So, what is this hullabaloo over a well-educated couple choosing “to battle an unremitting bureaucracy from the very start and refused to fill in the column titled ‘Religion’ in their child’s most basic document, the birth certificate”? Incidentally, the TOI headline was, "No religion please, we’re liberals"! The amount of time liberals take to discuss religion cannot mean 'no religion'.
Aditi Shedde and Aalif Surti are the Hindu Maharashtrian mother and Gujarati Muslim father of the special baby. Says the mother:
“A few months into my pregnancy, we had decided that we would not give our child any religious identity. We are not against religion, but who are we to choose a religion on our baby’s behalf? We will expose him to the values of different faiths and cultures, and when he grows up he will be free to follow any faith—or none if he wishes.”
That would have been possible even if they had added a religion. There are many of us who do not actively practise any faith even though we have been branded. Heck, we get branded anyway.
If it is different cultures they want to expose the child to, then they could have made him a Jew or a Christian. As it turns out they had to fill in “Others”.
“Others is just to facilitate the generation of the certificate. We know our child has no religion.”
I do not understand. If they insist the child has no religion, why make such a noise about it? It only draws attention to the fact that they have a religion which they are not practising. Adults make these choices. Their baby will grow up and make several others. He could take to certain habits they may not approve of (and I am sure they do have certain values they believe in) – will they leave it to choice?
Why give the child a name when he can choose it when he grows up? Or will they select one of those abstract ones or something from Greek mythology to make certain that their respective religions do not come in the way to brandish their views?
If both of them belonged to the same faith would they have done the same thing? I doubt it. I think this is more statement than a practical reality.
Over a decade ago, I had written this:
But religion per se cannot give anyone an identity in the fluctuating late 20th century society. It can only provide the much-dreaded moral fibre and a mistakenly-interpreted formula for living. Besides, it does colour our interpretation of the world.
If the child under discussion were to make the choice, is there any guarantee he will not be exposed to any religion anywhere? Why are the parents identifying themselves with the different faiths they were born in? What will they tell him when he grows up a bit and sees people around with tags? Therefore, it is about religion, anyway you look at it.
When I was a kid I was asked whether I wanted to have the muliyani come over and I refused. When I stopped participating in certain rituals – which were anyway a rarity at our house – no one questioned me.
Identity is larger than a label. If it is not, then we are in serious trouble and no amount of battling bureaucracy and having something fancy on a piece of paper will change that.
What if the child wants to change his gender later? Why put 'Male' in the form? I know this is stretching it, but how else do you reach out?
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In an incident that worked in an opposite manner I once filled out a form for my mother and put NA in the religion section, but the person insisted it was required. I later informed her about it and she shot back, “Who has given you the right to make this choice for me? I am a Muslim and that is a fact. I don’t tell you what you should follow, so don’t interfere in mine.”