Channar revolt

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The Channar Lahala or Channar revolt, also called Maru Marakkal Samaram,[1] refers to the fight from 1813 to 1859 of Nadar climber women in Travancore kingdom for the right to wear upper-body clothes to cover their breasts.

The victory of the Channar revolt after half a century of violence and struggle by the lower castes and untouchables, is widely seen as the reframing incident that started a wave of revival movements that moulded modern Kerala.[2]


In 19th century Travancore lower-caste women were not allowed to wear clothes that covered their breasts.[2][3] They had to pay a tax called breast tax to the travancore officials if they wished to cover their breasts.[4] The officials will go home after home to collect they breast tax after a women started to develop breasts. The tax was evaluated depending on the size of the women's breasts.[4][5][6] The Nair women were also not allowed to cover their bosoms while in front of the Nambudhri Brahmins or entering the temples.[7]

Baring of chest to higher status was considered a sign of respect, by both males and females.[8][9] Higher-class women covered both breasts and shoulders,[1] whereas Nadar climber women were not allowed to cover their bosoms, as most of the non-Brahmin women, to punctuate their low status. Uneasy with their social status, a large number of Nadar climbers embraced Christianity,[10] and started to wear "long cloths," strengthened by their new belief system, which offered equal rights to all men (and women). When many more Nadars turned to Christianity, many Nadar women started to wear the Nair breast cloth.[8] This led to a series of violence between the upper and lower castes which finally ended after the kingdom was forced to remove the practice.[2]

1813–1829 grants and withdrawals[edit]

The Nadar women successfully campaigned to be allowed to cover their breasts.

In 1813, the Nadars and Izhavas successfully campaigned to be allowed to wear the 'Kupayam' a type of jacket worn by Syrian Christians and Muslim Mappilas, but the protests did not stop as they had wanted to wear the upper cloth of the Nairs and Brahmins.[11]

In 1819, the Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma announced that the lower castes including the Nadar climber women have no right to wear upper clothes.[12]

In 1820, Colonel John Munro, British dewan in the Travancore court, issued an order granting permission to women converted to Christianity to wear upper cloth.[8][1] The order was withdrawn when pindakars, members of the Raja's council, complained about this, arguing that this right would obliterate caste-differences, and lead to widespread pollution in the state.[8] Nadar women were forbidden to wear the Nair sharf, and instead were allowed to wear the kuppayam, a type of jacket worn by Syrian Christians, Shonagas, and Mappilas.[8][1] The women were not satisfied, continuing to fight for the right to wear upper cloth "like any other woman in the higher castes,"[1] and preferring breast-clothing in the Nair-style.[13] This led to increasing violence in the 1820s against Nadar women, and also the burning of schools and churches.[13]

In 1822, John Munro made another order which again gave Nadar Christian women the right to cover their breasts.[14] The order is said to have started a huge backlash among the upper castes. Christian Nadar women who covered their breasts were attacked in markets and other public places and their jackets torn by upper caste men in several places in the kingdom.[2][14][15]

In 1823, the missionaries stepped in and got a beneficial ruling from the court of Padmanabhapuram. Still nothing is said to have changed.[14][2]

In 1828 the Travancore government again made an order to prevent Nadar-women the Nair-style breast-clothes, but allowed the wearing of the jacket.[13] In his book ‘Land of Charity’ Samuel Mateer explains an event, in which a group of Nadar Christian women who went to a lower court were made to forcibily remove their clothes covering their breasts before entering in the presence of the Dewan in 1828.[2]

In 1829, the Travancore queen issued yet another order, which denied the right of Nadar women to wear upper cloths.[1] This united the Hindu and Christian Nadar communities and they started to go to temples and in public, covering their breasts. Ayya Vaikundar, who had started the Ayyavazhi religion, acted as the unifying force.[2] The upper castes started react violently which led to the nadars responding in ferocity and the violence dimnished.[2][14]

1859 proclamation[edit]

In 1858, new violence broke out in several places in Travancore.[14][15] Upper caste men would stand far way from low caste women and tear the jackets with machetes tied to the end of long spears.[2]

On 1859, a travancore official tore the jackets of two Nadar women and tied the two women with a rope and hung them on a near-by tree in full public view during their walk to the Neyyattinkara market.[2] The following incident triggered severe retaliation from the nadars, who started to terrorize the upper caste areas and looted the upper caste shops. The kingdom of tranvancore was forced to take action on the law to bring some sort of peace within the kingdom.[2][15][14]

On 26 July 1859, under pressure from Charles Trevelyan, the Madras Governor, the king of Travancore issued a proclamation proclaiming the right for all Nadar women to cover their breasts, either by wearing jackets, like the Christian Nadars, or tie coarse-cloth around their upper-body, like the Mukkavattigal (fisher-women).[13][16][17] Yet they were still not allowed to cover their breasts in the style of the higher-class women.[18][19][20] This solution was not satisfactory to the missionaries, who regarded all men and women to be equal.[21] Nadar women continued to ignore the restrictions, developing an upper-wear style that resembled the style of the higher class Hindu women,[21] but offended some Hindus as a provocation by the missionaries.[21]

The code was still discriminatory until 1915–1916, and the challenge was supported by Mahatma Ayyankali.

Further emancipation[edit]

After the revolt, pamphlets appeared putting forth the claims of Kshatriya status of the Nadars. Members of the caste claimed the right to wear the sacred thread and to ride palanquins to wedding ceremonies. By 1891 at least 24,000 Nadars had given their caste to the census enumerator as being kshatriya.[22]


The CBSE in December 2016 issued a circular to all 19,000 affiliated schools under it asking that a section 'Caste Conflict and Dress Change' – a chapter that included the Channar revolt – be omitted from the curriculum with effect from 2017.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ponnumuthan 1996, p. 109.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "A struggle for decent dress". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b "CBSE says Nadar women's historic struggle to cover their breasts 'objectionable'". The News Minute. 20 December 2016. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  4. ^ a b "The woman who cut off her breasts to protest a tax". 28 July 2016. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  5. ^ "The CBSE Just Removed an Entire History of Women's Caste Struggle". The Wire. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  6. ^ "Re-writing History, Saffronising Education: Remembering Nangeli Lest Government Makes Us Forget". NewsClick. 19 March 2019. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  7. ^ "Breast Tax and the Revolt of Lower Cast Women in 19th Century Travancore". 17 May 2019. Retrieved 14 November 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e Cohn 1996, p. 140.
  9. ^ Billington Harper 2000, p. 13.
  10. ^ Hardgrave 1969, p. 55–70.
  11. ^ Ponnumuthan, Selvister. The Spirituality of Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Socio-religious Context of Trivandrum/Kerala, India. Universita Gregoriana. p. 109.
  12. ^ Being Different. Rajiv Malhotra. p. 150.
  13. ^ a b c d Cohn 1996, p. 141.
  14. ^ a b c d e f "Breast Tax and the Revolt of Lower Cast Women in 19th Century Travancore". 17 May 2019. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  15. ^ a b c "Travancore parallel: the fight to wear an upper garment". The Indian Express. 18 October 2018. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  16. ^ Ross 2008, p. 78.
  17. ^ Jones 1989, p. 159.
  18. ^ Ponnumuthan 1996, p. 110.
  19. ^ Cohn 1996, p. 141-142.
  20. ^ Kertzer 1988, p. 113.
  21. ^ a b c Cohn 1996, p. 142.
  22. ^ Bendix & Brand 1973, p. 534.