How appropriate is it to have caste or religion based residential complexes?

Answer by Anirudh Acharya:

There are two questions in this question. One if this is discrimination? Yes it is discrimination. Two, is it inappropriate? No, it is not inappropriate.

IMO seeking to stay amongst people with whom you share your culture, way of life( religion), belief systems, language etc.. is not at all wrong. In fact it is very natural for a man to seek out a community he is most comfortable with and make a living by staying with them. It improves the quality of his life, gives him a sense of protection, belonging and a community feeling. I think since the birth of mankind, man has always sought to seek out people with common culture and beliefs and live as a part of that community.

Now the main argument against such a community based housing society is that if a person lives long enough there, or a child grows up in such a place, they inevitably become a ‘frog in the well’, and will be narrow minded and will not be in a position to cope with the diversity of the world at large. I believe that this argument is not completely wrong and I also believe that the people who will strongly endorse this argument will be tempted, and are likely to take affirmative steps to somehow prevent such housing societies from coming up( via laws, policy etc…)

Now before I continue to say why such people are wrong in objecting community based housing societies, let me tell a story from my hostel days in NITK Surathkal.

My engineering college was a residential college, and most students stayed in the college hostels. Room allotment for the students was done by lot picking and even your roommates was decided by lot picking. A lot of requests were made to the administration that they should allow the students to choose their own rooms and roommates. But the administration objected saying that the Bangalore students will seek out other Bangalore students, etc.. and will not mix with the other students who hail from different parts of the nation, which in their opinion lessened the quality of the college experience they expected the students to have while in college. It was their opinion that if students mix with other students who hail from different background then they will be moulded into better and more broad minded individuals when they pass out of college.

Now with this kind of a policy in place the first year of engineering ran just as planned, though the students hung around with people of similar background, their roommates and their neighbours were from a diverse background just as planned by the administration. Now from second year onwards, when the time to choose rooms came students wanted to have their own friends from their hang-out groups as their roommates and neighbours, but this was not allowed by the administration. So what happened was, once the lot picking is done and the administration washes its hands off, the students came up with an elaborate system where every student exchanged his room with some other student so that each student will be able to share his room with the roommates and neighbours of his choice of his choice. It was a pretty complex affair where a representative from every group handled the rooms for the members of that group, long excel sheets were drawn up to keep track of these room exchanges, etc…

In the end the room allotments would happen as the students desired with every student staying with his group of friends, who invariably hailed from the same place and spoke the same language. The whole hostel could roughly be divided into Bangalore Wing(a certain section of the floor), Tamil Wing, NK( North Karnataka) Wing, Punjab Wing, Mallu Wing etc… I would also like to add that there were many ‘mixed’/’cosmopolitan’ wings but even here it was a group of friends with common interests/background. Practically an alternate system for room allotment was setup by the students and in the end every student ended up with an official room and roommates and an unofficial( or the actual) room and roommates.

All this effort and breaking of rules just because of one foolish and idealistic policy by the college administration.And inspite of all this it was not that the students confined their interaction to their circle of friends, there were lot of other opportunities where they made friends with people from all backgrounds.

Now the warden is bound to find out about this shuffling of rooms done by the students and to make sure that he remains mum about the issue and does not go around fining the students for breaking the rules, the students union struck a deal with them.

Our college hosts quite a few technical and cultural fests, all of them managed by the students, from getting the sponsorship and funds for the events to organizing the events. A safe estimate of the collective budget of these fests would be probably around 20 to 25 lakhs. The wardens would arm-twist the student union to shell out a part of this fund so that they remain silent about the room shuffling and also do not go around asking fines from students for not residing in the rooms allotted to them.

Now the only question that remains to be asked is does the ‘idealistic’ intentions of the college administration justify the consequences of their actions. I say NO.
It is man’s nature to want to live with people who share his background, culture and language. And if a law or policy goes against the inner laws and nature of humans, bad consequences are inevitable. Anyway this is a discussion for another day( I have much more to say on this matter, but that will exceed the scope of this answer. So I will write a blog post and put the link here at a later point in time). Getting back to the question.

The problem posed by this question is very similar to what has already happened in my college. So it would be fruitless and abetting corruption to take any affirmative action against such housing societies, which are apparently posing a ‘threat’ to more ‘inclusive’ and ‘broad-minded’ society.

What do we do about the ‘frog in the well’ problem of the children born into such housing societies? I don’t think that is a problem at all. A kid’s character is moulded by his education and the parenting he gets. A kid growing up into a broad or narrow minded individual has nothing to do with whether he lives in a homogeneous or a heterogeneous community, it has a lot to do with how he is brought up.

Communities are the building blocks of a society. You cannot strengthen a wall by pulverizing its bricks. You cannot have a healthy and prosperous society by breaking up its communities. You need to have framework where these individual strong communities can co-exist. Encourage the kids to travel and educate them well, that ought to solve the ‘frog in the well’ problem. Breaking up the communities is not the answer.

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