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.
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.
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.