteracy, healthcare, unemployment and crime. It is rather unfortunate that we, as a people, are never moved by the core issues that form the basic infrastructure of any economy, but are rather more invested in differences that, at the end of the day, are someone’s personal choices. ‘Power of voting’ is a powerful right only as long as the people are not manipulated or brainwashed into believing in one particular ideology only because it’s being perpetrated by the leaders of their own caste, religion or state. In that case, this power isn’t any power at all, but rather an illusion that makes us believe we’re voting out of free will.

With the grand sweep by the Aam Aadmi Party in the 2015 Legislative Assembly Elections in Delhi, people are now hoping that AAP will bring about a change in the face of politics and the focus will be on developmental issues. Whether or not it will succeed is a question that will be answered in the next 5 years, but here’s hoping that it doesn’t disappoint us.

Source: Religion, Caste & Politics in India by Christophe Jaffrelote

Reasons why train rides will always trump plane rides

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If you’re anything like me, and have spent a significant portion of your life travelling, then you would have drawn comparisons between the two modes of travelling very frequently! Now, I’m writing this while I’m on a plane, so please ignore if my post seems a bit too biased towards trains. You see, just the fact that I’ve apologized six times to go to the loo (feels for people who are big; you can’t even pee in peace) twice has me pretty riled up at the moment. Anyway, let’s delve right in.

1) More space – I think this one goes without saying. A train berth has so much more space than your regular economy class plane seat, and if god forbid you’re travelling by Indigo or Spice jet then rest assured your legs will be turned to jelly by the time you’ve landed. In contrast, the Shatabdi seats are so much bigger and more comfy. It looks and feels like a plane too, so one doesn’t really have to be on a plane to experience the flight.

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2) I think space deserves another point – The best part about travelling on a train: you can actually sleep. Unlike a plane where you try your level best to squirm into a comfortable position so you can atleast manage to nap for a while, a train berth allows you to drift off to a peaceful sleep. IRCTC also provides fresh bedding, by the way.

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3) You don’t have to pretend to be sophisticated – This is for all the desi-at-heart kinda people (like me) who can’t put up a sophisticated act just because you are travelling by plane. The in-your-face hospitality of the crew itself makes me uncomfortable. Hell, being addressed as ‘ma’am’ each time I ask for water makes me feel uncomfortable. It makes me feel obligated to behave in a proper manner too. It’s a psychological trap, I tell you. It’s a way to manipulate people into feeling guilty and consequently responsible to behave properly each time someone smiles at them and greets them with a practiced Namaste. On the other hand, on a train I feel free. I don’t have to behave well, especially when uncouth chaiwalas enter the train at each major station, yelling rhymes that I swear to god never leave your brain. The TT is almost always chewing paan and the family next to you is always chatting away loudly. So you see, the train is for junglee people. If you’re one, you would agree.

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4) More quantity of food – Each time I see the air hostesses dragging out their food trolley, I get excited and rub my hands with glee. I start wondering about the delicacies that will soon be offered to me. But the moment I unpeel my tray I am left a strong sense of disappointment bubbling inside me. A piece of bread, butter, jam and assorted fruits that won’t satisfy even a squirrel’s appetite. This is utter nonsense. We pay out of the depth of our pockets to buy a plane ticket (along with high taxes) and all we get is peanuts as food. On the other hand, a Rajdhani Express offers a big thali that includes everything from daal to paneer to parantha to chaawal and also some mithai. Not to mention endless supplies of tea, coffee, coke and chips!

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5) Real Indian Scenery – If you have ever travelled by the general or ‘sleeper’ class, you have experienced the real scenic beauty of India. The windows are not glass sealed. There are just vertical rods preventing you from jumping out of the train. But the view is breath-taking. You see everything from farms, lakes, houses, cities, villages (and villagers) pass you by. It’s liberating in a surreal way. The air you feel on your face is real.

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6) It’s more fun – This is almost an extension of point 3. A train ride offers so much more scope for fun if you’re travelling with friends and family. Almost every train trip that I’ve taken with friends has been memorable. We laugh, sing, dance and joke around freely. Not to forget, the evergreen pass time – cards! On the other hand, I travel by plane only when I’m travelling alone. Because it’s bound to be silent, sophisticated and boring.

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7) The loos – Now I know that a lot of people have problems with the Indian Railways’ bathrooms, and justifiably so, but personally they have never been such a huge issue for me. Probably because in my lifespan I’ve seen the worst possible loos in the Indian railways, so now a partially bearable 3 AC compartment loo is like heaven for me. But the reason I’m mentioning this point is because of size. Like I said in my introduction, the plane bathroom ‘lavatory’ is so small that a bigger person will probably find it easier to hold it in rather than struggle on with squeezing inside that small coffin. It looks and seems so fragile that it seems like everything will break on touch. It’s suffocating.

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8) All this, and cheaper! – While a plane ticket costs nothing less than 5-8K on an average, a train ticket can easily be purchased between 300-1K (even in tatkal) and this, folks, is the reason you don’t feel disgruntled even when the train is late, because the ticket hasn’t burned a hole in your pocket.

Raise a voice against police misconduct in India!

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India is a country where every person or group in authority assumes autocratic power. Whether it is your local welfare association, development authority, MLA, MP or Police. They unabashedly abuse the power given to them by the public to serve them. They thrive on feeling powerful and in control – An unfortunate misuse of taxpayer’s money.

When was the last time you felt satisfied by the steps taken by the police to address your grievance? Were they sensitive? Did they listen to you properly? Did you ever get a proper account of the follow up conducted? Was your grievance ever really solved or did you just move on due to lapse of time?

Or, when was the last time you were harassed by the police in the following ways: (i) Verbal intimidation (ii) Verbal abuse (iii) Unlawful detention (iv) Mental torture (v) false accusation (vi) Been asked for a bribe and (vii) Physical torture? Or known someone who has been harassed by the police?

When was the last time you truly felt safe calling the police?

Unfortunately, Police misconduct and human rights violations are commonplace in India. What should be an exception is treated as a norm. People are illegally detained and tortured in police stations for days at a time. Abusive intimidation tactics that know no boundaries are incessantly used to break a person. False charges and accusations are lodged in order to get their way. Stalling or slowing the process down of FIR retrieval, deliberate attempts to not follow up a case, delay carrying out an investigation to let mitigating factors come into play are some of the other ways in which police abuses it’s power.

The citizens are extremely fearful of the police. The moment you see a police car next to your house, you start panicking. The kind of fear that the police induces in people is astonishing and shocking. It’s hard to believe that this establishment has been put in place for our own protection and well-being. No one wants to go against the police. No one wants to fight them in case they trap them in a false charge or build a criminal case against them. No one wants to even get involved in a police case. This is the way the police manipulates the citizens to follow their command. They have led people to believe that their authority is absolute and binding, and that they can make life difficult for anyone who opposes them.

Why is this happening? Why, in a country that preaches “of the people, by the people, for the people”, is letting such shameless harassment of it’s people go unnoticed? Unfortunately, the answer is that there is no mechanism in place to hold the police accountable for their actions. When something bad happens to us, we’re supposed to go to the police. But where do we go when the police does something wrong to us? Any answers?

A Police Complaints Authority has been put in place for namesake. You can go to the court but the Indian judicial system is slower than a snail on wheels. You can file a complaint in NHRC, but they too, take their time. Bottomline is there is no independent authority that can be summoned immediately when you are being harassed or abused by the police. There is no helpline that will respond to your grievance and set up a case against the officer in question.

We need an authority that induces the kind of fear in the police that they induce in the public. They need to know that someone is on their watch, that they cannot misuse the power given to them. We also need CCTV cameras to be installed in every room of every police station, so that they cannot detain or torture illegally. Every concerned citizen should be allowed to access the footage.

I have made a petition to get supporters for this cause. The reason that I have made this petition is because I have personally gone through a harrowing experience with the police recently, where I was manhandled, abused and denied of basic rights. I was shocked at the sheer injustice of it all and realized that something needs to be done about this. I plan to file a PIL in the supreme court if I manage to get enough volunteers and signatures. So if you agree with me, please sign this petition and forward it to as many people as you can.

Raise a voice against Police misconduct and harassment! – Please sign this petition!