MA Sneha, a 35-year-old lawyer from Vellore district, Tamil Nadu become the first Indian to acquire an official ‘no caste, no religion’ certificate.
“I was brought up to think this way. My parents did not mention any caste or religion in my birth and school certificates. They refer to me as an Indian and we were brought up with these values. My sister Jennifer, Mumtaz and I were given names from different religious denominations. We don’t belong to any religion or caste. I married Mr. Parthiba Raja, who is a revolutionary in his thoughts and beliefs, and we had a marriage devoid of any traditional religious ceremonies or any markers notifying caste,” says MA Sneha.
MA Sneha and her husband named their daughters after different religions, the same way Sneha and her sister had been. A community Certificate is issued by the State Governments concerned, which certifies that a person belongs to which particular caste-like Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Caste and other Backward Classes.
MA Sneha informing about certificate told that “It took me nine years to acquire this ‘no caste, no religion’ certificate. I was writing letters to the Tehsildar, requesting a no-community certificate in the beginning and they were rejected with barely a look. After multiple attempts, I applied by employing a procedure they use for a community certificate in 2017. They had to answer the letter as it was numbered. They initially said there was no precedent for it, besides raising points like, ‘what is the use of this certificate’ and ‘we cannot agree to give you one without any particular reason”.
The concerned authorities told her that they could only certify that she belonged to a particular caste and religion but they cannot certify that she did not belong to any. Later on, she convinced the authorities that she wasn’t going to use this certificate for any sort of advantageous purpose.
“She wanted to be certified as 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,” said B. Priyanka Pankajam, Sub-Collector of Tirupattur.
“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 explains.