Status as on- 20/01/2023
Housing discrimination refers to the illegal practice of denying housing to people belonging to a particular race, sex, caste, religion, etc. This denial is violative of Article 15 of the Constitution of India, which states that no person shall be discriminated against because of their race, sex, caste, color, or religion. Article 21 of the constitution, under its various interpretations, also includes the ‘right to housing’ or ‘right to shelter’ as an individual’s fundamental right. In 1996, in the UP Awas Vikas Parishad vs Friends Coop Housing Society, the court held that the right to the residence was secured under Article 19(1)(e) and Article 21, while in the Chameli Singh vs State of UP, the Supreme Court held that the right to shelter is a fundamental right available to every citizen, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The court said, ‘Shelter for a human being, therefore, is not mere protection of his life and limb. It is however where he has opportunities to grow physically, mentally, intellectually, and spiritually. Right to shelter, therefore, includes adequate living space, safe and decent structure, clean and decent surroundings, sufficient light, pure air and water, electricity, sanitation, and other civic amenities like roads, etc. so as to have easy access to his daily avocation. The right to shelter, therefore, does not mean a mere right to a roof over one’s head but right to all the infrastructure necessary to enable them to live and develop as a human being.’
For so many years, people have actively faced housing discrimination on the basis of their religion, caste, gender, sexuality, and even socio-economic stature. Muslim people, Dalits, queer, and economically weak people, to name a few, have faced discrimination and been denied their right to housing in the majority of the country. In a survey and interview conducted during 2017-19, in Delhi and Mumbai, it was found how deeply systematic the discrimination runs. In the statement of one of the brokers interviewed, it was seen how often middlemen explicitly reject Muslim tenants, sometimes even without considering the landlord.
While in Karma Dorjee & Ors V. Union of India and Ors., a case where a north-east Indian citizen faced racial housing discrimination, the Supreme Court held that to increase a sense of security and inclusion, the Union Government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, should take aggressive steps to monitor the resolution of racial discrimination issues faced by citizens of the nation drawn from the north-east and a committee should carry out regular monitoring and redressal activities for this aim, in the landmark case of Zoroastrian Cooperative Housing Society v. District Registrar, the Supreme Court upholding the by-laws of a Parsi Housing Society that prohibited selling property to non-Parsis, was a big step back and it heavily criticized by the public as it could be interpreted in a discriminatory manner by other communities as well, allowing them to further instigate housing discrimination.
Recently, in these unprecedented times of Covid, we saw rampant housing discrimination against medical professionals and aviation fieldworkers as well. They were subjected to discrimination in various housing societies and complexes. The Residents Doctors’ Association (RDA) under the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) reached out to the government to bring to their notice the forceful eviction of medical staff faced by their landlords during the pandemic. People working in the aviation field, especially the staff who worked on flights that were sent to bring Indian citizens back from foreign covid affected regions, also had to face discrimination when it came to housing as the landlords and the common public was scared that these professionals could be the carriers of the infection as they were in continuous direct contact with patients affected with the coronavirus.
While Article 15 of the Indian Constitution does lay down that no citizen should be subjected to discrimination with regard to access to public places, land, etc., it is highly questionable if it proves to be enough to provide protection to people from the steadily rising housing discrimination as people continue to face unfair high-rates, wrongful eviction, and denial of shelter. A stringent law like the Unites States’ Fair Housing Policy is something that is necessary to accommodate the extremely basic human right of ‘shelter’.
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