Sunday, May 4, 2014

"I told them that Sri Lanka was not India"

Bad news for Bengali Hindus and Bihari Muslims who feel that they can escape housing discrimination by Marwaris/Jains in Mumbai by migrating to liberal and tolerant Singapore. The only problem: you will not find a house for rent.

Apparently the upper-caste Chinese (native) population does not even care for its lower caste brethren from mainland China (just like the British do not care for white Romanian migrants undercutting the job market). The government is however in panic mode because it needs a high number of coolies to offset the (pension and medical costs) burden of slackers. 

There are no good solutions, but for the first-world population to unite and organize isolationist political parties like UKIP (UK), develop a high-tech fence plus a seek and destroy mechanisms for tunnels (Israel/USA) and to forcibly evacuate boat-refugees to distant Pacific islands (Australia).

When Sunil first moved to Singapore, he had trouble finding an apartment. "I called up several landlords who had listed rooms for rent," Sunil, a Sri Lankan who spent eight years living in the UK, said. "Things would start out OK, maybe because of my [Western] accent - but the moment they heard my name, they'd blank out. Many said 'sorry, we don't rent to these people', or 'sorry, no room for Indians'." Sunil, a civil engineer who arrived in 2012, said he was rejected by at least four landlords. "I told them that Sri Lanka was not India, that I wouldn't eat or cook in the apartment, and that I would be outside all day. But still, they wouldn't offer me a room," he said. 

"At that point, I got fed up and decided to only try Indian landlords. I was invited to viewings right away."

Sunil is not alone. A quick glance at online rental listings shows many that include the words: "no Indians, no PRCs [People's Republic of China]", sometimes followed by the word "sorry".

This print screen from PropertyGuru shows a property listing with the words 'No Indians/PRCs'
A count on 24 April found that there were more than 160 housing adverts on the website PropertyGuru that clearly stated that the landlord did not wish to rent to Indians and/or mainland Chinese.
The issue appears more common with less expensive properties and on sites where content is posted directly by users, such as Gumtree.

It was something I experienced too, albeit indirectly. When I searched for a flat, my housing agent received a phone call from one landlord who was worried that I was from mainland China, presumably after they learned about my Chinese ethnicity….I listened to them discussing my background for what felt like an agonisingly long time. After she hung up, I asked her if it would reassure the landlord if they knew I was British. "It doesn't matter," she said. "They may still think you're a PRC who obtained a British passport."

Charlene, an estate agent, said it was common for landlords to prefer not to rent to tenants from India or mainland China because such tenants "are not people who are house proud". "Many don't clean weekly, and they do heavy cooking, so dust and oil collect over the months. They may use a lot of spices that release smells people don't like." There are also fears that those tenants will illegally sublet to others, she said, adding: "Cleanliness and culture is a very strong factor."

While many landlords appear to be concerned about heavy cooking in their kitchens, tens of thousands of Singaporeans launched an online campaign to "cook a pot of curry" in August 2011.
The campaign was prompted by media reports of a disagreement between a Singaporean Indian family and an immigrant family from China, over the smell of curry from the Indian family's home. Following mediation, the Indian family agreed to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not home. "At that point in time, there was a sense among people that there was some kind of injustice committed," says Alfian Sa'at, a local playwright who wrote the play Cook a Pot of Curry (pictured) following the incident.

"People felt it seemed as if it was OK for [the foreigners] to somehow reject curry, which a lot of Singaporeans believe is part of Singapore's society, no matter what ethnic background you're from. There was a sense that the government had favoritism towards new immigrants at the expense of native, Singapore-born residents."

However despite the support expressed for the Singaporean Indian family, it appears that both race and nationality remain important to many landlords. "It is likely that people tend to want to rent out only to people of the same race," Mr Sa'at says. "This is a tricky issue, because obviously a lot of landlords are [Singaporean] Chinese."

Eugene Tan, Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University, says: "In the current state of ambivalence towards immigration in Singapore, my sense is that race and country of origin have taken on a stronger accent with regards to how landlords may view Indian/PRC tenants."

Attitudes to race came to the fore in December, when hundreds of foreign workers from India and South Asia rioted after an Indian national was killed in a bus accident. The incident sparked a strong response on social media - many made comments denouncing foreign workers, although many others also spoke out against racism.

Of course, rental discrimination exists in many countries. A BBC study in October found that several estate agencies in London would refuse to rent to African-Caribbean people at the landlord's request.

However, while the UK has legislation banning discrimination on ethnic or nationality grounds, covering situations including "buying or renting property", Singapore offers fewer legal protections. "There is no specific anti-discrimination law that can be used by non-citizens," says Prof Tan."Even if there is an anti-discrimination law, there is the challenge of proving discrimination… Indication of tenant preferences in rental advertisements may not amount to discrimination."

In a statement, PropertyGuru said discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or nationality was "absolutely not" allowed under its guidelines. Around 1% of listings on its site contained objectionable content, it added.


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