This 43-year-old advocate enjoys the puzzled look on people's faces at the very mention of his name. "Hi my name is Casteless Junior," he says, with a witty smile on his face. But while his name is unique, there are three of a kind in this case: He has an older brother, Casteless, and a younger sister, Shine Casteless!
In Punalur municipality in Kollam, approximately 67 kilometres from the state capital, there’s a house with the nameplate: ‘CASTELESS HOUSE’ (in Malayalam). The heads of this house are Fasuluddin Alikunju, a Muslim by birth, and Agnes Gabriel, a Christian.
"Both our parents come from highly orthodox families of their respective religions. In fact, when my mother's family knew about her relationship with my father, they put her under ‘house arrest’. My father had to file a Habeas Corpus petition at the Kerala High Court in order to secure her release,” Casteless Junior says.
When they were reunited, thanks to a Kerala High Court order in 1973, the couple did not get married, but continued to live together for nearly 19 years. There was no marriage certificate, nor any religious ritual.
It was only in the year 1992 that the couple chose to register their union – for practical purposes. They wanted to secure their family property, and ensure that their children could inherit them. And when they chose to register, it was under the retrospective provision of the Special Marriage Act. “I was probably in Class 10 at that time,” Casteless Junior says.
Meanwhile, although Fasuluddin and Agnes’s families reluctantly accepted their way of life, they kept trying to put pressure on their children to convince the other to convert. But, Casteless Junior says, neither Fasuluddin nor Agnes were ready to budge. “Both my parents are rationalists, and secular in their outlook. They did not budge to parental pressure, and life went on,” he says.
And against everyone’s automatic assumption that Fasuluddin and Agnes’s children would go by their father’s religion, the couple threw out another surprise. “When my brother was born in 1974, my parents simply named him ‘Casteless’,” Junior says, as he laughs.
Subsequently, when their second child (a son) was born in 1975, they called him ‘Casteless Junior’. And the youngest, a daughter born in 1983, became ‘Shine Casteless’.
Fasuluddin and Agnes say they were confident that their children wouldn’t be deprived of anything if they did not follow the societal norm, or failed to endorse some religion. Whether it was school records or any other document, the parents simply entered ‘NIL’ on the caste and religion columns.
"In fact, when one of the convent schools came to our house and asked us to change our names, and choose one religion, we simply told them that our children would make a choice when they turned 18 – or continue without one if they so decide!” Fasuluddin recollects.
When Casteless, Casteless Junior and Shine Casteless got married, none of them observed any rituals. There was no dowry, no priest, and all of their weddings were registered under the Special Marriage Act. “We had made our stand clear to our prospective partners much ahead of time, and they all simply agreed,” Casteless says.
And with that, the initial scepticism of the Fasuluddin and Agnes’s families that their children would not find marital alliances were put to rest.
The Casteless family says that society has accepted them for who they are. “In fact, when most people cannot win an election without their caste background, I, ‘Casteless’, have won the election at the Punalur Municipal Council, and was the Vice Chairman between 2005 and 2010," Casteless Junior says.
And the Casteless siblings decided to carry on their parents’ legacy.
Casteless – an MBA – and his wife Sabitha, who live in Dubai, named their children ‘Alpha Casteless’ and ‘Indian Casteless’.
Casteless, Sabitha and their children, Alpha and Indian.
Casteless Junior – a product of the Udupi Law College – is a member of the Punalur Bar Association, and married a Hindu woman named Rajalekshmi. Their two daughters are called ‘Agna Casteless Junior’ and ‘Alpha Casteless Junior’.
Shine Casteless, who is a teacher and is pursuing her PhD, married Cheguvare, an entrepreneur who is employed abroad. The couple has a daughter Aleida Cheguvare.
According to the family, it’s a personal choice that the family has decided to remain 'Casteless' and not a public concern.
"In fact, these days some of our relatives approach us with new anxiousness. What is to be done with our dead bodies after our time - buried or cremated? We again drive them away saying it’s up to the individual person. Although, most of us would like to pledge our organs and be of some use to the scientific community after our demise, it is up to the surviving members to take the call," Junior says.
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Main image: (l to r) Rajalekshmi, wife of Casteless Junior, holding their daughter, Agna Casteless Junior, Fasuluddin, Agnes, Shine Casteless, Alpha Casteless Junior, and Aleida Shine Cheguvare. The board in the background says 'CASTELESS HOUSE'.