You now have the option of stating ‘none’ against the column that asks for your religion in governmental forms or declarations.
In a landmark ruling, the Bombay high court on Tuesday held that the state cannot compel any individual to declare or specify his or her religion, on any form or declaration.
Acting on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by three individuals, the division bench of justices Abhay Oka and AS Chandurkar further held that every individual has the right to state that he or she does not belong to any religion and does not practice or profess any religion.
“The right of freedom of conscience conferred on a citizen includes a right to openly say that he does not believe in any religion and, therefore, he does not want to practice, profess or propagate any religion,” the bench observed, referring to the right to freedom of conscience guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
“India is a secular democratic republic,” the bench further said. It added that there is complete freedom for every individual to decide whether he or she wants to adopt or profess any religion. “He may not believe in any religion,” the bench said. “If he is professing a particular religion, he can give up the religion and claim that he does not belong to any religion.”
“The freedom conferred by Article 25 of the Constitution also includes the right of an individual to claim that he or she is an ‘atheist’," the bench said, adding that the state, or any of its agencies or instruments cannot infringe on the fundamental right to freedom of conscience.
The court further held that every individual has the right to say that he or she does not believe in any religion and therefore, if he is called upon by any agency or instrument of the state to disclose religion, he can always state that he does not belong to any religion. The court said that a person cannot to be compelled to state that he professes a particular religion.
The court’s observation:
*The court invoked Article 25 of the Constitution, saying that it includes the right of every individual to claim that he or she does not believe in any religion, that he or she is an ‘atheist’ * Hence, if he is called upon by any agency or instrument of the state to disclose it, he can always state that he does not belong to any religion
* The PIL was filed by Dr Ranjeet Mohite, Kishore Nazare and Subhash Ranaware, who said they are members of the organisation Full Gospel Church of God, which has 4,000 members.
* Though the name of the organisation hints at a Christian body, the petitioners claimed that the organisation does not believe in any religion, much less Christianity. The trio had approached high court through advocate Surel Shah.
* They approached court after the government printing press rejected their claims of not belonging to any religion, when asked for Gazette Notification of ‘change of religion.’
* In the PIL, they had sought a direction to the state government and the Centre to accept and recognise ‘no religion’ and not to insist on mentioning religion in any of their forms and declarations.