31 July 2023 5:41 AM GMT
Observing that the system has to evolve along with the times and the changing requirements of the citizens, the Telangana High Court has ordered the state government to provide a ‘no religion’ and ‘no caste’ column in the application for Birth Certificate.In the decision on a couple's plea seeking a "non religious and no caste” identity for their child, Justice Lalitha Kanneganti...
Observing that the system has to evolve along with the times and the changing requirements of the citizens, the Telangana High Court has ordered the state government to provide a ‘no religion’ and ‘no caste’ column in the application for Birth Certificate.
In the decision on a couple's plea seeking a "non religious and no caste” identity for their child, Justice Lalitha Kanneganti said the petitioners have every right not to follow or profess any religion and such right is implicit in Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
The court said it is the bounden duty of the authorities to act in consonance with the rights guaranteed to the citizen by the Constitution of India.
"The State cannot compel the citizen to profess or declare that he belongs to one religion or the other. If he is compelled to do so, it is nothing but infringing his fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India," said the court
A constitutional court cannot remain a mute spectator to the legitimate requirement of a citizen, the court observed as it allowed the plea.
"The Writ Petition is allowed directing the respondents to provide a column for “no religion”, “ no caste” in the on line application format and receive the petitioners’ application for registering the birth of their son, by virtue of Article 25 of the Constitution of India. He has every right to claim that he does not belong to any religion /caste," said the bench.
The couple had contended the mandatory selection of religion and caste in the application for a birth certificate, without which the application is not accepted, is against constitutional rights protected under Article 25 of the Constitution. It was submitted that the application, under the column for religions, provides four options to choose from: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and other religions. However, the application does not have a column for 'no religion', the court was told.
The petitioners submitted that theirs was a love marriage and they belong to different religions but had gotten married without any religious rituals or customs and vowed to raise the children free of any religious influence.
"They want to bring the children without any religious formalities or caste practices as a non-believer family at their home or outside home. They wanted to nurture and nourish him in such a way that they cherish true democratic and humanistic values in their day to day life," the counsel on behalf of the petitioners contended.
The petitioners further argued that India is a secular country and as per Article 25, an individual is free to choose whether he wants to practice a religion or not. The petitioners contended that it is not only them who are facing the issue and “that whether one is an atheist, rationalist, radical humanist, socialist or a communist, he / she or all those who are lakhs in number in India and who claim and subscribe to this, would definitely agree to the status of being recognized as “non- religious and no caste”.
Union government in response said that the subject of birth and death registration comes under the concurrent list of the Constitution and implementation of the provisions of Registration of Births and Deaths Act is on the State Governments for which Chief Registrar of Births and Deaths has been declared as Chief Executive Authority in the State/ UT and at central level, the Registrar General, India only coordinates and unifies the activities of the Chief Registrars of Births and Deaths in the matter of registration of births and deaths.
"The information on religion under item ‘Religion of the family’ with options as ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Christian’ and ‘any other religion’ is collected under statistical part of the reporting form and used for statistical purpose only. Hence, the same is not reflected in the birth and death certificate. The specific forms for reporting the birth and death events are prescribed by the respective State Governments. Hence, it relates to Respondents 4 and 5 and State Government of Telangana through the Chief Registrar of Births and Deaths," the Centre said.
The state government authorities did not file any counter in the matter.
Allowing the plea, the court said Article 25 confers freedom of conscience on a citizen which is a fundamental right guaranteed to a citizen.
"It confers the right to freely profess, practice or propagate any religion, which includes in it the citizens right to say that he does not believe in any religion and he does not want to profess, practice or propagate any religion. The citizen has a right to act as per his conscience and beliefs."
The bench further said the State cannot compel the citizen to profess or declare that he belongs to one religion or the other. If he is compelled to do so, it is nothing but infringing his fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India, observed the bench.
"The society is continuously evolving and as per the mandate of the Constitution, the State has to make the changes wherever required as per the changing needs as change is inevitable. At all times, the State has to respect the human rights and bring harmony in the society. In this case, the petitioner and his wife who belongs to two different religions, who do not believe in the concept of religion want to bring up the children as per their beliefs. The Hon’ble Apex Court in case of Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India7 has held that it is not only the duty of the State and the judiciary to protect the basic right to dignity but the collective at large owes a responsibility to respect one another’s dignity for showing respect for the dignity of another is a constitutional duty," the court said.
Title: Sandepu Swaroopa and Another vs UOI
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Tel) 30
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