Sunday, October 03, 2004

No takers for homes in Dalit apartments

New Delhi, Oct 3 (IANS) Three bedrooms, ample living space, running water and a car park - these are 'dream' flats in a middle-class haven in Delhi, but they have few takers, even at a discount.

Gaurav Apartments, in Patparganj in east Delhi, boasts of houses that a potential buyer would give his right arm for - were it not for the label of "Dalit" in caste-conscious Hindu society.

Built by a group of residents belonging to the Scheduled Castes (as Dalits are known officially) and Scheduled Tribes, the apartment complex is an odd one out in a neighbourhood dotted by housing societies of professionals like engineers, journalists, technocrats, doctors and professors.

"The lack of demand has plummeted property rates here, yet few people want to buy flats here," said Ramu (name changed), an employee of the Gaurav Apartment Housing Society.

"Many clients have declined to buy or even rent a flat soon after looking at the huge portrait of (B.R.) Ambedkar at the entrance," said Lalit, a Dalit property dealer who has an office nearby.

Ambedkar, who drafted the Indian constitution, is considered the messiah of Dalits, formerly dubbed "untouchables" by the Hindu high castes.

"There are 192 apartments in that society. At least 15 to 20 are vacant. Now you know why," Lalit said, pointing out that a two-bedroom flat was available for around Rs.1.7 million - compared with around Rs.2 million or more for flats in other nearby housing societies.

"Except for a few south Indians and some Bengalis, others are reluctant to invest here as 60 to 70 percent of the flats are occupied by Dalits," said Lalit, who converted to Buddhism inspired by Dalit leader Udit Raj.

Lalit's real estate office is shorn of portraits of Ambedkar. He admits that the picture would affect his business. Instead, pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses adorn the walls of his small office in Madhu Vihar, close to Gaurav apartments.

Most property dealers are frank about the situation and advise buyers to look for a flat elsewhere.

"Why Gaurav Apartments? Why not Friends Apartments or Navkunj Apartments?" asked another property dealer when an IANS correspondent approached him pretending to be a prospective buyer. Buying a house in a Dalit locality might not be a wise decision, the man added.

All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes chief Udit Raj was bitter in his criticism of people's attitudes. "Indians are suffering from a mental sickness. Even the educated class is not above this disease of caste-based discrimination," Raj told IANS. "Daits do not need sops, they need self-respect," he said.

Says Ramu: "When Dalit children are studying in schools with high caste children, why are grown-ups refusing to integrate with the Dalits?"

Source: Indo-Asian News Service, October 3, 2004

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