The Woman Who Cut Off Her Breasts To Protest Against 'Breast-Tax'

Mayukh Bari29 June 2020 9:35PM IST
2 min read861

Nangeli was a poor, lower-caste woman who lived in the early 19th century in the kingdom of Travancore. Travancore in that time was not a good place for the lower caste people. Because the king at that time and his business ministers made life complete hell for the lower caste people by burying them under a mountain of taxes.

It was the time when all males and females across Kerala regardless caste were topless and the shame factor was non-existent. As time went on the upper caste females had the option to cover their breast if they want to. But this option was not given to the lower caste. If they covered their breasts, they were taxed heavily. The purpose of the breast-tax was to dominate over lower caste.

Nangeli belonged to the Ezhava caste. Her community was required to pay the tax along with other lower castes. But she decided to protest by covering her breasts without paying the tax. Another disgusting thing about this tax was that the tax was supposedly assessed in proportion to the size of their breasts.

The pravathiyar (village officer) of Travancore came to Nangeli's home to survey her breasts and collect the breast tax. Nangeli revolted against the harassment; chopping off her breasts and presenting them to him in a plantain leaf. She died soon from loss of blood and 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. The couple was childless.

Result of this whole incident however was the very next day the king of Travancore abolished the tax on women's breasts. The village Nangeli came from is now called Mulachhipuram or the land of the woman with breasts - to remember her sacrifice for protesting against caste-based discrimination.