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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A Group Of Karnataka Women Pushes Alcoholic, Abusive Husbands & Social Stigma Aside, Earns Through Recycling Workshop

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At thirteen, Neela was married off to a husband much older than her. At sixteen, she became a mother, and at nineteen, she was a widow. Despite having no regular income, she was faced with the daunting task of taking care of her in-laws, her own parents and of course, her little daughter. For young Neela, life has never known a trajectory where her voice is heard and her destiny is not blamed. That was until she came under the ambit of Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation and discovered a new identity for herself. The taste of financial independence was indeed delightful for her, but her zeal to work hard for a newer, better life stood at the helm of it all.

No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank

Founded by Kameshwari from Bengaluru, the foundation works with distressed women in three Karnataka villages, helping them to earn their livelihood by handcrafting a wide range of decorative or daily-use household items. Like Neela, nineteen women with struggles similar or worse, have found a new lease of life at Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation. Every piece of item created at Hosa Belaku is recycled from leftover fabrics, paper, dry waste or scrap metals.

Hosa Belaku – a new dawn

“I have been working in the social sector for the past two decades. Since 2013, I got associated with Belaku Trust, who was working with rural women in Karnataka,” shares Kameshwari, a former legal executive. 

“Most of these women were victims of alcohol abuse and harassment on the domestic front. Some were widowed, single mothers or differently-abled – making life all the more hard for them in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, circumstances led Belaku Trust to close their operations in 2015. The women were left in a lurch,” she narrates.

Some of these women desperately pleaded with Kameshwari to let them sustain their only source of income and independence. Moved by their plight, Kameshwari resolved to do her best to help as many women as possible. Investing a sizeable proportion of her own savings, she launched the Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation in 2017.

At present, the foundation has active workshops in three villages in the suburbs of Bengaluru, namely, Halasuru, Achalu and Kadahalli. 

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The gritty women of Hosa Belaku

At the prime of her life, Pavithra’s husband left her for another woman. Heartbroken and devastated, she was clueless about how to earn her living. The story is similar for many other women in these villagers, with careless, abusive or estranged husbands, most being alcohol addicts. The pangs of poverty would sometimes become more unbearable than the constant physical abuse by their husbands. Yet, they had no way to have some respite from the ordeal. Few women did work seasonally as agricultural labourers. The backbreaking toil in the sun would take a toll on their health, while the deplorable situation at their homes would haunt them for the rest of the year.

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

Kameshwari mortgaged her jewelery for Rs 6 lakh to start Hosa Belaku Artisian's Foundation. Most of the women employed in this foundation face domestic violence in their homes. Kindly donate here : bit.ly/hosabelaku

Posted by Efforts For Good on Sunday, July 21, 2019

Society, with its primitive doctrines, only made it worse for these women. For instance, nobody was willing to marry Shivlingi because she had a facial deformity. After a point, her own brothers abandoned her as if she had become a liability.

If one visits these women now, they would be found basking in their newfound success with Hosa Belaku. But, not only the women, Hosa Belaku’s workforce comprises a 19-year-old young man as well. All his life, Yogi, who is affected by Polio, had accompanied his mother everywhere. She used to work with the foundation until she recently passed away in an accident. Yogi’s father is visually-challenged, so the entire family received a major emotional and financial setback after his mother’s sudden demise. A helpless Yogi would painstakingly drag himself from door to door in search of work. “We took him in and trained him in toy-making. Now you would find him in a corner, making beautiful toys for children,” shares a proud Kameshwari.

Sunshine, Lamp and Dawn – Illuminating lives

The women groups at the three villages are designated with three unique names and assigned with a unique task each. Kirana (Sunshine), the group at Kadahalli is involved with paper products, making notepads, bags and jewellery.

The Halsuru group Deepa (Lamp) has adopted the art of block printing. Vibrant, stylish and beautiful handbags, cushion covers, stoles and notebooks are curated with the utmost care and precision by the women.

At Ushe (Dawn), needle and thread rules. Women who were already skilled in sewing and embroidery now earn by making stuffed toys, patchwork products and embroidered fabrics.

True to their names, the groups have indeed brought new light into the lives of their employees.

Suma and Jayamma are both senior workers at Kirana who have succeeded in constructing small concrete houses for themselves, a huge step up from the dilapidated huts they spent their youth in. Another aged lady in the same group has another compelling achievement to be proud of. Bearing the taunts and trauma from her drunkard husband all her life, she has single-handedly raised a son and a daughter with proper education. Her son, who is currently an aspiring engineer, was supported with a laptop from Hosa Belaku. Honamma, a young widow from the group Deepa is treading a similar path, raising her son all on her own.

The only solace

How much gratitude these women have towards Hosa Belaku is perhaps evident from Shri’s unwavering dedication. Diabetes is taking a toll on her eyesight yet she refuses to give up and continues etching her grit on the ornate block-printed fabrics.

The reason for such gratitude is manifold. For the conscious urban consumers, Hosa Belaku is striving to save the environment with their 100%-recycled policy. But, for the workers, it is the lifeline which not only offers them economic security but also allows them a place to voice, share and resolve the problems plaguing their lives.

“They come here and find a peaceful break from their household obligations. Some still face domestic violence regularly, the workshop is an escape for them. They discuss their issues and try to find feasible solutions. It takes the load off their tired minds. The work here is a breath of fresh air for them,” Kameshwari asserts.

“We have been assisted time and again by established non-profits and retail chains across Bengaluru, who have graciously showcased and marketed products made by our artisans. We would like more people to know about Hosa Belaku and its incredible women, and respect their brilliant spirit by purchasing their crafts,” Kameshwari expresses her wish.

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