• jaya___ 9w

    To register her defiance against caste oppression, Nangeli performed such a great act of courage and boldness that not only an oppressive system was annulled but it also set a supreme example of liberation and revolution by the oppressed lower caste people.
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    This story is of Nangeli.

    Nangeli (meaning "the beautiful one") was a young girl of the Ezhava community living in the Travancore Kingdom in eighteenth century. (This area now falls in Kerala).

    Ezhava is a lower caste (currently 23% of the Kerala population) while the kingship was with Brahmins who followed a barbarically rigid caste hierarchy which was maintained through a system of cruel taxes. The Travancore kingdom ran on taxes levied on poor people, especially on the lower castes Ezhavas and Nadar. There was a tax on wearing jewelry and on men for keeping moustaches. There was also a tax on women, the breast tax. The breast tax was a tax imposed until 1924 on the lower caste and untouchable Hindu women by the Kingdom of Tranvancore if they wanted to cover their breasts in public. The lower caste and untouchable women were expected to pay the government the breast tax when they started developing breasts; the tax was supposedly assessed in proportion to the size of their breasts.

    Multiple historians have documented that uncovering one's breasts was revered as a symbolic token of homage from the lower castes towards the upper castes in the kingdom of Travancore and a state-law prevented any covering of breasts since it demarcated the caste hierarchy in a prominent manner. This had often been the focal point of multiple rebellions by lower castes.

    I am unable to imagine this absurdly oppressive clothing system and the illogical economic tax system of this kingdom's Brahmin rulers. Upper caste Nair women were "allowed" to cover their breasts with a loose shawl but had to immediately uncover their breasts in front of priests, husbands, and kings. While the lower caste women could never cover themselves above the torso.

    Amidst this relentless caste based tax oppression that always kept Nangeli and her husband in debt despite back breaking labor in fields all day, lived the fiery Nangeli. She was always headstrong and openly bitter of the leering upper caste men and their sexual and mental harassment of her caste people. She refused to pay the breast tax by covering her breasts. She was against this caste based and gendered tax that was an unbearable burden to their already meagre resources. She took up this challenge which was quickly noticed by the pravathiyar (village tax officer) of Travancore who came to Nangeli's home to survey her breasts and collect the breast tax.

    Nangeli revolted against the harassment; she was outraged at this cruelty and in utmost rage she chopped off her breasts, presenting them to him in a plantain leaf. She died soon from loss of blood.

    Her husband Chirukandan, seeing her mutilated body was overcome by grief and jumped into her funeral pyre - in what was supposedly the first male sati.
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    Following the death of Nangeli, a series of people's movements apparently set off and similar folk-lores have been noted. The breast tax system was supposedly annulled in Travancore, soon afterwards and the place she lived had came to be known as Mulachiparambu (meaning land of the breasted woman).
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    Nangeli's fight shines on the change that women's rage can bring about and the message that women should register their anger against oppression.

    But what is saddening is the ignorance surrounding this legendary story of a woman's rebellion against caste and women oppression. We need to spread this story which acts as an inspiration to me both as a woman and a person against any kind of oppression. The case of the only male sati is also forgotten and erased. We need to acknowledge Nangeli and her husband's great sacrifice for the cause of equality and dignity.

    Its time we acknowledge the fact that the Indian women especially the lower caste women in our country are still devoid of much agency and security due to their social standing.

    The initial upper caste women in Travancore who were allowed to wear blouses were ostracised from community as it was seen as deviation from the "culture" of the place.

    I am angry at the patriarchy which wants to decide whether we should wear clothes or not and what should women wear at all times. In France, Burqa is banned, in Afghanistan even hands have to be covered. Why are men given powers over women dressing? I ask this question too.

    Let's all of us resolve to end such oppression. And Hail Nangeli!

    © Harfkaar 30-09-21
    #women_i_love #idols_of_j
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    Links perused:

    https://thewire.in/education/cbse-removed-history-womens-caste-struggle

    https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/She-died-fighting-breast-tax-her-name-lives-on/articleshow/51283819.cms

    https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/200-years-on-nangelis-sacrifice-only-a-fading-memory/article5255026.ece

    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-36891356

    https://homegrown.co.in/article/22737/unsung-heroes-why-nangeli-a-19th-century-womans-sacrifice-is-important-even-today

    https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/culture/nangeli-first-documented-pati-sahagamanam

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    Nangeli