A man and woman belonging to different religions meet, fall in love, and get married. When they have kids, they decide to raise them in a secular, non-religious way. And everything looks as simple as it sounds.
But a few years later they come to know that their personal decision is not so easy to follow after all. This is because they come across a column named ‘religion’ in all government forms they need to fill for their kids – school admission, passport application, you name it.
This, in a gist, is the story of DV Ramakrishna Rao and his wife S Clarance Krupalini, a Hyderabad-based couple that has taken up a unique fight – seeking the right to reject religion.
They have filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) asking the Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Central governments demanding that all such forms have a column for people who do not believe in any religion. And the great part is that on March 20, the Hyderabad High Court asked Telangana, AP, and Central governments to respond to the PIL in two weeks.
“My wife and I belong to different religious and caste origins. While my wife believes in religion and practices Christianity, I don’t believe in any religion. After marriage, we thought that we will raise our children in a democratic, rational and non-religious way, without the confines of caste and religious beliefs,” says Ramakrishna.
In the year 2010, when the couple went for their younger daughter Sahaja’s school admission, the school authorities told them that they have to fill either the mother’s or father’s religion in the admission form. This, they said, would be required later for the school to make a transfer certificate for the student.
Ramakrishna and Clarance discussed their beliefs with the school, but the concerned person could only say that this is not in their hands and that government prescribed forms require these details. Not ready to give up so soon, the couple went to the district education officer and the Andhra Pradesh state human rights commission with the same query – but to no avail.
Because of lack of time and an upcoming deadline, they were forced to fill in the religion in the form, to get their daughter admitted to school.
After this, they immediately moved a writ petition in the Andhra Pradesh high court. “When I went with the writ petition, the high court justice said that according to Article 25 of the Indian constitution, the right to religion means right to not practice any religion too. He commented on our problem very positively and said that as such nobody can pressurize anybody if they don’t want to disclose their religion,” says Ramakrishna.
Seven years later, their elder daughter Spandana is going to sit for her Class 10 board exams, for which she had to fill an online application form. This form asks for the religion of the applicant, and the column has seven options – Hindu, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and others. “What this ‘Others’ means is that while I don’t belong to any of the six mentioned religions, I do belong to some other religion. Which is not true in our case,” he says.
When the couple questioned this, the school authorities could again just say that they are helpless. Ramakrishna appreciates that in the whole process, all the officials were sympathetic towards their problem. The only issue was that they didn’t have any solution for it. The couple submitted the online application for their daughter, once again by force after selecting the ‘other’ option.
This time again, they continued with their pursuit and took up the fight head on.
Ramakrishna went on to investigate how the population of the country is being recorded while many people continue to not identify with any religion. He wrote an application to the Director General, Census of India, to which he got the response that there is a separate column called ‘Religion Not Stated’. He also found that 28.7 lakh people were listed in this category in 2011.
“But ‘Religion Not Stated’ is one and the same thing as ‘other’. Our point is that our existing systems are not identifying human beings out of their religious beliefs. So when we are giving a religion and caste column, there should be a non-religion and non-caste column too,” he says.
Ramakrishna is conscious and aware about caste and religion-based reservations in the country and clearly specifies that he wholeheartedly supports them. “All we are asking is one more column so that whoever does not want to recognize with any religion is able to select that option. That is our right,” he says.
The high court bench also asked the couple’s advocate D. Suresh Kumar about what will happen if the children want to follow a religion in the future, to which he responded that “if they want to, the world is a free open space for them and they can practice whichever religion they want.”
Clarance works in the Andhra Pradesh government and 47-year-old Ramakrishna works in a Telangana contractual job. He has been living in Hyderabad for the last 25 years. The couple met as colleagues, fell in love and got married in 2000.
“There are no religious practices in our home, but my kids get questions from their friends about which religion they follow. We are guiding and helping them understand our decision, and they are now explaining it to their friends better than I am. At a family level too, everyone is supporting our views,” Ramakrishna adds.
“I need support from everyone. It’s a democratic demand. Our non-faith should be respected too. Let us collectively take up this fight – this is not a question of believers and non-believers. Like my wife believes in religion, and still she is supporting me as a non-believer. I am expecting the same thing from society,” he concludes.
Ramakrishna has also started an online petition to gain public support. You can sign the petition here.