M.A. Sneha Parthibaraja, (39) is the first Indian to get a ' No Caste -No Religion Certificate'. Her's is a legacy of liberation with three generations in the family defying Casteism, Religion & Dogma.
Tamil Nadu— Sneha is a practicing lawyer at Thirupattur, activist, and an inspirational orator whose words leave her audience spellbound. Her powerful arguments against the irrationality of Varna System reflect her unwavering commitment to social justice. "I believe in the principles of science, which is why I cannot believe in the existence of God," asserts Sneha with conviction in a conversation with The Mooknayak. Sneha firmly believes that no one is born with a caste, and the government's issuance of caste certificates based on one's birth and family lineage is an injustice. She raises an important question, "Why must we be defined by our religious identity or caste? Can't we just be proud Indians?" Sneha fought a 9-year old battle to receive the much desired No Caste No Religion' certificate which was issued on February 5, 2019.
Following her path, some 30-35 people applied and received similar certificates, thus liberating themselves from the chains of orthodoxy. In the recent months, three brothers from Nilgiris in Ooty, Bhagat Singh , Sukhdev and Rajguru are known to have received similar certificates. Sneha's insistence for an official document declaring religious and caste detachment is indeed a revolutionary idea, however, to truly understand the essence of her convictions and value system, The Mooknayak travelled back to her childhood.
Behold the tale of Anandkrishnan and Manimozhi, two lawyers who loved each other and so entered in an intercaste wedding in the year 1982 , in Thirupattur of TamilNadu, eschewing all traditional rituals.
A year later, they welcomed their eldest daughter whom they named Sneha as a homage to Snehlata Reddy, a renowned actress, revolutionary, and Naxalite activist, who tragically met her untimely demise in 1978 at the hands of the police. Later, they had two more daughters , who were named Mumtaz & Jennifer.
When it came time to enroll Sneha in a prestigious convent school, Anandkrishnan and Manimozhi left the columns for caste and religion blank, citing their non-conformist and atheist views. They staunchly believed that religion and caste were inextricably linked and, therefore, had renounced both. "My paternal grandfather was a religious person but not his eldest son advocate P.V. Bakthavatchalam who during his college days got attracted towards communism and rationalism. My father too followed his elder brother," Sneha said.
Sneha and her sisters did not have caste identities on their documents during their schooling and college education. They left the caste and religion columns blank. Sneha completed her post-graduation in Law and Sociology. In 2009-10, she had to appear for the judicial services examination and apply to become a Notary Public. The caste certificate was mandatory, so she wrote a letter to the Tahsildar requesting a No Caste No Religion certificate. Sneha submitted a bunch of her educational documents, including transfer certificates from standard 5th onwards, to show her non-conformity with caste and religious identity and requested a certificate.
However, the Tahsildar and many others who came after him kept rejecting her requests for years, citing a lack of provisions as the reason for not issuing such a certificate. Then, a progressive officer, Priyanka Pankajam, came to the area in 2018. Sneha approached her with the issue, and she understood the situation. The SDM took Sneha's application and forwarded it to the Tahsildar, who sought a report from the revenue officer and finally issued the desired certificate.
"It was a historic moment. It was the recognition of my strong belief that when the Indian Constitution grants freedom to preach propagate and worship any religion one likes, the same provision sanctions the liberty NOT to follow or affiliate with any religion. And when citizens get an official certificate to their non conforming beliefs from the goverment itself, life gets easier" she emphasized.
Sneha and her siblings were raised in an environment that fostered their parents' values and beliefs, which they passionately conveyed to anyone who inquired. Their home was frequented by communist friends of the couple . At home, the books, too, were on communism, rationalism and atheism. Sneha and her sisters imbibed those principles.
As Sneha grew older, she gradually absorbed these teachings and internalized them to the point where, at the tender age of eleven to twelve years old, she possessed the oratory skills to deliver an impassioned hour-long speech on the detrimental effects of caste-based discrimination in India. "Arguing with people honed my skills and strengthened even more my interest in challenging the fundamentals of Sanatan Dharma," Sneha told The Mooknayak. In an age when girls love to read fairy tales, Sneha, Mumtaz, and Jennifer took delight in studying Marx, Periyar, and Ambedkar. Like Sneha, both her younger sisters opted for the law profession and are advocates.
Sheba's husband Parthibaraja, a Tamil professor in Sacred Heart College in Tirupattur hails from a religiously inclined family. But later in his life, he got interested in the philosophies of Periyar, (E.V. Ramasamy, founder of Dravidar Kazhagam) and Ambedkar and became an atheist. Sneha says, "Ours was a revolutionary kind of marriage where we didn't perform any rituals. As a symbol of accepting each other, we merely exchanged garlands. No rings were exchanged nor did my husband tie the taali (mangal sutra). Sneha and her husband K. Parthibaraja have named their three daughters with a mix of Buddhist, Christian and Muslim names - Aadhirai Nasreen (15), Aadhila Irene (11) and Aarifa Jessy (9).
When asked what if any one of their kids would prefer to be a believer and like to follow a religion when they grow up, Sneha said their daughters have been given the same upbringing as hers and all the three girls have a secular approach towards life. "They are free to choose their path when they attain maturity and if they desire, they too might one day get the official ' Religion and Casteless ' certificates like me" Sneha said.
Sneha told The Mooknayak that ever since she received the certificate, hundreds of queries have been pouring in on a daily basis. "Some people want to keep their religion but only give up their caste while some wish to renounce both. People keep asking me the procedure which is quite simple, particularly now after my request was granted" Sneha said.
Any applicant desirous of getting NCNR certificate has to file an application to the village officer who would forward the letter to the Revenue Officer. The RO will move it to the Tahsildar who would issue the certificate. She said that had there been a government order on issuance of No Caste-No Religion Certificate, the procedure would have become even simpler. Sneha said recently she has formed a group of 30 people who have received the official certificate like her and they plan to approach the Chief Ministers in Non BJP states first, for issuing government orders to facilitate citizens who wish to detach themselves from the caste and religion tags.
Sneha has also ventured into acting and is starring in a woman-centric movie expected to release in May. "Aval Appadithan" is a continuation of the 1978 film of the same name, starring Sripriya, Rajinikanth, and Kamal Hassan, which was critically acclaimed and won numerous awards for its powerful portrayal of a woman. "Aval Appadithan Part 2" is an extension of the same film, where Sneha plays the role of Manju, a passionate and independent teacher with high self-esteem.
A certain incident causes chaos at home, leading to clashes between Manju and her husband, and the bold stance she takes in response is the crux of the plot. Sneha shared that the entire shooting was completed in just 10 days, all in a single location inside a house. This movie is a tribute to strong women, and the message it conveys is that "she is like that."
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