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Pride of place

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SummaryDenied a flat in Ahmedabad, she refused to look at a Muslim ghetto as the inevitable option

You could call Nida Yamin the face of those who will not accept living in a ghetto as a fact of life in urban India.

When Nida, now 26, stepped out of her home in Delhi for a physiotherapy course — she would go on to become the first girl in the family to graduate — she thought the battle with reluctant relatives would remain the toughest she would ever fight. But her journey from Delhi to Ahmedabad — she now lives in Patna with her groom — pitted Nida against the deep biases still prevailing in urban India about who one’s neighbour should be.

Against all family advice again, she had decided to take up work at IIM Ahmedabad last November as a research associate. She soon discovered that she could not choose her accommodation in a city that, while claiming to be urban India’s promise, also has among the most tightly separated ghettos in independent India. “I was shocked at the kind of discrimination I saw there,” she says.

Denied the flat she wanted in upscale Vastrapur along with her roommate Shwetambara — from Bihar, from where Nida’s family too originally hails — Nida says what shocked her was that “I was told straight to my face by the landlady, after she had agreed to give us the flat, that she wouldn’t as I was a Muslim. When I asked her how she could say that to my face, she told me casually that it was because of my father’s face; he wore a cap and a beard.”

Nida steeled herself. “As I was a development practitioner, I decided I would speak out,” said Nida, who had enrolled at IIM to work on a rural sanitation project in Bihar.

She found support from Shwetambara, who too refused to stay in that flat and continued to hunt for another with Nida. A local daily published a report of her experience, after which she got “lots of calls with numbers of Muslim agents, for living in Muslim colonies”.

Meanwhile, Zahir Janmohamed, 25, a US-based third-generation Gujarati expatriate who had witnessed the 2002 riots by chance, and who was now living in the Juhapura ghetto for a project on Muslims in such ghettos, contacted Nida and offered to help her find a roof over her head.

“I was struck by the brave and sensible girl,” he says. “She told me she was a practising Muslim by faith

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