September 26, 2023

Telangana High Court Orders Inclusion of “No Religion” and “No Caste” Options in Birth Certificate Application

In a significant step towards upholding the right to freedom of religion and conscience, the Telangana High Court has directed the state government to include options for “no religion” and “no caste” in the online birth certificate application format. The ruling came in response to a plea filed by a couple who belonged to different religions and chose not to align with any religious belief. The court’s decision reflects a crucial recognition of every citizen’s right to hold their individual beliefs, as enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution of India.

Justice Lalitha Kanneganti’s bench, presiding over the case, stressed that the state cannot compel citizens to declare or profess affiliation with any religion. The court cited Article 25, which implicitly grants every individual the freedom to follow or not follow any religion. The petitioners, who desired to raise their child based on their shared beliefs, faced hurdles when they applied for their son’s birth certificate in 2019. Despite multiple attempts to declare their child’s status as “no religion” and “no caste,” the authorities did not acknowledge their requests.

Faced with the authorities’ resistance, the couple sought legal intervention, urging the court to issue a directive to include the option of “No Religion and No Caste” on all birth certificate forms for similar cases. The high court referred to a precedent set by the Supreme Court in ABC v. State (NCT of Delhi) (2015), where the apex court had ruled that the father’s signature was not required for issuing a birth certificate in cases of single mothers.

The Telangana High Court underscored that citizens have the right to act according to their conscience and beliefs, and the state cannot impose any religious affiliation on them. To do so would be a violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India. The court recognized that society is ever-changing, and the state must adapt to evolving needs, as mandated by the Constitution.

As a result of the court’s ruling, the petitioners’ plea was granted, and the respondent authorities were instructed to incorporate a column for “no religion” and “no caste” in the online application format for birth certificates. This landmark decision marks a progressive step towards affirming individual autonomy and promoting inclusivity in administrative processes. It not only respects the diversity of beliefs within the nation but also serves as a reminder of the Indian Constitution’s commitment to upholding the values of secularism and equality for all citizens.