What’s in a sarkaari form? A lot of things, including your name, ‘father/husband’s name’, date of birth, and of course, your religion and caste.
But what happens when you don’t believe in religion, and don’t want to bring up your child with a caste? What about the non-religious, the agnostics, the atheists, the children of couples who hold different faiths, or just about any person who does not want to tell the government which gods they pray to?
A couple from Hyderabad are fighting a very interesting battle to seek a provision in official forms, for those who follow no religion and caste. They took the case to court, and the Hyderabad High Court on Tuesday issued notices based on the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by DV Ramakrishna Rao and S Clarance Krupalini.
The court has asked the government of Telangana and Andhra, along with the Centre to respond in two weeks, on some of the questions raised by the couple.
"It all started in 2010, when my younger daughter was joining school, and the authorities insisted that we had to mention some religion in the place provided, even though it was against our wishes," Ramakrishna Rao tells TNM.
Rao says that the couple had made a conscious choice not to impart any caste or religious beliefs to their children.
"However, there is no option in our country for the people with no religion. While there are six identified religions, and another option titled 'other', that still means that the person follows a religion that is not listed. We are asking for one more 'Non-Religious' option to be added," he says.
Rao says that the school authorities insisted that they state a religion, saying that there would be a problem with the Transfer Certificate (TC).
"I'm facing the same problem seven years later. My elder daughter is now going to write her 10th class board exams, and the Telangana SSC Examination's online application didn't let me submit the form until I checked all the boxes," he says.
While Rao has submitted the form for his elder daughter, he says that he did it after a lot of protest.
"Our basic point is that, right from birth to death, a person should be able to claim his identity, outside of religion and caste, if they choose to. Our present system does not provide such an option," he adds.
Rao also says that he has been writing to several government officials since 2010, including the HRD Ministry at the Centre, and has also filed complaints.
"I met many educational officers in Hyderabad, and at the state level. When I wrote to the HRD Minister in Delhi, via a complaint redressal system, they replied saying that it was an issue under the state's purview," he says.
"However, I disagree with that. I think it’s a policy issue, at the state and central level," he adds.
Rao also quotes the 2011 Census, which gives a 'religion not stated' option, but no option for the non-believer. 28.7 lakh people were listed under the category in 2011.
"They must be categorised scientifically," Rao exclaims, elaborating on the need to address and attend to emerging identities in society.
When the Census data was first released, there was a lot of protest from the communities of rationalists and atheists across the country.
The data said that a mere 33,000 people had stated categorically in the column that they were atheists - a minuscule 0.0027 per cent of our population.
Rao also says that he doesn't mean to belittle any religion or caste.
"We are alive to the practice of caste, and the inequalities it has propagated. We also understand the need for a reservation policy in our country. At the same time, we also want the state to protect the rights of the people with no religion," he says.
When asked if he is optimistic about the PIL, Rao adds, "The right to religion also includes the right to not follow any religion. The Constitution guarantees it. The court has seen enough seriousness in my PIL to consider it, and I'm quite sure that we'll get a positive result."
An online petition has also been started for the cause, and can be found here.