No to “no religion”

No to “no religion”

Recently I met a friend after a long time, let’s call him Patel. We both spent our teenage years together, then spent our adult hood in different countries and now we met again in India. If you live a large amount of time away from your family, society and country; there are certain things that change in your personality and the way you think compare to your folks back home. We both were experiencing the same changes (in different forms) which made us enjoy each other’s company even more.  In addition to having common ideas about politics, civic sense, morals and ethics, we both share almost similar idea about religion and god. I can be identified as an atheist and he tends to be agnostic. However, we both don’t like to be associated with any religion.

What would you do if your identity is defined by your religious practices?  In Patel’s case the religion becomes a bit tricky because he spent most of his life in western world where he was at ease to declare himself an atheist. Not only that, but often the religion also becomes kind of a problem for him because of his marriage to a foreigner (Caucasian lady) and have a daughter with her; however, this becomes issue only in social circles. Atheism became severe issue when he tried to enroll his daughter in an Indian school (in the capital city of India’s most developed state from where the prime minister comes).

This school required him to provide them the religion he practices. Now, Patel’s father is a doctor who was born in a Hindu family and later started practicing Buddhism. Patel himself is a doctor and doesn’t practice any religion. His wife is also a doctor and practices catholic religion. So, when Patel informed the school that he’s not labeling his daughter by any religion, school refused to accept this non religious child. Patel’s reasoning behind not giving his daughter any religion was to let her have her own freedom and he would allow her to practice whatever religion she prefers when she is of a mature age, but until then she would be of no religion and so would write “no religion” in the religion category of school admission form. Patel thinks that religion is a personal preference and schools or any organization cannot force an individual to declare it. The school denied his daughter’s admission application even though she belongs to a highly educated and financially well to do family.

When Patel asked my advice, I was of an opinion that he should write about this to various authorities, to the media and go to the court for his freedom to be non religious. But after a long discussion with his wife, Patel just got his daughter enrolled in another school. The reason according to Patel was that if they get their daughter enrolled in that school by raising this issue in various forums and shaming the school publically, she would have been discriminated. Yes, a father was afraid that his daughter would not have had same treatment as other religious kids from the school, had it been forced to enroll his daughter, given that the parents are non religious. Funny, how we thought that schools are suppose to treat all kids from all religion the same way.

Isn’t it pathetic that our identities are based on our religion, not based on our intelligence, educational, professional background, our social conduct or our persona but just religion?

I like to believe that we all have a fair amount of knowledge of our constitution, but seems like the government doesn’t really possess much knowledge of our constitution as The Centre and Maharashtra Government had stated that “No Religion” filled up in official forms cannot be treated as a religion or a form of religion.

I just remembered this individual incident when I heard the recent Bombay High court judgment allowing citizens to declare if they don’t belong to any religion.

Dr Ranjit Mohite, Kishore Nazare and Subhash Ranware are three individuals who had approached the State printing press to issue them a gazette notification that they belonged to “No religion”. And, when the State rejected their application, they filed a PIL with Bombay High court.

A bench of justices Abhay Oka and A S Chandurkar ruled that every citizen in India, which was a secular democratic republic, had the right under the Constitution to state that he or she does not belong to any religion and does not practice or profess any religion.

In this simple and logical case (although often governments and religions are not firm believer of logic), it was the justice body of India – which often comes out as the only sensible, logical and proficient body of India – that had to give some sense to the government about individuals’ right to the conscience. Court referred article 25A of the constitution which guarantees individual’s right to freedom of conscience and allows to freely practicing, professing or propagating any religion.

The bench of justices stated in their judgment that, “India is a secular democratic republic and there is complete freedom for any individual to decide whether he or she wants to adopt or profess any religion, If a person is practicing any particular religion, he or she can give up that religion and claim that he or she doesn’t belong to any religion and no state authority can infringe upon a person’s right guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of the freedom of conscience and freely practicing, professing or propagating any religion.”

Well it’s good to see that our courts are standing up to defend civil rights whenever our elected representatives fail. It’s really worrisome to see that issues like these happen in today’s society when we should be devoting our time to social issues, education and other advancements.

At last we have got our freedom defended by the court. Unfortunately for my friend Patel, this comes a little late as his daughter is already in her 4th month of the school. However this may benefit future generations of this country and hopefully no other father has to be worried about religion base discrimination in schools.

September 29, 2014

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