If India has witnessed rising incidences of caste-based violence in recent times, the country on 5 February also witnessed victory of a lone woman's fight to have an official 'no caste, no religion' identity. Born to parents who decided their daughter would only be recognised as an 'Indian' in her birth and school certificates, this 35-year-old lawyer from Vellore had to fight for nine years for a certificate giving her an identity, without caste and religion.
A Sneha Parthibaraja, who practices at the Tirupattur court, is probably the first one in the country to be given such a certificate by the tahsildar TS Sathiyamoorthy. The document noted that she has ‘no caste, no religion’.
"All my certificates are blank against the ‘caste’ and ‘religion’ columns. This includes my birth certificate and school certificates. They mention me as an Indian. But I started to realise that every application form I filled mandated enclosure of community certificate. So, I had to obtain a self-affidavit. It was only then that it occurred to me that I needed an identity that was sans caste and religion. When people who believe in caste and religion have certificates, why not issue certificates to people like us?”she was quoted saying by The Hindu.
Parthibaraja began her fight in 2010 but all her attempts remained futile until last week. Her last application was submitted in May, 2017. Officials, she told, kept rejecting it "for some reason".
"Some said there was no precedent in the country. It was in 2017 that I began to stand my ground and explained [my stand] to officials. I justified my stand, saying they should look into my request as I had availed no government schemes or reservation,” she said.
Her victory is a tacit protest against the spate of violence against lower castes in India - be it the recent flogging of Dalits in Una and Gujarat, brutally assaulting Dalit boys in Gujarat again for sporting moustaches or even for trying to celebrate the birth anniversary of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar's birth.
Dalits, especially, have taken to the streets in protest to demand better treatment. Young boys can even be found wearing T-shirts that read “It’s a Dalit thing, you won’t understand.” Dalit leader and founder of Bhim Army Chandrashekhar Azad have delivered fiery speeches against inhuman treatment to members. In July, 2018 a Dalit groom was able to take out his wedding procession in a Thakur-dominated village after struggling for six months and with more than 300 police officers in tow.
No wonder then that Parthibaraja was quoted telling The Times of India that "irrespective of what caste or religion they were born into, people with means should apply for the ‘no-caste, no-religion’ status, so that economically weaker sections and individuals fighting for their basic rights would get their due without hassle."
Sub-collector of Tiruppatur B Priyanka Pankajam, who finally gave a go-ahead to her certificate, has said that they decided to hand over the certificate after verifying that Parthibaraja's school and college documents had not mention of her caste or religion.
Parthibaraja and husband K Parthibaja, a Tamil professor, has naturally also left the caste and religion bits blank in the application forms of their three daughters whose names are a combination of two religions.
But this Vellore woman is not the only one in her fight. Hyderabad-based DV Ramakrishna Rao is one such individual who’s been fighting a legal battle for the past eight years to claim the right to de-link his identity from religion and caste. He had filed a PIL in April 2010 seeking inclusion of the 'no caste, no religion' option in all government documents, reported The Times of India. It was a desire to raise his daughters as non-believers, till they are old enough to decide what they wanted to believe in, that led him to seek legal recourse. "My daughter Sahaja was all set to join school. But the authorities insisted on mentioning the religion of any one parent in the form. That’s something we were dead against," he was quoted saying.
Again, in March 2018, more than one lakh school students in Kerala had chosen not to fill their caste and religion specifications in admission forms. State education minister C Raveendranath had announced in the Assembly that around one lakh students between Classes 1 and 10 did not want their caste or religion mentioned in school admission forms. In June 2017, CPM MP MB Rajesh and Congress MLA from Kerala, VT Balram had set off discussions after they decided not to specify the religion and caste of their children at the time of their school admission, Deccan Herald reported.
While choosing an identity for oneself is definitely a choice that an individual will take for herself or himself, perhaps a conscious decision to understand violence bred through religion or caste would pave the way for greater acceptance and less incidences of hate crimes.
Updated Date: Feb 14, 2019 14:53:37 IST