Earlier this year, Muhammad Raees, a 57-year-old resident of Jamia Nagar, began looking for a new house for his family. In his years of living in Delhi, he had never found a house that suited his requirements, a secure locality being top of his list. In May, a fortnight before Eid-ul-Fitr, he found a lead. “Festivities before festivity for Muslims who wish to live in Noida,” an online advertisement read. It offered residential towers “exclusively for Muslims” at Rs 4,200 per square foot.
Jamia Nagar, the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood where Raees has lived for the past fifteen years, lacks several basic facilities, such as clean drinking water, schools, parks and dispensaries, like most other Muslim localities in India. Nevertheless, it provided Raees “a sense of security,” he told me. “The first and foremost thing for anyone is being free from a sense of threat. I can afford a flat at many places in Delhi, but I did not move anywhere as I felt more safe living among the members of my own community.”
In his 2017 paper, “Muslims in Indian Cities: Degrees of Segregation and the Elusive Ghetto,” Raphael Susewind, a lecturer in social anthropology and development at King’s College in London, studied religious demography and segregation in 11 Indian cities. He found that the segregation faced by the Muslim community in Delhi and its adjoining areas was the third highest among those cities, behind only Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. He wrote that “in order to achieve a religiously even spatial pattern in Delhi, either half of the capital’s Muslims or half of its non-Muslim citizens would need to relocate to another neighbourhood.”
Religious ghettoisation in urban areas is not new, and has been widespread for over two decades. In 2006, the Sachar committee’s report on the socioeconomic status of Muslims in India noted that “fearing for their security, Muslims are increasingly resorting to living in ghettos across the country. This is more pronounced in communally sensitive towns and cities.”
“It takes more than segregation to form a ghetto,” Susewind wrote in his paper. “Or rather: it takes something else.” He argued that the policy debate and academic literature about ghettoisation has neglected “the political and social mechanisms that produce these spaces.” A key factor behind the emergence of Muslim ghettos was the growth of Hindutva politics and large-scale communal violence during the 1990s. The 1992 riots in Bombay, which began as a consequence of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, resulted in over seven hundred deaths, and contributed to the influx of thousands of Muslims into Mumbra. The suburb is now home to nearly a million people; Muslims make up 80 percent of the population. The neighbourhood of Juhapura, in Ahmedabad, houses almost half a million Muslims—a consequence of consistent communal violence between 1985 and 2002.