After many years of trying to obtain a “no religion, no caste” certificate, Sneha Parthibaraja was finally certified on February 5th.Sneha, a 35-year-old lawyer from Vellore, became India’s first citizen to have a ‘no caste, no religion’ certificate.
India’s system of assigning 'caste or religion' labels to citizens are recorded on official documents such as a birth or school certificate and national/community certificates. ‘Caste and religion,’ two main social identification factors, were initially intended to form a collective identity and social hierarchy to organize the community into groups.
Tirupattur Woman Gets,
India's first ‘No Caste, No Religion’ Certificate: Advocate Sneha Becomes First Indian To Get This Certificate.https://t.co/Uys14Gy2xO
— Murali (@mayamadhava) February 8, 2021
Instead, India often uses the two requested identifiers to discriminate and divide people, resulting in violence and civil unrest. A person’s ‘caste’ is generally decided at birth. However, Sneha’s parents always chose to leave those columns requesting this distinction blank on any of their children’s applications. They believed her identity as an Indian female was the only distinction necessary.
“All my certificates have nil or 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 realize that every application form I filled mandated enclosure of a 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,” Sneha said.
B. Priyanka Pankajam,Sub-Collector in Tirupattur, finally found reason to give her the ‘no caste, no religion’ community certificate, stating that “She wanted to be certified as [belonging to] no caste and no religion. We had to check if her assertions were true. We verified all her school and college documents and found the two columns blank. So, though we found no precedent, we decided to go ahead and certify her as it will not affect anybody or take away another person’s opportunity.”
Many Indians found inspiration in her perseverance and initiative toward promoting an India that is void of discrimination based on a person’s caste or religion.
Even though India's caste-based certification was constitutionally repealed in the 1950s, social bullying, outcasting, and depriving those labeled ‘lower caste’ continues to this day. The hierarchy of caste remains a significant part of Indian culture, predominantly in rural communities. Several citizens of India contacted Sneha seeking instructions on how they, too, can acquire a ‘no caste, no religion’ certificate. After she discussed this with some advocates, she plans to file a writ on the process.
“Through the writ, I seek a judicial or government order which will hopefully lay out a procedure whereby people who are willing to get a ‘no caste, no religion’ certificate can acquire one. Not everyone can get this certificate. The authorities who I applied to used their discretionary powers...” she said.
“My records have always reflected no caste or religion. Those who have not had a caste or community mentioned in their certificates can follow the procedure I have. Those with a community certificate identifying them with a particular caste or religion must find a different way through the judicial system. Officials like the Sub Collector and Tehsildar don’t have the authority to revoke the certificates they have already given out. They must seek out the judicial system.” she further explained.