India’s First ‘No Caste-No Religion’ Certificate Approved For TN Lawyer Who Always Left ‘Caste’ & ‘Religion’ Columns Blank

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When Efforts For Good tried getting in touch with M.A. Sneha, a 35-year-old advocate from Tirupattur, Tamil Nadu, she was recording an interview with BBC News. Overnight, she has become an inspiration for India, for officially securing the country’s first ‘No Caste No Religion’ certificate from the government.

Sneha, who was brought up in a secular environment with no influence of any casteist or religious sentiments, feels her victory would motivate the future generation of India to create a more peaceful society.

She grew up without caste & religion

Talking to Efforts For Good, Sneha shared how her ideology was shaped from childhood by her advocate parents, both of whom are firm believers in equality. “We are three sisters. Our parents named us in the most secular manner – Sneha, Mumtaj and Jennifer – to prove how equality reigns above all religions,” she shares.

When she was three years old, her parents took her for school admission. “They left the ‘caste’ and ‘religion’ columns blank in the application form,” she told when inquired on how it started. That was the start. Sneha has always made sure to skip these two columns in all her application forms ever since.

A strong and supportive family helped her maintain her liberal mindset all along. “There were a few objections from people, I won’t deny. They would tell me that I would never get married as no one would opt for a ‘casteless’ girl. But, I was sure I would find a progressive man who would gladly accept my ideas,” she admits. Sneha got married to Tamil professor Parthiba Raja in 2005, in a unique revolutionary wedding set-up unknown to Indians.

“Our wedding was devoid of any religious rituals and traditional customs. The famous liberal poet Inkulab conducted our marriage,” she narrates. The couple has three daughters, all of whom bear secular names like Aadhirai Nasreen, Adhila Irene and Aarifa Jessy, which are a confluence of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian names. They are also being raised without any ‘caste’ or ‘religious’ identity.

No Caste No Religion
Sneha with her family

A long struggle for the certificate

Since 2010, M.A. Sneha has been willing to make her ‘casteless and religionless’ status official, but her applications for the same were rejected multiple times. “The authorities would cite reasons like there was no precedent of a woman ever receiving the sanction for such a status. People would tell me that I would face a lot of difficulty as a citizen without mentioning caste and religion,” she reveals.

Sneha, an expert lawyer, stuck her ground and patiently explained to everyone time and again that it was a ‘no pain, no gain’ situation for her. Neither has she opted for any government benefits or reservation, nor is her status going to offend anyone’s sentiments. “If people can avail caste certificates, why cannot one obtain a ‘no-caste’ certificate?” she would question.

No Caste No Religion
The copy of the certificate

Her final appeal in 2017 brought her success when it was eventually accepted. She was handed over the certificate on February 5, 2019, by Tirupattur Tehsildar T.S. Sathiyamoorthy. Sneha informs that B. Priyanka Pankajam, the sub-collector of Tirupattur, played a key role in approving her application. Her certificate was finally issued after Pankajam gave a go ahead, making this the first such instance in the country.

Sneha wishes to clarify that she is never against reservation policy by the government. “The reservation benefits were initiated after a lot of struggle from the lesser privileged section. I would always wish that the policy helps to uplift the backward communities and offer them equal opportunities,” she states.

After her success, her sisters and husband have also decided to get a similar certificate. “I would also try the same for my daughters. I believe if the government starts approving such certificates, we can dream of a more harmonious society one day.” she signs off.

Efforts For Good take

In a deeply religious country like India, we often see instances of violence based on religion and caste. In the past centuries, religious sentiments have created a divided social set-up and casteist hierarchy, marginalising many. For a society blinded by hatred and discrimination, M.A. Sneha’s rebellious decision will surely prove to be a light in the right direction. Efforts For Good hopes that she becomes a role model for the upcoming generations.

Also Read: 38-Yr-Old IIS Officer Becomes First Woman To Trek Kerala’s Men-Only Peak

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Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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