Nangeli

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The village-legend of Nangeli is about an Ezhava woman who lived in the early 19th century at Cherthala in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in India and supposedly, cut off her breasts in an effort to protest against a caste-based "breast tax".

It is not officially recognized in any of India's historical accounts and its historical authenticity is debatable.[1][2][3]

Background[edit]

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 state of Travancore and a state-law prevented this covering which served to demarcate the caste hierarchy in a prominent manner and often served as the core locus of spontaneous rebellions by lower castes.[4][5][6]

A breast tax or mulakkaram was supposedly imposed by the landowning Brahmin king on lower caste Hindu women, which was to be paid if they wished to cover their breasts in public and was further assessed in proportion to the size of their breasts.[1][7][3] But, historical documentation of the conditionality of this tax and its linkage with breast size is scarce, despite ample primary literature covering the spans. Thus, Manu S. Pillai and some other scholar rejects a rigid interpretation of the etymological-connection and asserts it to be a generic woman-specific tax that was charged from all lower caste communities.[2][8][9]

Story[edit]

According to the story, in the early years of the 19th century, the pravathiyar (village officer) of Travancore, came to her home to survey her breasts and collect the breast tax.[2] Nangeli revolted against the harassment; chopping off her breasts and presenting them to him in a plantain leaf.[10][11][2] She died soon from loss of blood.[2] Nangeli's husband, Chirukandan, seeing her mutilated body was overcome by grief and jumped into her funeral pyre - in what was supposedly the first male sati.[1] The couple was childless.[2]

Pillai though rejects this narrative and argues that back in her days, covering breasts was not a fashion in Kerala's radically liberal and matriarchal society where Victorian standards of morality penetrated into the society decades later, via the British invaders and led to subsequent class-struggles for the right to wear upper cloth.[2] He thus questions the authenticity of the narrative and believes it to be a protest against the oppressive tax regime against the lower castes, which got appropriated with the passage of time, in pursuit of a different patriarchal fight for the preservation of female dignity.[2]

Following the death of Nangeli, a series of people's movements were set off and other similar folk-lores have been noted.[12] The breast tax system was ultimately annulled in Travancore, soon afterwards and the place she lived had came to be known as Mulachiparambu (meaning land of the breasted woman).[1]

Popular culture[edit]

Comic strips have been designed to infuse the story into the current struggles by Dalits against Brahminism.[13] A film on her has been proposed by Vinayan.[14][15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "The woman who cut off her breasts to protest a tax". BBC News. 28 July 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h S. Pillai, Manu (2019). "The woman with no breasts". The Courtesan, the Mahatma and the Italian Brahmin: Tales from Indian History. Chennai: Westland Publications Private Limited. ISBN 9789388689786.
  3. ^ a b Allen, Charles (2017). Coromandel : A personal history of South India. London: Little, Brown. p. 285. ISBN 9781408705391. OCLC 1012741451.
  4. ^ Cohn, Bernard S. (8 September 1996). Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India. Princeton University Press. p. 140. ISBN 9780691000435.
  5. ^ Hardgrave, Robert L. The Nadars of Tamilnad. University of California Press. pp. 55–70.
  6. ^ Smith, Bardwell L. (1976). Religion and Social Conflict in South Asia. BRILL. p. 32. ISBN 9789004045101.
  7. ^ "The CBSE Just Removed an Entire History of Women's Caste Struggle". The Wire. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  8. ^ Kattackal, Jacob (1990). Comparative Religion. Kerala: Oriental Institute of Religious Studies. p. 144.
  9. ^ Yesudas, R.N. (1980). The History of the London Missionary Society in Travancore, 1806-1908. Kerala: Kerala Historical Society. p. 19.
  10. ^ Surendranath, Nidhi (21 October 2013). "200 years on, Nangeli's sacrifice only a fading memory". The Hindu. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  11. ^ Singh, Vijay (7 March 2016). "She died fighting 'breast tax', her name lives on". Times of India. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  12. ^ The encyclopaedia of Dravidian tribes. 2. International School of Dravidian Linguistics. 1996. p. 198.
  13. ^ Sen, Orijit. "A Travancore Tale: The graphic story of Nangeli, the woman who cut off her breasts to protest a tax". Scroll.in. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Vinayan to make film on discarded revolutionary Nangeli - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  15. ^ "മാറുമറയ്ക്കൽ സമരനായിക നങ്ങേലിയുടെ കഥയുമായി വിനയന്‍" [Vinayan with the story of Marumarakkal Samaranayaka Nageli]. Indian Express Malayalam (in Malayalam). 30 December 2018. Retrieved 10 August 2019.