New Delhi : Many incidents of sacrifices given to bring change in the society and improve the lives of people are recorded in history. In one such incident, the sacrifice of the life given by a woman to end a cruel practice in Kerala has been recorded forever in the history of Kerala.
This sacrifice was given in Kerala in the 19th century against the breast tax imposed by the king of Travancore against women of lower castes. Not only were these women humiliated by this cruel tax, but the right to live respectfully was taken away from them. A woman, Nangeli, stood against this tax, who sacrificed her life and opposed this practice, and this bold step of her became the reason for the abolition of this tax.
Breast tax used to be levied on women of lower caste
The Breast Tax imposed in Travancore, Kerala in the 19th century is a reflection of the very poor treatment with lower caste people at that time. This tax was levied by the king of Travancore. According to the rules, women of lower caste were not allowed to cover their breasts at that time. Therefore, in order to cover breasts in public places, the king used to impose breast tax on them. It is said that the tax was determined on the basis of breast size.
This tax was imposed for the purpose of insulting the lower caste people and keeping them in debt. Along with the breast tax, the lower caste people were also taxed on the right to wear jewelry and the right of men to have a mustache.
The sacrifice of a Dalit woman named Nangeli played an important role to end the cruel practice like breast tax. Nangeli was a lower caste woman from Cherthala. She belonged to a very poor family and was unable to pay this tax. Therefore, while showing a rebellious attitude against breast tax, Nangeli refused to cover her breasts in public places.
When the tax authority came to collect the breast tax at Nangeli’s house, in protest against this tax, Nangeli took the revolutionary step which became the reason for the abolition of this tax. They cut both her breasts and put them on a banana leaf and put it in front of that tax officer. Seeing this, the tax officer ran away and the blood-soaked Nangeli died there. News of Nangeli’s death spread like a forest fire and people rose up against this tax.
In protest against this tax, Nangeli’s husband Chirkundan ended his life by jumping into her funeral pyre. This was the first known incident of a male being a sati. Due to this move of Nangeli, people rose up against the breast tax and the King had to abolish this cruel tax. The place in Cherthala, where Nangeli and her husband Chirkundan gave up their lives, is now known as Mulachiparambu (the land of the women’s breast) in his honor. However, the local people now hesitate to take the name of this place and now it is known as Manorama Kavala (Kavala means Junction).
The place where Nangeli’s hut was, is still untouched and is surrounded by greenery from all sides along with a pond. Two big bungalows have been built on either side of this place.