When I was walking back home yesterday, I saw it again. Just as I enter the gate of the colony I live in. The big hideous banner that makes me a pariah.
“No P.G./Rental basis for Single / Unmarried. Only families allowed.
-By Order passed in AGM
I remember how outraged I felt when I learnt about it the first time a few months ago. I was home one evening, cooking dinner. Alone. My roommate was at work and I heard the familiar loud creak of my front gate opening followed by an impatient knock on the door. It was Mrs. Agarwal, the estate agent with perpetually bandaged earlobes who got us this apartment a few months ago and who we haggled with over the deposit for days.
“Which one of you is married?” She does not believe in opening with a greeting.
I stand stunned, for a few seconds losing complete orientation of who I was and what this woman was talking about.
“Neither of us”, I replied sounding extremely unsure.
“Well then you will have to vacate your apartment.” She announced nodding her head ominously. “Call the landowner,” she added as she turned around to leave.
(Glass Shatters. Horns blare. Buildings collapse. The siren of an ambulance sings on. Somewhere a volcano erupts)
It had been a total of three or four months since we had been living in this tiny but cozy ground floor apartment whose rent we could barely afford. We had pulled corners to produce the large deposit and paid brokerage (1.5 times the rent) and registration. If we have to move out in four months, instead of the planned eleven, it means we would have spent all that brokerage uselessly. Finding a new place is a whole other ordeal in itself let alone the additional costs of possibly increased brokerage, deposit and fresh new rounds at the registrar’s office to get a valid agreement.
I lock the door, already mid-way through a Panic Attack. And the first coherent words come out of my mouth “What crap is this!”
Welcome to Mumbai, the financial capital of India, the most populated city in the country, the home to Bollywood. Basically as big as a city can get. And also the city where you need to be fucking married to rent a bloody apartment in any decent society without hassles.
I have talked in the past about discrimination against women here. But this particular one I was experiencing for the very first time.
Discrimination on the basis of Marital Status.
It made me angry and after the anger settled, I was curious. Is this happening with all of us? I remember having read of a man not getting an apartment on the basis of religion. I know that meal preferences are taken into account. I know if you are an actor/model or any other ‘loose’ profession, you need a lot of prayers (and solid recommendations) to have the privilege of a roof above your head. And I also found out later that for all of this, there is no law in the country protecting any of these minorities against discrimination. (What!)
I wondered of this was an Indian culture thing but then I read this study which was done in California, US titled “No Shelter for Singles: The Perceived Legitimacy of Marital Status Discrimination” and I knew otherwise. All over the world, married people are preferred over the Singles. At least in choosing tenants.
The cherry on this “only for marrieds” cake is this: A study found that participants rated a male job applicant as more “suitable” if he was married and rated a male employee as more dedicated if he was married. The opposite was true for women, which suggests that in some instances, perhaps due to stereotypes about gender and childrearing, women suffer a marriage penalty.
So basically if you are a woman and single, you are discriminated against. If you are a married woman, you are, wait for this, discriminated against.
It made me think about the other places we are discriminated against (we, for all further intents and purposes refers to Singles/Unmarried). Social, definitely. Like it is aptly framed in Sex and the City:
Charlotte York: I hate it when you’re the only single person at a dinner party and they all look at you like you’re a…
Carrie Bradshaw: Loser?
Miranda Hobbes: Leper.
Samantha Jones: Whore.
A few weeks ago one of my dear friend got married. The wedding happened in the afternoon and the reception was at a beautiful sea side hotel on a chilly winter evening. It was a gorgeous night. The food was delicious, everyone looked beautiful and most importantly my friend looked happier than I had ever seen her. The palm trees were rustling in the sea breeze and soft music played on as I admired the lovely fairy lights. An exhilaration was afloat in the air. I felt like anything was possible in those few giddy moments.
These are ingredients for a perfectly lovely evening except I forgot I unknowingly carry around my single status like an eyesore. The number of times I was asked the dreaded question (When are YOU getting married?) was enough to irritate me, belittle me and make me feel basically as miserable as possible. It felt unfair to me. I felt pissed at myself that I was affected by these questions though I am not married yet by choice.
This is discrimination on the basis of marital status.
I have a few questions.
Does marriage make everyone happy?
Is it the only way to be happy?
This seems unlikely because just last week, a colleague confided in me about her marital problems. She married a guy who did not want to marry her and was in love with someone else. They married because of ‘family pressure’. Now, he hits her. After one of many such incidents, she left their home and stayed with a friend for two days. And because she did so, he now wants a divorce. Obviously.
Having this conversation tore me apart. I looked at my colleague, younger than me, married for a little over a year. I saw her lovely hair and porcelain skin. I saw her eyes fill with tears. I listened and offered support. I watched her resolve to save her marriage, not having the courage to remind her it has been months since he last called. And I marvelled at the cost of matrimony, our ticket to being accepted, respected, in our ‘rightful place’ in society. And what we, as young educated Indian women, would pay for it.
To conclude my hassles with the apartment, our landowner turned out to have balls and assured us that no one will ask us to leave until our lease is over. So I as soon as I complete this post, I will step out into my tiny balcony and sip on my evening tea, with a faint sense of victory.
Can Housing societies refuse tenants? The Economic Times – http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-11-05/news/34925306_1_society-members-goenka-law-associates-jones-lang-lasalle-india
The Other Marriage Discrimination, The Huffington Post –
No Shelter for Singles, Sage Journals
Housing: We need a law against discrimination, The Times of India