Binayak Prasad Pradhan
Saying, “I am an Indian.” cannot certainly suffice to ascertain one’s identity in a culturally, linguistically and ethnically diverse country like India. A series of other factors go into the making or constitution of our identity. Empirical realities of our country are often measured through various sociologically constructed attributes.
Which religion we belong to? What language do we speak? What caste are we from?-these questions pertaining to multiple sub-identities problematize our existence at times.
Being confronted with fragmentation, alienation and identity crisis, we are relentlessly in quest of an authentic selfhood which is almost infeasible in our context. Removing the separating margins and clubbing the people under a monochromatic category have been a challenging task ever since.
However, filing a PIL for the inclusion of a no-caste and no-religion category option in admission forms of different colleges by Dr Ramakrishna Rao, an Agriculture Scientist at Hyderabad a few days ago has been doing the rounds on different platforms and social media handles.
Undoubtedly, Dr Rao is not the first one to aspire a religion or caste neutral existence. Much prior to Dr Rao, a few more people have already been successful in obtaining official sanction for their no-caste or no-religion status, subverting the age-old caste system and social hierarchy.
Dr Sneha Parthibaraja somehow stands tall in this respect who created a buzz by obtaining a ‘no-caste and no-religion’ certificate after her decade-long struggle. These recent incidents are unmistakably suggestive of our resentment over various divisive sub-identities or sub-categories which only widen the gap and substantially add to the complexity of our existence.
However, this crave for a change or breakup with well-established norms and conditions cannot be construed as a sudden outburst or offshoot as it has its bearing on the protracted struggle or bitterly fought battles under the leadership of some of the pioneering figures like Dr BR Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and other anti-caste and religion revolutionaries.
They fought tooth and nail to construct a society free from the badge of inferiority emanating either from casteism or religious orthodoxy. Dr Ambedkar’s conversion into Buddhism, the foundation of ‘ Satyasodhak Sangha’ by Jyotirao Phule and many more reforming initiatives by others were inimically opposed to the decade-old religious beliefs and institutions which thrive on the subjugation of others on different pretexts.
These endeavours by the then reformers of course failed to exterminate the vicious systems but left a lasting impression on others forever. The future they envisaged is likely to dawn sooner or later for sure.
Our social programming often prompts us for being in conformity with the convention, orthodoxical values and beliefs. A slight deviation or digression invites the wrath of the people around us in no time.
Standing in solidarity with the dogmas and well-established norms is the only way attesting to our identity as an ideal human being. Shunning religion in a religiously charged country like India is no less than an offence or taboo.
The firmly rooted theism in our country hardly holds out any prospect for non-believers or atheism. With numerous religions, we are expected to repose our faith on one and simply continue the legacy, harbouring our personal disbelief or discontentment. Religion fanatics resorting to violence while defending their own religion or the upper caste people setting their entire community against the outcastes or Dalits is no surprise in our country.
We retain the constitutional right to choose a religion but cannot have the choice of being irreligious as it tends to subvert the deeply rooted beliefs.
Finding ‘atheist’ or ‘None’ as an option on different occasions is no easy task. Absence of such option tacitly or implicitly compels us to follow a religion or accept a caste of our birth or legal inheritance, burying the personal choices or inclinations. Time and again we are enticed to have dissenting viewpoints in a democratic process.
But, giving vent to what we feel about a religion or caste, dogmas or something that has been followed since ages without any rationale or logic fetches us only scathing criticism and denigration.
Exercising personal choices which do not conform to the deeply inscribed conventional thinking often brings in skewering from different quarters.
Sometimes, the staunch supporters and fundamentalists who endorse a particular religion or community remain impervious to some of the core virtues that all the human beings should possess.
Keeping side our political affiliation, religious beliefs or ideological convictions, we all should stand shoulder to shoulder to promote a better sense of humanity that literally constitutes the core of all the religions and beliefs.
The non-believers must not be looked down upon or prejudiced against for having challenged so-called religiousity or dogmas. Without being branded or tagged with a distinguishing marker of identity, they can also substantially contribute to the mankind.
A meticulous observation of our society ensures that the number of non-believers continue to be on ascendancy ever since.
As per the data revealed in 2011 census, around 2, 870,000 people stated no religion in their response that constitutes 0.27% of the total population.
This increasing number of non-believers hint at an ensuing era which would witness the inclusion options like ‘No Religion’, ‘No Caste’, enabling all to exercise their person choices without any strictures. NOTA option in the lower panel of Electronic Voting Machine allowing voters to exercise their own choice for not voting for any of the candidates or accommodating a new gender called ‘transgender’ as an option were not the changes which came over the night.
It took a fair amount of time to accept, legalize and validate these changes in our system. Giving a fair hearing to those who are desirous of leading a caste less or religion less life can create a new cultural idiom and would embark all of us on an ideal space that is absolutely devoid of all the discriminations.
At times, rejection of traditional religious values has made demands for newness on the believers menu other than cyber humans or hi-tech atheists. For example, The Bethune Women’s College, Kolakata’s attempt to make humanity a religion in its admission forms can be seen as a win-win situation for those who are all in for Nones.
Environmentalism is another emerging choice that fulfills the shortage of options for Nones to believe in. Taking above options into consideration, these Nones are not necessarily Nones or haters or sceptics or doubters, they are the people looking for a free, more humanitarian space than existing mainstream classifications.
(The writer is a Lecturer in English, OES-II)