Posted On February 15, 2022

Street to Parliament fight continues over whether Muslim girls should wear hijab or not in Karnataka school. Protest is happening. Even in protest, saffron-clad boys are protesting. In the midst of this head-covering fight, today we will tell you a story. Extremely painful.

This story is about the fight to cover the breasts of women. This story is not of any other country, but of India. when what happened? It all tells how it happened and how things went right.

Rise of a cruel king Marthanda Varma
In 1729, the Travancore Kingdom was established in the Madras Presidency. The king was Marthanda Varma. If an empire is formed, then rules and regulations should be made. Tax collection system was created. Like today house tax, sales tax and GST, but one more tax has been created… Breast tax means breast tax. This tax was imposed on women belonging to Dalit and OBC classes.

The bigger the breast, the bigger the tax
Lower caste women in Travancore could wear clothes only up to the waist. She had to keep her chest open whenever she passed in front of officers and upper caste people. If women want to cover their chest, they will have to pay breast tax instead. There were also two rules in this. Whose breast is small, tax him less and whose big one tax him more. The name of the tax was Mulakram.

Rules apply to men as well as women
This sloppy custom was not only applicable to women, but also to men. They were not allowed to cover their heads. If he wants to wear clothes above the waist and walk with his head raised, then he will have to pay a separate tax for this. This system was applicable to all except the upper caste, but due to being at the bottom of the varna system, the Dalit women of the lower caste had to suffer the most.

If the cloth was seen on the chest of women, they used to tear it with a knife.
If the women of the Nadar class covered their chest with cloth, the information would reach the Rajpurohit. The priest used to carry a long stick with a knife tied at its end. He used to pull the blouse from it and tear it. He used to hang that cloth on the trees. It was a way of conveying the message that no one else can dare to do so.

Nangeli of Nadar class had shown strength
In the early 19th century there was a woman named Nangeli in Cherthala. Self-respecting and revolutionary. She decided that I would cover my breasts too and would not pay tax. This move of Nangeli was a slap on the face of the feudalists. When the officials reached home, Nangeli’s husband Chirkandun refused to pay the tax. The matter reached the king. The king sent a large party to Nangeli.

Nangeli cut off breast for breast tax
On the orders of the king, the officers reached Nangeli’s house to collect the tax. The whole village gathered. The officer said, “Give breast tax, there will be no forgiveness of any kind.” Nangeli said, ‘Wait, I bring tax.’ Nangeli went to her hut. When I came out, people were stunned. The eyes of the officers were torn apart. Nangeli was standing on a banana leaf with her cut breast. The officers fled. Due to continuous bleeding, Nangeli fell to the ground and could never get up again.

Husband jumped into Nangeli’s pyre
After Nangeli’s death, her husband Chirkandun also committed suicide by jumping into the pyre. This is the only incident in Indian history of a man being ‘Sati’. After this incident a rebellion broke out. Violence started. Women started wearing full clothes. The Commissioner of Madras reached the palace of the Travancore king. Said, “We are failing to stop the violence, do something.” Raja went on the back foot. He had to announce that now women of the Nadar caste can wear clothes without tax.

the woman harassed the woman
When the women of the Nadar caste were allowed to cover their breasts, the Aizwa, Shenar or Shanaras and the women of the Nadar class also revolted. The women of the upper family also came forward to suppress their rebellion. One such story comes to the fore in which Queen ‘Antingal’ had cut off the breast of a Dalit woman.

Got so upset that Sri Lanka fled
Those who rebelled against this evil practice fled to Sri Lanka for fear of being caught. He started working in the tea gardens there. During this time, the intervention of the British in Travancore increased. In 1829, the Diwan of Travancore, Munro said, “If women become Christian, then this rule of Hindus will not apply to them. They’ll be able to cover the breast.”

water-roasted upper caste people
This order of Munro filled the people of the upper caste with anger, but the British stood by the decision. In 1859, the English Governor Charles Trevelyan repealed this rule in Travancore. Now the perpetrators of violence have changed. Upper caste people started looting. Nadar targeted women and burnt their grains. During this, two women of Nadar caste were publicly hanged.

Women got relief from the increasing influence of the British
Referring to this malpractice in his book ‘Maharani’, the English Diwan Germany Das wrote, “The struggle went on for a long time. In 1965, the subjects won and everyone got the right to wear full clothes. Despite this right, the evil practice of not allowing Dalits to wear clothes continued in many parts. In 1924, this stigma was completely eradicated, because at that time the whole country had jumped into the freedom struggle.

trying to erase from history
NCRT removed three chapters from class 9 history book in 2019. In this one chapter was related to the struggle of the lower castes in Travancore. There was uproar. Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said, “The removal of this subject shows the agenda of the Sangh Parivar.” Earlier, CBSE had also removed this chapter from 9th Social Science in 2017. The matter reached the Madras High Court. “Nothing will be asked from Chapter, Cast, Conflict and Dress Change in the 2017 examinations,” the court said.

History considers Nangeli as an idol of bravery
“The purpose of the breast tax was to perpetuate the casteist structure,” says Dr Sheeba KM, associate professor of gender ecology and Dalit studies at Sri Shankaracharya Sanskrit University in Kerala. Nangeli’s great-grandson Manian Velu says that I am proud to be the child of Nangeli’s family. He took this decision not for himself, but for all the women. Due to his renunciation, the king had to withdraw this tax.
Dr. Shiba says that there was not as much discussion about Nangeli as it should have been. Explaining the reason, he said, “History has always been written through the eyes of men. The process of gathering information about women has started in the last few decades. Hope Nangeli’s valor and sacrifice reach the people.”

Nangeli created a revolution with his sacrifice. He gave his life to abolish a shameful tax. A statue of him has been installed in Mulachhipuram, Kerala. Wherever people go they bow their heads. People will try to forget or get Lakhs forgotten, but Nangeli will not be forgotten.