For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

India’s RWA Uncles Are Now Adding to the Intolerance Around Us

Tenants in big cities face enough hurdles as it is. Now neighbourhood groups are out to police political opinion too.
Photo: Ron McClenny/Unsplash

As a nation we have reached a stage where nothing really surprises us. The phrase, ‘a new low’ has lost all meaning, because the depths we have plumbed stretch into the dark. Even so, by asking the daughter of a Congress leader to ‘move out’ because of her views on the Ram temple, the Residents Welfare Association of a Delhi neighbourhood has crossed a dangerous Rubicon. Or Sarayu, they might insist we say.

RWAs are supposed to look after the welfare of their residents in a colony. But over the years, many of them have become intoxicated with power and appointed themselves as the arbiter of not just rules but also morality. They decide what the rules of social behaviour are. In some neighbourhoods, RWA members have arrogated to themselves the right to interfere with the lives of young residents — especially single women — if they come home late.

But the RWA of Jangpura Extension in Delhi has gone much further. Last week, its office holders wrote to Suranya Aiyar, daughter of Mani Shankar Aiyar, that her video post on the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, where she had said she would go on a three day fast to protest against it, had “created tension and hatred”.

They said she should apologise or move out. RWA president Kapil Kakar, who signed the letter, asked the father and daughter to “kindly move out to another colony, where people and RWAs can turn a blind eye to such hatred.” There is much more in the letter, including a reference to the residents of the colony “who came from Pakistan after losing their wealth and fortune”, a clear suggestion that they had to move after Partition and the threat of violence by Muslims.

The arrogance of this letter apart, never mind its faux formal politeness (‘kindly move out’), the truly horrific part is their assumption that her views amount to ‘hatred’ and worse, that there is no place for people with such views in this neighbourhood. What the RWA president implies is that in the pure, holy precincts of Jangpura Extension, anyone who does not conform to Hindutva views is not welcome. Needless to say, non-Hindus and presumably non-vegetarians won’t be allowed in either. Nor has the RWA asked for her point of view – its decision is final and non-negotiable.

One can see where this is heading – on days when round the clock ‘jagrans’ are held, will every resident will have to participate, will their visits to temples have to be recorded and will young folks have to get their romantic partners cleared by the RWA? It all sounds outlandish now, but no more than what regularly happens in Gujarat where the sale of property to a person of another faith has to be cleared by the Deputy Collector of a district and the neighbours! This is enshrined under law. What if one day Kakar Uncle’s demand that a resident move out of a colony for holding contrary views to the ‘majority’ becomes legal? Isn’t this how lynch mobs work, going after anyone who doesn’t conform to their idea of what or who the ideal Indian should be? Not surprisingly, at least one police complaint has been filed against Suranya by a BJP busybody though it is not clear if the police are going to convert it into an actual criminal case.

Suranya’s video is a longish explanation of why she finds the temple ceremony problematic and her reasons for going on a fast. It is definitely not a rant, which is what the worthies of the RWA have called it. In any other free society, which India claims it is, it would have got some attention as the pained cry of a secular citizen who was disturbed by not just the ceremony, which was clearly political, but the non-stop coverage by TV channels. And there the matter would have rested.

So was she targeted because she was the daughter of a high-profile Congress politician known to be a critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi? That has certainly been a major factor, but the RWA may have also gone after someone less known and connected, only there would have been no publicity. In which case the victim would have had no recourse and would have been unable to fight the powerful RWA machine and may have quietly succumbed to their bullying. Now, the matter has blown up. Suranya has responded with a dignified video comment, noting that she does not live there but also that the RWA uncles have triggered a barrage of hate and threats at her and her family.

In bigger cities, tenants face all kinds of hurdles while renting an apartment. In Mumbai, prospective landlords don’t like bachelors. And as for Muslims, they get rejected outright. In Delhi, single women are a no-no and in Bangalore, tenants occasionally face bizarre conditions, such as the tenant who, after submitting a 200 word essay along with his KYC documents (including salary certificate from his company), was rejected because he had got only 75% in his school board exams!

Now tenants as well as owners will have to either fit in with the religious, cultural and political views of the majority of residents or be discreet about expressing themselves. Even if this happens in a minuscule number of cases, it is still “terrifying”, as Congressman Abhishek Manu Sanghvi has said. That may be an understatement.

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter