Kerala is considered to be one of the most educated and progressive state of India. However, around 150 years ago it reeked of an inhuman social evil. At that time, lower caste women in (the then) Travancore district of Kerala were not allowed to cover their upper body. It was almost a half-a-century of violent struggle that triggered a wave of renaissance movement and shaped modern Kerala as it is known today.
2. Time when covering breasts was crime
At that time, a low caste woman with her breasts covered was seen as a social culprit in Travancore. This inhuman practice continued unabated till the middle of the 19th century.
3. Historical day when movement tiggered
26th July 1859 however was the day when change came. After a long fight that lasted 50 years, the women were allowed to wear clothes on their upper body. It might amaze you but these women fought a tough battle to gain the freedom and independence of covering their body, at least on one side.
5. Different rules for different castes
A Kshatriya woman, however was forced to keep her chest open in front of a Brahmin which was an upper caste. However almost all women from all castes chose to stay without corsets since covering their body would make them entitled to punishment. A barbaric instance of the same was demonstrated once when the queen saw a Dalit woman entering the palace with her upper body covered, she ordered her breasts to be cut off.
6. The darker side of this practice
Moving on, no one in the royal family of Travancore made any effort to end this inhuman practice. When the king’s motorcade used to pass through the city, the upper caste women were ordered to shower flowers on the convoy without fabrics on their breasts, much to the delight of the king and his entourage.
7. The historical era of 19th century
Things took a change for the better when at the beginning of the 19th century, the workers who lived in Kerala went to Sri Lanka in search of work. Their financial situation improved and they also adopted Christianity which made them aware about their social rights. The women started covering their entire body, both inside and outside the house. This gave them right to lead an honourable life.
8. When women were tortured for covering their upper body
However, men from the higher class found it difficult to accept the reality and they violently attacked any woman with a covered upper body. This included physically harming the woman or tearing off all her clothes.
9. The decision taken by Blue Diwan of Travancore
It was only in 1814, when the Blue Diwan of Travancore passed the order that women can cover their breasts much to the unpleasantness of the elite men who were not too pleased with this order. The battle continued, and in 1829, elite men pressurized the King to stop women from covering their breasts. However many resilient women defied the orders and started coming out of the house covering their whole body.
10. When upper caste men opposed the decision
To avenge their humiliation, anti-upper caste people set shops and houses on fire. However, till that time, the English government had come into existence and they pressurized the King to pass a law that allowed women to cover their breasts.
11. The end of this inhuman practice
Finally on July 26, 1859, women received their basic right of wearing clothes, marking an end of three decades of agony.