What makes an expat labourer less welcome in residential areas as a tenant? Is he more prone to crime, more dangerous and disruptive of local culture than unmarried Bahraini workers?
According to some municipal councillors, this would seem so.
There has been fierce argument about the new ministerial amendments governing bachelor housing and labour accommodation within residential neighbourhoods and some of the comments are pretty violent, in my opinion.
One angry councillor compared the move to being asked to pierce one’s eyes.
But where is the evidence to support this belief?
Is there any statistical proof that bachelors, whether Bahraini or expat, are offenders?
Nobody is quoting any such proof, so we can assume that these are statements born out of prejudice.
Time and again, expat bachelors of the blue-collar social class have been whipping boys of councillors and officials who demand their banishment to the far reaches of the kingdom in a bid to keep family residential areas unsullied and safe.
Complaints range from their dress (‘indecent sarongs’) to their habit of hanging out their washing in colourful swatches – ah, but it includes their underwear which may offend women’s gaze in the neighbourhood.
Nobody has raised an alarm about real issues that pose a threat to the entire area – overcrowding, the division of homes that have been originally built to accommodate six or eight people into warrens to fit 25 and 30, with flimsy plywood partitions.
These are safety, hygiene and fire hazards that can trigger real danger to all homes around. Moreover, most such homes are really dilapidated buildings and the landlords are unscrupulous people who want to make a fast buck before the building crumbles.
Now, here is the bright bit – while some people shout on about irrelevant dark fears, the government is being practical and unprejudiced and refusing to take these unfounded worries into account.
The proposed Amendments to the 2014 Rents Law which was discussed recently, puts in place some sensible clauses such as annual inspection of buildings classified for labour accommodation, colour-coded address tags and mandatory safety regulations that are stricter than for family residences.
It put in mind a statement by a South African friend of Indian origin who came to study medicine in India in the 1970s. She said that the difference between India with its myriad caste system rules and apartheid was that discrimination based on caste or religion was banned in India as per the Constitution, whereas the South African government institutionalised discrimination.
You are in trouble when your leaders are invested in such prejudice, she said.
The fact that Bahraini law seeks to find solutions for these concerns without empowering the prejudices is a signal to us all to take the lessons that this country teaches us to heart and practice it every day – lessons on living in harmony, not discriminating and doing our best to share space, development and opportunities with everybody.
Every person has the right to aspire to a safe and comfortable home and his marital status, choice of dress, or nationality should not be a barrier he has to overcome.