Her parents always left the ‘caste’ and ‘religion’ columns blank in application forms. But for M.A. Sneha, it is now official.
Growing up in a family that neither believed in caste nor religion, Ms. Sneha was keen on getting it endorsed.
Her long-drawn battle to get herself officially certified as belonging to ‘no caste, no religion’ came to an end on February 5.
An identity was all that 35-year-old Ms. Sneha, an advocate and resident of Tirupattur, wanted.
On February 5, as she received the certificate from Tirupattur tahsildar T.S. Sathiyamoorthy, declaring that she had ‘no caste, no religion’, she saw it as a step towards social change. In fact, revenue officials said this could be the first time that such a certificate was issued in the country.
“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 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,” she said.
“When people who believe in caste and religion have certificates, why not issue certificates to people like us?” she asked. Her quest for a caste-less and religion-less identity began in 2010, but her efforts proved futile, until now.
“I started to apply for a [no religion, no caste] certificate in 2010, but officials kept rejecting it for some reason. Some said there was no precedent in the country. It was in 2017 that I began to stand by 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.
It was B. Priyanka Pankajam, Sub-Collector of Tirupattur, who decided to give the green light. “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,” she said.
Ms. Sneha’s husband, K. Parthiba Raja, a Tamil professor, said they left the ‘caste’ and ‘religion’ columns blank in the school application forms for their three daughters. “In fact, their names are a combination of two religions - Aadhirai Nasreen, Aadhila Irene and Aarifa Jessy,” he said.