We have celebrated so many International Women’s Days,even one a few days back .How many of our women know about the daring revolt of Nanjeli?

The recent roll back of tax on EPF in the current budget  is fresh in our memory.Taxes,taxes for every thing as a way of increasing revenue, has always been there in the history.The Czars of Russia have reportedly collected tax for growing beards !That sounds a bit odd ! But have you ever heard of collecting taxes from the women for covering their breasts? Its not a joke and the pride of  collecting such a weird tax goes to none other than our own motherland India!

Here are the details.

“The kingdom of Travancore was one the most barbaric kingdoms during colonial India. The Avarnas (OBC’s and Dalits) formed 70% of Travancore’s population. The Travancore kingdom subjugated the lower castes and ensured they stayed in debt with barbaric laws and taxes on things as trivial as the right to wear clothes for women and, for men, the right to grow a moustache.

travancore Women ! Ever Heard of Breast Tax ?

One such disgusting taxation was Mulakkaram, or the ‘breast tax,’ a tax to be paid by the Avarna women of Travancore ,per the size of their breasts. As the law did not allow an avarna women to cover their breasts, the tax was meant to add insult to their injury of being easily identifiable in the most demeaning way. During these dark times in 1803, one woman named Nangeli, and her defiance, brought about a simple, yet revolutionary change that helped abolish the breast tax.

Breast tax  Women ! Ever Heard of Breast Tax ?

Nangeli was a poor Ezhava woman from Cherthala. Her family could not afford to pay the taxes and was in debt to the rulers. The tax collector, then called the parvathiyar, came to her house one day and demanded that she pay the tax.  Nangeli cut off her breasts and presented them to the parvathiyar on a plantain leaf. The tax collector fled in fear, while Nangeli bled to death at her doorstep. Her husband Chirukandan came home to find his wife lying dead and mutilated. He jumped into her funeral pyre out of grief, which was also the first recorded instance of a man committing sati instead of a woman.

The incident created a lot of anger and the practice of collecting breast tax was put to an end by 1812. And the land where she lived came to be known as Mulachiparambu (meaning, land of the breasted woman), in her honour. The Mulakkaram incident was the first revolt by the peasants against the Travancore crown and many more revolts would come after it.”

The village where this tragic incident took place was named ‘Mulaichipuram’ (Breast Town) in memory of the incident.There is a lone survivor in the Nanjeli’s lineage,the 67 year old Ms Leelamma ,one of Nanjeli’s grand daughter.Recalling the stragic incident,Ms Leelamma says”Nanjeli did not have any children.I am Nanjeli’s sister’s grand daughter.I have heard from my ancestors about the ravishing beauty of Nanjeli.Her bold act of revolt shook the then Travancore regime”. Ajay Sekar,a historian from Kottayam, feels it is unfortunate that people have forgotten Nanjeli who challenged a tax that violated basic human rights’

Breast Tax end Women ! Ever Heard of Breast Tax ?

The ban on low-caste wearing a jacket was much prevalent in the adjoining Kanya Kumari District of Tamil Nadu until the Christian Missionaries ,mainly LMS fought against the practice and restored the dignity of women there.

We have celebrated so many International Women’s Days,even one a few days back .How many of our women know about the daring revolt of Nanjeli? Society should not forget such women who stood for basic human rights in a civilized world.

By Alvaro Hans

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